Arise!

Reimagine! is pleased to annaunce the publication of Arise! the first volume of RP&E produced under our new collaborative editorial model.  To be independent and sustainable. we need your support.  We need your donations, subscriptions, ideas and writing.  Please join our mailing list, come to our open editorial meetings, and be a part of Movements Making Media. 

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Introduction

by Jess Clarke

Dozens of U.S. cities erupted in direct action protests following the decision to grant impunity to police who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York. A new generation of organizers is arising, willing to take risks and break the rules to make social change. They are mounting effective action at street level and building broad coalitions, challenging existing institutions and creating new ones. Read more.

Arise! Introduction by Jess Clarke

Dozens of U.S. cities erupted in direct action protests following the decision to grant impunity to police who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York. A new generation of organizers is arising, willing to take risks and break the rules to make social change. They are mounting effective action at street level and building broad coalitions, challenging existing institutions and creating new ones. (Garza, p. 66)*

The organizing often has a pragmatic character. It seeks specific policy changes and demands prosecutions of police perpetrators and citizen review of police misconduct—but it doesn’t rule out any tactic in pursuit of democratic, accountable and popular power.

Blocking freeways and streets, boycotting businesses, occupying public space, symbolic and mass civil disobedience, and disrupting business as usual have become an integral part of the toolkit of contemporary movements.

The Flood Wall Street actions held in New York on the third anniversary of the launch of Occupy, the day after the Climate March, used these tactics, as well as the horizontal organizing practices that characterized Occupy. (Rein and M. Clarke, p .58) Popular assemblies, consensus, referenda, group autonomy, and mutual aid are being widely adopted as necessary ingredients to create new political spaces.

To hold those spaces once won, we also need to challenge power on the vertical axis with tried-and-true organizing that gives neighborhoods a voice in what sorts of development will be built in their communities (Ruiz and Smooke, p. 82, Wilson, p. 101, Ferrer, p.106); with allies in local, state and national government that can articulate support for movement demands (Levitt, p. 87; Clark p. 89); and with clear policy solutions that can meet our communities’ material needs and win resources to build accountable institutions. (J. Clarke, p. 18; Vanderwarker p. 27; Arnold, p. 31)

Rights organizing is another important dimension of how current political work is redefining the terrain on which battles for power are fought. The struggle of domestic workers to win the same sorts of legal protections that other workers gained in the 20th century has resulted in legislation in New York, California and other regions. (Rubiano Yedidia, p.72; Shekar, p. 77) A new campaign to secure rights for homeless people, “Right to Rest,” has been launched on the West Coast. (Messman and Boden p. 94)

All of these efforts are aimed at shifting the balance of power toward the interests of working people, women and people of color and out of the hands of the narrow corporate elite that threaten the planetary ecosystem and our very survival as a species. Living systems have rights as well, and we as communities have the right and responsibility to uphold and defend those rights (Movement Generation, p.9; Dayaneni-Shiva p.14)

Can we build a “movement of movements” that respects differences in political outlook and relative power in the racial, gender and class hierarchies of our stratified society? Can we accept and celebrate difference, not only culturally, but also in the pragmatic choices that we individually and collectively need to make for our day-to-day survival?

The Reimagine! project seeks to provide a platform for dialogue that does just that. Working from a grounded race, class and gender analysis to understand how the system operates, we can develop strategies that go beyond reacting to crises.

For example, police shootings and harassment are an integral part of how our economic and political elites stay in power. Violence against African Americans and other people of color in this country is not the accidental product of rogue officers, a bad district attorney or a backward county government. It is the systematic expression of the original colonial project that sought to kill, enslave or displace the indigenous population and used imported slave labor to build a nation.

To organize effectively against this power, and the structural inequality and racism of our economic system, we need to look deeper than the question of the innocence or guilt of the officers involved, and see beyond the false framing that poses the issue as merely a problem of community-police relations.

Environmental racism and gentrification choke and rip apart families as surely as police assault. Politics, policy and planning trap communities of color in segregated neighborhoods, segregated schools and racialized mass incarceration.

Transforming these broad structural conditions is what RP&E and the movements of which it has been a part has been about from the beginning.

Race, Poverty & the Environment was launched a year before the first national environmental justice summit in 1991 and from its humble origin as a photocopied newsletter became the journal of record for a movement. When Urban Habitat management eliminated funding for the journal in 2013, a group of employees, contractors, writers and editors began to organize and scheme for its revival. We are pleased to find a new home at the Movement Strategy Center (in our old building!)

In addition to fulfilling RP&E’s role documenting EJ and related movements, we identified a broader need for editorial collaboration and cross-fertilization among the many different constituencies and issue areas that the journal has connected over the years. We call this “Movements Making Media.”

In broad strokes, we envision reviving the founding model of RP&E as a co-published movement journal with multiple organizational co-sponsors. We aim to lift up a broad spectrum of movement voices to analyze conditions, reflect on experience, and shed light on our paths forward.

We are also re-launching Radio RP&E as Reimagine Radio, a monthly podcast available in iTunes. Edited transcripts from our podcast are included in this edition. This first “proof of concept” edition has been created using mostly volunteer labor and a distributed editorial model of contributing editors writing stories and soliciting related work from correspondents embedded in movement campaigns. A core production team has edited and designed the results into the new format you are reading (in print, online or in your ebook reader). We’re proud of this first harvest under collective management. Please subscribe, donate or join us using the form at the end of this issue.

Arise ye aspiring writers, editors, radio producers, photographers and web developers and join us in doing this work!

 

Jess Clarke is the project director of Reimagine! and was the editor of Race Poverty & the Environment from 2005-2013

* References are to authors’ last names and page number in the print edition.

Ecological Revolution

By Movement Generation

The central challenge of our times is the crisis of disconnection. Many of us see ourselves as apart from, rather than a part of the living world. We see ourselves as a collection of individuals, rather than a complex of living, interdependent relationships. It is this disconnection—of soul and spirit from soil and story—that drives the erosion of biological and cultural diversity; compromising our capacity to exist on planet Earth.

Social inequity is a form of ecological imbalance, and it inherently leads to ecological erosion. It is this inequity that allows human work to be concentrated, controlled and then wielded like chainsaw against the rest of the living world. The landscape of struggle, then, is the economy (the management of home) and our goal must be to remake economy in alignment with ecological regeneration, reverence for creation and social justice. We cannot effectively tackle ecological erosion without dismantling white supremacy, patriarchy and militarism. The ideology that seeks to dominate, subjugate, and enslave our earth is the same ideology that justifies mass incarceration, the criminalization of black communities, and the existence of a militarized police state. It is the same ideology that says women and their bodies exist primarily to serve the sexual desires of men.

To address the crisis of ecological erosion, we have to take on every single aspect of economic organization, from how we acquire resources and organize labor, to what we produce and why we produce it. The first rule of ecological restoration must be the liberation of our labor, language and lifeways (cultures) from the chains of the market and their restoration back into the web of life. Addressing this challenge also means healing from and transforming the cultural paradigm that portrays and treats black lives, indigenous communities and others as dispensable. We must liberate our imaginations from the cultural and cognitive concrete that has paved over both our memory and our vision. Only with this cultural shift, will the structural shifts that liberate labor, language and lifeways become possible.

Teetering on the Tipping Points

Failure to change the economic system will force the planetary ecosystem past multiple tipping points, beyond which core cycles that sustain life as we know it will become unstable. Collapse of ocean fisheries, massive degradation of topsoil, shortages in freshwater supplies for irrigation and drinking, are becoming more frequent and are the predictable consequence of an economy based on exploitation. As climate change leads to ever intensifying extreme weather and resource wars, even more of the systems upon which life depends will become unstable.

We are in the midst of the sixth mass species extinction experienced on planet Earth – unique in three ways: it stands to be the fastest, most complete and is the only one caused by the activity of a single species.

A critical dimension of this mass extinction is the eradication of cultural and linguistic diversity through the endless growth of the extractive economy – what Vandana Shiva calls “the monocultures of the mind.” At current rates of extinction, the planet stands to lose 90% of living languages within a generation – from 7,000 to 700. Indigenous peoples account for 80-90% of the world’s imperiled cultural and linguistic diversity—and it is often those very cultures that remain connected to the natural fabric and may contain the seeds for a sustainable path for the human species.

Extractive Economics

The destabilization of living systems has been an urgent crisis for hundreds of years. Colonialism, slavery, imperialism, and globalization have driven an economic assault on the integrated relationships, cultures and economies that indigenous, land-based, and subsistence peoples have had with the ecosystems they are a part of.

We have been alienated from land, food and water; and from our ability to control, direct and benefit from our own work. This has forced most of us to live and labor in ways that destroy and degrade the rest of the natural world. Therefore, to understand the ecological crisis we cannot simply look up at the atmosphere and count carbon. We must look down at the growth-at-all-costs economy. To solve the climate crisis and the broader ecological crisis we must replace it with a regenerative economy.

Governance of this degenerative economy facilitates extractivism in all its forms, from mining for calories and drilling for oil to forcefully removing human labor from right relationship with ecosystems, to systematically dismantling families using race-based discrimination. The very same borders that fragment ecosystems divide communities and separate families. The greatest beneficiaries of this extractive economy—call them the 1 percent for short—recognize that their economic system is in danger of collapse. But because their objective is unconstrained accumulation of wealth and power they are unwilling to move towards ecological regeneration.

While extractive economics and growth at all costs have set in motion the crisis, the solution is not, as some environmentalists have argued, for humans to have a smaller footprint. Quite the contrary, we must have twice as great an impact on the planet over the next hundred years as we have had over past 500, but towards very different ends. Because of human cognition and the opposable digit, we can perform diverse and redundant ecological functions. We can pollinate, compost, build soil, rip out concrete, tear down borders, undam rivers and free our peoples like no other living thing. We can accelerate, though our work, the restoration and regeneration of living systems – all the while repairing our relations with each other - if we engage in thoughtful, concerted action. We are actually the keystone species in this moment so we have to align our strategies with the healing powers of Mother Earth – not by ourselves, but in alliance with and honoring all other living things.

Rights of Nature

The assertion of new sets of ecological and economic rights is a first step in beginning this essential re-alignment. Living systems have rights and we as communities have the right and responsibility to uphold and defend those rights.

Local “Rights of Nature” ordinances can provide a framework for people to assert their claim to such basic rights as clean water, clean air, and the power to stop destructive development on the basis of the inherent rights of nature and of communities to self-govern.

In the United States, cities as large as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania have passed Rights of Nature ordinances to reassert their sovereign rights to ban harmful activities such as hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. Shasta, California used a Rights of Nature strategy to confront Pacific Gas and Electric plans for “cloud seeding” to increase rainfall, and Santa Monica, California is currently pursuing a broad Rights of Nature ordinance that will provide the legal mandate to redesign their city towards ecological resilience.

On the world stage, Bolivia is often held up as the first country to enshrine ecological rights in its 2010 “Law of the Rights of Mother Earth.” But if Bolivia actually stood for the rights of nature enshrined in this law, the ramifications would be enormous. Private property would be subordinated to the right of a community to self-govern. Of course, such actions would be revolutionary. They would pit Bolivia, as a state and as a people, against the rest of the nation states, particularly the U.S. Empire. In fact, despite its recognition of the rights of mother earth and its bold international rhetoric on climate change, the Bolivian state continues its role in the global economy and enables the extraction of natural resources and the exploitation of labor within its borders.

Indigenous Autonomy

The assertion of new rights is being more successfully pursued without the power of a state in the Zapatista autonomous regions of Mexico.

Culturally, the Zapatista worldview and cosmology is rooted in indigenous traditions of connection to the land; a defense of the collective landholding system won in the Mexican revolution of the early 20th century; and a commitment to indigenous self-governance according to the “uses and customs” of the diverse peoples that live in Zapatista territory.

They have challenged the Mexican state through armed insurrection and have secured a degree of autonomy, but have not declared themselves a state. Their autonomous village system administers the communally owned lands and cooperatives. More broadly, the Zapatistas have resisted the land grabs and development schemes proposed in the “Plan Panama” promoted by the NAFTA combine.

The Zapatistas’ struggle has been, above all else, for territory. They want the simple right to work the land that they consider historically to be theirs. In this, their struggle has many parallels throughout the indigenous world.

While fighting for the Earth, the Zapatistas have never identified themselves, as “environmentalists.” Nor do they talk much, in their voluminous decade-and-a-half of communiqués, about “ecology” or “conservation.” And yet, as poet Gary Snyder once said, “The best thing you can do for the environment is to stay home.” As indigenous peasant farmers struggling for territorial autonomy, the Zapatistas’ struggle is precisely to “stay home.”

 

If it’s the right thing to do, we have every right to do it.”

 

 Occupying the Farm, the Gil Tract. Albany, California. Photo (cc) 2012 occupyoakland.org

Occupying the Farm, the Gil Tract. Albany, California. Photo (cc) 2012 occupyoakland.org

Economic Rights

The deeper problem of control of the land is at the root of capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism. Property inherently infringes upon freedom. Property represents the ability to create an enclosure; to restrict access or use or purpose. There are physical enclosures (fences, borders, property lines); financial enclosures (commodification of life, carbon markets, capital accumulation) and there are intellectual enclosures (intellectual property, internet search algorithms, etc.). The commons is exactly the opposite of an enclosure—it represents the preservation of shared use, rights, and access to the resources of the earth—and not just for humans.

Finance is currently organized to serve the ownership and accumulation of capital. If all peoples assert the right to the resources for a productive livelihood, then finance would have to be reorganized. Instead of paying interest and concentrating wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer owners, we would circulate capital into the commons so that it is a sustainable reflection of our collective wealth. Revolving community funds, for example, are an assertion of a new economic right, that when taken to scale and coordinated can challenge the existing interests of extractive finance.

Debt itself—as a form of control over future labor and future productive capacity of human beings and living systems—can be seen as a violation of our fundamental rights. Taken to its ultimate conclusion this reasoning could lead to a rejection of all debt service as theft, and lead to a refusal to pay the banks interest and the principal of the original loan—to challenge the very notion that private accumulation of wealth is wrong.

Up Against the State

There is no other way out of the ecological crisis. We either sit in the empire and watch the war happen someplace else, or we reorganize ourselves towards a revolution that puts us in direct conflict with state and corporate power. Because ultimately, that is the only way we’re going to ever assert any new rights.

And to win these clashes we will need to have developed our own economic basis. If we are still entirely dependent on the extractive economy, we will lack the capacity to move from passing resolutions to real revolution.

To transform this economy in a positive direction, we need to start at a very deep level.

The next revolution is going to be based on a vision of right relationship with each other and with the living world. It’s going to be based on the sacredness of our relationships—and that sacredness will be practiced through love in diverse ways that ultimately become the defining features of our identity.

For us, right now, our labor is organized through jobs and our identities are defined by our role in our job. However, if you ask people about their real identity, the vast majority will not name their job title as their primary identity. We identify in much more diverse ways: as parents, as queer, as artists, by our race, ethnicity or language. Through cooperative economics we will be able to embrace the diversity of roles we play in a community, the unique contributions of our labor and social identities that help us navigate the world.

When we say cooperative economics we are not simply talking about worker ownership. Cooperative economics needs to be implemented in the food system, in family life, in social organization.

The roles that will be needed to hold us through transition, the things that will matter the most, are actually the relational social roles: the healers, the mediators, the people who can hold space and facilitate social well-being in community. What has traditionally been thought of as women’s work and the role that women have played in societies as the holders of that—are going to be among the key roles of transition.

The question is: how do we spark this revolution?

If we only fight against what we don’t want, we will learn to love the fight and we will have nothing left but longing for our vision. Longing isn’t good enough. You don’t build a social movement around vision by talking about vision. We have to apply our labor towards directly meeting our needs. You build a social movement around vision by living it. You assert new ecological and economic rights by living those rights until you reach the limits of the system—and then break the rules that infringe upon that living vision. We must become ungovernable through our own loving, deeply democratic self-governance.

By building new centers of gravity in the economy based on resources acquired through regenerative practices and on labor organized through cooperation, we can build a broad movement with the common goals of creating social well-being and right relationship to each other and to home.

 

This article is adapted from Movement Generation Justice & Ecology Project’s ‘in progress’ book The Politics of Home.(http://movementgeneration.org)

 

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“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.” —Chief Seattle, 1854

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“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.” —Chief Seattle, 1854

New Majority Confronts Climate Crisis

By Jess Clarke

The 2014 climate assessment from the UN panel on climate change is the most dire ever issued.1 These climate impacts are hitting our communities now. California is in the grips of a three-year drought—the worst since it became a state—that is already threatening water supplies, worsening air quality and beginning to drive up food prices.2 International climate policy has stalled. Symbolic agreements, such as the one the Obama administration made with the Chinese leadership in November 2014, have few if any enforceable limits. And while the federal EPA has only just begun rulemaking to limit carbon emissions, the decades-long struggle of California’s environmental justice communities to shape a climate policy that inserts equity into the climate conversation is a notable bright spot.

In the world, the US, and in California, climate change is hitting low-income people and communities of color first and hardest.3 But in California, the combined organizing and electoral power of Latinos, Asians, and African Americans has repeatedly tipped the balance in state and local elections to bring a more liberal if not yet progressive generation of political leadership onto the scene,4 and to push consideration of environmental justice into the calculations of state policy makers. This opportunity is still nascent. Policy victories require multi-year campaigns with multiple coalition participants. They also require the ability to challenge undemocratic planning processes with a political program based on input from impacted communities.

Results from California’s redistricting as well as the newly enforced California Voting Rights Act (which enables fair representation of communities of color at the local level) demonstrate that the raw electoral power of communities of color and low-income people is on the upswing.5 The campaign against the Dirty Energy Proposition 23 demonstrated that a political alliance of communities of color can engage with state-wide mainstream and environmental groups to defend progressive environmental policy. (See Sidebar on Proposition 23.) The victory in creating a Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (SB 535) with specific percentage targets for impacted communities shows that organizing can shape public policy in a positive and not just a defensive manner. (See article by Eric Arnold.)

Similarly, the Municipal Energy and Climate Action Plans (ECAP), which set policies on how cities can engage in GHG emissions reductions and energy conservation, are another arena for incorporating environmental justice principles. (They are also a potential basis by which GHC reduction funds will be directed.) Since San Francisco first enacted its plan in 2004, other cities across California have done likewise. In Oakland, the community-based Climate Action Coalition (OCAC) engaged in a two-year campaign to institute an 18-point program now in place.6

Across the state there are hundreds of small-scale projects that are already moving ahead with climate resilience policies and practices that are equity-driven efforts from the ground up. Communities are finding intervention points in classic land-use battles such as the work of the Environmental Health Coalition in San Diego’s Barrio Logan.7 Transit organizing projects in Los Angeles8 and the San Francisco Bay Area9 are fusing concerns about climate with transit access organizing to force transit authorities to provide better service to low-income communities—and reduce carbon and other pollution. Urban greening projects, such as Urban Tilth in Richmond10 and Urban Releaf in Oakland,11 and the statewide coalition California Environmental Justice Alliance12 are building greener cities, strengthening community, and advancing policy positions on carbon reduction and sustainable agriculture.

What works? What doesn’t?

The most obvious defect in California’s climate policy is that the progressive thrust of legislation and climate planning achieved through community mobilization and democratic process has been channeled into unaccountable forums, such as the Air Resources Board and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, where neither democratic process nor policy expertise determine outcomes. Vested interests in polluting industries, corporate lobbyists, and politicians who serve them often dominate such decision-making entities.

Another lesson learned is that even in defeat, policy proposals that are debated and contested in democratic or popular political forums, create opportunities for constituent education, alliance-building with other constituencies and regions, a public record of the deliberations, and a better jumping off point for the next round. Therefore, it’s important for environmental justice advocates to create a terrain of contention where democratic process can carry the day. While behind-the-scenes lobbying and relationships with politicians and policy-makers in the environmental and administrative agencies are a necessary ingredient for moving policy, they are simply not enough by themselves. It’s worth looking back at the origins of current policy to better understand what we can win and how we can win it.

Long-term Environmental Justice Organizing Shapes Playing Field

Beginning in the late 1980s, and throughout the 1990s, Environmental Justice organizers were engaging communities to fight pollution and toxic contamination. Kettleman City—still a site of contention between waste disposal companies and the community—was at the heart of a 1988 struggle that characterized organizing efforts of the time. The predominantly Latino residents prevented from participating in public hearings by government actions, organized a political campaign based on civil rights principles that halted the siting of that particular incinerator.13

Numerous other battles in Los Angeles, Oakland, and the Central Valley resulted in the first California State environmental justice legislation. In 1999, Governor Gray Davis signed SB 115 making California the first state in the nation to codify a definition of “environmental justice.” In the following years a number of related measures created state oversight boards for environmental justice in numerous departments.

As Manuel Pastor, Director of the Center for Justice, Tolerance and Community observed at the time, 14 it was often Latino politicians responding to their constituencies—key swing districts in California state politics—that moved environmental justice principles into state law. As climate change has become ever more important in California, it’s often been pressure from communities of color that ha pushed the state to the national forefront on climate mitigation and adaptation legislation.

Cities Break National Climate Policy Paralysis

In 2005, over 50 mayors from cities, such as London, Rio de Janeiro, Tehran, Capetown, Sydney, and Shanghai came to San Francisco to sign the Urban Environmental Accords, a city-to-city compact to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.15 The Accords addressed seven environmental areas common to all large cities: water, energy, waste, urban design, transportation, urban nature, and environmental health.16 Parin Shah, a climate activist then working to implement the Accords,17 hailed the way that direct action by cities made it more likely that climate policy would take the needs of environmental justice communities into account. Bay Area environmental justice groups coordinated by the Ella Baker Center organized to create the first Social Equity Track at the UN World Environment Day and staged a dozen events during the three-day Accords conference to ensure that the voices of people of color were heard.18

Origins of AB32

Pro-environmental policy has always played well with the California electorate and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger took the occasion of the Accords conference to sign an executive order that set non-binding statewide greenhouse gas emissions targets and ordered state agencies to begin planning toward those ends.19 But Schwarzenegger’s preferred methodology was “cap-and-trade.”

From the start, advocates on the ground and within the legislature knew that cap-and-trade would allow incumbent polluters to keep their facilities dirty while fenceline communities suffocated in the toxic effluents of power plants, refineries, industrial agriculture, and automobile exhaust. Direct regulations of carbon pollution or an actual carbon tax were both considered by many to be more effective ways of improving health and safety for impacted communities. Consequently, Governor Schwarzenegger lost his bid to force “market-based mechanisms” into the original AB32 legislation in 2006. Cap-and-trade policies were mandated to be considered only after “early action” measures—primarily direct regulation of carbon pollution—had been implemented.

Another key accomplishment of the lobbying by environmental justice groups was the explicit language in the law requiring the California Air Resources Board (ARB) to “ensure that activities undertaken to comply with the regulations do not disproportionately impact low-income communities and that these communities also benefit from statewide efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”20 The legislation has numerous sections directing the executive branch to take environmental justice communities into account. The body responsible for monitoring the impacts is the Environmental Justice Advisory Committee (EJAC).21

California’s 21st century climate policy has seen a dynamic interplay between mainstream political leaders making ambitious and publicly popular promises—often with no implementation plan in sight—and environmental justice organizations struggling to include the interests of low-income people and communities of color in actionable policy language. True to pattern, on the eve of the 2006 election, Governor Schwarzenegger began undermining AB32 with an executive order pushing the state toward implementation of his original cap-and-trade agenda.22 In 2007, he fired ARB Chair Robert Sawyer who wanted to aggressively implement early action regulations to bring down emissions quickly. ARB Executive Officer Catherine Witherspoon resigned in protest.

Angela Johnson-Meszaros, co-chair of the EJAC, reportedly said that ARB was already ignoring their recommendations “not just for climate change, but for co-pollutants.” 23 (Co-pollution is the term for the emission of both toxic chemicals and carbon. Reducing those emissions is central to environmental protection of low-income communities, where the sources are usually located.)

The Governor’s order directing Executive Branch agencies to prioritize cap-and-trade and the firing of the ARB chair successfully forced cap-and-trade to the top of the agenda.24 Repeated expert testimony that called cap-and-trade an untested methodology for controlling carbon emissions, as well as Europe’s failure in implementing the model were ignored.25 Scores of policy recommendations made by the legislatively mandated EJAC went unimplemented. Unfortunately, the legislature provided practically no funds for the work of the EJAC and while the members had a clear grasp of the intricacies of climate policy, they lacked the leverage to alter the cap-and-trade program included in the draft scoping plan proposed by ARB.26

Several of the organizations represented on the EJAC (including the Center on Race Poverty and the Environment and Communities for a Better Environment) sued to block implementation of the cap-and-trade portion of the reduction and succeeded briefly because the plan violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).27 Unfortunately, the ruling addressed only the procedures followed, not the merits of the program and ARB was able to proceed with the cap-and-trade program after formally considering and rejecting the legally required alternative plan.

Greenhouse Gas Reduction Revenues Could Fund Climate Action

Despite losing, the lawsuit against ARB provided significant media visibility for the environmental justice critique of cap-and-trade. Across the state, people were educated about the fact that carbon and toxic pollution were co-pollutants and that cap-and-trade permits allow emissions to continue at refineries, power plants, and other sources situated in low-income communities. Conversation around the lawsuit also helped build a persuasive argument that low income and communities of color need to be included in shaping policy on how mitigation efforts will impact them.

Community organizations that had tried and failed to establish an ambitious carbon trust fund (SB31) in 2009 28 came back to the legislature with a new plan and in 2012, two Green House Gas Reduction Fund measures (AB1532 and SB 535) were passed and signed by Governor Jerry Brown. Organizations both for and against cap-and-trade had reunited to support directing 25 percent of the proceeds from the carbon permit auctions towards improving conditions in impacted communities.29

After a decade of struggle, there is now in place a revenue stream specifically targeted at funding local and regional efforts to reduce GHG emissions and climate change impacts. In FY 2013-14, auctions yielded over $500 million in revenues and ARB estimates that within a few years the amount of money flowing through this channel will be substantial depending on market conditions. Revenues could rise to $1.5 billion in FY 2014-15 and to $2.4 billion in 2015-17.30

Gaining access to that money, however, is an on-going battle with the state as well as with regional and local agencies that make allocation decisions. In the first year, Brown blocked any spending on the required targets and used the money to fill the budget deficit in the general fund. But after the campaign to tax millionaires let Brown raise taxes sufficient to close the deficit in 2014, the Legislature and Governor Brown agreed on the first release Greenhouse Gas Reduction Funds.31

While the bulk of the fund went towards Brown’s own priorities—such as high speed rail—approximately $230 million (about 26 per cent) was allocated to aid environmental justice communities, including $75 million for weatherizing low-income homes, $25 million for transit and intercity rail networks in poor communities.32 and $130 million towards the Strategic Growth Council to fund local planning efforts across the state. According to an analysis by William Fulton in the California Development and Planning Report, “Local governments and their nonprofit partners are focusing on implementation of previous plans—especially climate action plans.” 33 If this prediction bears out, local governments should be more receptive than ever to partnering with grassroots organizations to promote climate resilience work developed with an equity framework. (See following article on CalEnviroScreen)

Across the state, communities are now mobilizing to move this money, the product of a decade long fight by environmental justice advocates, toward real benefits for low-income people and communities of color. Though not much more than spillover funds from the vast resources controlled by the fossil fuel industry, they still represent an important win for our communities and we need to continue the fight even though it be a generations-long process.

In assessing the power of California’s communities of color in stopping Prop 23, Catherine Lerza34 characterizes people of color voters as “a climate firewall” that blocked the attempt by the fossil fuel industries to shut down AB32. Indeed, low-income people and communities of color continue to be our best hope for preventing the firestorm of extreme weather and extreme right political positions that dominate the national political and environmental landscape. Accepting the centrality of community-based leadership and decision-making in channeling climate adaptation and mitigation investments is also the best method of ensuring that the proceeds produce real community resilience. n

 

Jess Clarke is the project director of Reimagine! and was the editor of Race Poverty & the Environment from 2005-2013. This article is based on a policy briefing paper, “California’s New Majority Confronts Climate Crisis,” produced for the Movement Strategy Center. The original briefing is available at http://reimaginerpe.org/research/

 

 

Communities of Color Defeat Prop 23

with “Climate Firewall”

 

Just as the major provisions of AB32 were to take effect, two oil companies financed a campaign—the Dirty Energy Prop 23—to suspend implementation of the law until unemployment dropped below 5 percent, cloaking their argument in the classic “jobs vs. environment” format.

Despite its drawbacks, AB32 was California’s strongest piece of pro-environment legislation in a generation and clearly a leader in the nation’s climate policy. While the protection of impacted communities had been a struggle at each stage of implementation, AB32 was still considered a major step in working toward the environmental health of our communities. While mainstream environmentalists and business groups quickly formed a well-funded coalition to defeat the measure, some environmental justice created their own organization: Communities United Against the Dirty Energy Proposition. This statewide coalition, separate from but in collaboration with the mainstream grouping, laid the groundwork for future collective action and advocacy. It enabled a statewide conversation about the equity of environmental priorities and culture-specific organizing in impacted communities, and the creation of a strong state-wide network with equity concerns at its heart. In 2010, the measure was defeated by a clear majority 60 percent vote.35

Catherine Lerza, analyzing the campaign and the results in a post-election review, “A Perfect Storm,” published by the Funders Network for Transforming the Global Economy (FNTG),36 draws a number of important demographic and policy conclusions about the leadership role that communities of color can and are playing in California’s environmental policy battles.

 

From “A Perfect Storm”

by Catherine Lerza

 

In framing messages about Prop 23, Communities United focused on two things: public health, particularly air pollution and respiratory diseases that are epidemic in CA’s low income communities of color, and the jobs and economic opportunity that will flow from an investment in a clean, sustainable economy.”

In 2011, members of the California Environmental Justice Alliance (CEJA), partnering with the mainstream environmental community, played a key role in winning the nation’s most aggressive renewable energy standards, which increased California’s mandate for renewable energy from 20 percent to 33 percent by 2020. EJ organizations not only helped make the bill’s passage possible by securing three critical committee votes, but also added important components to the bill, including codifying into the law the “Garamendi Principles” (a set of principles aimed at reducing the negative environmental impacts of proposed new energy transmission infrastructure) and a commitment to distributive generation via local renewable energy projects.”

Communities of color do not need to be “educated” about environmental and climate issues. They need to be recognized as environmental and climate activists and, most important, as leaders. Funding for organizations led by and rooted in communities of color should not be an “add on,” but should instead be a driver of strategy and mission for foundations and donors concerned about climate change.”

Download the full report at: www.edgefunders.org/publications-resources/.

Continued on pg. 24

 

San Francisco Grassroots Participate in SB375 Planning

Equity, Environment and Jobs

 

One major channel for the funds will be regional transportation planning organizations mandated to reduce carbon emissions by another California state climate policy, the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act, commonly referred to as SB375. This legislation supports the State’s climate action goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through coordinated transportation and land-use planning to create more sustainable communities.37

These planning agencies are critical sites for decision-making on a host of other issues, such as transportation access to jobs and economic opportunities and neighborhood streetscaping improvements. Broad-based community intervention in the San Francisco Bay Area plan attempted to ensure that benefits and impacts of such development would be shared by all communities. The alternative plan proposed by community forces demonstrated that by addressing the needs of low-income communities the plan could better serve the entire Bay area, both in terms of mitigating carbon emissions and improving health outcomes.

Richard A. Marcantonio and Alex Karner detail the course of one battle in their case study of the San Francisco Bay Area planning process, “One Bay Area”.38 Anticipating the possible opening SB375 could create for local organizations, in 2010, community groups across the nine-county San Francisco Bay region came together to create a regional policy and investment platform that would put the needs of disadvantaged communities first. The coalition of over 40 organizations that emerged—The 6 Wins Network—has been engaged ever since in shaping planning priorities.

 

Public Advocates, a key member of the 6 Wins Network, summarizes its important victories:

1. Launching the first ever community-built, equity-driven, alternative regional plan. Developed in 2011, the Equity, Environment and Jobs (EEJ) Scenario focuses on creating a more healthy, prosperous, and sustainable future for Bay Area residents of all races and incomes.

2. Showing that equity is better for everyone. In July 2012, 6 Wins succeeded in pushing MTC and ABAG to study the benefits of the EEJ scenario in their Environmental Impact Report (EIR) of the Plan. The April 2013 EIR concluded that the EEJ out-performed the Draft Plan and three other alternatives. In fact, MTC and ABAG called it the “environmentally superior alternative,” because the numbers show that the EEJ results in fewer greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants; a broader distribution of affordable housing; $8 billion more to increase transit service levels; more opportunities for walking and biking; fewer injuries and fatalities from traffic accidents; the fewest renters priced out of their neighborhoods; and the lowest combined housing and transportation costs for low-income households.

3. Linking grassroots groups, academics, policy and legal advocates. We know that we’re stronger when we bring each of our unique skills to the table and work collectively across issue areas. The 6 Wins has also built bridges to groups that focus on environment, public health, good government and business. By May, 2013, more than 40 groups, including the American Lung Association, the League of Women Voters of the Bay Area, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, had joined 6 Wins in calling on MTC and ABAG to incorporate key elements of the EEJ in the final plan. n

 

Chevron Refinery abuts residential neighborhood in Richmond CA. © 2009 Scott Braley

Endnotes

 

1 http://www.ipcc.ch

2 Severe Drought Has U.S. West Fearing Worst Adam Nagourney and Ian Lovett, The New York Times, February 1, 2014

3 “Getting Ready for Change: Green Economics and Climate Justice.” B. Jesse Clarke, RP&E Journal, Vol.13, No.1. 2006. (http://reimaginerpe.org/rpe/13-1/about)

4 Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) Statewide Surveys 2008-2012 (http://ppic.org/main/series.asp?i=12) and A Perfect Storm, Catherine Lerza, (http://wherewelivefilm.org/more/white-paper/)

5 “Voting Rights are Local Rights.” Gil Cedillo, RP&E Journal, Vol.18. No.2. 2011. (http://reimaginerpe.org/18-2/cedillo)

6 Oakland Coalition Charts New Course on Climate Strategy, Al Weinrub, Race Poverty & the Environment, Volume 16 #2, 2009 http://reimaginerpe.org/cj/weinrub

7 environmentalhealth.org/index.php/en/

8 LA Bus Riders’ Union Rolls Over Transit Racism By Geoff Ray Vol. 12 No. 1, 2001 http://reimaginerpe.org/node/327; http://www.thestrategycenter.org/project/bus-riders-union

9 TJ Youth Score Win for Free MUNI Passes By Rene Ciria-Cruz http://reimaginerpe.org/19-2/ciria-cruz-

10 http://www.urbantilth.org/

11 http://www.urbanreleaf.org/

12 http://ceja.org

13 California Environmental Protection Agency Environmental Justice Program Update February 2014. (http://www.calepa.ca.gov/Publications/)

14 Environmental Justice: Reflections from the United States, Manuel Pastor (http://peri.umass.edu/ Political Economy Research Institute)

15 “Mayors gather for climate change summit.” Associated Press, May 31, 2005. (http://nbcnews.com/id/8044734/#.UugSgfbTkYI)

16 “Mayors Sign Historic Urban Environmental Accords.” Department of the Environment, City and County of San Francisco, June 5, 2005. (http://sfenvironment.org/news/press-release/mayors-sign-historic-urban-environmental-accords)

17 Parin Shah on Urban Environmental Accords (transcript of audio interview). (http://old.globalpublicmedia.com/transcripts/829). Shah was director of the Urban Accords Institute. He now works at APEN.

18 “Reclaim the Future: Striving for Restorative, Economic and Environmental Justice in Oakland.” Joshua Abraham, Left Turn Magazine.

March 01, 2006. (http://leftturn.org/reclaim-future-striving-restorative-economic-and-environmental-justice-oakland)

19 Executive Order S-3-05 by the Governor of the State of California. Signed June 1, 2005. (http://dot.ca.gov/hq/energy/ExecOrderS-3-05.htm)

20 Assessing the Effects of AB 32 Climate Change Mitigation Programs in Environmental Justice Communities. (http://arb.ca.gov/cc/ejac/meet- ings/102213/tracking-indicators.pdf )

21 http://arb.ca.gov/cc/ejac/ejac.htm

22 Executive Order S-17-06. Office of the Governor of the State of California. October 16, 2006. (http://c2es.org/docUploads/CAExecOrderS%2017%2006.pdf )

23 “Gov. Schwarzenegger’s Global Warming Act Called Hot Air.” Paul Rosenberg, Consumer Watchdog. July 27, 2007. (http://consumerwatchdog. org/story/gov-schwarzeneggers-global-warming-act-called-hot-air)

24 Wheeler, Stephen M. “California’s Climate Change Planning: Policy Innovation and Structural Hurdles.” 2009. In Davoudi, Simin, Jenny Crawford and Abid Mehmood, eds., Planning for Climate Change: Strategies for Mitigation and Adaptation. London: Earthscan. (http://its. ucdavis.edu/research/publications/publication-detail/?pub_id=1616)

25 “Equitable Alternatives to AB 32’s Cap-and-Trade Program,” Recorded remarks of Adrienne Bloch, Senior Staff Attorney, Communities for a Better Environment. (http://reimaginerpe.org/files/Bloch-AB32-06.10.11-64kbs.mp3)

26 Recommendations and Comments of the Environmental Justice Advisory Committee. Proposed Scoping Plan. October 1, 2008. (http://arb. ca.gov/cc/ejac/ejac_comments_final.pdf )

27 http://crpe-ej.org/crpe/images/stories/campaigns_climate/AIR_v_ARB_5-20-11.pdf

28 “A Trust Fund for California’s Poor Communities.” Evelyn Marcelina Rangel-Medina, RP&E Journal, Vol.16, No.2. 2009. (reimaginerpe. org/node/4921)

29 “California Cap-and-Trade.” Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. January 2014. (http://c2es.org/us-states-regions/key-legislation/califor- nia-cap-trade)

30 “Politics of Carbon Auction Proceeds – The Battle Ahead.” Four Twenty Seven Climate Solutions. (http://427mt.com/2013/12/politics-carbon- auction-proceeds-battle-ahead/)

31 AB-1532 California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006: Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund. (2011-2012) (http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201120120AB1532)

32 Calif. Earmarks a Quarter of Its Cap-and-Trade Riches for Environmental Justice

This year, $230 million from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund will go to programs for low-income and minority people. http://insideclimatenews.org/news/20140625/calif-earmarks-quarter-its-cap-and-trade-riches-environmental-justice

33 Will SGC money pay for planning or implementation? By William Fulton, http://www.cp-dr.com/node/3513

34 Perfect Storm” published by the Funders Network for Transforming the Global Economy (FNTG ). (http://edgefunders.org/publications-resources/; http://edgefunders.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Prop23CaseStudy_000.pdf)

35 Suspend Air Pollution Control Law (AB 23). Election Results by County, California Secretary of State. (http://sos.ca.gov/elections/sov/2010- general/maps/prop-23.htm)

36 A Perfect Storm” published by the Funders Network for Transforming the Global Economy (FNTG ).

37 arb.ca.gov/cc/sb375/sb375.htm

38 Disadvantaged Communities Teach Regional Planners a Lesson in Equitable and Sustainable Development, by Richard A. Marcantonio and Alex Karner, Poverty & Race, Vol. 23, No. 1

 

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Land for the People: Brazil’s Landless Workers’ Movement

"Being a mass social movement with our demands and our struggle is the way that we can always keep our autonomy. So, at the same time that we negotiate some things with the government, we don’t just do negotiation."

An interview with Ana Manuela de Jesus Cha

By Marcy Rein and Clifton Ross

My name is Ana Manuela de Jesus Cha. I’m part of the national coordination of the Landless Workers’ Movement of Brazil (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra, or MST). MST is a mass movement that struggles for land, agrarian reform, and social transformation in Brazil. We have 30 years in the struggle. We organize and mobilize landless people in Brazil, and through land occupation we [build power to] negotiate with the government. We make settlements where people can grow healthy food and live with their families.

MST has organized around 550,000 families, more like 1.5 million people; we’re in 24 of the 27 states [in Brazil].

In Brazil, the land has always been in the hands of the powerful families since the Portuguese colonization. In the beginning of MST 30 years ago, our main struggle was with these big landowners. We occupied lands that were not producing anything and pressed the government to appropriate these lands, because in Brazil, there’s a law which says the land has to have a social function. Based on this, we occupied the land that was not used, and claimed that land for agrarian reform.

But in the last 10 years, and more strongly in the last five years, the multinational corporations started coming to the country to buy land, to grab some land and to cultivate a few crops with monoculture and with a lot of pesticides and a lot of machines. That has really changed the countryside of Brazil because they’re producing, but not food. And even when they produce food, it’s not healthy food because they use a lot of pesticides.

[People] are now building the idea that Brazil has this role in the international context of producing goods to export, and so they try to make the population believe that it is the best thing for the country and that the corporations are bringing money and development. The struggle is now more difficult, because it’s hard to explain to people, especially in the city, that that’s not exactly what they’re doing. They’re taking our natural resources and at the end very little money stays in the country, because most of it goes to the corporations.

We still continue to occupy land that isn’t productive. We do it to try and get the government to appropriate those lands [so we can] make settlements, but we also realized that we have to take some other actions to denounce what the corporations were doing in Brazil. Also, we need to stop the process, not just announce to society what they have done, but also stop processes like planting eucalyptus or big extensions of soy. So we also started some direct actions against these companies, and occupied their land sometimes, but not always with the objective of getting that land and making settlements.

‘All the landless have a right to education’

Brazil is a country that still has a lot of illiterate people, people who went to school who cannot read or write their name, especially in the countryside. Almost 20 percent of the people in the countryside cannot read or write. So that is one of our focuses.

We believe that all the landless have a right to education, so we do formal adult education so people can start to read and write and get knowledge through books, the newspaper, and all of that. We’re also getting from the government the right to have a school in every settlement, not just at a primary level, but also at a high school level, and even at the university level. We made some partnerships with the universities, and now we have a lot of sons and daughters of landless people, as well as adults, who take courses in the university. So that’s one of our struggles—for education.

We also really believe in the importance of political training and political formation, so we do different kinds of trainings, [many] coordinated by a school that we built in Guadalama in Sao Paulo State. We call it the National School of the MST. Throughout the year we have different kinds of educational processes there, including ones with people from other countries, especially from Latin America.

As a landless and peasant movement, our main alliances are with peasant movements within Brazil and around the world. We are part of La Via Campesina, which is an international network of peasant movements and small farmers, an organization that is in 80 countries and [includes] about 170 organizations and peasant movements.

In Brazil, MST is also part of the movements of the small farmers, of the peasant women, and of those affected by the dams, as well as some groups in the struggle for land that are connected with the progressive Catholic Church. They are our main allies, but we are also part of La Alba de Los Movimientos Sociales, which is a network of social movements from all Latin America. It was born in opposition to the ALCA (Spanish initials for the Free Trade Area of the Americas, FTAA), the agreement that the United States was proposing for all the Americas.

It’s a kind of alternative, and it’s trying to build alternative ways of integration and of cooperation through education programs, through medical services, and exchange of agricultural techniques—organic ones. That’s our main alliance but, of course, we have other contact with other organizations around the world.

The government now has a perspective that we call neo-developmentalist. They really believe they should promote the development of the country. To do that, they made some partnerships with a private initiative.

They are inside the market, although the state still controls a big part of those processes, and for the population, they have some assistentialist policies. Of course, it’s different from the neoliberalism that we had before. That was all controlled by the market and people hardly had access to any policy. So we can say we are doing better in some things now, but we really believe things are not as they should be.

Taking What People Can Use, Pressing for What They Need

It’s a difficult situation for us because, historically, the Workers’ Party was built in the same period as the MST, and it had a very progressive program in the beginning. But now it has this strategy of neo-developmentalism, and it really hasn’t done much for agrarian reform because, of course, if people believe the big corporations bring development to the country, it’s better to keep the land with these corporations than to give it to the landless people, when they don’t know what we will do with the land.

So the policy of agrarian reform really didn’t work these last years. But considering the [government] assistance, there are some policies that could improve some aspects of life in the settlements that already exist, like education or even policies that improve the commercialization of the products that people produce. So it’s kind of complicated—our relation. But MST also has always tried to preserve its autonomy in relation to the government, so we don’t have to support the government and we can demand these changes that we believe in.

I think our main strategy to maintain our autonomy is the struggle. We really believe that being a mass social movement with our demands and our struggle is the way that we can always keep our autonomy. So, at the same time that we negotiate some things with the government, we don’t just do negotiation. We also engage in a struggle, and that really empowers those who are negotiating with the government, people in the street saying what their needs are and what they really want to do.

Maybe we don’t know exactly how the perfect society would be that we all are fighting for, but we have some points of what it should be: a society without exploitation, where people and nature could live together without one being sacrificed for the other. Those principles, they are always there. So that also helps us know where we’re going, although we know we have to build a way of getting there. That helps when we try to negotiate with the government.

Democracy Takes Time

We have a way of organizing ourselves. Of course, it changes a little bit from one region to another, but our first level of decision-making is a group of families.

Ten families make up what we call a “nucleo de familias,” a group of families. We discuss many of the issues, the decisions, in there, and then five groups of families constitute the next level of coordination. From this group, we have the coordination of the settlement, and from the coordination of the settlement or the camp, people choose someone who will represent them at the regional level, and then at a state level, and then at a national level.

At a national level, we have two kinds of coordinating groups. It’s what we call the national direction. There are two people from each state, and every two months they come together to make the decisions and to take lines of action. In the biggest group there are about 10 people from each state, and people that coordinate some specific areas—for instance, the educational area—the health area, a national coordination of these sectors. So we have about 350 people on this national coordination, and we get together at least two times a year so we have the big action lines.

Also, we have some spaces, like national offices, at least three big national offices where some daily decisions are made, but almost all decisions are made in these groups of coordination. So that’s the way we fight.

Sometimes it’s not easy. It takes too long to reach a decision about something. Now, for instance, we are discussing how we will participate in the presidential election. It’s a discussion that we started in February, and it still doesn’t have an end. So, sometimes it takes long, but that’s the way we get it to be very democratic, and once we make a decision at this level, then we try to let everybody know about the decision and the ideas. After that, everybody just maintains the decision and takes action according to the decisions.

MST Is a Social Movement, and Will Remain One

MST is a social movement, and that’s what we decided we will be, at least for the next years. For us, we won’t become a party, and our expectation is that other forces from Brazilian society will build a party where we can put our strengths together. As MST, we decided that we are a social movement.

Of course, we have to negotiate. Perhaps the Zapatistas are much more radical. They decided not to negotiate with the government. We negotiate with the government, but we believe that our role is to also be in the streets and out of the state so we can make pressure and create some small transformations. Although we believe that if we want to end the capitalist system, we need to, in fact, destroy the state and build another way of power, we don’t have the strength to do that, so we will stay as a social movement.

There’s a lot of problems in Brazil and people are starting to move a little bit, but still in a very individual way. Last year there were a lot of mobilizations in the street in Brazil, but they weren’t organized by the working class or the organized groups in the society. They were more like individuals that feel things are not okay, but they don’t have a proposal or a way to change the situation. They want to do more than just go to the streets that day to change it.

We expect the working class in Brazil to get together and have the strength to really promote some social transformations. We believe that if we can have a very strong popular movement we can pressure the government to do many more changes. They’ve made a lot of concessions to the right wing parties so they can still keep themselves in power, so it’s a conciliation government.

So, if people go to the streets but organize with specific words and proposals to the government, perhaps they can make more changes than they can make now.

I think it’s very important to be here and to learn more about what people are doing here in the United States. Usually, we know the capitalism of the United States, but we really don’t know what people do, the resistance that is very big here, and it’s very inspiring to be here and to hear about all the struggles. n

 

Clifton Ross is a writer, videographer, and translator. His latest book is Until the Rulers Obey: Voices from Latin American Social Movements (PM Press, 2014), which he co-edited with Marcy Rein. A video of this interview is available at reimaginerpe.org. Interview transcribed by Daniel Salazar.

People in the street empower the people

negotiating with the government’

 

 

Brazil’s Landless Workers’ Movement

(Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra)

Pushed to the edge of desperation, with nowhere to live and nowhere to farm, in 1979, rural families in Brazil’s southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul began occupying lands left fallow by absentee owners. The occupation born of necessity took root, put out shoots around the country, and grew into the Landless Workers’ Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, or MST). Over the last three decades, the movement has taken over 35 million acres of land, home to thousands of families. As it has built the settlements, with their independent school systems and agricultural cooperatives, the movement has also campaigned to change government policy on land distribution, and engaged with international organizing around climate justice and food sovereignty.

In this interview, Ana Manuela de Jesus Cha of the MST’s National Coordination explains some of the key features that have fed the movement’s success: member education and bottom-up decision-making; a multi-pronged strategy that combines autonomy, direct action, negotiation and political action; and clarity on its role as an independent social movement.

The dramatic inequity in land distribution in Brazil that sparked the formation of the MST—less than one percent of the population owns 46 percent of the land—dates back to colonization. Unlike other European countries that needed land to relieve population pressure, Portugal had little interest in the land as such. It saw Brazil as a mere factory for producing raw materials for export, so it simplified administration by giving complete authority over vast tracts of land to a handful of people. “In this way inequality was introduced into the very core of Brazilian society, economy and politics,” Angus Wright observed in the classic study of the MST, To Inherit the Earth (p. 113). Landowners exercised brutal and dictatorial powers over rural communities.

The “modernization” program launched by the military dictatorship that gripped Brazil in 1964 (brought to power by a United States backed coup) included the industrialization of agriculture. Many family farmers lost their lands, bought out by big companies that took advantage of government incentives to launch highly mechanized production of soy and wheat for export.

Though the dictatorship repressed most forms of dissent, Catholic groups influenced by liberation theology—the Ecclesiastical Base Communities and the Pastoral Land Commissions—were able to carry on organizing among Brazil’s urban and rural poor. The MST grew directly out of their work, although it can trace its ancestry back to an organization called MASTER (Movimento dos Agricultores Sem-Terra, the Landless Farmers’ Movement) that mobilized in Rio Grande do Sul in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and to acts of rural resistance throughout the country’s history.

After a four-year struggle, the families that launched the first occupation in 1979 won the right to stay on the land; of the 650 families camped by the side of the road at the start, 310 were left to form the settlements. Meanwhile, people in other states initiated occupations of their own. By 1985, when the MST had its first national congress, it had chapters in 22 of Brazil’s 27 states.

The MST took root during a time of great social ferment in Brazil, as popular pressure forced the dictatorship to offer a “democratic opening.” Student strikes erupted in 1977, and the 1978 autoworkers’ strike, led by Luís Inácio “Lula” da Silva rocked the foundation of the dictatorship’s industrialization program and drew broad popular support. The Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabhaldores, PT) formed in 1980. After working for many years at the local level, the PT won national leadership in 2002, with Lula as its candidate for president.


Despite their common origins and political alignment, the MST has maintained a careful independence from the PT. The movement does endorse candidates (it backed Lula in 2002 and 2006, but stayed neutral during Dilma Rousseff’s run in 2010), but members who run for office can’t participate in leadership bodies. In its practice, the MST melds several strategies often seen as mutually exclusive.

“In the hundreds of MST settlements and camps across the country families are ‘prefiguring’ the world they hope to see, organizing collective housing, agricultural cooperatives, and student-administered public school systems,” Rebecca Tarlau wrote in the Berkeley Journal of Sociology (October 2104). “However, the MST is neither leaderless nor dismissive of state power...Through contestation, street protest, and yes, political negotiation, the MST has been able to win concrete concessions for hundreds of thousands of landless families across the country.”

The relationship between the movement and the government has grown more complicated as the PT has expanded support for export-oriented agribusiness, with the toxics and transgenics that come with it.

At its Sixth National Congress in February 2014, the MST broadened its focus to include food sovereignty in a program it calls “People’s Agricultural Reform.” The new program calls for a shift in focus to diversified production to feed the Brazilian people, carried out with agro-ecological methods. (See “People’s Agrarian Reform: An Alternative to the Capitalist Model,” by MST leader João Pedro Stedile and Osvaldo Léon, editor of Latin America in Movement, at http://www.mstbrazil.org/content/popular-agrarian-reform-alternative-capitalist-model).

Going forward, the MST faces the challenge of trying to advocate for this program in new urban constituencies—and of doing so in a country that is now one of the world’s economic superpowers. Brazil consistently ranks seventh among the world’s largest economies, and its multinationals stand among the five largest in the world in many categories, including mining, oil, and agribusiness. This new power also holds half of the world’s biodiversity in its Amazon rainforest—the area sometimes called “the lungs of the planet,” that produces an estimated 20 percent of the world’s oxygen. n

Ana Manuela de Jesus Cha

©2014 Clifton Ross

 

 

 

MST Farm owners Nisse and Armando

(cc) 2012 Matthew Masin/unlphotojournalismbrazil.wordpress.com

 

As the South Goes; Organizing, Healing and Resilience in Gulf Coast Communities

We need folks to value our difference and to value our uniqueness and to say that there just might be something as innovative as jazz to come out and solve this climate change problem.”

An Interview with Colette Pichon Battle by Marcy Rein and Jess Clarke

This interview was recorded at the Our Power Convening in Richmond, California in August 2014. The meeting drew community organizers, scholars, and activists from all over the nation together to consider new approaches to ecological restoration, social justice, and paths towards ending the extractive economy. Listen to the podcast at reimaginerpe.org.

 

Colette Pichon Battle: I am from Slidell, Louisiana. I’m the executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy. We work with communities of color throughout the Gulf Coast, from Houston to Pensacola. We take a regional approach to building community and we specifically work with what we call frontline communities who are often people of color and low-income folks living on the coasts.

Our job at the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy has really been to bring the subject of climate change to the community level and say, listen, when our 90-year-old matriarch has never seen this and when oil is washing onto our coast for five years straight, something is going on.

We are in the frontlines of climate disasters, of disasters by extractive industries. Meanwhile, the recovery for those industries in disaster is very quick and the recovery for the communities that we serve is very slow. Something is going on. There’s an imbalance, and it’s not about Republican or Democrat, it’s not about white or black, it’s about something that we’ve lost around our humanity and we’ve got to get that back.

Black Brown Unity

That’s what everyone talked to me about. “Colette, where’s the black-brown tension?” In my neighborhood it was really funny because I remember going home and my Uncle built a fire. There were some Latino folks who had moved into the neighborhood, and my Uncle can hardly speak great English. He can’t speak a lick of Spanish, but it was a holy day. It was a Catholic holy day that in my community is celebrated with fire, good conversation, good food, some beer, a lot of laughter, and a lot of love. It happened that these Latinos who were visiting were also Catholic. They come from a Catholic tradition, I’ll say like that. So they knew to celebrate this day, we knew to celebrate this day, and it turns out that the Vietnamese community also comes from this Catholic tradition. So here we have these folks who don’t speak the same language, but they come from a religious tradition that is familiar to each other. On top of the religious tradition, regardless of what you think about that, they come from cultures that really value family, they value joy and laughter, and they value food and a good time. These are people who sit under trees to talk and exchange stories. These are people who make music from limbs and grass blades. These are people who understand and love the environment they live in. Even through language barriers they had cultural connections that you couldn’t make up if you tried. You couldn’t teach that. These were people who had been rooted in something and there was a connection that they all could find, and we do our work based off of those connections. We don’t feel like we need to go create new connections for you to engage in.

Listen, if you celebrate All Souls Day, and I celebrate Día de los Muertos, and we all got to go to church and have a feast afterward, well, let’s have that feast. Let’s celebrate together and let’s also talk about what’s happening in our community and how we’re all being impacted. This is how we build those alliances. We can’t build those alliances because I like you and you like me. It rarely works like that. It usually works with: I identify with what you’re doing and who you are and you can identify with what I’m doing and who I am—that’s a little bit of trust. We can go from there.

Marcy Rein: Can you talk a little bit more about having established that trust and some of the work that you did together in this alliance?

Battle: Sure. Well, I want to be honest and say there were a lot of attempts. There had to be a lot of learning. Our first attempt was getting everyone in a room and having everyone talk about the issue as we saw it. Well, that doesn’t work even when you have the right translation. People don’t know each other. They have to know each other. We found that the folks most willing to get to know each other were actually women. So we pulled together African American women, Latino women, and Asian American women, mostly Vietnamese, into a room and literally used some of their leaders and had those leaders talk about their communities. When women talk about their communities it’s sort of like women talking about their children. It’s pride, love, and some sadness and tears in a way that women can exchange with one another. It turns out women actually play very large roles, especially in Southern households, despite popular opinion. So a lot of the moral fabric and the moral movement of a family and of a community is done through the women. So we’ve worked with bringing these women together to just really sort of talk with each other and to each other. Then, from there, we actually used a People’s Movement assembly format. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that, but it’s basically a format that says, listen, we are experiencing our lives. What you experience is your truth. Let’s exchange and learn a little bit more about each other’s truth and let’s set an agenda. Let’s set a collective agreement together to move forward so that we can reach a collective vision.

We have some women coming together next week to talk to a senior senator in Louisiana who needs the people of color vote to win. So we’re actually going to talk to her about climate change and extractive industries as women, as mothers, as value holders in a community to say we need you to shift the economy from this oil-based economy that’s killing us, that’s poisoning our sand, our beaches, and our waterways, that’s hurting our seafood industry, that’s causing these storms that make us lose everything, including our traditions that we’ve held for generations. We need you to switch your viewpoint to an economy based in renewable energy and in energy that can make us stronger. I won’t be saying anything. These are women who have all the stories. They’ve got everything they need. The only thing I did was coordinate a ribbon. That was my job: coordinate the ribbon and let the women speak for the community.

Jess Clarke: Is this a state senator or a U.S. senator?

Battle: This is a U.S. senator.

Clarke: So what do you think that Senator could help move within Louisiana?

Battle: I live in a state where all of our elected officials still deny climate change. Louisiana is full of elected officials whose main contributors are the oil companies. So we recognize that she’s in a predicament. She needs the money to win the race, and a lot of her money and a lot of her opponent’s money will come from the oil company and the Koch brothers, apparently. So all I ask is for her to actually reconsider her position specifically on the Keystone XL pipeline. She came out recently, just before they came into their recess, with the big Keystone fight. One of the only democrats voting for the Keystone pipeline to go forward was the democrat from Louisiana, and we know why but we have to tell her that’s not acceptable. It is said that people of color don’t care about environment and climate issues. It’s not true. Factually, that’s not how we vote. It’s not true, but we need to show her, and we will show her next week. A group of 50 women of color who care about the climate issues, who care about the environment. The specific ask is to acknowledge the climate crisis that the coastal communities are going through; to reconsider an economy based on oil to an economy based on renewable energy; and to make and stand up for policies that make Louisiana stronger, as opposed to making Louisiana weaker. They seem a little broad but we have a broad cross-section of folks.

Rein: Where have people taken their concern about jobs and education into actions? What are the obstacles to organizing in the Deep South?

Battle: I was asked yesterday to speak about a campaign I was working on, and I was like, “Oh, there is no campaign. I’m just working to get people to acknowledge climate change. That’s all I’m doing.” Over the last 10 years, there is an undercurrent that stops all progress, which is trauma. I think we’re not like some other communities where something bad is happening, and the response is “let’s all galvanize.” We’re actually in a different place: “Something bad is happening, let’s deal with everyone’s trauma first.” This trauma is something I’ve never experienced before.... I actually had a few Vietnam vets tell me that this was a lot like having to deal with some of their comrades after a really traumatic experience. It’s really hard to move. The first several years of our work have been to really kind of get people unstuck and to get people to really grieve. This is a mourning process and it’s a regional mourning process, so more than specific campaigns to get things done, we’ve been working on people’s trauma. There’s a broader trauma that the Deep South holds, which is around race. It’s been really interesting to try to address generations of race trauma on top of Katrina trauma, on top of BP trauma, and to get folks to sit in a room and trust each other and trust that there’s something we can do to stop this. Our work hasn’t really yielded what I would call “campaigns.” Instead, it’s yielded alliances. We know that more storms are coming. That’s the one thing that coastal communities know for sure. The question is: what are we going to do to get ready for them? What are we going to do to survive them? So, I would offer that ourdisaster planning work has really been, again, rooted in a lot of women, but rooted in these different coastal communities.

Survival Comes First

How do we communicate during a storm? How do we get fresh water during a storm? We’re working on a project now to get communities to harvest rainwater because it’s a storm and we’ve lots of wonderful rain coming down. It turns out people need water after a disaster so why not get these folks who are impacted to harvest the rainwater so that people who need it can have water? After Katrina, people went without water for days, and what was most sinister is that the nation was sending billions of dollars, donations, and they were going to churches, but these churches and other institutions go down race lines. So there were communities that got water and there were communities that didn’t get water. Those communities that didn’t get water were browner and poorer. The storm did not make that distinction, let me be clear. The storm was equitable. It hit everyone. But why can’t we get water to old people, to people who couldn’t get out of their homes because their wheelchair hasn’t been fixed in 20 years? So, little projects like: what do we do when the next storm comes? How do we communicate? How do we get water to people? How do we know who’s left and who’s not left? We’ve established lots of disaster preparedness strategies, tactics. We haven’t had to use them, thank God. Hopefully we’ll never use them, but the problem before was that they weren’t even there. They weren’t even there and we live on the coast. The climate is changing and we live on the coast. We’ve got to start getting ready for that.

Clarke: So you’ve made this progress in building these kinds of coalitions. First, your challenge has been to break through the climate denial but also break through the racism denial. Then the process of healing people’s trauma actually ends up being at the front end of all the constructive work. So, as you wrap it up, just add a little more about how doing positive self-reliant engaged activities is actually kind of a reciprocal building tool for trauma reduction.

Battle: When Hurricane Katrina hit, there was this very interesting fight around what to call the people impacted by Katrina. First it was: you’re a victim. Then it was: a refugee. That was crazy. You should’ve seen the people react to being called a refugee. Then it was being called a Katrina survivor. I think survivor stuck the longest. What struck me the most was the first one was the victim. The first name we recognized and understood for our region was the victimization. I think a lot of our livelihoods, not just our social livelihood but even the extractive industries that operate within our world, really lend itself to this victimization paradigm, and you have to be healed from that. You have to heal to switch from victim to survivor, and you have to heal in a real way to not pass that along to other generations. I think the race trauma in the South hasn’t actually been healed, so it just passes onto generation and generation. To see the Katrina trauma, I think for many of us, especially those of us who work directly around race, we came to value those who were working around the physical healing and the traumatic healing. The best remedy for healing, any doctor will tell you and so will my grandmother, is sunshine, movement, water, and happiness and laughter. These things are actual remedies. I know we take them for granted and we don’t think of them as such, but they’re actual remedies. We had to find reasons to laugh and reasons to love that water that destroyed our home again. I grew up loving that bayou. It wasn’t supposed to swell the way that it did and so I had to learn to love it again, to love it so much I’ll fight for it now.

So I think the trauma had to be healed, has to be healed, and the aggregate trauma has to be dealt with at some point. It’s going to take real mental health professionals to come in and do some real work. It’s going to take social structures like churches to allow their congregations to acknowledge their own trauma and what that does to your body and your mind to survive something like that. Then I think it’s actually going to take us to be gentle with each other a little bit. A lot of the organizing is: you should be here protesting and yelling! Everyone’s not ready to do that and so you have to be gentle with folks. When folks get strong enough they’ll stand up for themselves. So I’ve come to appreciate healing and the art of it in a way that I don’t think I ever had before. There’s this murder rate happening in New Orleans right now and this crime rate. What they’re finding out is it’s basically all these children who went through Katrina. They are now of age. They are now adults in our society who have never healed form this, who have never healed from this really awful thing that nobody even wants to talk about anymore. They don’t even say “Katrina” anymore, by the way. They say the “storms of 2005 in the Gulf Coast.”

Anyway, I would say the healing is something that I think I didn’t recognize was going to be so prominent, but it is there and it has to happen. Any community that experiences what we experienced in the Gulf Coast--twice--is going to have to heal twice as long. In closing, I would say I think we get thought of last. The South gets thought of last. We get laughed at, we get mocked, and we get no respect. But somehow, we’re the place people know to go for fun, for laughter, for food, for music, for the things that we really value as beautiful in our communities. I would say the kind of leadership and the kind of innovation that you see in food and music; it exists with the people in the Gulf Coast. I think the minute we lift that region up is the minute we change the world. The congressional leaders in the United States Congress are from the South. They’re a little ridiculous sometimes but they are ours and they’re from the South. Those policies that they enact impact the world, and we elect them. Why aren’t more folks engaging with the Southern constituencies who put these people in office?

The oil industry—it would fail if not for New Orleans and Houston. It would fail. The military industrial complex—you could take it down by taking down the Gulf Coast all at one time because of the military bases that we have there. We play an important role in the future of this nation and the future of the world. We can’t continue to be thought of as last, insufficient, or, “They talk too funny to put on the microphone.” We need folks to value our difference and to value our uniqueness and to say that there just might be something as innovative as jazz to come out and solve this climate change problem. So that’s what I would say. I would say the leaders are in the South. There are a million Colettes out there who didn’t have the opportunities that I had, but they’re still there. They survived that storm. They survived that oil disaster and they’re still there. I think with a little bit of help from our friends we could really lift up some real leadership and change the world. n

 

Marcy Rein is a freelance writer and Reimagine RP&E contributing editor. Jess Clarke is editor and project director of Reimaigine! Transcribed by Daniel Salazar.

The Fire This Time: Ferguson

By Alicia Garza

Since the first week of August 2014, a rebellion has grown in St. Louis, Missouri sparked by the murder of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer, Darren Wilson. This is a rebellion fueled by state and police violence in working class black communities and its character demonstrates some very important shifts. Black youth are working diligently to re-calibrate this country’s moral center: building from the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, they have created their own historical identity, rejecting respectability politics, embracing direct action, and tackling new forms of anti-black racism rooted in old forms of slavery. As the black youth in Ferguson are innovating movement vision, practice and purpose, will the rest of us in the progressive movement be able to catch up?

In 1963, James Baldwin, having returned from Europe to participate in the Civil Rights movement, penned the powerful narrative The Fire Next Time1 which offers poignant thoughts on how to bring forth a world free of racist terror and violence. Baldwin asserts that black people, given our social, economic, and political positions, are uniquely positioned to re-humanize America and predicts that we “can make America what America must become.”

As of November 2014, at least three black youth under age 25 had been killed at the hands of police in St. Louis over a 100-day period. Every 28 hours, a black person in this country is murdered by police or vigilantes2. There are more than one million black people in prisons and jails in the United States. The fastest growing population in prisons and jails is black women who are imprisoned at nearly three times the rate of white women.3 Over one million currently under state supervision—largely penalized for crimes of poverty and hetero-patriarchy. Among black transgendered people, one in three has been arrested or held in a cell.4
Even as black communities are targeted for state and vigilante violence, they are increasingly denied access to a strong democracy. Voting restrictions, redistricting, and segregation ensure that black communities do not gain sustained political power. In Ferguson, 68 percent of the city’s 21,000 people are black but only one official on the City Council is black, there are no blacks on the school board, and just three out of the 53 police officers are black.5

Against a state apparatus that targets black people in particular for profit and control, progressive movements and institutions are still largely ineffective. But young black St. Louis residents have been on the frontlines of a growing and unique rebellion providing uncompromising leadership that’s in sharp contrast to previous forms of leadership. Then, we fought for a seat at the table, now we are fighting for the table.

The Fire This Time Is Different

More than 40 years after Baldwin wrote those profound words, black people in America are creating new tributaries in the ebb and flow of the Black Freedom Movement. A generation of young blacks is becoming radicalized through its experiences of fighting white supremacy in the form of hyper-policing and criminalization of the poor and working -class communities. Black women in particular are standing at the intersections of white supremacy, hetero-patriarchy, and capitalism, leading the movement for a new democracy and a new economy. From underground, a rumble is growing and ruptures happening, demonstrating that a new movement is on the way. This movement will not look like the ones that have come before, but will build itself from the best strategies and tactics adapted to the realities of our time. St. Louis and the growing movement to end state violence in all of its forms is taking center stage.

The fire this time rejects respectability politics, values militant civil disobedience and direct action, unites across identities with black lives at the center, and is led by young people under the age of 35—from 15-year-old Low-Key of the Lost Voices to Ashley Yates and Tef Poe. Every night, newly formed black youth organizations, such as the Freedom Fighters, Tribe X, HandsUp United, Lost Voices, and Millennial Activists United (MAU), some of whose members are queer, demonstrate before the Ferguson police department and on the south side of St. Louis where Vonderrit Myers was killed. In fact, the founders of MAU became prominent on social media platforms like Twitter, through their participation in and documentation of the early stages of the Ferguson rebellion.

The rejection of respectability politics has accelerated in Ferguson, making it the only predominantly black city in the last 50 years to reject an assumption of leadership by traditional civil rights leaders and institutions. When Michael Brown was murdered, the Reverend Jesse Jackson traveled to Ferguson eight days later, allegedly to work with local clergy to increase voter registration in the area and join community members who were demonstrating, demanding justice. After talking with community members in a McDonald’s parking lot, Jackson made the grave mistake of asking for donations for “the church,” and was promptly booed. And Al Sharpton recently did an event in Ferguson with talk show host Iyanla Vanzant, which garnered little media attention, despite their recognized name brands. Neither Sharpton nor Jackson have assumed prominent roles in Ferguson, as they may have been accustomed to doing in other instances. As one man asked Jackson: “When are you going to stop selling us out?”

In contrast, on the day after Michael Brown’s death the Canfield Green community reportedly solicited donations for his family6 and had a large plastic bag full by day’s end. Today, a shrine to Brown remains in the middle of the street where his 18-year old black body lay for more than four hours just steps away from his home. Cars respectfully slow down as they pass. Residents passing by will upright a fallen teddy bear or clean up any debris around the memorial. In a city where the per capita income is around $20,000 per year, the community has clearly spoken about where its allegiances lie.

Even clergy are being radicalized by the young black leaders in St. Louis. During the initial stages of the Ferguson rebellion, many clergy and civil rights leaders advocated for “peaceful” resistance, and in doing so, implicitly and explicitly supported methods of resistance that they deemed appropriate. However, that type of leadership has been rejected, meaning that even some religious leaders have had to change their approach if their participation was to be accepted.

Young Blacks Re-Humanizing Society

The relative silence from some areas of the progressive movement is notable, but many of the young leaders—such as 15-year-old Shermale Humphrey and 18-year-old Jeanina Jenkins—on the frontlines of the nightly Justice for Mike Brown demonstrations, were also previously involved in the “Show Me 15” movement. Some organizations, such as MomsRising and the National Domestic Workers Alliance, have been vocal and visible in bringing together the impact of state violence on women and children. When AFL-CIO President Richard Trumpka delivered a groundbreaking speech7 at the Missouri convention of the AFL-CIO, calling for organized labor to step up and join the fight for justice and accountability and an end to racist policies and structures that keep people poor and disenfranchised, he also noted that Brown’s mother, a deli worker and member of UFCW, and Officer Wilson, a member of the police union, were a part of the same family, adding: “Our brother killed our sister’s son.”

Still, an overwhelming silence around anti-black racism envelopes an already fragile movement. A recent labor newsletter8 photograph showed the president of the Missouri AFL-CIO with the St. Louis Chief of Police, Sam Dotson—just days after Myers was killed—at the Ferguson October national convergence to build a movement against police and vigilante violence. In the newsletter, the state labor president praises Dotson for making sure that the demonstrators were kept safe, when just the night before, demonstrators were pepper-sprayed.

Johnetta “Netta” Elsie and DeRay McKesson have created a daily newsletter, This is the Movement, which carries news about the Ferguson rebellion and notable efforts in other parts of the movement. They offer analysis, humor, photos and videos and are clear about their reasons for being involved and about what comes between them and freedom. As one young woman involved in the Show Me 15 movement told me: “I used to think that all police were generally good with just a few bad ones. But since I became involved in this movement, I noticed that not one officer came forward to say that what Darren Wilson did was wrong. It really shows you how they think about us. What they think about us.” She begins to cry softly, adding: “I been tear gassed, been shot at, been arrested. But at the end of the day, I’ve spent more time in jail than Darren Wilson!” Given that viewpoint, it’s unlikely that we will see photos of demonstrators posing with police officers.
Black youth in St. Louis have certainly sparked the fire this time, breathing new life into James Baldwin’s words about black people being uniquely positioned to re-humanize this country. An uncompromising leadership, a new call for black power, an approach that has changed our hearts and minds—one hundred days after Brown’s death, they are blazing new trails that took the progressive movement more than three decades to wrap its head around. Those of us who are paying attention aren’t only asking what we can learn, but also, perhaps more importantly, how we can catch up! 

View From the Street: October 8th

Wednesday, October 8, 2014. Night has fallen in St. Louis. The air is electric with grief, rage, and tension. A few hours earlier, 18-year-old Vonderrit Myers was killed by an off-duty St. Louis police officer working a second job as a private security officer. Initial reports of yet another death of a black youth at the hands of the police spread like wildfire, quickly turning into calls for protests.

When I arrive at the location where Vonderrit was killed, there are approximately 150 people, mostly between the ages of 15-35, milling around. Some had come from Ferguson, the community where Michael Brown was killed just shy of a month earlier.

The tone is at once angry and somber. Vonderrit’s home is surrounded by yellow caution tape that has fallen to the ground. The crowd is comprised largely of black youth from Ferguson and neighboring areas, officers from the St. Louis City police department, Vonderrit’s grieving family and loved ones, clergy and religious leaders, and local activists and organizers. Across the street is the liquor store where Vonderrit spent the last moments of his life. The lights are on but the door is closed as the crowd grows and their impassioned murmurs crescendo into a determined call-and-response chant:

Hey hey! Ho ho! These killer cops have got to go!

The tone gets angrier and emotions intensify. Local clergy and religious leaders walk slowly through the crowd, shaking hands and consoling grieving family members and loved ones. A local community organizer moves through the crowd with a clipboard, stopping short of her plan to recruit. An older activist with another local organization attempts to calm the crowd, but a child has just been murdered. Some police officers are talking with a handful of clergy, while family members sob in each other’s arms.

Somewhere, the sound of glass shattering is immediately followed by cheers from the crowd whose intensity is increasing rapidly. The dull thud of feet kicking a police car gets louder as the number of feet increases. Police officers in the crowd surround the police chief and retreat to the nearest intersection, but not before being surrounded.

One black youth with his head turned to the sky is screaming and crying. He lowers his head, and staring directly into the face of an officer whose expression barely hides his disdain, yells: “Ya’ll got guns! I’m just talkin, but ya’ll got guns! What the fuck are YOU scared of? You gonna shoot me? Shoot me! Ya’ll got guns!“

Amidst the obvious tension, the chief gives the order for officers to leave the area and they walk slowly to their cars and start their ignitions. Other cars attempting to make it down the street are generally allowed to pass if they go slowly, or demonstrate some level of support for the crowd. The ones trying to move faster through the crowd are stopped by the bodies. One such is a police car with a black officer at the wheel. With windows rolled up, he inches forward too quickly for the crowd’s liking and a young black woman becomes incensed. “Where the fuck are you going?” She cusses at the car and a few others surround it. The woman circles around and lies down in front of the car, sayng: “Try to leave now. Ya’ll ain’t going nowhere!" n

 

 

 

Protestors demonstrating down West Florissant Ave. Loavesofbread -(cc) 2014.

Continued on pg. 71

Photo: Loavesofbread -(cc) 2014.

 

View From the Street: October 12th

Saturday, October 12, 2014. A few nights after Myers was killed, protests in both Ferguson and in Myer’s neighborhood known as “Shaw,” continue. The youth have decided to keep applying pressure by bringing demonstrations into communities that don’t normally see protests. They are committed to making people uncomfortable. On this particular evening, St. Louis City police respond with pepper-spray. As a result, at least one activist is hospitalized for shortness of breath and seizures.

My heart is pounding as I stand locked arm in arm with strangers who have become family.

Officers in riot gear line the streets, ostensibly protecting private property in the restaurant district. On a street off the main thoroughfare, a line of officers blocks a smaller group of demonstrators from joining another group across the street. A group of about 50 people is milling around, while another 20 or so form a line facing the police line.

Ashley Yates (29), Brittany Ferrell (25), and Alexis Templeton (20), pace back and forth between police and demonstrators. Both Ferrell and Templeton are wearing t-shirts that read “Unarmed Civilian,” and Ferrell tells the police: “We love you, even though you don’t show love for us. Did you think when you signed up for this job, that this is what you’d be doing?” Meanwhile, Templeton begins to lead the crowd in a call and response:

It is our duty to fight for our freedom

It is our duty to win

We must love and support each other

We have nothing to lose but our chains.

They are chanting the famous (at least in activist circles) quote from Assata Shakur. I watch the officers ever so slightly shift their stance and it seems that for just one moment they, too, are mesmerized by the power of this young leadership. Ferrell and Templeton lead the crowd through the chant, at times loudly, at times in just a whisper, 62 times—once for each day since the killing of Michael Brown. At one point, a single tear slips down the face of one of the black officers. Moments later, an armored car resembling a tank arrives and stops directly in front of an upscale fast food restaurant.

“This is the St. Louis police. This is an unlawful assembly." n

 

(cc) 2014 Sarah-Ji

Alicia Garza is the Special Projects Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. In 2013, Alicia co-founded #BlackLivesMatter, an online platform developed after the murder of Trayvon Martin, designed to connect people interested in fighting back against anti-Black racism.

 

 

Endnotes

1    Baldwin, James. The Fire Next Time.
2    http://www.operationghettostorm.org/
3    http://fdlaction.firedoglake.com/2014/06/09/the-real-orange-is-the-new-black-women-are-the-fastest-growing-prison-population/
4    chrome-extension://ecnphlgnajanjnkcmbpancdjoidceilk/http://nbjc.org/sites/default/files/trans-adjustment-web.pdf
5    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/22/ferguson-black-america_n_5694364.html
6    http://www.thenation.com/article/181917/after-ferguson#
7    http://aflcionc.org/afl-cio-president-trumka-speaks-hard-truths-in-ferguson/
8    http://labortribune.com/missouri-afl-cio-calls-for-justice-for-all-of-us/

 

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Pull Quote TEXT ONLY Deprecated: 
"It is our duty to fight for our freedom / It is our duty to win / We must love and support each other / We have nothing to lose but our chains."
Pull Quote NEW for book: 

"It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love and support each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains."

Who Cares? The Politics of Making Domestic Work Visible

Domestic Worker contingent at the Climate March © 2014 Preeti Shekar By Preeti Shekar

There are nearly two million domestic workers in the United States today. More than 60 percent of them are immigrant women of color. It’s no surprise, then, that the struggle for domestic workers’ rights is at the intersection of diverse social justice issues—immigration, migrant labor, and gendered division of labor—in a context of growing feminization of poverty and globalization.

The domestic worker movement, which started as a small group of women organizing against unfair exploitation and pushing for some basic rights, has grown to be one of the most exciting labor movements, both in the United States and globally.

“The domestic workers’ movement today is over a decade old and is one of the most cutting-edge movements in the ability of its leadership to forge alliances and partnerships both globally and locally, with unlikely allies, including various labor unions,” notes Sheila Bapat, author of Part of the Family? Nannies, Housekeepers, Caregivers and the Battle for Domestic Workers’ Rights.

In her book, Bapat summarizes the short but delicious history of this movement in the US with her skillful policy expertise, drawing on the many individual stories she researched for the book. “Every case study points to the one stark reality that ultimately, how domestic workers are treated depends largely on their employers,” she says. “Families that hire and fire these workers at will can range from being quite compassionate and just, to downright cruel and unbearably exploitative… many [of them] immigrant or diplomat families.”

Nahar Alam with child © 2014Diplomats and Domestic Workers: A Troubled History

“For every case of worker exploitation, abuse, and violation that makes headlines like this, there are thousands that go unreported,” notes Nahar Alam, a founder of Andolan, a collective in New York that has organized hundreds of immigrant South Asian women workers.

A leading figure in the domestic worker movement, Alam was talking about the infamous case of Devyani Khobragade, the Indian diplomat who was leveraging her diplomatic immunity to get away with exploiting her domestic help, Sangeeta Richard.

While this case held the headlines for a while, it is a sad reality that many more such heinous cases go unreported or under-reported, Alam emphasized. However, she went on to explain, the enormous publicity and media frenzy around such cases helps immensely to raise critical visibility and build solidarity on these issues that no one cares about when ordinary middle-class families exploit or abuse workers.

Feminist Sheroes

Even as the domestic workers’ movement has been gaining momentum steadily through high-visibility cases, the stellar feminist leadership of young women has also helped pave the way for rapid mobilization and some concrete policy gains.

Ai-Jen Poo, a long-time labor activist and campaigner, is widely seen today as the face of the domestic workers’ movement and rightly so for her role in making it the highly visible, highly intersectional movement it is today. Under her astute leadership, the movement has forged strong partnerships with immigrant rights groups, labor movements, and even environmental movements focusing on the disproportionate impacts of climate change. This last was evident at the People’s Climate March in New York City ahead of the UN Climate Change Summit, where a domestic workers’ group showed up in full force to join the hundreds of thousands of grassroots environmental activists and their allies.

Last August, Ai-Jen Poo won the prestigious MacArthur Genius award for her work. While this is cause for celebration for both the domestic workers’ movement and young feminist leadership, we also need to reflect on who gets to lead the movement and be its face. Alam urges social justice activists to be truly mindful of a reality that often leaves workers unable to lead their own struggles because of their vulnerabilities. We need to examine how the nonprofit industrial complex has created “career-activists” who are professionally trained to be dynamic leaders and act as external catalysts of change, as opposed to leaders grown from within a movement. In this regard, the domestic workers’ movement is not dissimilar to others, such as the restaurant workers organizing.

From Slavery to Surefire Liberation: The Long Slow Arc of Justice

Slavery, author Sheila Bapat reminds us in her book, is deeply imbricated with the evolution of domestic labor in 20th century America. “The roots of domestic work are deeply connected to the history of slavery in the US. It’s no accident that a vast majority of domestic workers were African American women to begin with, and increasingly now, immigrant women of color.”

With a deep and long history of exploitation rooted in slavery, making domestic work visible as critical labor has been a decade-long struggle. But thanks to strong feminist analysis undergirding the movement, it has grown to be quite a formidable one. A shining example is Mujeres Unidas y Activas (MUA), an organization that both empowers domestic workers and enables them to find well-paid work in the Bay Area, where they are based.

According to Bapat, the domestic worker movement has organically drawn from the “best feminist theories out there—from intersectionlity to inclusiveness. But for all its theoretical underpinnings of feminism, labor economics, and human rights, its demands are quite basic: rudimentary overtime, breaks in the work day, and a decent wage rate. And as a labor movement, it’s unlike any other—women-led (with women caring for each other’s children at meetings)—and inclusive of the most silenced voices.”

“Groups like MUA and others have come up across the country—in the midwest and East Coast—to serve domestic workers,” she adds, having spent a considerable amount of time with various leaders in the movement. And in the last decade or so they have grown to be powerhouses of organizing, representing a new and radical model, unlike any union.

Panelists and organizers at screening of the film  Claiming Our Voices. © 2014 Jess ClarkeA Tale of Two Labors—One Not Valued

For all its successes and promise of changes down the road, the domestic workers’ movement raises stark questions about the larger issues of labor and how our economies are structured to value certain forms of it and not others, which are subject to exploitation.

It is hard to not get outraged or upset as you read and learn about the history of how domestic labor— that crucial work, which ensures that our children are taken care of, allows our elderly and disabled to live with care and dignity, and sends out the workforce everyday, clothed and fed and taken care of—is rendered invisible and valueless. The very struggle to have domestic work recognized as valuable labor mirrors the women’s movement’s struggle to make women’s voices heard. So it’s no coincidence that over the years, as the feminist movement has gotten more inclusive of women of color and is no longer dominated by white women, it has taken on complex issues involving labor rights, economic justice, and environmental justice.

Mapping the Local and the Global, the Personal and the Political

“At the end of the day, our movement needs to be not just local or regional—it has to be globally connected,” Alam notes. Her analysis stems from the reality that a lot of global economic shifts—brought on by neoliberal economic policies—have enabled this growing network of global migrant labor. Massive socio-economic changes have entirely transformed the physical landscape and triggered the global migration of labor, creating a new underclass of cheap, dispensable (and therefore exploitable) workers who are unprotected by the state because many toil in foreign countries with vulnerable temporary or even undocumented immigration status and long path or no path to citizenship.

Several countries in the global south have also made a deliberate shift to neoliberal models of globalization. While these models have benefited a few in the middle-and upper-middle class strata, the vast majority have been left to fend for themselves in the informal economies of wage labor which sometimes come dangerously close to slavery. At the same time, countries like the U.S. have witnessed a steady decline in social services, health care, and other vital public spending which enabled the middle and lower middle class to have a decent quality of life on limited incomes.

Domestic workers organizing globally have drawn from US domestic worker organizing and in turn, lent it enormous solidarity and strength. It’s a two-way street, remarks author Bapat. The International Domestic Workers Network based in Hong Kong has been pivotal in raising the visibility of basic domestic worker rights with the International Labor Organization, and also in tracking the successes of domestic workers’ groups in different countries—from India and Singapore to the United States. Minor though these gains may be, they are a tremendous boost overall to the movement that works for the rights of millions of domestic workers around the world.

Putting the Power into Empowerment!

As bleak as things seem in the US, “We need to remind ourselves that there is still tremendous hope, as you can see from the growth of the movement and its leadership and the gains made by legislation in the few states,” notes Bapat. In several Arab countries, where workers’ rights are non-existent, we cannot even begin to imagine what fighting for the basic rights of domestic workers would look like because there are no provisions in the law and the media is silenced. In that sense, it’s critical for international organizations like the ILO to be involved, in order to ultimately democratize these human rights that currently only exist in certain countries, such as the United States.

This is definitely an exciting time for the movement, both globally and domestically, where a handful of states have already signed a domestic workers’ rights bill. But that law needs to be implemented or actively enforced to make it a reality.

“We need political power, not just paper power,” Alam reiterated at a recent meeting in the Bay Area. “There have been hundreds of stories of immigrant women who toil away and put up with abuse not knowing their rights. We still need to fill that information and advocacy gap, lacking which, thousands of immigrant women remain trapped in their isolation and fear. Only the time-tested ways of old-school organizing and consciousness-raising can enable that. Not all your state-of-the-art technologies and social media campaigns can transform that ground reality.”

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Domestic Worker Organizing: Claiming Our Voice — September 7, 3 pm

As part of our ongoing participatory editorial process, you are invited to attend educational and discussion events that will shape the direction of Reimagine! Movements Making Media.  Please join us at the first of our fall 2014 open forums.

jen 

Oakstop Coworking

1721 Broadway, #201

Oakland, CA
 
Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014

3:00 - 5:00 pm  

Film and discussion with director

Jennifer Pritheeva Samuel,  

lead organizer from Andolan 

Gulnahar Alam, 

YaliniDream, Monisha Bajaj, 

Sheila Bapat, and 

Preeti Mangala Shekar

 

Gulnahar Alam 

 

 

 

Join us for a free film screening of Claiming our Voice a film about South Asian domestic worker organizing. 

 

There are more than 1.8 million domestic workers in the United States, many of whom toil in often unregulated and exploitative work conditions hidden from view in the homes of employers. Immigrant women of color constitute a disproportionate number of these domestic workers.
 
Claiming Our Voice interviews the women of Andolan, an organization founded and led by South Asian immigrant low-wage workers in New York City who organize collectively against exploitative work conditions. The film joins the women as they prepare to share their stories in a multi-lingual theater performance directed by YaliniDream.
 
 yalini
YaliniDream(performance artist featured in the film)
 2147483651_u_monisha  Monisha Bajaj (co-author of the film's companion curriculum).
Bapat_pic Sheila Bapat (author of "Part of the Family? Nannies, Housekeepers, Caregivers and the Struggle for Domestic Workers' Rights") will also offer remarks on domestic workers' rights. 
Preeti

You will also learn about the challenges and successes of South Asian worker organizing efforts in the United States. 

 The screening and discussion will be moderated by Preeti Mangala Shekar

 

This event is co-sponsored by Reimagine Race, Poverty and the Environment and ASATA (Alliance of South Asians Taking Action). The event will be held at Oakstop Coworking in the heart of downtown Oakland, accessible by BART to 19th St.  

 

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