Category Archives: Activism

Ramsey Clark: A Life Well Lived for the People of the World

Samarra Iraq 1996, Ramsey Clark visiting pharmaceutical plant. Photo: Bill Hackwell

Yesterday (April 10) Ramsey Clark died at the age of 93 in New York, and today justice and peace loving people and movements in the US and around the world are in mourning for a man who stood up and fought tirelessly in support of justice, equality and against his country’s drive for endless wars.

Ramsey Clark, the son of a Supreme Court Justice, was a lawyer who began an 8 year career in the US Justice Department in 1961 where he helped draft the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1968 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, becoming the US Attorney General in 1967. During this time he took on the establishment by banning wire tapping of progressive movements, calling for the abolition of capital punishment and banning federal executions.

Ramsey could have easily remained in the ruling class circles he was born into but once outside of the US government he became a voice against its policies that could not be ignored. He chose instead to become a beacon of unequivocal support for the people of the world going to literally more than 100 countries on fact finding missions and leading humanitarian delegations. He flew tirelessly to countries being targeted by the Pentagon sometimes even as the bombs were beginning to fall.

Sanctions as a Weapon of War

It is almost impossible to list all the countries and peoples that Ramsey Clark stood up for but perhaps his role in helping to expose the 12 years (between the first Gulf War to the full scale attack in 2003) of sanctions against Iraq is the most illustrative one in showing the cruelty of the slow misery and death that sanctions cause. During that time, Ramsey went to Iraq over and over again to document just how horrific it was. In February 1996, I had the honor of accompanying him as the photographer on a delegation to document on the ground evidence for a report being compiled by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization that was claiming that 567,000 Iraqi children had died as a consequence of the draconian economic sanctions being applied in just 5 years. We went from empty hospital to empty hospital where doctors informed us that children were dying from preventable dysentery because they could not even get or produce simple hydration tablets and that diseases that had been eliminated were re appearing because of the conditions. Prior to the war Iraq had the most modern medical system in the Middle East. We witnessed a pharmaceutical factory that lay dormant because they could not get material needed to make medicine. Sewage flowed into the Tigris River through bombed out sanitation plants that could get no spare parts to get them running again. It was obvious everywhere we went, from government officials to people on the street the level of respect and love that people in Iraq and throughout the Middle East for that matter had for Ramsey.

Today the US has sanctions leveled at over 20 countries for the crime of insisting on their independence. Ramsey Clark was opposed to all sanctions and said, “The lawlessness and cruelty of death-dealing sanctions must be recognized as genocide and a crime against humanity and must be prohibited.”

Support for Self Determination in Latin America

Over the years Ramsey played a significant role by leading delegations and participating in events throughout Latin America and the Caribbean including against the US-financed Contras during the Reagan years, to meeting with Hugo Chavez as leader of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela, the Zapatistas in Chiapas and support for the FMLN in El Salvador.

Ramsey actively opposed the over 60-year blockade of Cuba and called for the closure of the illegally occupied US naval base at Guantanamo and returning the land to the Cuban People. He involved himself in the struggle to send Elian Gonzalez home with his father and the prolonged campaign to free the Cuban 5 from US prisons. In recognition for his endearing and unwavering support Ramsey was awarded the Order of Solidarity granted by the State Council of the Republic of Cuba in November 2013 in Holguin by the mothers of the five Cuban heroes.

Today, Cuban President Miguel-Diaz Canel Bermudez tweeted, “We mourn the death of
Ramsey Clark, former US Attorney General. Honest and supportive, he joined us in crucial battles and was critical of the great injustices committed by his country in the world. Cuba pays grateful tribute to him.”

Fernando Gonzalez, President of the Institute of Friendship with the People (ICAP) added, “Ramsey was a sincere and faithful friend of Cuba. We share common ideals with regard to civil and human rights and the defense of just causes like Palestine… Cuba will never forget a friend as loyal as Ramsey Clark”.

Today on facebook, anti war activist Brian Willson said from Nicaragua something that rings true to many of us about what a role model Ramsey Clark was. He was just that for a generation of activists, always speaking truth to power, calm and humble, but with unrelenting conviction.

Ramsey Clark Presente!

  • Source: Resumen Latinoamericano – English
  • The post Ramsey Clark: A Life Well Lived for the People of the World first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    Hunting in Yemen

    Iman Saleh fasting in Washington D.C. to protest the blockade and war against Yemen (Photo Credit: Detriot Free Press)

    “It’s not normal for people to live like this,” says Iman Saleh, now on her twelfth day of a hunger strike demanding an end to war in Yemen.

    Since March 29th, in Washington, D.C., Iman Saleh, age 26, has been on a hunger strike to demand an end to the war in Yemen. She is joined by five others from her  group, The Yemeni Liberation Movement. The hunger strikers point out that enforcement of the Saudi Coalition led blockade relies substantially on U.S. weaponry.

    Saleh decries the prevention of fuel from entering a key port in Yemen’s northern region.

    “When people think of famine, they wouldn’t consider fuel as contributing to that, but when you’re blocking fuel from entering the main port of a country, you’re essentially crippling the entire infrastructure,” said Saleh  “You can’t transport food, you can’t power homes, you can’t run hospitals without fuel.”

    Saleh worries people have become desensitized to suffering Yemenis face. Through fasting, she herself feels far more sensitive to the fatigue and strain that accompanies hunger. She hopes the fast will help others overcome indifference,  recognize that the conditions Yemenis face are horribly abnormal, and demand governmental policy changes.

    According to UNICEF, 2.3 million children under the age of 5 in Yemen are projected to suffer from acute malnutrition in 2021.

    “It’s not normal for people to live like this,” says Saleh.

    Her words and actions have already touched people taking an online course which began with a focus on Yemen.

    As the teacher, I asked students to read about the warring parties in Yemen with a special focus on the complicity of the U.S. and of other countries supplying weapons, training, intelligence, and diplomatic cover to the Saudi-led coalition now convulsing Yemen in devastating war.

    Last week, we briefly examined an email exchange between two U.S. generals planning the  January, 2017 night raid by U.S. Navy Seals in the rural Yemeni town of Al Ghayyal. The Special Forces operation sought to capture an alleged AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula) leader. General Dunford told General Votel that all the needed approvals were in place. Before signing off, he wrote: “Good hunting.”

    The “hunting” went horribly wrong. Hearing the commotion as U.S. forces raided a village home, other villagers ran to assist. They soon disabled the U.S. Navy Seals’ helicopter. One of the Navy Seals, Ryan Owen, was killed during the first minutes of the fighting. In the ensuing battle, the U.S. forces called for air support. U.S. helicopter gunships arrived and U.S. warplanes started indiscriminately firing  missiles into huts. Fahim Mohsen, age 30, huddled in one home along with 12 children and another mother. After a missile tore into their hut, Fahim had to decide whether to remain inside or venture out into the darkness. She chose the latter, holding her infant child and clutching the hand of her five-year old son, Sinan. Sinan says his mother was killed by a bullet shot from the helicopter gunship behind them. Her infant miraculously survived. That night, in Al Ghayyal, ten children under age 10 were killed. Eight-year-old Nawar Al-Awlaki died by bleeding to death after being shot. “She was hit with a bullet in her neck and suffered for two hours,” her grandfather said. “Why kill children?” he asked.

    Mwatana, a Yemeni human rights group, found that the raid killed at least 15 civilians and wounded at least five civilians—all children. Interviewees told Mwatana that women and children, the majority of those killed and wounded, had tried to run away and that they had not engaged in fighting.

    Mwatana found no credible information suggesting that the 20 civilians killed or wounded were directly participating in hostilities with AQAP or IS-Y. Of the 15 civilians killed, only one was an adult male, and residents said he was too old, at 65, to fight, and in any case had lost his hearing before the raid.

    Carolyn Coe, a course participant, read the names of the children killed that night:

    Asma al Ameri, 3 months; Aisha al Ameri, 4 years; Halima al Ameri, 5 years; Hussein al Ameri, 5 years; Mursil al Ameri, 6 years; Khadija al Ameri, 7 years; Nawar al Awlaki, 8 years; Ahmed al Dhahab, 11 years; Nasser al Dhahab, 13 years

    In response, Coe wrote:

    ee cummings writes of Maggie and Milly and Molly and May coming out to play one day. As I read the children’s names, I hear the family connections in their common surnames. I imagine how lively the home must have been with so many young children together. Or maybe instead, the home was surprisingly quiet if the children were very hungry, too weak to even cry. I’m sad that these children cannot realize their unique lives as in the ee cummings poem. Neither Aisha nor Halima, Hussein nor Mursil, none of these children can ever come out again to play.

    Dave Maciewski, another course participant, mentioned how history seemed to be repeating itself, remembering his experiences visiting mothers and children in Iraq where hundreds of thousands of tiny children couldn’t survive the lethally punitive US/UN economic sanctions.

    While UN agencies struggle to distribute desperately needed supplies of food, medicine and fuel, the UN Security Council continues to enforce a resolution, Resolution 2216, which facilitates the blockade and inhibits negotiation. Jamal Benomar, who was United Nations special envoy for Yemen from 2011-2015,  says that this resolution,  passed in 2015, had been drafted by the Saudis themselves. “Demanding the surrender of the advancing Houthis to a government living in chic hotel-exile in Riyadh was preposterous,” says Benomar, “but irrelevant.”

    Waleed Al Hariri heads the New York office of the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies and is also a fellow-in-residence at Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute.

    “The council demanded the Houthis surrender all territory seized, including Sana’a, fully disarm, and allow President Abdo Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government to resume its responsibilities,” Al Hariri writes. “In essence, it insisted on surrender. That failed, but the same reasons that allowed the UNSC to make clear, forceful demands in 2015 have kept it from trying anything new in the five years since.”

    Does the UNSC realistically expect the Ansarallah (informally called the Houthi) to surrender and disarm after maintaining the upper hand in a prolonged war? The Saudi negotiators say nothing about lifting the crippling blockade. The UN Security Council should scrap Resolution 2216 and work hard to create a resolution relevant to the facts on the ground. The new resolution must insist that survival of Yemeni children who are being starved is the number one priority.

    Now, in the seventh year of grotesque war, international diplomatic efforts should heed the young Yemeni-Americans fasting in Washington, D.C. We all have a responsibility to listen for the screams of children gunned down from behind as they flee in the darkness from the rubble of their homes. We all have a responsibility to listen for the gasps of little children breathing their last because starvation causes them to die from asphyxiation. The U.S. is complying with a coalition using starvation and disease to wage war. With 400,000 children’s lives in the balance, with a Yemeni child dying once every 75 seconds, what U.S. interests could possibly justify our further hesitation in insisting the blockade must be lifted? The war must end.

    The post Hunting in Yemen first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    Methanol for the CoV2 Hypodermic Chemical Experiment

    “There you have it — At-will, AKA at the beckon call, beckon abuse, beckon exploitation, beckon denigration, beckon injurious behavior and workplace environment. These employers are thugs, and from the top down, with their lawyers and MBAs and institutional misleadership yahoos at the executive level, the worker is doomed by this sick system. Forced vaccinations for schools, colleges, workplaces. The systems need to burn!”

    Of course, I am asked not to identify the person who wrote this to me. We all are being surveilled by these Stasi folk, whether we work for a governmental agency, school systems, private college, for-profit business, mom and pop lowbrow joint, nonprofit, you name it.

    They (bosses, agencies, pre-employment interviewers) sign up for Google search notifications — any time their company is named in the media or on digital platforms, they get notifications. They track what’s said about their business, corporation, nonprofit, agency, school. That is also for anyone they want to put into the Google-Palantir search engine, for a price, monthly rate, be it a person’s name. Like mine, hmm.

    This is what these Stasi Americans want in their lives — complete control. Damage control against the truth-sayers speaking truth to power. Damage the messenger, or kill him or her with constant threats of litigation, fines, subpoenas, more. Imagine one writer, me, getting hooked into the Google Gulag, but then, what about anyone with my name? Hmm, children, siblings, spouses? This is how they play their mole game.

    See the source image

    Below, an example of the blithe and dangerous bullshit fake journalism of the mainstream imbeciles. That the State of Oregon can force vaccinations onto people really is the issue: the state just pushes that onto the overlords running businesses or nonprofits. That’s it, no argument, hands down the policy of the land, man.

    The news (sic) story below will not contain push back,  and it will be vacant of civil rights thinkers/libertarians cited, will allude to no one pushing back on these Draconian measures. In fact, the story will not frame these measures as Draconian. The journalist from the Oregon paper of record (Oregonian) is already colonized and co-opted. Then you get some “law” professor (sic) from a for-profit private university pulled into the article, to come on board to yammer on. This is the new normal that’s been pretty old normal — mainstream media faking it, looking like it’s in the hunt for balance, when it’s all false balance, false and manufactured consent. The goal is to question the prevailing party-bureaucratic-company line, and question all governments’ actions. Read here:

    “I think ultimately most employers would be able to require it,” said Henry Drummonds, a Lewis & Clark Law School professor specializing in labor and employment law. “But I think most employers probably wouldn’t want to require it. I think employers could first encourage and educate employees about the safety of the vaccine and the desirability of it in terms of protecting yourself and your coworkers.”

    Drummonds said that at-will employment standards allow private businesses to dictate and change the terms of employment at any time and fire employees for any reason, as long as they don’t discriminate on the basis of race, gender, age or any other protected category.

    In practice, this means that employers probably could require employees to receive the vaccine to remain employed or return to the office. Both the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries have released guidance stating that employers can mandate that employees get vaccinated.

     

    See the source image

    Already, idiocy prevails: just recently, I witnessed a manager of a nonprofit ask her employee in front of another employee in a public place within lots of people’s earshot: “Well, Rick, got his vaccination. So did I. Most everyone in the company has. But John hasn’t.”

    See the source image

    I knew this was a nonprofit this manager was a member of because I was within earshot. I offered an unsolicited response, trying to equate calling someone out in public for not having this experimental and not FDA-approved chemical shot. “How’s your BMI? You looking overweight? How’s your hypertension? You looking pink in the face? How’s your probable lung cancer? You just finished off a cigarette. Come on, shaming people for not agreeing to an untested chemical compound with that jab in the arm is unethical, and in public so I can hear your conversation?” She just clammed up and scooted her two employees away.

    Imagine, fewer and fewer tough guys and gals can actually make it in USA (elsewhere too) with the power of what they can and cannot decide upon, that is, what they either want to and do not want to be injected into their bodies. Mind you, the jury is far from out on these chemical shots —

    On February 27, 2021, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it had “issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the third vaccine for the prevention of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19),” the Janssen (Johnson&Johnson) Covid-19 vaccine.

    This announcement is virtually identical to the EUAs previously issued for Covid-19 vaccines produced by Pfizer-Biontech and Moderna.

    In each of the EUAs, the FDA has been careful to avoid any claim that the vaccines provide protection against infection or transmission of the virus. Similarly, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have each publicly stated that the vaccines have NOT been shown to prevent infection or transmission.

    All of their regulatory documents and commentary addressing the issue state clearly that there is no evidence that the vaccines affect either infection with or transmission of the virus, nor do they prevent symptoms of Covid-19 from appearing.

    — Source:  “Covid Vaccine Nonsense” [US-based human rights lawyer breaks down the contradictory claims of “effectiveness”, the incomplete studies and legal minefield of forced use of experimental vaccines] JP Jerome

     

    Let’s shift to some compare and contrast between vaccine makers and cigarette makers. I  just read a short but cogent article on the menthol marketing, how 45,000 black Americans die each year from tobacco related illnesses (mostly throat, tongue, and lung cancer). Talk about cool — mentholated cigarettes’ make the poisons go down easier. Everything goes down smoother with a little bit of throat deadening. And this is legal stuff. No massive “take all the cigarettes’ and Juul’s and pipes and cigars and chew cans away.”  “Menthol Marketing Exposes Institutional Racism” by Michael Schwalbe, Counterpunch.

    But forced vaccinations, and then this pact with  the devil — at-will, zero protection: screw up and you get the pink slip bullshit about American capitalism. Sort of buyer beware, user beware, consumer beware, worker beware.

    In the long run, the solution to the ongoing global pandemic of tobacco-related disease is to abolish tobacco companies. Short of that, we now have an opportunity to significantly curtail the industry’s ability to profit from the destruction of Black lives. If Black lives matter, we must not let the opportunity pass.

    — Michael Schwalbe, professor of sociology at North Carolina State University Source.

    Low income, lots of working class people, workers in the developing world. Slick multimillion dollar a year ad campaigns: Slick, and Scientific (sic). Data driven.  Imagine, tobacco kills more than 8 million people each year. Of these deaths, 1.2 million are caused by secondhand smoke exposure. Talk about an epidemic, pandemic. You know that every rotting Southern pol and every single tobacco lobbyist and every grower and CEO, they pooh-pooh these stats. “Prove it. If it’s that deadly, then why’s it legal?”

    The internet seems great at scrubbing information, but the reality is that when Ray-Gun left his criminal enterprise throne, he did some hucksterism stuff for the tobacco industry. He and Edwin Meese did a talking tour overseas to push cancer sticks.

    Talk about killing people from his cold-ass grave, Reagan and the long arm of his contra mentality, still with us:

    But the industry did not launch its campaign for new overseas markets alone. The Reagan and Bush administrations used their economic and political clout to pry open markets in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and China for American cigarettes. At a time when one arm of the government was warning Americans about the dangers of smoking, another was helping the industry recruit a new generation of smokers abroad.

    Asia is where tobacco’s search for new horizons began and where the industry came to rely most on Washington’s help. U.S. officials in effect became the industry’s lawyers, agents and collaborators. Prominent politicians such as Robert J. Dole, Jesse Helms, Dan Quayle and Al Gore played a role. “No matter how this process spins itself out,” George Griffin, commercial counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, told Matthew N. Winokur, public affairs manager of Philip Morris Asia, in a “Dear Matt” letter in January 1986, “I want to emphasize that the embassy and the various U.S. government agencies in Washington will keep the interests of Philip Morris and the other American cigarette manufacturers in the forefront of our daily concerns.”  Source.

    Why the harangue by yours truly against tobacco in a piece about how rotting the at-will mentality of big, small and loser companies run by bigger losers than anyone following the Peter Principle 2.0 [well, Peter Principle update: the worse you are as a human, with no ethics, no character, well, you go up the ladder, food chain, corporate manure pile!] can imagine forcing vaccines onto workers?

    Think hard about an experimental mRNA chemical put into a syringe and then forcefully delivered to the global population. Hmm, would this have been acceptable in 2019? 2001? 1990? The year I was born, 1957?

    Of course not, and yet, this is it, with people being shamed or called out for reluctance on an experimental, emergency authorized, untested chemical and DNA morphing drug being forcefully put into one’s body. Not once, but with a booster, and then, now, as the world burns, yearly or bi-yearly boosters for the “new” variants of a corona cold virus.

    Here, this is science and capitalism, science/capitalism/politics, like leprosery and it’s host —

    One way the tobacco industry has manipulated cigarettes to increase addictiveness is by loading cigarettes with chemical compounds. Bronchodilators were added so that tobacco smoke can more easily enter the lungs. Sugars, flavors and menthol were increased to dull the harshness of smoke and make it easier to inhale. Ammonia was added so that nicotine travels to the brain faster.

    Specifically, increasing the amount of nicotine was of paramount importance to tobacco company executives. Experts found that Big Tobacco companies genetically engineered their tobacco crops to contain two times the amount of nicotine and adjusted their cigarette design so that the nicotine delivered to smokers increased by 14.5 percent. As Phillip Morris Principal Scientist W.L. Dunn said in 1972, “No one has ever become a cigarette smoker by smoking cigarettes without nicotine.”  — Source

    Bronchodilators and ammonia added? Come on, my students at UTEP were finding more dirt on big tobacco and the collusion with the FDA, keeping secret under governmental lock and key all the ingredients they sprayed on tobacco before becoming the stuff of rolled cigs, cigars, pipe filler and chew. Think of secret doses of anti-convulsant drugs, since the higher nicotine content and the other burning chemicals cause many people to get ticks, minor tremors; i.e., seizures. Best keep the seizures down and the sales up.

    Shoot, this is just the minor list of smoke by-products — Nicotine (the addictive drug that produces the effects in the brain that people are looking for), Hydrogen cyanide, Formaldehyde, Lead, Arsenic, Ammonia, Radioactive elements, such as polonium-210, Benzene, Carbon monoxide, Tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs), Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

    These Satan’s, these big and little Eichmann types, these Mad Men, these PR spinners, these profiteers and cancer mercenaries, come on, the story is bigger — 600 ingredients can be used in cigarettes, but the actual combustion of the cig produces over 4,000 chemical compounds. And, when burned, these cigarette ingredients mix together and create deadly substances, 69 of which are carcinogenic.

    Yeah, how’s that pandemic and pandemic and pandemic on the horizon. SARS-CoV2, 3, 5? Remember, there is no outright statement that declares cigarette smoking causes cancers or any number of other co-occurring diseases or terminal cancers.

    So, if Big Tobacco and Gore and Reagan and Clinton and Trump, et al can stump just for this singular felonious Mafia outfit, what do you think might be happening behind closed doors and inside labs and at the top of the heap tied to exactly what this experimental vaccine’s (sic) side effects might do today, next month, a year from now, etc.?

    For the good of the world? The economies? For life saving ethos? You got the memo yet? You want life saving? Shit, one product, tobacco, done with, hmm, what’s that life saving factor? Banned from planet earth, more or less. And how much for all the lost labor of huffing and puffing cig smokers . . .  all the flagging physiologies, all the damage, slow and fast, caused by cigs, et al? Ya think there will be a ban tomorrow?

    Hmm, NEVER. Now, multiply that a million fold with all the deadly chemicals and toxins and fumigants and fungicides and off-gassing crap in all manner of clothes, combustible materials, food, drinks, drugs. Then multiple one times two, and then factor up. How do these work, hmm, twelve together, the impossibility of really studying the synergistic effects of one chemical interacting with another, or a dozen or 4,000? Hmm, those 4,000 chemicals in one good Marlboro man drag, what’s the toll?

    You think there are governmental and private financed studies on that? Think.

    According to comments from vaccine scientists in September 2020 (prior to the Covid-19 EUA issuances), no vaccine had ever before been distributed on an EUA basis.

    “We don’t do EUAs for vaccines,” [Dr. Peter] Hotez said, “It’s a lesser review, it’s a lower-quality review, and when you’re talking about vaccinating a large chunk of the American population, that’s not acceptable.”

    Three months later, the FDA issued EUAs for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, but with explicit guidance that the vaccine “has not undergone the same type of review as an FDA- approved or cleared product.”

    The idea is that if there are injuries and deaths because of the experimental and untested drugs-chemicals in these shots, well, who foots the bill? Who is responsible? Hmm, in the USA, it’s the US taxpayer.

    I have a friend whose niece would not take “death by any other means” as the last answer. She is pushing for an investigation into her father’s death after the vaccine was given to him. He was 74, healthy, but he did have aging issues, like we all do. Blood clots occurred rapidly, hmm, and, then he checked out in a stroke like manner. This is after, right after, vaccination. The county coroner will not do an autopsy, and alas, there are no watchdog agencies in our corner. A simple autopsy would be $6,000. This is a suspicious vaccine-related death, and she has now gone on-line and gotten more people to email her about similar deaths after vaccination. She can’t put it on Facebook, too long or too detailed like, so she is getting contacted through GoFundMe. She’s doing this surreptitiously.  There will be no Ralph Nader’s or RFK, Jr.’s coming to her family’s aid.

    Just like you can’t sue successfully the big tobacco and their technicians and chemists and MD’s and lawyers and CEO’s and the politicians and marketers for selling a dangerous product to a billion people, let alone the second and third hand smoke of these cancer sticks.

    The post Methanol for the CoV2 Hypodermic Chemical Experiment first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    Let’s end the insanity of colossal military spending during a global health emergency

    Imagine what could be achieved if just a portion of the money spent on military expenditures were pooled into a global fund, and redirected towards ending hunger and massively investing in public health systems. 

    *****

    If nations had a referendum, asking the public if they want their taxes to go to military weapons that are more efficient in killing than the ones we currently have, or if they would prefer the money to be invested in medical care, social services, education and other critical public needs, what would the response be?

    Probably the majority of people would not have to think long and hard, since for many life has become an endless struggle. Even in wealthy countries, the most basic social rights can no longer be taken for granted. Social services are increasingly being turned into commodities, and instead of helping ordinary people they must serve shareholders by providing a healthy profit margin.

    The United States is a prime example, where seeing a dentist or any medical doctor is only possible if one has health insurance. Around 46 million Americans cannot afford to pay for quality healthcare—and that is in the richest country of the world.

    In less developed nations, a large proportion of people find it hard to access even the most basic resources to ensure a healthy and dignified life. One in nine of the world’s population go hungry. And the Covid-19 pandemic has only exacerbated this crisis of poverty amid plenty, with the number of people facing acute hunger more than doubling.

    There are now 240 million people requiring emergency humanitarian assistance, while over 34 million people are already on the brink of starvation.

    But the United Nations’ funding appeals are far from being met, condemning thousands to unnecessary deaths from hunger this year. With aid funding falling as humanitarian needs rise, aid agencies are being forced to cut back on life-saving services.

    Does it make any sense for our governments to spend billions on defence while fragile health systems are being overwhelmed, and the world is facing its worst humanitarian crisis in generations?

    Outrageously misplaced priorities

    Global military spending continued to reach record levels in 2020, rising almost 4 percent in real terms to US$1.83 trillion, even despite the severe economic contractions caused by the pandemic. The United States spends two-fifths of the world’s total, more than the next ten countries combined, and still cannot afford to prevent 50 million of its own citizens suffering from food insecurity. Most shamefully, the United Kingdom is massively boosting its arms budget—the largest rise in almost 70 years, including a vast increase to its nuclear weapons stockpile—while cutting aid to the world’s poorest by 30 percent.

    Consider what a fraction of military budgets could achieve if that public money was diverted to real human needs, instead of sustaining the corrupt and profitable industry of war:

    • Meeting Goals 1 and 2 of the Sustainable Development Goals— ‘End poverty in all its forms everywhere’ and ‘Zero hunger’—would barely exceed 3 percent of global annual military spending, according to the UN’s Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs.
    • With the U.S. military budget of $750 billion in 2020, it could feed the world’s hungry and still spend twice as much on its military than China, writes peace activist Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK.
    • The annual nuclear weapon budget worldwide is 1,000 percent—or 10 times—the combined budget of both the UN and the World Health Organisation (WHO), according to the Global Campaign on Military Spending.
    • Just 0.04 percent of global military spending would have funded the WHO’s initial Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund, according to Tipping Point North South in its Transform Defence report.
    • It would cost only 0.7 percent of global military spending (an estimated $141.2 billion) to vaccinate all the world’s 7.8 billion inhabitants against Covid-19, according to figures from Oxfam International.

    These opportunity costs highlight our outrageously misplaced priorities during an unprecedented global health emergency. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed just how ill-prepared we are to deal with real threats to our societies, and how our ‘national security’ involves a lot more than armies, tanks and bombs. This crisis cannot be addressed by weapons of mass destruction or personnel prepared for war, but only through properly funded healthcare and other public services that protect our collective human security.

    It’s time to reallocate bloated defence budgets to basic economic and social needs, as long enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human rights. Article 25 points the way forward, underscoring the necessity of guaranteeing adequate food, shelter, healthcare and social security for all.

    There is an imperative need for global cooperation to support all nations in recovering and rebuilding from the pandemic. The United Nations and its frontline agencies are critically placed to avert a growing ‘hunger pandemic’, and yet are struggling to receive even minimal funding from governments.

    Imagine what could be achieved if just a portion of the money spent on military expenditures were pooled into a global fund, and redirected towards ending hunger and massively investing in public health systems, especially in the most impoverished and war-torn regions.

    The common sense of funding ‘peace and development, not arms!’ has long been proclaimed by campaigners, church groups and engaged citizens the world over. But it will never happen unless countless people in every country unify around such an obvious cause, and together press our public representatives to prioritise human life over pointless wars.

    In the words of arms trade campaigner Andrew Feinstein:

    Perhaps this is an opportunity. Let’s embrace our global humanity, which is how we’re going to get through this crisis. Let’s put aside our obsession with enemies, with conflict. This is an opportunity for peace. This is an opportunity to promote our common humanity.

    The post Let’s end the insanity of colossal military spending during a global health emergency first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    Peoples Coalition Helps Elect New Orleans Progressive Prosecutor

    On December 5, 2020, New Orleans elected its first ever progressive District Attorney.  Jason Williams, who was a criminal defense lawyer for over 20 years before being elected, replaced former DA Leon Cannizzaro, described by New Orleans papers as a traditional tough on crime prosecutor.  An unprecedented coalition of grassroots justice organizations came together over a year before the election, as The Peoples DA Coalition, to help make it happen.

    The Peoples DA Coalition, made up of over 30 local justice organizations, worked for over a year to “create a District Attorney’s office that is ethical, equitable, compassionate, and accountable to all of its constituents so that we may end the era of mass incarceration in New Orleans.”

    Immediately upon taking office, New Orleans District Attorney Jason Williams showed why he is on the way to becoming a progressive prosecutor.  He established a vigorous civil rights unit to review questionable convictions, began to reduce the instances where the prosecution required cash bail, quit using Louisiana’s habitual offender law, mostly stopped prosecuting juveniles in adult court, dismissed hundreds of low level drug cases, and granted new trials to dozens of people convicted by non-unanimous juries. More changes are coming.

    How did such a progressive candidate get elected in Louisiana, a deep south state which has for years been locking up more of its citizens than any other?

    There were three keys to New Orleans electing its first progressive prosecutor.  Two were traditional.  The third was unprecedented.   First, the winner of the race, Jason Williams, was an excellent campaigner and a well-known and respected candidate.  But he faced challenges because he had run and lost before and he faces uncertainty because of outstanding federal criminal tax charges.  Second, it helped that the incumbent retired at the last minute.  But other incumbents have retired before and no reform prosecutor emerged.  Third was the remarkable emergence of a vigorous nonpartisan grass roots coalition of dozens of organizations and scores of activists who identified the important issues, educated the community, and activated people to vote for big time reform in the criminal legal system.

    The organization that led the New Orleans community nonpartisan efforts to elect a reform prosecutor is the Peoples DA Coalition.  It brought a surge of grass roots organizing and energy for major reform into the criminal legal system in New Orleans in their focus on this election.

    The idea started 14 months before the election.  A few criminal justice advocates wondered if it just might be possible to create a broad-based community coalition to educate and activate voters to make the fall 2020 election for New Orleans District Attorney a referendum on dramatic changes in the criminal legal system?  There had been some statewide progress on reform in the past few years, why not push for stronger reform locally?   They quickly decided that no one organization could quarterback such an effort so they brought together a wide range of other organizations to dream and plan and work for real change.

    The Peoples DA Coalition grew to include over 30 community organizations and hundreds of activists.  Their shared goal was to elect a District Attorney who was serious about changing the criminal legal system and to be responsive to the people of New Orleans.  The organizations involved included those led by formerly incarcerated residents, crime survivors, people who were wrongfully convicted, families with incarcerated loved ones, immigrant rights, and others focused on criminal justice reform in New Orleans.

    Together these thirty plus organizations recognized the opportunity to create a new vision for the New Orleans District Attorney’s Office.  They demanded “a reform Prosecutor who embraces fairer, safer, more effective approaches to criminal justice.”

    The coalition refused to back or oppose any specific candidate.  They were clear.  Their goal was to listen to and organize with grassroots organizations and to bring about serious change in the way the criminal legal system worked in New Orleans.  How?  By educating the city-wide community and activating people to turn out and vote for serious reform in the race for prosecutor. Their plan was that whoever was elected was accountable to the people.

    Former Criminal Court Judge Calvin Johnson was asked to lead the coalition.  Judge Johnson is a highly regarded justice leader who served as a law professor, former chief judge of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court and after retiring from the bench, criminal justice coordinator for the City of New Orleans.

    Judge Johnson has been aware of the need for dramatic changes in the criminal legal system for over 50 years.  “In 1962, when I was just 14 years old, a young football player in my hometown of Plaquemine was accused and prosecuted for allegedly assaulting his white girlfriend. I remember sitting in the balcony of the courthouse and watching as this Black teenage boy was denied anything close to a fair trial. It was then that I realized how tragically flawed the system is. That moment sent me on my life’s journey toward advocating for a system that doesn’t punish people simply for being Black.”

    Why did Judge Johnson agree to lead this specific effort?  “As a former judge who has spent most of my adult life operating within the system, I can state unequivocally that the district attorney is the single most powerful person in the criminal justice system. If we are serious about fundamentally changing the trajectory of a system that over-polices, over-prosecutes and over-incarcerates, then we must elect a district attorney who is actually for reform.”

    The Peoples DA Coalition established itself as a tax-deductible non-profit, said Johnson, and from the beginning did not endorse any candidate.  It was able to raise some local and national funds from individuals and foundations to hire two staff.  They asked Louisiana native Victoria Coy to come on as coordinator.  Color of Change, a national racial justice advocacy organization, partnered to help on several levels including helping create the organization’s website, strategizing, and running the technology for online forums.

    The hardest and most important early work of the coalition was hammering out a shared policy agenda that people could get behind.  Creating a comprehensive policy platform which reflected the transformative vision of dozens of organizations was challenging. Over eight months of meetings, members organized themselves into twelve different working groups, each working on one criminal justice issue, developing detailed lists of concerns and demands for action.

    During these months, the Peoples DA Coalition continued to grow and broaden.  More organizations joined.  Ministers joined. Lots of young people.  Judge Johnson observed “It was exciting to see all these young committed smart people and be in the room working with them.”

    Ultimately the Peoples DA Coalition agreed on a twelve part policy platform which included over 70 specific demands for reform.  Every one of the candidates running to be elected DA would be asked for their positions on each.  The community insisted that going forward the DA of New Orleans operate their office in dramatically new ways.  For example, would the DA promise not to seek the death penalty? Would the DA dramatically reduce requests for cash bail and pretrial detention? Would the office use restorative justice processes where possible?  Would the DA listen to, inform and communicate with survivors of crimes?  Would the DA stop the school to prison pipeline by refusing to prosecute behavior which can be handled through the school system?  Would the DA create an internal wrongful conviction review process?  Would the DA train all prosecutors and staff on an ongoing basis about racial bias?  And dozens more.

    In the summer of 2020, five people were frequently mentioned as candidates.  The incumbent DA Leon Cannizzaro, Jason Williams, and three former Judges Arthur Hunter, Keva Landrum, and Morris Reed.

    As qualifying approached, the Peoples DA Coalition stayed nonpartisan.  Even though some members of the coalition preferred one or more of the candidates, the coalition itself focused on issues and refused to get behind one candidate.  The coalition had to do that, stressed Judge Johnson, because “regardless of who was elected, we wanted accountability. Whoever is elected, we will have accountability of the elected candidate to the people.”

    On the last day to qualify for the election, the sitting District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro announced he was not going to run for reelection.

    “We were surprised when the sitting DA dropped out, but we continued forward,” said Johnson.

    On August 18, 2020, the Peoples DA Coalition publicly announced their detailed 70 part platform. “It’s time for us to have a prosecutor, a DA who recognizes that the purpose of the justice system is to make people better,” said Judge Johnson at the online unveiling of the platform. “To make our city better. To make the justice system better. That’s the prosecutor’s role. That’s the prosecutor’s job. And the People’s DA Coalition is going to hold the prosecutor to it.”

    In September, the coalition held an online forum for the candidates to respond to the policy platform.  Victoria Coy said 900 people attended.  The candidates all pledged to “actively root out wrongful convictions, stop bringing criminal charges against sex workers, ditch the use of habitual offender laws and reserve jail before trial for the most serious offenses.”

    The focus on reform of the system was not always viewed kindly.  Rafael Goyeneche, a former prosecutor and the president of the Metropolitan Crime Coalition, a conservative tough on crime watchdog, when interviewed by Matt Sledge of Nola.com, “expressed some skepticism of all the “reform” talk. “‘Reform’ doesn’t necessarily mean better,” Goyeneche said. “The candidates need to realize that they’re no longer going to be criminal defense attorneys, their obligations are not going to be to the defendants but to the public, to the victims and citizens.”

    In the weeks running up to the election, the coalition targeted precincts for education and outreach.  Members knocked on doors, made thousands of calls and texted to get the word out about the importance of the election and the important issues in the DA race.

    Political observers expected the reform vote to be split between Jason Williams and Judge Arthur Hunter, a retired progressive criminal court judge.  The more traditional vote appeared to be going to retired Judge Keva Landrum who landed far more endorsements than any other candidate.  Judge Morris Reed remained on the ballot but did not really campaign and was not expected to contend.

    The election on November 3 ended up with former Judge Keva Landrum winning 35 percent of the vote and Jason Williams edging out Judge Hunter 29 to 28 percent.

    Local media characterized the runoff as “a choice between a defense attorney who rarely fails to denounce what he sees as a racist criminal justice system and who also serves as at-large city councilman, and the more measured reforms touted by an experienced former prosecutor and judge.”

    Landrum was seen by many as “the more moderate candidate” while Williams “cast himself as a progressive who has been fighting for a more just and humane criminal legal system for his entire career.”

    In other media reports both candidates “talked about advancing reforms, but their positions and records reveal a divide in how they would likely approach being a DA.  Williams has promised more of a clean break with the office’s punitive past and embraced the People’s DA platform enthusiastically.”

    Members of the coalition continued to work hard to educate people about the candidates and work for voter participation.  Pastor Gregory Manning, a member of the Peoples DA Coalition, strongly urged people to vote. ““We are at a crossroads in our community,” said Manning, a pastor in the Broadmoor neighborhood. “It cannot be simply that we continue to lock people up and allow the criminal justice system and the jail system and the bail bondsman to benefit financially off of the incarceration of our people, especially African American people, people of color.”

    Ultimately, members of the Peoples DA Coalition made over 90,000 calls, knocked on hundreds of doors and sent thousands of texts to potential voters, according to Coy.

    On December 5, 2020, Jason Williams won the race by a convincing margin, 58% to 42%.  

    The fact that Williams, the most progressive candidate, won came as a surprise to many.  His fundraising trailed his opponent by over $150,000.  He had many fewer endorsements from city power brokers.  New Orleans had never elected a progressive prosecutor.

    Since taking office, as noted above, District Attorney Williams has taken action.  He has not opposed requests for new trials for those convicted in New Orleans by 10-2 jury verdicts.  He has dismissed hundreds of minor drug and outdated cases.  He has created a new Civil Rights Unit to investigate cold cases and reverse wrongful convictions.  He has reversed the policy of the office and is not seeking life in prison for juveniles convicted of murder.

    Despite the overwhelming mandate from the voters, traditionally conservative tough on crime critics like Rafael Goyeneche, who were not fans of reform plans before the election, are really worried now.  “This is a grand experiment and only time will tell how this experiment plays out,” Goyeneche said. “I think that you are taking real risks with the public and public safety.”

    The Peoples DA Coalition goal remains the same. “Our mission is to create a District Attorney’s office that is ethical, equitable, compassionate, and accountable to all of its constituents so that we may end the era of mass incarceration in New Orleans.” The focus should be on safety, not on jail and prison.

    But even though the election is over, organizing for real and lasting change is not. The Peoples DA Coalition and Color of Change are following through on their promise to hold the winner of the race accountable.

    On Thursday April 8, Color of Change and the Peoples DA Coalition have scheduled their first forum with District Attorney Jason Williams.  They intend to discuss bail, pretrial detention, transparency, accountability and juvenile justice, just like they promised.  Readers can register to join that discussion online.

    While it is impossible to say exactly how much impact the Peoples DA Coalition had on the race, Judge Calvin Johnson summed it up.  “I will be 74 shortly.  To see where we are in terms of how this community thinks about justice and people?  That was amazing.”

     

    The post Peoples Coalition Helps Elect New Orleans Progressive Prosecutor first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    Nicaragua: Building The Good Life (Buen Vivir) Through Popular Revolution


    As I traveled in Nicaragua on the recent Sanctions Kill delegation, one thing was clear:  social transformation (revolution) requires both political power and participation by the people. Without political power, revolutionary programs will not have the material resources they require. Without the participation of the people, revolutionary programs, even with resources, cannot be put into practice and defended.

    Right now, Nicaraguans have both and they are making great progress in building a new society or as it is often referred to in Latin America, ‘Buen Vivir,’ (the good life). They are demonstrating what we mean when we say “transforming society to put people and the planet over profits.” And this is one of the reasons why the United States is targeting Nicaragua through hybrid warfare including a misinformation campaign, direct interference in the politics of the country and economic attacks. It is clear the United States is already working to undermine the upcoming presidential election in Nicaragua scheduled for November 7, but that is a necessary topic for another day.

    In this newsletter, I will focus on two aspects of the ongoing Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua: building power through organizing peasant workers and building a multicultural society that respects the sovereignty of Indigenous Peoples. Both contain lessons for activists in the United States.

    Wall at the site of the tombs of revolutionary heroes in Managua (Margaret Flowers)

    In the last newsletter, I wrote a bit about the history of the popular struggle in Nicaragua, the largest country in Central America that has a low-density population of around six million people. Through a mass armed movement, Nicaraguans ousted the US Marines in the early twentieth century but that was followed by almost 50 years of the brutal dictatorship of the US-backed liberal party led by the Somoza family. Throughout that period, a minority of people (5%) owned most of the land (80%).

    In 1979, the same year that the US-backed Shah of Iran was defeated, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), which began in the 1960’s, overthrew the Somozas and was finally able to start putting its 13-point socialist program into practice. Although there were setbacks during the US-backed Contra War of the 1980s and the neoliberal period from 1990 to 2006, in the past 14 years, Nicaragua has made major achievements that other poor countries and many a rich country like the United States have not been able to make.

    Their successes include access to free education from preschool through the university level for all people, universal healthcare, land ownership, a pension, the empowerment of women, youth, and marginalized populations and more. Nicaragua has a primarily popular economy composed of cooperatives and small farms and businesses. It has achieved food sovereignty with 90% of the food consumed being produced locally and a growing agricultural export market. It is building infrastructure, particularly roads, electricity, and potable water. Currently, over 98% of homes have electricity and 75% of that comes from renewable sources. Almost one-fourth of the energy produced is geothermal as Nicaragua is a land of volcanos. Learn more in this Clearing the FOG episode taped in Nicaragua.

    It took many decades to create the conditions in which these achievements could be made. The struggle to put the Sandinista revolution into practice and to defend the gains continues. Both the FSLN and the Rural Workers Association (ATC) are integral parts of that struggle.

    Yorlis Luna, a professor and coordinator with IALA, lectures the delegation (Margaret Flowers)

    The Rural Workers Association officially began forty-three years ago this week, although the work to start organizing and unionizing peasant workers began in the early 1970’s at the same time that the FSLN was growing. In my interview with Fausto Torres, who has been with the ATC from early on and currently serves as the Secretary of International Relations, he explains that the ATC and FSLN were born out of the same struggle with the ATC being composed of workers and the FSLN providing a political platform rooted in worker empowerment. Both arms of the revolution complemented each other. For example, the ATC provided food and safe houses for FSLN fighters during the Contra War and many Sandinistas who defended the revolution during that time came from the ATC.

    After the Somoza dictatorship was overthrown, it was the ATC that made the agrarian reform, which transferred land from large landowners to over 120,000 peasant families, a reality and helped to defend those land gains. The ATC provided literacy programs and helped new land owners learn to make their small farms productive. Some land owners formed cooperatives.

    After the Contra War, the ATC facilitated a reconciliation process between people who fought on both sides. Today, Sandinistas and former Contras live and work side-by-side in many communities and belong to the same cooperatives. The ATC continues to organize rural workers and educate them about labor laws and it has special programs for youth and women.

    The ATC has several schools. One of its newer ones is the Latin American Institute of Agroecology or IALA (based on the name in Spanish), which educates people from all over Latin America. IALA incorporates traditional knowledge and the latest science to create practices that are sustainable, address the climate crisis and serve the cultural needs of local communities. In line with the values of the ATC and FSLN, emphasis is placed on the inclusion and empowerment of youth and women to support the development of new leaders.

    In the early 1990’s, the ATC globalized its peasant movement by founding La Via Campesina, a member organization that currently operates in the Americas, Africa, Europe, Asia and Oceania and represents over 200 million rural families who are working to build a democratic and non-exploitative society. In addition to peasant workers, La Via Campesina members include migrants, landless peasants, and human rights defenders. There are four major areas of work: land reform, food sovereignty, peasant culture and socializing common goods. As an organization, it operates through collective leadership and participatory democracy. La Via Campesina values gender equality, youth participation, diversity, discipline and international solidarity. It is anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist and anti-patriarchal.

    La Via Campesina runs a number of campaigns. One of them targets transnational corporations, particularly those based in the United States, that are pushing the “Green Revolution,” which is trying to dominate land ownership, control food production and push a toxic and exploitative food system based on profits for a few. A recent success in that struggle was the passing of the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas in late 2018 at the United Nations. It should not be a surprise that the United States and some European Union countries opposed it.

    The ATC and La Via Campesina are building the local and global popular movement necessary to challenge corporate power and capitalism and create a world that can protect the rights of all people and mitigate the climate crisis. We activists in the US have much to learn from them.

    Aminta Zea explains who our group is for members of the community council in Tuapi (Margaret Flowers)

    Another accomplishment in Nicaragua is their ongoing work in the Autonomous Zone, composed of 47% of the nation’s land on the Northern and Southern Caribbean Coasts, to restore the rights of Indigenous Peoples and Afro-descendants who have been discriminated against for a long time. It offers a model for the United States to consider.

    This work is grounded in the Nicaraguan Constitution passed after the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship that values a multi-ethnic society. Due to the Contra War and the neoliberal period that followed, most of the gains have been made in the last decade or so since Daniel Ortega was restored as the president. There was a ten year period of negotiations between the government and the autonomous communities that resulted in the titles of 33% of the national territory being granted to twenty three Indigenous and Afro-descendant Peoples who requested them.

    Indigenous leaders decide what parts of the land are to be used for housing or agriculture and the regulations regarding whether or not non-Indigenous people could live there. For example, the capital of the Northern Caribbean Coast, Bilwi, is owned by the people in Karata and they receive taxes from the city, which was formerly called Puerto Cabezas.

    In recent years, unprecedented amounts of money have been spent on building highways to connect the communities with each other and with markets for their goods. There was also a big expansion in health care facilities and infrastructure for electricity and water. Education is also a high priority. Schools are multilingual to include the maternal language as well as Spanish and English. The university system is dedicated to multiculturalism and “rescuing” traditional knowledge. Their development plan is based on human development rather than exploitation.

    Some of the major industries in the region include mining, forestry and cattle. They are working on mining methods that reduce the environmental impact and pollution from it. For timber, the community has to approve any plans and it owns and benefits from the entire process. Similarly for cattle, the community decides who can have cattle farms. As the climate crisis expands the “dry zone” outside of the Autonomous Region, non-Indigenous cattle farmers have been looking for other areas to raise their herds and this has been used by the United States as a way to attack Nicaragua through a false tale of assaults on Indigenous communities, known as “the Conflict Beef” story. This is far from the reality, as John Perry explains.

    Although there have been a few small victories recently in the United States of returning land to Native American tribes, we still have a long way to go. Nicaragua demonstrates a model that is indigenous-led with the state playing a supportive role. Imagine if land in the United States was returned to the Indigenous Peoples who would control what is done on the land, including who could live there. This would go a long way to reversing the centuries of oppression and stolen wealth and could finally end the era of settler colonialism.

    The Sanctions Kill delegation with members of the ATC in Managua (Friends of the ATC)

    There is a lot we can learn from Nicaraguan people about how to organize, resist and build a multicultural society based on participatory democracy, empowerment and healing the Earth. The Sanctions Kill delegation provided a glimpse into this powerful work but there is more to know about the specific programs and how they could be translated into our work here to hold our government accountable and transform our society.

    One concept that arose during the delegation is that of “revolutionary discipline.” Revolutions don’t just happen. They are the fruit of dedication to education and struggle. We can each practice revolutionary discipline in our communities through political education, organizing, putting pressure on the government and building alternative programs. Through this work, we will build the mass movement necessary to succeed.

    We must also work to protect Nicaragua and other revolutionary societies that are targeted by US foreign policy for daring to defend their self-determination and sovereignty. We witnessed the violence and destruction of the 2018 US-backed coup attempt. We already see the US laying the groundwork to interfere in the presidential election in Nicaragua this November. Let us also put revolutionary discipline into practice by not allowing ourselves to be fooled by false media narratives and by raising our voices against US interference.

    The photo at the top of this newsletter was taken at the ATC School in Managua. It reads “Globalize the Struggle, Globalize the Hope.” This is our call to action so that we can build a world of Buen Vivir for everyone.

    The post Nicaragua: Building The Good Life (Buen Vivir) Through Popular Revolution first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    We are living through a time of fear not just of the virus but of each other

    Welcome to the age of fear. Nothing is more corrosive of the democratic impulse than fear. Left unaddressed, it festers, eating away at our confidence and empathy.

    We are now firmly in a time of fear – not only of the virus, but of each other. Fear destroys solidarity. Fear forces us to turn inwards to protect ourselves and our loved ones. Fear refuses to understand or identify with the concerns of others.

    In fear societies, basic rights become a luxury. They are viewed as a threat, as recklessness, as a distraction that cannot be afforded in this moment of crisis.

    Once fear takes hold, populations risk agreeing to hand back rights, won over decades or centuries, that were the sole, meagre limit on the power of elites to ransack the common wealth. In calculations based on fear, freedoms must make way for other priorities: being responsible, keeping safe, averting danger.

    Worse, rights are surrendered with our consent because we are persuaded that the rights themselves are a threat to social solidarity, to security, to our health.

    Too noisy’ protests

    It is therefore far from surprising that the UK’s draconian new Police and Crime Bill – concentrating yet more powers in the police – has arrived at this moment. It means that the police can prevent non-violent protest that is likely to be too noisy or might create “unease” in bystanders. Protesters risk being charged with a crime if they cause “nuisance” or set up protest encampments in public places, as the Occupy movement did a decade ago.

    And damaging memorials – totems especially prized in a time of fear for their power to ward off danger – could land protesters, like those who toppled a statue to notorious slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol last summer, a 10-year jail sentence.

    In other words, this is a bill designed to outlaw the right to conduct any demonstration beyond the most feeble and ineffective kind. It makes permanent current, supposedly extraordinary limitations on protest that were designed, or so it was said, to protect the public from the immediate threat of disease.

    Protest that demands meaningful change is always noisy and disruptive. Would the suffragettes have won women the vote without causing inconvenience and without offending vested interests that wanted them silent?

    What constitutes too much noise or public nuisance? In a time of permanent pandemic, it is whatever detracts from the all-consuming effort to extinguish our fear and insecurity. When we are afraid, why should the police not be able to snatch someone off the street for causing “unease”?

    The UK bill is far from unusual. Similar legislation – against noisy, inconvenient and disruptive protest – is being passed in states across the United States. Just as free speech is being shut down on the grounds that we must not offend, so protest is being shut down on the grounds that we must not disturb.

    From the outbreak of the virus, there were those who warned that the pandemic would soon serve as a pretext to take away basic rights and make our societies less free. Those warnings soon got submerged in, or drowned out by, much wilder claims, such as that the virus was a hoax or that it was similar to flu, or by the libertarian clamour against lockdowns and mask-wearing.

    Binary choices

    What was notable was the readiness of the political and media establishments to intentionally conflate and confuse reasonable and unreasonable arguments to discredit all dissent and lay the groundwork for legislation of this kind.

    The purpose has been to force on us unwelcome binary choices. We are either in favour of all lockdowns or indifferent to the virus’ unchecked spread. We are either supporters of enforced vaccinations or insensitive to the threat the virus poses to the vulnerable. We are either responsible citizens upholding the rules without question or selfish oafs who are putting everyone else at risk.

    A central fracture line has opened up – in part a generational one – between those who are most afraid of the virus and those who are most afraid of losing their jobs, of isolation and loneliness, of the damage being done to their children’s development, of the end of a way of life they valued, or of the erasure of rights they hold inviolable.

    The establishment has been sticking its crowbar into that split, trying to prise it open and turn us against each other.

    ‘Kill the Bill’

    Where this leads was only too visible in the UK at the weekend when protesters took to the streets of major cities. They did so – in another illustration of binary choices that now dominate our lives – in violation of emergency Covid regulations banning protests. There was a large march through central London, while another demonstration ended in clashes between protesters and police in Bristol.

    What are the protesters – most peaceful, a few not – trying to achieve? In the media, all protest at the moment is misleadingly lumped together as “anti-lockdown”, appealing to the wider public’s fear of contagion spread. But that is more misdirection: in the current, ever-more repressive climate, all protest must first be “anti-lockdown” before it can be protest.

    The truth is that the demonstrators are out on the streets for a wide variety of reasons, including to protest against the oppressive new Police and Crime Bill, under the slogan “Kill the Bill”.

    There are lots of well-founded reasons for people to be angry or worried at the moment. But the threat to that most cherished of all social freedoms – the right to protest – deserves to be at the top of the list.

    If free speech ensures we have some agency over our own minds, protest allows us to mobilise collectively once we have been persuaded of the need and urgency to act. Protest is the chance we have to alert others to the strength of our feelings and arguments, to challenge a consensus that may exist only because it has been manufactured by political and media elites, and to bring attention to neglected or intentionally obscured issues.

    Speech and protest are intimately connected. Free speech in one’s own home – like free speech in a prison cell – is a very stunted kind of freedom. It is not enough simply to know that something is unjust. In democratic societies, we must have the right to do our best to fix injustice.

    Cast out as heretics

    Not so long ago, none of this would have needed stating. It would have been blindingly obvious. No longer. Large sections of the population are happy to see speech rights stripped from those they don’t like or fear. They are equally fine, it seems, with locking up people who cause a “nuisance” or are “too noisy” in advancing a cause with which they have no sympathy – especially so long as fear of the pandemic takes precedence.

    That is how fear works. The establishment has been using fear to keep us divided and weak since time immemorial. The source of our fear can be endlessly manipulated: black men, feminists, Jews, hippies, travellers, loony lefties, libertarians. The only limitation is that the object of our fear must be identifiable and distinguishable from those who think of themselves as responsible, upstanding citizens.

    In a time of pandemic, those who are to be feared can encompass anyone who does not quietly submit to those in authority. Until recently there had been waning public trust in traditional elites such as politicians, journalists and economists. But that trend has been reversed by a new source of authority – the medical establishment. Because today’s mantra is “follow the science”, anyone who demurs from or questions that science – even when the dissenters are other scientists – can be cast out as a heretic. The political logic of this is rarely discussed, even though it is profoundly dangerous.

    Political certainty

    Politicians have much to gain from basking in the reflected authority of science. And when politics and science are merged, as is happening now, dissent can be easily reformulated as either derangement or criminal intent. On this view, to be against lockdown or to be opposed to taking a vaccine is not just wrong but as insane as denying the laws of gravity. It is proof of one’s irrationality, of the menace one poses to the collective.

    But medicine – the grey area between the science and art of human health – is not governed by laws in the way gravity is. That should be obvious the moment we consider the infinitely varied ways Covid has affected us as individuals.The complex interplay between mind and body means reactions to the virus, and the drugs to treat it, are all but impossible to predict with any certainty. Which is why there are 90-year-olds who have comfortably shaken off the virus and youths who have been felled by it.

    But a politics of “follow the science” implies that issues relating to the virus and how we respond to it – or how we weigh the social and economic consequences of those responses – are purely scientific. That leaves no room for debate, for disagreement. And authoritarianism is always lurking behind the façade of political certainty.

    Public coffers raided

    In a world where politicians, journalists and medical elites are largely insulated from the concerns of ordinary people – precisely the world we live in – protest is the main way to hold these elites accountable, to publicly test their political and “scientific” priorities against our social and economic priorities.

    That is a principle our ancestors fought for. You don’t have to agree with what Piers Corbyn says to understand the importance that he and others be allowed to say it – and not just in their living rooms, and not months or years hence, if and when the pandemic is declared over.

    The right to protest must be championed even through a health crisis –most especially during a health crisis, when our rights are most vulnerable to erasure. The right to protest needs to be supported even by those who back lockdowns, even by those who fear that protests during Covid are a threat to public health. And for reasons that again should not need stating.

    Politicians and the police must not be the ones to define what protests are justified, what protests are safe, what protests are responsible.

    Because otherwise, those in power who took advantage of the pandemic to raid the public coffers and waste billions of pounds on schemes whose main purpose was to enrich their friends have every reason to dismiss anyone who protests against their cupidity and incompetence as endangering public health.

    Because otherwise, leaders who want to crush protests against their their current, and future, criminal negligence with extraordinary new police powers have every incentive to characterise their critics as anti-lockdown, or anti-vaccine, or anti-public order, or anti-science – or whatever other pretext they think will play best with the “responsible” public as they seek to cling to power.

    And because otherwise, the government may decide it is in its interests to stretch out the pandemic – and the emergency regulations supposedly needed to deal with it – for as long as possible.

    Selective freedoms

    Quite how mercurial are the current arguments for and against protest was highlighted by widespread anger at the crushing by the Metropolitan Police this month of a vigil following the murder of Sarah Everard in London. A Met police officer has been charged with kidnapping and murdering her.

    In the spirit of the times, there has been much wider public sympathy for a vigil for a murder victim than there has been for more overtly political demonstrations like those against the Police and Crime Bill. But if health threats are really the measure of whether large public gatherings are allowed – if we “follow the science” – then neither is justified.

    That is not a conclusion any of us should be comfortable with. It is not for governments to select which types of protests they are willing to confer rights on, even during a pandemic. We either uphold the right of people to congregate when they feel an urgent need to protest – whether it be against the erosion of basic freedoms, or in favour of greater safety for vulnerable communities, or against political corruption and incompetence that costs lives – or we do not.

    We either support the right of every group to hold our leaders to account or we do not. Selective freedoms, inconsistent freedoms, are freedom on licence from those in power. They are no freedom at all.

    Fight for survival

    What the UK’s Police and Crime Bill does, like similar legislation in the US and Europe, is to declare some protests as legitimate and others as not. It leaves it to our leaders to decide, as they are trying to do now through the pandemic, which protests constitute a “nuisance” and which do not.

    The political logic of the Bill is being contested by a minority – the hippies, the leftists, the libertarians. They are standing up for the right to protest, as the majority complacently assumes that they will have no need of protest.

    That is pure foolishness. We are all damaged when the right to protest is lost.

    It is unlikely that the aim of the Police and Crime Bill is to keep us permanently locked down – as some fear. It has another, longer-term goal. It is being advanced in recognition by our elites that we are hurtling towards an environmental dead-end for which they have no solutions, given their addiction to easy profits and their own power.

    Already a small minority understand that we are running out of time. Groups like Extinction Rebellion – just like the suffragettes before them – believe the majority can only be woken from their induced slumber if they are disturbed by noise, if their lives are disrupted.

    This sane minority is treading the vanishingly thin line between alienating the majority and averting oblivion for our species. As the stakes grow higher, as awareness of imminent catastrophe intensifies, those wishing to make a nuisance of themselves, to be noisy, will grow.

    What we decide now determines how that struggle plays out: whether we get to take control of our future and the fight for our survival, or whether we are forced to stay mute as the disaster unfolds.

    So pray for the “anti-lockdown” protesters whether you support their cause or not – for they carry the heavy weight of tomorrow on their shoulders.

    The post We are living through a time of fear not just of the virus but of each other first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    There Are So Many Lessons to Learn from Kerala

    Anujath Sindhu Vinaylal (India), Gender and Child Equality, 2017.

    Anujath Sindhu Vinaylal (India), My mother and the mothers in the neighborhood, 2017.

    Indian farmers and agricultural workers have crossed the hundred-day mark of their protest against the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They will not withdraw until the government repeals laws that deliver the advantages of agriculture to large corporate houses. This, the farmers and agricultural workers say, is an existential struggle. Surrender is equivalent to death: even before these laws were passed, more than 315,000 Indian farmers had committed suicide since 1995 because of the debt burden placed on them.

    Over the next one and a half months, assembly elections will take place in four Indian states (Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal) and in one union territory (Puducherry). There are 225 million people who live in these four states, which would, if measured by itself, make this area the fifth largest country in the world after Indonesia. Prime Minister Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is not a serious contender in any of these states.

    Gopika Babu (India), Community, 2021.

    Gopika Babu (India), Community, 2021.

    In Kerala (population 35 million), the Left Democratic Front has been in the government for the past five years, during which it has confronted a number of serious crises: the aftereffects of Cyclone Ockhi in 2017, the Nipah virus outbreak of 2018, the floods of 2018 and 2019, and then the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, Kerala’s health minister, K.K. Shailaja, has earned the nickname the ‘Coronavirus Slayer’ because of the state’s rapid and comprehensive approach to breaking the chain of infection. All polls indicate that the Left will return to the government, breaking an anti-incumbency trend in the state since 1980.

    Vijay Prashad speaks to Kerala’s Finance Minister Thomas Isaac about the upcoming legislative elections in Kerala, courtesy of Peoples Dispatch.

    To better understand the great gains made by the Left Democratic Front government over the past five years, I spoke to Kerala’s Finance Minister T. M. Thomas Isaac, a Central Committee member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Isaac begins by telling me that the switch back and forth between the Left Front and the Right Front, as he called it, has ‘cost Kerala a lot of social advancement’. If the Left wins again, he says, it will ‘be in power continuously for ten years. That is a sufficiently long period to leave a very substantial imprint upon Kerala’s development process’.

    The general orientation of the Left’s approach toward Kerala’s development, Isaac said, has been ‘a kind of hop, step, and jump’:

    The hop, the first stage, is redistributive politics. Kerala has been very noted for that. Our trade union movement has succeeded in having significant redistribution of income. Kerala has the highest wage rates in the country. Our peasant movement has been able to redistribute landed assets through a very successful land reform programme. Powerful social movements which pre-date even the Left movement in Kerala, [and] whose tradition the Left has carried forward, have pressurised successive governments which have been in power in Kerala to provide education, healthcare, [and for the] basic needs of everyone. Therefore, in Kerala, an ordinary person enjoys a quality of life which is much superior to the rest of India.

    But there is a problem with this process. Because we have to spend so much on the social sector, there won’t be sufficient money [or] resources for building infrastructure. So [after] a programme of social development spread over more than half a century, there’s a serious infrastructure deficit in Kerala.

    Our present government has been very remarkable in meeting the crises, ensuring that there is no social breakdown, ensuring that nobody in Kerala would go hungry, and [that] everybody will get treatment during COVID times and so on. But we did something more remarkable.

    Junaina Muhammed (India), Green Kerala, 2021.

    Junaina Muhammed (India), Green Kerala, 2021.

    What the government did was to build the state’s infrastructure and begin to pivot to another economic foundation. The amount needed to upgrade the infrastructure is staggering, about Rs. 60,000 crores (or $11 billion). How does a Left government raise the funds to finance this kind of infrastructural development? Kerala, as a state within India, cannot borrow beyond a certain limit, so the Left government set up instruments such as the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB). Through the Board, the government was able to spend Rs. 10,000 crores (US$1.85 billion) and ‘has produced a remarkable change in the infrastructure’. After the hop (redistribution) and infrastructural development (step), comes the jump:

    The jump is the programme that we have placed before the people. Now that infrastructure is there, [such as] transmission lines, assured electricity, industrial parks for investors to come and invest, we will have K-FON [Kerala-Fibre Optic Network], a super-highway of internet owned by the state, which is available to any service provider. [It ensures] equal treatment to everybody; nobody will have an [undue] advantage. And we are going to provide internet to everybody. It is the right of every individual. All the poor are going to get broadband connectivity for free.

    All of this has provided a background for us to take the next big jump. That is, we now want to change the economic base of our economy. Our economic base is commercial crops, which are in serious crisis because of opening up [to ‘free trade’], or labour-intensive traditional industries, or very polluting chemical industries and so on. Therefore, we realise now, industries which are of our core competence would be knowledge industries, service industries, skill-based industries, and so on. Now how do you make this paradigm shift from your traditional economic base to the new [one]?

    Kadambari Vaiga (India), High-tech School, 2020.

    Kadambari Vaiga (India), High-tech School, 2020.

    What will the new economic opportunities be for Kerala? First, because of the shift to the digital platform economy, Kerala will now develop its IT industry with the immense advantages of the state’s high literacy rates as well as 100% state-funded internet connectivity that will soon be available to the entire population. This, Isaac said, ‘is going to have a tremendous impact upon women’s employment’. Second, Kerala’s Left government will restructure higher education to promote innovation and deepen Kerala’s history of cooperative production (the example here is the Uralungal Labour Contract Cooperative Society, which recently rebuilt an old bridge in five months, seven months ahead of schedule).

    Kerala aims to go beyond the paradigms of the Gujarat Model (high rates of growth for capitalist firms, but little social security and welfare for the people), the Uttar Pradesh Model (neither high growth nor social welfare), and the model that would provide high welfare but little industrial growth. The new Kerala project would go for high but managed growth and high welfare. ‘We want to create in Kerala [the basis for] individual dignity of life, security, and welfare’, Isaac says, which requires both industry and welfare. ‘We are not a socialist country’, he reminds me; ‘we are part of Indian capitalism. But in this part, within the limitations, we shall design a society which will inspire all progressive-thinking people in India. Yes, it is possible to build something different. That’s the idea of Kerala’.

    A key element in the Kerala Model is the powerful social movements that grip the state. Amongst them is a mass front of the hundred-year-old communist movement and the All-India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), which formed forty years ago in 1981 and which has a membership in excess of ten million women. One of the founders of AIDWA was Kanak Mukherjee (1921-2005). Kanakdi, as she was called, joined the freedom movement at the age of ten and never stopped fighting to emancipate our world from the chains of colonialism and capitalism. In 1938, at the age of seventeen, Kanakdi joined the Communist Party of India, using her immense talents to organise students and industrial workers. In 1942, as part of the anti-fascist struggle, Kanakdi helped found the Mahila Atma Raksha Samiti (‘Women’s Self Defence Committee’), which played a key role in helping those devastated by the Bengal Famine of 1943 – a famine created by imperialist policy that resulted in as many as three million deaths. These experiences deepened Kanakdi’s commitment to the communist struggle, to which she devoted the rest of her life.

    To honour this pioneer communist, Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research dedicated our second feminisms study (Women of Struggle, Women in Struggle) to her life and work. Professor Elisabeth Armstrong, who was a key contributor to this study, recently published a book on AIDWA, which is now out as a paperback from LeftWord Books.

    Today, organisations such as AIDWA continue to lift the confidence and power of working-class and peasant women, whose role has been considerable in Kerala and in the farmer’s revolt, as well as in struggles across the world. They speak out not only about their suffering but also about their aspirations, their great dreams of a socialist society – dreams that need to be built alongside other instruments such as the Left Democratic Front government in Kerala.

    The post There Are So Many Lessons to Learn from Kerala first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    Black Civil Rights Lawyer in New Orleans Fights Back Against Exploitative Media Organization

    In January, a news organization called The Conversation announced they were spearheading a much needed dialogue about race. But, ironically, they began this project by stealing the words and ideas of a Black organizer.

    The Canadian bureau of The Conversation declared a new podcast called “Don’t Call Me Resilient” that would actively grapple with the difficulty of discussing racism. In their post, The Conversation noted that they had been inspired by the words of Tracie Washington, a civil rights lawyer based in New Orleans, and had named the podcast after a phrase she used in an interview with Al Jazeera. (Full disclosure: Washington is a friend and former coworker).

    Washington’s words are indeed inspiring. “Stop calling me resilient. I’m not resilient. Because every time you say ‘Oh, they’re resilient’, that means you can do something else to me,” Washington said on Al JazeeraHer pointed phrasing cuts to the heart of the way that the strength of BIPOC people and communities has been weaponized against them. Washington deftly uncovers some of the foundational logic of white supremacy — that the bodies of BIPOC bodies and minds are somehow stronger and more able to handle the weight of oppression.

    The problem is not that the folks at The Conversation found inspiration in Washington’s analysis. The problem is that they effectively stole it. The producers and editors at The Conversation, who said they have been working on the podcast for a year, never spoke to Washington or asked her permission to base the name of their podcast after her words.

    The post from The Conversation does not attempt to hide that they based their podcast on Washington’s words. They quote Washington, and then quote Professor Maria Kaika responding to the quote from Washington, and then announce: “Today, we are launching Don’t Call Me Resilient, a new podcast about race and racism in which we discuss solutions in the way Washington and Kaika are suggesting.” They do not address the question of how they will “discuss solutions in the way” Washington is suggesting, without speaking to her.

    The irony of taking a quote from a Black civil rights activist — a quote that comes from a criticism of extractive policies taken against poor and people of color communities — and extracting that quote without permission for a podcast on issues of racism, was apparently lost on the — mostly white — staff at The Conversation. They effectively reproduced the exact same power inequities that Washington’s analysis reveals. “I felt used and exploited,” said Washington. “I felt like I didn’t matter to them as a person. I was just another resource to exploit for their own profit.”

    This follows a long tradition of the co-optation and outright theft of the work and analysis of Black communities, especially Black women. As Black Youth Project has written, “Everything Black women say or do is constant in danger of being just straight-up stolen, reappropriated, or misappropriated.” Just last week, Gimlet Media cancelled a series from their Reply All podcast because of similar hypocrisy. “The legacy of media exploitation of communities of color and in particular of Black people’s pain is long,” responded journalist and author Lewis Raven Wallace, the Education Program Director of Press On, when asked about the actions of The Conversation. “The only path forward for journalism today is to address and make amends for that legacy, and build organizations and outlets that reflect those values at every level.”

    Who knows what may have happened if The Conversation had followed traditional journalistic protocol and actively sought comment from Washington? “Tell me,” Washington asked in an email to the editors at The Conversation, “What makes The Conversation any better than the political and corporate forces I am critiquing, when you are stealing my words and taking them out of context and therefore misusing them? How do you have the nerve to take a quote about exploitative and extractive processes, and then exploit and extract from the person that said the words to begin with?”

    In response to the question of whether The Conversation had received permission from Washington, the producer and host of the podcast, Vinita Srivastava, wrote, “In one of our pitch meetings, one of our producers introduced Tracie Washington to us and her effective campaign in Louisiana. We saw her amazing posters and read a story about her response to the New Orleans environmental city plan. We contacted Washington to see if she would be willing to be a guest on our pod.” What this roundabout statement doesn’t actually say is: Srivastava did not have any contact with Washington.

    Soon after, Srivastava responded directly to Washington’s email. In her email, she took no responsibility for stealing Washington’s words and analysis, writing instead, “I am very sorry if the impact of our work has added to your feelings of your ideas and experiences being exploited.” This is a classic non-apology Instead of acknowledging the harmful effect of her actions, Srivastava redirected to Washington’s feelings. The problem here is that Washington’s words and analysis were used without permission and, yes, she has feelings about it, but those feelings are not the problem. The problem is the harmful action that caused those feelings. “It was so demeaning,” says Washington “It felt like they think I’m stupid, like I don’t deserve any respect.”

    Srivastava later claimed in a conversation with Washington that she had messaged her on LinkedIn. That was the extent of The Conversation seeking Washington’s permission before naming their podcast after her. Is this what passes for journalistic protocol now?

    To confirm how easy it would have been to reach Washington, I googled “Tracie Washington New Orleans” and on the first page of the results I found a site with her phone number. When told this, Srivastava responded “That’s not what Google results showed in Canada.” I also searched on google.ca and again found Washington’s number immediately. This faux naive defense is disingenuous and insulting.

    Washington would easily forgive this if Don’t Call Me Resilient was some scrappy DIY passion project with no funding, but that’s not what’s happening here. The Conversation website lists at least seventeen people and two organizations who worked on the podcast, along with funding by a grant from the Global Journalism Innovation Lab. Actually, there’s a long list of funders and partners.

    Unfortunately, none of these seventeen plus staffers were tasked with making sure they spoke to the person whose words they were using for fundraising and publicity.

    Washington asked for a thorough and public apology from The Conversation. Instead, they offered their half-baked refusal of responsibility. Absent an apology, Washington informed them that she does not give them consent to name their podcast after her words. She demanded The Conversation either change the name of their podcast or pay her for the right to use her words. “I want more than an apology, I want to hear how you are going to make this right,” says Washington.

    Media organizations like The Conversation that claim to be progressive are responsible for ending these kinds of manipulative practices. “New Orleanians and Black communities everywhere are sick of this kind of extractive and exploitative journalism,” says Washington. The public branding of Don’t Call Me Resilient loudly states that exploitation is exactly what it’s trying to fight, but their private actions suggest otherwise, which makes this podcast feel more like the performance of antiracism than a real attempt to dismantle anything.

    The post Black Civil Rights Lawyer in New Orleans Fights Back Against Exploitative Media Organization first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    From the Murder of Berta Cáceres to Dam Disaster in Uttarakhand

    March 2, 2021 was the five year anniversary of the murder of Berta Cáceres, who opposed the Agua Zarca dam in Honduras.  That date was less than one month after the deaths of dozens of people from Tehri Dam disaster in Uttarakhand, India.  The two stories together tell us far more about consequences of the insatiable greed of capitalism for more energy than either narrative does by itself.

    In addition to being sacred to the indigenous Lenca people of Honduras, the Gualcarque River is a primary source of water for them to grow their food and harvest medicinal plants.  Dams can flood fertile plains and deprive communities of water for livestock and crops.  The Lenca knew what could happen if the company Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA) were to build the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam on the Gualcarque.  As Nina Lakhani describes in Who Killed Berta Cáceres?, the La Aurora Dam, which started generating electricity in 2012 “left four miles of the El Zapotal River bone dry and the surrounding forest bare.”

    In 2015, Cáceres won the Goldman Environmental Prize for organizing opposition to the Agua Zarca.  She had been a co-founder of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH).  The following year, thousands of Lenca marched to the capital Tegucigalpa demanding schools, clinics, roads and protection of ancestral lands.  Indigenous groups uniting with them included Maya, Chorti, Misquitu, Tolupan, Tawahka and Pech.  Lakhani describes that “From the north coast came the colorfully dressed, drumming Garifunas: Afro-Hondurans who descend from West and Central African, Caribbean, European and Arawak people exiled to Central America by the British after a slave revolt in the late eighteenth century.”

    A Garifuna leader, Miriam Miranda remembered that Berta stopped to sketch anti-imperialist murals on the US airbase in Palmerola.  As Berta and Miranda became close during the more than two decades of joint work Berta began to identify with the Garifuna.  She loved going with Miranda to the town of Vallecito to join Garifuna rituals with drums, smoke and dancing while enjoying herb-infused liquor.

    She knew that the Garifuna suffered landgrabs parallel to rivergrabs the Lencas experienced.  Lakhani relates how the government ignored the ancestral land claims of the Garifuna as it gave land to “settlers” who sold them to palm oil magnates.  In less than a decade lands held by Garifuna communities plummeted from 200,000 to 400 hectares.

    Similarly, in the Bajo Aguán region the government allowed construction of a resort on ancient Garifuna burial sites and ancestral lands. The community was not consulted prior to the landgrab and 150 people died resisting it.

    Manufacturing Impressions

    The dam-building elite had a thorn in its side that threatened the megaprojects.  Due in no small part to 1995 efforts of Berta’s mother Doña Austra, Honduras had signed onto the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention of the International Labor Organization (known as ILO 169).  It guarantees the right of indigenous communities to have “free, prior and informed consultations” for any development affecting their land, culture or way of life.

    The first tactic of the elite for getting around this obstacle was to promise enormous benefits such as building roads and schools.  Or else, they claimed that the project would bring electricity for homes, a health clinic, an ambulance, and a flood of jobs.  By the time the project was completed, few or no benefits had materialized.  Who Killed Berta Cáceres? documents what happened in communities that did not fall for empty promises.  For the Honduran Los Encimos dam, the power brokers bused in hundreds of people from neighboring El Salvador to sign a decree favoring the project.  Following an October 2011 town hall meeting when residents voted 401 to 7 against the Agua Zarca dam, the mayor curried favor of the elite by issuing a permit for it two months later.

    Representatives of the company owning the future dam, DESA, repeated the absurd claim that they only bought land from willing sellers.  Dam proponents then denounced Berta’s COPINH organization as causing the division.  In other words, the developers were skilled at shouting that project opponents were doing what they, the dam pushers, were, in fact, doing.  Outside observers would then have difficulty distinguishing fact from fiction.  If these impression management tricks failed to overcome Earth defenders, the method of threats and violence remained.

    Threats and Hit Lists

    Berta was rare as she “could understand and analyze local struggles in a global context and had the capacity to unite different movements, urban and rural, teachers and campesinos, indigenous groups and mestizos.”  More than any other reason, this meant that Berta would be targeted by the cabal of business owners, government heads, military brass and foreign investors.

    Berta had told Lakhani that “Seventy million people were killed across the continent for our natural resources.”  When a researcher for the Goldman prize committee visited Berta in Tegucigalpa, she asked him what would happen if she died before receiving the prize money, a question no recipient had asked before.  She had been warned not to stay in the same hotel two nights in a row.

    Nina Lakhani documents how widespread and intensely grisley the murders in Honduras were.  “Olvin Gustavo García Mejía was widely feared by COPINH.”  He boasted of having a personal hit list with Berta’s name on it.  In March 2015, Olvin used his machete to chop off the fingers of a dam opponent.

    Even more revealing were eyewitness reports to Lakhani from First Sergeant Rodrigo Cruz who saw a military hit list which included Berta.  Cruz had survived a specialist training so grueling that only 8 of 200 completed it. The graduation ceremony included killing a dog, eating the raw meat, and getting a hug from the commander.

    On one mission Cruz reported being “ordered to shovel decomposing human remains into sacks which they took to an isolated forest reserve, doused them in diesel, petrol and rubbish and burned.”  At Corocito he saw “torture instruments, chains, hammers and nails, no people, but fresh clots of blood.”  During his Trujillo mission “naval colleagues handed over plastic bags containing human remains.  Later that night they tossed them into a river heaving with crocodiles.”  After seeing Berta’s name on a hit list belonging to his lieutenant, Cruz was sent on an extensive leave.  When he heard that Berta was dead, he fled from Honduras fearing that he himself would be murdered.

    The Honduran elite discovered another weapon for its arsenal against environmental defenders: criminalization.  During a 2020 interview with InSight Crime, Lakhani reported a pattern suggestively similar to that practiced in the US and many other countries: “People are still being killed but really the main weapon being used currently is criminalization.  There’s so much fear involved, and it can really break up and silence a movement. All of your energy and resources go to trying to stay out of prison.”

    2009 Coup as a Game Changer

    On January 27, 2006 Manuel Zelaya was inaugurated as president of Honduras as an advocate of modest reforms such as reforestation, small business assistance, reduction of fossil fuels and an end to open pit mining.  But even these baby steps were too much for the country’s increasingly corrupt elites, who had the military march him out of his home in pajamas and into exile on June 28, 2009.  As bad as the situation was before 2009, the coup intensified the violence.

    Though Barack Obama acknowledged that the coup was a coup, his underling Hillary Clinton quickly altered the official rhetoric, claiming that it was not a coup.  She explained “in her 2014 memoir, Hard Choices, the US ensured that elections could take place before the ousted president, Manuel Zelaya, was restored to office.”  This helped the coup ensure that Zelaya and his tiny improvements would not show their face again.

    The economic consequences of the coup were an avalanche of projects attacking the country’s land, water, air and indigenous cultures.  The congress rushed to approve them without studies or oversight required by Honduran law.  During the next eight years, almost 200 mining projects received a nod.  Lakhani records how, during one late night session in September 2010 congressional president Juan Orlando Hernández “sanctioned 40 hydroelectric dams without debate, consultation or adequate environmental impact studies.”  John Perry wrote in CounterPunch that “Cáceres received a leaked list of rivers, including the Gualcarque, that were to be secretly ‘sold off’ to produce hydroelectricity. The Honduran congress went on to approve dozens of such projects without any consultation with affected communities. Berta’s campaign to defend the rivers began on July 26, 2011 when she led the Lenca-based COPINH in a march on the presidential palace.”

    Dubious Partners of Green Energy

    So-called “green” energy companies profited at least as much as other corporations from the great sell-off of Honduran treasures.  Lakhani’s research reveals that on June 2, 2010, the National Electric Company approved contracts for eight renewable energy corporations, including DESA, the owners of the Agua Zarca dam project.  Though it had no track record of constructing anything, it received permits, a sales contract, and congressional approval.  A 50-year license for the dam sailed through without any free, prior or informed consent from the Lenca people.  Lakhani also documents that January 16, 2014 was a particularly good day

    … for solar and wind entrepreneurs as congress approved 30 energy contracts for 21 companies in one quick sitting.  There was no bidding process… After the rivers were all sold, they started on wind and solar contracts…  Honduras boasts more than 200 tax exemption laws, which cost state coffers around $1.5 bn each year.  Renewable energy entrepreneurs have benefited enormously, saving a whopping $1.4 bn between 2012 and 2016.

    Even the World Bank had its finger in the pie, despite its requirement to give socially responsible loans.  It sought to cover up its role in Agua Zarca by channeling funds through intermediaries.

    Lakhani also relates stories of (a) how six members of congress embezzled $879,000 using a fake environmental group, Planeta Verde (Green Planet); (b) connections between a criminal family and the solar company Proderssa; and, (c) the link between the solar plant in Choluteca and Douglas Bustillo, who was sentenced to 30 years for his role in the murder of Berta.

    Jorge Cuéllar writes that:

    DESA’s Agua Zarca hydroelectric project, like similar megaprojects, effectively reconfigures communities into sacrifice zones for insatiable energy needs. “Alternative” energy (Alt E) is just one more category of energy which is added to the mix with fossil fuels.  Increases in Alt E are not replacing fossil fuels, but are mainly being used to create feelings of do-goody.  In cases where there is a preference for Alt E, it is due to short term profit.  As Lakhani explains, “African palms were the most profitable crops because the oil was sold to North America and Europe for biofuel and could be traded in the carbon credit market.

    A Farcical Trial

    On March 2, 2016 Berta Cáceres was brutally murdered in her hometown of La Esperanza in western Honduras.  The trial that followed was a transparent cover up.  As Vijay Prashad notes, none of the executives of DESA, the dam company responsible for the murder, were charged with the crime.  Lakhani reported in the InSight Crime interview that “The crime was never framed as political murder, as gender-based violence or a hate crime against indigenous people despite the vitriolic and racist language that was used in phone chats about the Lenca people. There was a decision to make sure that anybody political, and the military and police as institutions, would be completely left out.”

    Adam Isacson hit the nail on the head in his blog when describing those found guilty as “… just trigger-pullers, mid-level planners, or scapegoats… They are employed by Honduras’s elite, but they aren’t of the elite. They’re on the make, and have found a rare path to social mobility in Honduras, beyond gang membership and drug trafficking.”

    Lakhani’s own account reflects how bizarre and contrived the trial was.  She recalls that “My request to read the admitted documents was denied. ‘Yes, it’s a public trial, yes, the documents are public, no, you can’t read them,’ said the court archivist.”  She heard international observers being told “Don’t worry, people will be convicted” as if it was common knowledge that the outcome had been prescripted.   It was yet another exercise in impression management.

    US Role

    Though there is no evidence that the US directly planned and executed the 2009 coup, its role has been to ensure that the coup remains intact.  As Isacson asks, “Why did 1 in every 37 citizens of Honduras end up detained at the US-Mexico border in 2019, after fleeing all the way across Mexico? Why did 30,000 more Hondurans petition for asylum in Mexico that same year?”  People are fleeing Honduras in such numbers in large part because the coup gang has shown that if it can get away with murdering someone as well known as Berta, it can murder anyone.

    In the New York Journal of Books, Dan Beeton observes that “authors of the assassination have yet to be brought to justice. The US government could insist that this happen; it could pressure Honduran authorities to find and arrest them, but it has not…”  In fact, Lakhani points out that the US is doing the opposite by persecuting those trying to escape from the violence: “… in 2010 US border patrol detained 13,580 Honduran nationals.  The numbers jumped to over 91,000 in 2014 under Deporter-in-Chief Barack Obama.”

    Though the US insists that it does not train the executioners in the Honduran militarized police, it does not deny that it trains the trainers – many of torturers in Central America attended the notorious School of the Americas.  Even if the US were to withdraw its support from individual criminals in Honduras, they would be replaced by clones who would preserve the post-coup structure and power.  Control was successfully passed from a mildly reformist Zelaya government to a criminal extractionist network which permeates state and corporate institutions.  With aide and comfort from the US, the Honduran energy mob has reinvented itself.

    Coming to Uttarakhand

    The story of dams in India may seem highly different from events on the other side of the globe.  But lurking deep beneath surface appearances an eerie consistency links the two.  One similarity between the widely separated areas is that, as in Honduras, the Indian government has aggressively pursued a development strategy of mines, logging and hydro-power.  This often results in tribal people suffering the disruption of their farming systems and relocation.

    On February 7, 2021 a deluge washed away two power plants of the Tehri Dam on the Bhagirathi River in the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand, India.  At least 32 people were found dead and more than 150 were missing.  The event barely made it to US media but has been extensively covered by the progressive Indian online publication Countercurrents.  With 34 people trapped, “Rescue workers armed with heavy construction equipment, drones and even sniffer dogs were struggling to penetrate the one-and-a-half-mile long tunnel that filled with ice-cold water, mud, rocks and debris.”

    Years before construction of the Tehri Dam began, there was controversy regarding if it should even be built.  Bharat Dogra, a regular contributor to Countercurrents, wrote that “the Environmental Appraisal Committee (River Valley Projects) of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India … has come to the unanimous conclusion that the Tehri Dam Project, as proposed, should not be taken up as it does not merit environmental clearance.”

    The region has a history of dam disasters:

    At least 29 workers were killed in a serious accident at the Tehri dam site (in Uttarakhand) on August 2 2004… On 14 February 2010 six workers died and 16 were seriously injured in Kinnaur district (Himachal Pradesh) when stones and boulders destabilized by the blasting work carried out for dam construction… Over 154 workers were killed in a span of 12 years, as over one worker was killed every month during the construction of the Nagarjunasagar dam.

    Actually Existing Dangers in the Himalayas 

    Several factors compound dangers of dams which are built in hazard-prone region of the Himalayas.  First is the observation by seismologist Prof. James N. Brune that “No large rock-fill dam of the Tehri type has ever been tested by the shaking that an earthquake in this area could produce… Given the number of persons who live downstream, the risk factor is also extreme.”  Second, the reservoirs created by the dams can themselves increase the likelihood of quakes, a phenomenon called reservoir induced seismicity.  Third is the huge tectonic plate below India called the “Indian Plate.”

    As economist Bharat Jhunjhunwala explains, “The rotation of the earth is causing this plate to continually move northward just like any matter moves to the top in a centrifugal machine. The Indian Plate crashes into the Tibetan Plate as it moves to the north. The pressure between these two plates is leading to the continual rise of the Himalayas and also earthquakes in Uttarakhand in particular.”   The result is an earthquake in the region roughly every 10 years.

    Which of these was the primary cause of the February 2021 dam disaster?  None of them.  According to public health specialist Dr. Anamika Roy, the most likely cause was “retreating glaciers which result in the formation of proglacial lakes, which are often bounded by their sediments and stones, and therefore any breach in the boundaries may lead to a large stream of water rushing down the streams and lakes resulting in a flood down streams.”  Dr. Roy thinks that climate change is a leading factor in the formation of proglacial lakes.

    Professor of glaciology and hydrology Dr. Farooq Azam suggests that a hanging glacier falling from 5600 meters could have caused a rock and ice avalanche, leading to the dam accident.  Taken together, these factors indicate that the Himalayan region is a very bad place to build a dam.  We might even say that the reason for the Tehri dam disaster was that the dam was built.

    Social Problems of Dam Disasters 

    Bharat Dogra details a host of problems for those constructing dams in very remote areas such as the Himalayas:

    • First, a large portion of those constructing dams are migrant workers who are less familiar with floods and other risks than are local residents;
    • Second, even if migrant workers begin to understand on-site risks, they have little or no ability to find other employment if companies order them to continue at their jobs;
    • Third, migrant workers typically live in temporary housing that offers little protection;
    • Fourth, not being near to family or friends, they have little ability to go to others with health problems, special needs, distress, or risk; and,
    • Fifth, it is easier for contractors to suppress information concerning accidents so that workers or surviving families may not receive compensatory payments.

    Common to all of these issues is the fact that laboring in remote parts of the world leaves workers out of the pubic eye, meaning that they can easily be ignored or quickly forgotten after a tragedy.

    A different type of tragedy results from the release of water from the dam reservoir.  The two types are (a) routine releases, which are typically scheduled to occur during peak demand for hydropower generation, and (b) emergency releases, which occur during heavy rain or other high water events.  Release disasters are typically due to emergency releases.  But, on April 11, 2005 thousands of pilgrims attending a religious fair at Dharaji in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh were in the water when 150 were swept away by a huge water surge, causing the death of 65.  This was caused by a routine water release from the Indira Sagar dam on the Narmada River.  Bad judgment during routine operation of a dam can be as deadly as bad judgment regarding where to build a dam.

    Dams in the Time of Exponential Growth

    It is an obscenity to call hydro-power “clean” when it is so closely tied to destruction of aquatic life, threats to land-dwelling flora and fauna, displacement of indigenous people and destruction of their culture, murder of Earth defenders, and exploitation of workers.  It is a double obscenity to claim that hydro-power is an “alternative” to fossil fuels when dams can produce more greenhouse gases than does coal.  Not only do their reservoirs produce methane by rotting organic matter, dams interfere with the ability of downstream ecosystems to remove carbon and they require massive amounts of fossil fuel for the manufacture of concrete and steel for their construction and removal of their debris when they reach the end of their live cycle.

    Nor are dams “renewable.” They do not last nearly as long as the rivers they disrupt.  Concrete and steel eventually rot, which leads to construction of yet another dam.

    A core problem of dams is their exponential growth during the 21st century as it becomes increasingly obvious that they can more rapidly replace fossil fuel energy than can solar and wind power.  The climate crisis is fundamentally due to the uncontrollable growth of capitalism, which requires exponential expansion of energy production.

    Exponential expansion means that every year requires not just more energy but a larger quantity of new energy than the year before.  Eternal economic growth was the root cause behind the murder of Berta Cáceres and the hundreds or thousands of other Earth defenders in Honduras and across the globe.  The unquenchable thirst for energy is why India foreshadows a world building an increasing number of dams where dams should not be built.

    To satisfy their need for energy, corporations first grab the low hanging fruit.  Energy fruit can be “low hanging” because it is in an extremely good location, and/or current land owners are eager for the development, and/or those living on the land can be easily swayed.  The nature of first picking that which is lowest hanging means that, once it is gone, the energy corporations will go to the next lowest hanging fruit.  As time goes by, capital will get closer and closer to the most difficult-to-pick fruit until the last drop of energy is sucked from the planet.  Obviously, having less corrupt politicians and an educated and organized people is much better.  But this will not stop them from being victimized – it will only place them later in line.

    Is “free, prior and informed consent” real or an illusion?  As time passes, the commitment to infinite energy growth intensifies pressure to falsify consent.  What is presented to poor people throughout the world who do not have enough to feed and clothe their families is the question “Do you voluntarily choose to improve your life by giving consent to this project which will destroy the lives of your grandchildren or great-grandchildren after you are gone or do you chose to watch your children go without schools and medical care right now?  Thank you so much for your free and prior consent to this dam/wind farm/solar array.”

    There are essential lessons to learn from the murder of environmentalists and dam collapses.  Capital must bring more violence to communities when using less violence for building dams is not as effective.  Capital must build in increasingly unsafe locations after the safest locations are used up.  If dams which threaten the fewest number of aquatic species are built first, then corporate expansion dictates that dams which threaten more riparian extinctions are next in line.  Capital must move into increasingly biodiverse environments after less biodiverse environments are no longer available.

    This is true for the construction of dams just as it is true for fossil fuels.  It is also true for the location of solar arrays and the location of wind farms.  It is likewise the case for mining the massive number of minerals that go into the production of various type of energy.  This is why “alternative” energy cannot be “clean” or “renewable.”  Perhaps it is time to realize that there is only one form of “clean” energy – less energy.

    A webinar at 7 pm CT on March 10, 2021 will honor the life of Berta Cáceres with a panel featuring Nina Lakhani, author of Who Killed Berta Cáceres?: Dams, Death Squads, and an Indigenous Defender’s Battle for the Planet.  Email the address of the author below for details.

    The post From the Murder of Berta Cáceres to Dam Disaster in Uttarakhand first appeared on Dissident Voice.