Beaver County Blue

Progressive Democrats of America – PA 12th CD Chapter

Green Jobs and the Ohio: A Bold New Vision for Restoring America’s Most Polluted River

Posted by carldavidson on October 21, 2016


The Ohio is the archetype of a “working river.” Its near-thousand-mile course connects cities like Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Louisville and is lined with industrial facilities and power plants. In this February 2016 photo, a coal barge pushes past the industrial town of Marietta, Ohio. Photo: Mike Tewkesbury via Flickr

By Kara Holsopple

October 21, 2016 – In many ways, the Ohio River is an unsung resource for the region it serves. The Ohio’s near-thousand-mile course flows through Pennsylvania and five other states before emptying into the Mississippi. It’s a source of drinking water for more than five million people. But its long legacy as a “working river” has also made it the most polluted in the country. Today, many cities and towns along the Ohio are rethinking their relationship to the river—and weighing how a large-scale restoration effort could be critical to the region’s future. But just how do we get there? As part of our Headwaters series, we talked with the National Wildlife Federation’s Collin O’Mara, who’s hoping to ignite a new way of thinking about one of the region’s most vital natural resources. (Photo: Shannon Tompkins via Flickr)

The Allegheny Front: So tell us why the National Wildlife Federation is turning its attention to the Ohio River.

Collin O’Mara: One of the things that we’re seeing is that there have been amazing investments made in the Great Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay. But these investments tend to be in places that are seen as destinations: Folks plan vacations or retire or have second homes in some of these places. But we’re not seeing the same level of investments in what I would consider the “working waterways”—places like the Allegheny River leading into the Ohio River Valley, or places like the Delaware River. But 25 million people live in the Ohio River Valley Basin—that’s almost a tenth of the country. And yet we’ve seen virtually no investment of federal resources in trying to clean up the legacy pollution. The Ohio is still the most polluted waterway in the entire country. Over the last 50 years, between the Clean Water Act and reducing the direct discharge of pollutants into the water, there has been some progress. But folks don’t plan fishing vacations around going to the Allegheny, even though cities are seeing investments in their riverfronts as a way to revitalize their downtowns. So the next thing is having that investment not stop at the river’s edge—literally. We can have the water itself become a place you can swim, fish, recreate and enjoy the benefits that come from that.

AF: There have been some efforts to cooperate around water in this region, but they have largely stalled. So what can be done to move that effort forward?

CO: We’ve been working with some of the mayors and different advocacy groups in the region, trying to just begin talking about the Ohio River as a system and [develop] a vision for the entire watershed. There’s been some good work in places like the Beaver River; there are a bunch of groups in Kentucky working on the Green or the Cumberland. So we’re trying to unite those voices under a common vision. This has been done in places like the Chesapeake or the Great Lakes. So it’s really about trying to have a vision so folks are as excited about restoring these iconic waterways that, in many ways, help build our country.

AF: Well, it seems like the most exciting thing happening on the Ohio recently is the ethane cracker facility that Shell is planning to build near Pittsburgh. People are excited about the jobs and the economic development around that. How do you strike a balance between restoration and economic development?

CO: So often, in places that are working waterways, we basically treat these water bodies as simply a support for larger industrial facilities. And you see it with crackers or refineries, and you have many of those across the entire basin. Those jobs are important, but we don’t value the economic loss when you degrade these waterways. Right now across America, the outdoor economy is about a $646 billion economy. It employs more than six million people. And that puts it on par with many of the largest industries in the country. A lot of those jobs are water-dependent jobs related to fishing or swimming or outdoor activities. So one of the cases we’re trying to make is that it doesn’t have to be “either/or.” The technologies exist now that we can actually have some industrial facilities and still not have to contaminate the waterway. The old dichotomy of having to choose between the economy or the environment really isn’t true, and there are places in the country that are making those choices that they want both. What we’re trying to figure out is how do we work with leaders across the region to prioritize this. The cities are already making investments. In Pittsburgh, for instance, there’s obviously a focus on the fact that the water is what separates Pittsburgh from other cities in the region. So the question is, how do you take the next step?

AF: So do you imagine a scenario where Pittsburgh is more like the Chesapeake Bay—where it’s more of a recreational hub and that becomes a viable alternative to more industry?

CO: I absolutely do. Obviously, you have PCBs and dioxins and other things we have to get out of the water column that are legacy pollution. It’s not cheap, but it can be done. But there are amazing opportunities. (Continued)

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Posted in Environment, Green Jobs | Leave a Comment »

First Faculty Strike in PA.State System History Begins

Posted by carldavidson on October 19, 2016

By Susan Snyder

Oct 19, 2016 – Faculty in Pennsylvania’s 14 state universities are on strike, the first in the system’s 34-year history.

The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties union announced shortly after 5 a.m. that a strike could not be averted, likely bringing education to a halt for 105,000 students in the state system universities.

The decision followed five consecutive days of bargaining that went into last evening and broke off after 9 p.m.

"At 11:35 p.m., we made a last attempt to negotiate through back channels," said union president Kenneth M. Mash, a political science professor at East Stroudsburg University. "We waited until 5 a.m. We are headed to the picket lines, but even on the picket lines, our phone will be on, should the state system decide it doesn’t want to abandon its students."

Mash said he would be picketing outside the Dixon Center in Harrisburg, where the chancellor of the state system, Frank T. Brogan, has his office.

There is no limit on how long a strike could last. Mash said faculty will return when negotiators reach a contract.

The state system has said it intends to keep campuses open, including residence halls and dining facilities and operate as close to normal as possible. But it does not intend to hire replacement workers. It remains to be seen how many, if any, faculty cross the picket lines to work.

"I think none of us ever wanted it to end up here," said Amber Holbrook, a West Chester social work professor who was among the more than a dozen faculty members picketing outside the system’s Center City campus. But, she said, the system’s proposed changes would make it "hard to recruit and retain faculty."

Negotiations broke down over health insurance costs and salary increases

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Posted in Education, labor, trade unions | Leave a Comment »

22 US House Democrats Press Obama to Adopt ‘No-First-Use’ Nuclear Weapons Policy

Posted by carldavidson on October 17, 2016

Barbara Lee, PDA and the Congressional Progressive Caucus Took the Initiative

By: Joe Gould

Defense News

Oct 13, 2016 – WASHINGTON — Twenty-two more US House lawmakers are calling on President Barack Obama to adopt a policy of no-first-use of nuclear weapons, part of a tide of Democratic lawmakers pushing for restraint on atomic arms as the sun sets on the current administration.

With relations between Washington and Moscow historically tense and unpredictable this week, the lawmakers in a letter to Obama on Thursday expressed worry over the two nations’ launch-under-attack postures and “the risk of catastrophic miscalculation and full-scale nuclear war.”

“As you know, were the United States to exercise its contingency plans to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict against a nuclear-armed adversary, a full-scale nuclear exchange could ensue, killing thousands of civilians,” the letter reads. “For the security and safety of the world, military options that can spiral towards mutually assured destruction should not be on the table.”

Thursday’s letter was led by Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., the Peace and Security Task Force chair for the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Another signatory was Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn. Ellison is the caucus’ co-chair and his party’s chief deputy whip in the House.

A no-first-use policy would minimize the need for "first strike” weapons, they argue in the letter, including the next-generation nuclear-armed cruise missile and intercontinental ballistic missiles, "which could generate significant cost savings and lead other nuclear-armed states to make similar calculations."

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Posted in Militarism, Nuclear Weapons, Obama | Leave a Comment »

How Hostile Poll-Watchers Could Hand Pennsylvania to Trump

Posted by carldavidson on October 3, 2016

One tactic is making the lines slow down with spurious challenges

The state’s unique rules make it vulnerable to Election Day mischief. In a tight race, that could help Donald Trump.

By Erick Trickey

In 2004, hundreds of University of Pittsburgh students waited for hours to vote in the presidential election. The local Democratic Party, alarmed at the bottleneck, handed out pizza and water to encourage the students to stay. Pittsburgh Steelers Hall-of-Famer Franco Harris worked the line, armed with a giant bag of Dunkin Donuts, and Liz Berlin of the Pittsburgh band Rusted Root performed on guitar.

The stalled line wasn’t because of the high turnout. It was what was happening at the check-in desk.

“The attorneys for the Republican Party were challenging the credentials of pretty much every young voter who showed up,” recalls Pat Clark, a Pittsburgh activist and registered Democrat who was working for an election-protection group that day.

The GOP attorneys were acting as poll watchers. A common practice in many states, partisan poll watching helps parties get out the vote and keep an eye out for irregularities. But in Pennsylvania, laws governing how observers can challenge voters are unusually broad, and that makes them susceptible to abuse.

On that day in 2004, students who were challenged by the GOP lawyers were told they needed to find a friend who could sign an affidavit proving their identity and residence. Other battleground states, concerned that their voter-challenge laws could be misused, have limited or even abolished them in the past decade. But Pennsylvania hasn’t modified its rules. That worries election experts, who fear Donald Trump’s persistent calls for supporters to monitor the polls to prevent cheating could create conflicts and chaos inside and outside of precincts across the state.

“I hope you people can … not just vote on the 8th, [but] go around and look and watch other polling places and make sure that it’s 100-percent fine,” Trump said at an August 12 rally in Altoona, in rural central Pennsylvania. “We’re going to watch Pennsylvania—go down to certain areas and watch and study—[and] make sure other people don’t come in and vote five times. … The only way we can lose, in my opinion—and I really mean this, Pennsylvania—is if cheating goes on.”

In a speech 10 days later in Ohio, Trump dropped an ominous hint that he had more in mind than just witnessing democracy in action: “You’ve got to get everybody to go out and watch, and go out and vote,” Trump said. “And when [I] say ‘watch,’ you know what I’m talking about, right?”

Trump’s claim that widespread voting fraud could swing the presidential election has been widely debunked; a national study discovered only 10 cases of fraud by misrepresentation from 2000 to 2012—1 in every 15 million eligible voters. But Trump’s remedy could have a very real and much larger impact. In a state that has been described as a “blue wall,” crucial to Clinton’s election chances, and where polls show her lead in the 3 percent range (down from 9 percent a month ago), blocking likely Democratic voters in Pennsylvania’s major cities could help Trump tighten the results on November 8.

“Instead of seeing orderly poll watching,” says Wendy Weiser, director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program, “we might see a lot of individuals trying to take on the role of election officials or law enforcement, and crossing the line into intimidation, discrimination and polling place disruption.”


Pennsylvania knows it has a problem on its hands, or at least the potential for one. That’s why the Pennsylvania Department of State issued guidelines in 2012 to help election workers cope with the state’s broad law.

The guidelines, which are nonbinding, call on election workers to prevent watchers from challenging voters “routinely, frivolously or without a stated good faith basis.” Wanda Murren, press secretary for the Department of State, explains that using challenges “to intimidate or harass certain voters” could “rise to the level of criminal behavior.”

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Posted in 2016 Election, Voting Rights | Leave a Comment »

Bernie Sanders makes appearance at CMU, campaigns for Katie McGinty

Posted by carldavidson on September 21, 2016

Senatorial candidate Katie McGinty campaigns  with Bernie Sanders at Carnegie Mellon University. John Hamilton | Staff Photographer

Senatorial candidate Katie McGinty campaigns with Bernie Sanders at Carnegie Mellon University. John Hamilton | Staff Photographer:Amina Doghri / For the Pitt News

Amina Doghri / For the Pitt News

Add Sen. Bernie Sanders to the list of high-profile Democrats lining up behind Katie McGinty.

The former presidential candidate stumped for McGinty, the Democratic Pennsylvania Senate candidate, at Carnegie Mellon University Friday night.

“Our job is to elect Katie, our job is to elect Secretary Clinton our job is to transform the United States of America,” Sanders, D-Va., said.

McGinty, who’s running against standing Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, spoke to a crowd of about 800 people about Planned Parenthood, education reform, environmental protection and equal pay — issues she’s focused on more intensely since the close of the Democratic National Convention in July.

“None of this is politics or academics,” McGinty said about equal pay. “This is about families.”

After a post-DNC bump in the polls, the Pennsylvania Senate race has tightened in recent weeks as out-of-state funding and support pours in.

A Muhlenberg College/Morning Call poll released Sept. 16, for example, placed McGinty five points ahead of Toomey, a lead that’s shrunk since her late July high. In recent weeks, the two candidates have traded leads in the polls ––  as recently as a Sept. 7 Quinnipiac poll, Toomey had a lead over McGinty by one point. Across all polls, McGinty maintains a 0.2 lead, according to Real Clear Politics.

Sanders’ support for McGinty comes after both President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden endorsed her run in March, one month before the April primaries.

Also joining Sanders and McGinty at the event were Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, who ran against McGinty in the primary election, and Pittsburgh City Council member Dan Gilman, who stressed the need for Democratic unity.

Since Sanders lost the Democratic primary, he’s done the same, encouraging his steadfast supporters — including members of the “Bernie or Bust” movement — to get behind the Democratic candidates still in the race.

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Save the Date! Join Us for Breakfast on Oct 8!

Posted by carldavidson on September 12, 2016

…with food for thought…

Saturday October 8th – Doors 8:30am – Serving 9:00am

Penn Bistro, 615 Penn Ave., New Brighton

Full buffet breakfast

The Democratic Party Platform

-issues worth fighting for-

One of the most important outcomes of the 2016 Democratic Party primary contest is the Democratic Party platform. The Sanders delegates along with union and minority delegates worked together to craft a progressive platform. How can we make this platform our common cause to organize for justice, equality, and dignity for all Americans?

Speaker: Mr. Don Siegel, International Vice President
IBEW – International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers


RSVP by Wed. October 5th

Tina Shannon: 724-683-1925,
Sponsored by: PA 12th CD Chapter, PDA
Labor donated

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Ten Men vs. J&L Steel: How a Supreme Court case rooted in Beaver County forever changed America’s labor movement

Posted by carldavidson on September 4, 2016

By Jared Stonesifer
Beaver County Times

Many battles have been fought in western Pennsylvania in the last 300 years, but one in particular had far-reaching consequences that forever shaped the labor and workers-rights movement in the United States.

Indeed, workers’ rights might not even exist today if it weren’t for a U.S. Supreme Court case that unfolded in Aliquippa in 1937. The case was the last to challenge the legality of labor unions, mostly because the Supreme Court had the final word and deemed the practice constitutional.

Generations of workers have benefited since, but many have forgotten the significant role played by Beaver County workers to ensure those rights.

While residents celebrate Labor Day, it’s important to remember and pay homage to those who came before us, those who fought for their rights and won them in the highest court in the land.

Rededicating the monument

Ten men vs. Jones & Laughlin

It was in 1935 when Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act, commonly referred to as the Wagner Act. Among other things, the legislation guaranteed the basic rights of private-sector employees to organize into unions, to engage in collective bargaining and to strike.

The act also created the National Labor Relations Board.

But just because Congress passes a law doesn’t mean everyone adheres to it. Such was the case with Jones & Laughlin Corp., the gigantic steel company located along the Ohio River in Aliquippa.

Less than a year after the Wagner Act passed, a group of J&L employees decided to join the emerging Steel Workers Organizing Committee, a group of steelworkers who organized in Pittsburgh in 1936.

That action didn’t go unnoticed by J&L officials, who promptly fired the 10 employees who worked at the Aliquippa plant.

However, the newly formed National Labor Relations Board was there to advocate for the workers and ruled the company had to reinstate the fired employees while also giving them back pay.

J&L officials vehemently rejected that opinion, however, and said the company would not conform to the laws laid out in the Wagner Act, because those officials considered the act unconstitutional.

So set the stage for a court battle that went all the way to the Supreme Court. It didn’t take long for the court to hear the case in 1937, and it also didn’t take long for the justices to return their verdict.

The court ruled by a 5-4 vote that the Wagner Act was indeed constitutional. The Steel Workers Organizing Committee flourished, and in 1942 it disbanded and became the United Steelworkers of America.

It was the birth of a labor movement that still exists and is stronger than ever today.

Ramifications of the decision

For Hopewell Township resident Gino Piroli, the 1937 Supreme Court decision was more than just a blurb in history books. It changed his life, and the lives of countless other Beaver County residents.

Piroli was only 10 years old when the decision came down, meaning he remembers a time before labor unions were even legal.

“It gave the working man dignity,” Piroli, 90, said. “Companies had abused workers ethnically, by race when it came to job promotions. That was a big thing.”

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Progressive Elements of the 2016 Democratic Party Platform

Posted by randyshannon on August 21, 2016

AFL-CIO Pres. Richard Trumka with Sen. Bernie Sanders

AFL-CIO Pres. Richard Trumka with Sen. Bernie Sanders

Progressive Elements of the 2016 Democratic Party Platform

by Tina Shannon, President 12th CD Chapter, Progressive Democrats of America

Here are the progressive highlights from the Dem Party Platform. I provide this as an easy way to know what’s in the platform without having to slog through it.
I will be working on a much shorter, 1-page, popularized version of more specific highlights in here to use at our Progressive Dems table at the Big Knob Fair. 
Progressive Democrats will demand that our elected officials and candidates support this platform to force our Party to allocate resources away from multi-national corporations & banks and towards serving us and our communities. Many of these points are very concrete and doable. In my opinion, making all Democrats in Beaver County and Pennsylvania aware of what’s in this platform, from elected officials to regular voters, is the next step of the political revolution.  


  1. Health Care
    1. Medicare opt-in for those 55 and older
    2. Public insurance option to compete with private insurance in ACA
    3. Allow states to set up single-payer healthcare system
    4. Repeal excise tax on high cost insurance plans
    5. Renew and expand community health centers
    6. Tax relief for caregivers to aging, disabled, or chronically ill family members
    7. Prohibit practices that keep generic drugs off the market
    8. Allow import of prescription drugs from Canada
    9. Fund Zika prevention and research
  2. Social Security
    1. Raise the cap on taxable income
    2. No cuts by raising retirement age, COLA adjustments, benefit reduction
    3. Adjust COLA to include healthcare costs
  3. Veterans
    1. Support the VA with full funding
    2. Oppose privatization of VA
  4. Workers and Unions
    1. Union certification w/ card count
    2. $15 minimum wage
    3. Oppose right-to-work laws
    4. Dues checkoff
    5. Limited use of forced arbitration
    6. 12 weeks paid family leave
    7. 7 days paid sick leave
  5. Jobs
    1. Independent infrastructure bank
    2. Build America bonds
    3. Clear backlog in land management agencies
    4. Make It In America plan
    5. Support Export-Import Bank
    6. Connect households to high speed internet
    7. Support NASA
    8. Federal funds for local youth employment programs
    9. Expand Americorps
  6. Economic Inequality
    1. Funding for family farms and environmentally sustainable farming
    2. Stronger agricultural worker protections
    3. Expand New Markets tax credits for small business
    4. Target 10% of fund to long term high poverty communities
    5. Protect SNAP
    6. Expand Earned Income Credit
    7. Index Child Tax Credit to inflation
    8. Ratification of Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
  7. Education
    1. Free Community College tuition
    2. Quantifiable affirmative action at higher education institutions
    3. Refinance college debt at lower rates with income based repayment
    4. Allow bankruptcy discharge of student loan debt
    5. Create fund to support Historic Black Colleges
    6. Restore year round Pell Grants
    7. Increase funding of Head Start, Summer, and after school programs
    8. Fund Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
    9. Oppose high stakes standardized testing
    10. Support restorative justice instead of school to prison pipeline
    11. Oppose for-profit charter schools
  8. Housing
    1. National Housing Trust Fund
    2. Expand Neighborhood Stabilization Program
    3. Defend Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
  9. Postal Service
    1. End prefunding of retiree benefits
    2. Restore services
    3. Restore supportive Commission and Board of Governors
    4. Add postal savings
    5. Vote by mail
  10. Criminal Justice
    1. Reform mandatory minimum sentences
    2. Close private prisons
    3. De-escalate use of force training
    4. Body Cameras
    5. No military armaments for police
    6. DOJ investigate all police shootings
    7. Improve public defender funding and standards
    8. Reform civil asset forfeiture
    9. Executive action against solitary confinement
    10. Expand re-entry programs; restore voting rights
    11. Prioritize treatment and prevention for drugs
    12. Remove marijuana from Schedule I
    13. Remove obstacles to state legalization of marijuana
    14. Abolish death penalty
  11. Immigration
    1. Clear family backlogs
    2. Implement DACA – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals
    3. Implement DAPA – Deferred Action for Parents of Americans
    4. DREAMERS – support state drivers licenses and in-state tuition
    5. Guarantee state-funded counsel for unaccompanied children
    6. Reject religious test
  12. Gender Equality
    1. Pass the Equal Rights Amendment
    2. Ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
    3. Appoint judges who support right to legal safe abortion
    4. Lift the bar on US assistance for safe legal abortions in developing countries
    5. Comprehensive Federal non-discrimination legislation for LGBT
    6. Support International Initiative to Advance Human Rights of LGBT persons
  13. American Indian
    1. Streamline land trust process
    2. Address chronic underfunding of Indian Governments
    3. Funding for Bureau of Indian Education plus self-determination
    4. Full funding for Indian Health Services, Tribal Health Services, and Urban Health Services
    5. Hold annual White House Tribal Nations Conference
    6. Establish tribal representation in the federal government
  14. Public Lands
    1. Establish American Parks Trust Fund
    2. Double size of outdoor economy
    3. Oppose Atlantic Coast and Arctic drilling
    4. Phase out drilling in public lands
    5. Protect the Endangered Species Act
    6. Support restrictions on discharges to Alaska’s Bristol Bay
  15. Puerto Rico and US Protectorates
    1. Equal access to federal benefit programs
    2. Debt restructuring
    3. Extend ACA to Guam, Samoa, Virgin Islands, Northern Marianna Islands
  16. Elections and Voting
    1. Restore Voting Rights Act
    2. Expand early voting and vote by mail
    3. Implement universal automatic voter registration (Oregon)
    4. Election day national holiday
    5. Fund HAVA
    6. Voter verified ballots
    7. Constitutional amendment against Citizens United decision
    8. Improve Census Bureau
  17. Climate & Environment
    1. National Technology Climate Summit in first 100 days
    2. Reduce greenhouse gas to 80% below 2005 levels by 2050
    3. 50% of electricity from clean energy in 10 years
    4. Eliminate tax breaks and subsidies for fossil fuels
    5. Include cost of pollution in pricing fossil fuels
    6. Convert Federal Government to clean energy
    7. Build and install half billion solar panels in 4 years
    8. Close Halliburton loophole in environmental protection regulations
    9. Honor local community bans on fracking
    10. Incentivize power line permitting for wind, solar, renewable energy
    11. Reduce methane emissions 45% below 2005 levels by 2025
    12. Support rejection of Keystone pipeline
    13. Oppose mountaintop removal mining
    14. National priority to eliminate lead poisoning in drinking water
  18. Wall Street
    1. More funding for regulatory agencies
    2. Defend Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
    3. Reinstate Glass-Steagall
    4. Restriction from lobbying for 2 years
    5. Regulate bank execs serving on regional board
    6. End tax deferral on foreign profits
    7. Eliminate tax breaks to fund jobs programs
      1. Tax free overseas jobs
      2. Big oil and gas tax credits and subsidies
      3. Overseas tax inversions
      4. Billionaire tax loopholes
  19. Trade
    1. Review existing trade agreements
      1. Eliminate private courts
      2. Accountability on currency manipulation
      3. Strong labor and environmental standards
      4. Access to life saving medicines
      5. Protect free and open internet
      6. No contravention of local & national laws on environment, safety, food, health
  20. Guns
    1. Expand and strengthen background checks
    2. Ban assault rifles and large capacity magazines
  21. Military, Nuclear, Foreign Policy
    1. Strengthen the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty
    2. Ratify the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
    3. Reduce spending on nuclear weapons programs
    4. Support nuclear agreement with Iran
    5. Limit troop presence in Afghanistan
    6. Lead assistance to war refugees from Middle East
    7. Update AUMF – Authorization for Use of Military Force – to be more precise vs ISIS
    8. Audit Pentagon and take action against fraud
    9. Close Guantanamo Bay facility

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September US Prison Strikes vs Slave Labor

Posted by randyshannon on August 10, 2016

“A Call to Action Against Slavery”—We’re About to See the Largest Prison Strikes in US History


August 9th, 2016

On September 9, a series of coordinated work stoppages and hunger strikes will take place at prisons across the country. Organized by a coalition of prisoner rights, labor, and racial justice groups, the strikes will include prisoners from at least 20 states—making this the largest effort to organize incarcerated people in US history.

The actions will represent a powerful, long-awaited blow against the status quo in what has become the most incarcerated nation on earth. A challenge to mass incarceration and the prison-industrial complex in general, the strikes will focus specifically on the widespread exploitation of incarcerated workers—what the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) describes as “a call to action against slavery in America.”

The chosen date will mark 45 years since the Attica prison uprising (pictured above), the bloodiest and most notoriousUS prison conflict. The 1971 rebellion—which involved 1,300 prisoners and lasted five days—and the state’s brutal response claimed the lives of dozens of prisoners and guards. The events left a lasting scar, but have inspired a new generation among today’s much larger incarcerated population.

Tomorrow (August 10), information campaigns, speaking events, and solidarity demonstrations will take place in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Minnesota, California and elsewhere.

The organizing coalition includes The Ordinary People Society (TOPS), Free Alabama Movement (FAM), Free Virginia Movement, Free Ohio Movement, Free Mississippi Movement, New Underground Railroad Movement (CA), Formerly Incarcerated, Convicted People, and Families Movement (FICPFM), and IWOC—which has chapters across the country and with which I’ve been involved for several years.

FICPFM has scheduled a national conference September 9-10 to coincide with the main strikes, which have also been endorsed by the National Lawyers Guild.

These widespread and coordinated actions haven’t happened overnight; they’re the result of years of struggle by people on both sides of the prison walls. Significantly, it’s incarcerated people who are taking the reins in organizing the strikes this time around—despite intimidation by the state.

If history is an indicator, the state will do all it can to limit media coverage. So organizers inside and outside are organizing communication via YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. The “revolution” may not be televised, but these strikes will be accessible in real-time via social media, despite prison officials’ efforts to keep them hidden.


Leaning on History and Technology

Organizing incarcerated people on such a large scale is unprecedented for a reason. As recently as 2009, during my two-year stay with the Georgia Department of Corrections, simply talking about unions was unthinkable for fear of retaliation and isolation.

Now, not only are incarcerated workers in Georgia and across the country talking about fighting back against an unjust system—they’re actually doing it.

Many of us involved with organizing this wave of strikes weren’t even born when Attica happened. But we do have the twin resources of plenty of history to learn from and modern communications—especially mobile phones and social media—to lean on as we seek to shape resistance.

Attica happened at a time when, like today, racial tensions and conflict between police and people of color and poor people were high. In 1971, the Civil Rights Movement and the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X were fresh in the public mind, and the government was systematically targeting and eliminating leaders of more militant groups like the Black Panthers.

Three months before the Attica Uprising, President Richard Nixon had declared his War on Drugs. The combined US state and federal prison population then hovered below 200,000 people.

Through the Reagan and Clinton years—which ramped up the drug war and introduced mandatory minimum sentencing—until today, that number ballooned to over 1.5 million. In total, over 2.2 million people now behind bars—in jail, prison,immigration detention, or youth detention—on any given day.

This makes the United States the world’s number one prison state and massively raises the stakes for organized resistance. Millions of people’s lives and freedom are on the line.


Earlier Uprisings and the Long March to Reform

The few improvements we’ve seen to the US incarceration system have been painfully slow in coming—and they frequently occur only after resistance from inside or public pressure from outside, like the 2009 Rockefeller drug law reforms

The Attica uprising led to sweeping changes in New York’s penal system, but many of the particpants’ grievances remain problems today. The demands of recent prison strikers strongly echo Attica’s Manifesto of Demands and the earlierdemands of inmates at Folsom in California: basic medical care; fair pay for work; an end to abuse and brutality by prison staff; fair decisions by parole boards; sanitary living conditions; and adequate and nutritious meals.

One of the clearest, and least known, examples of prison workers striking to improve conditions came from North Carolina Correctional Institute for Women (NCCIW) in 1975, four years after Attica. Incarcerated women there staged a sit-in strike against conditions at the state’s only prison laundry facility.

Their nonviolent protest was met with force by prison guards, who corralled them into a gymnasium and assaulted them. The women fought back, triggering the state to send in 100 guards from other prisons to quell the uprising. The prison resumed normal operations four days after the strike began, but the prison laundry was closed shortly after the incident. [1. & 2.]

The NCCIW strike, the Attica Uprising, and the Lucasville, Ohio prison rebellion of 1993—the only major prison uprising in the US to be resolved peacefully— provide vital lessons for prisoners and their allies on the outside.

Siddique Abdullah Hassan, who participated in the Lucasville uprising and remains incarcerated, was recently interviewed by IWOC members. He expressed the need for solid support from the outside during prisoner resistance:

“[I]t is a sad commentary on our part, meaning both those people behind enemy lines and on the outside who are activists. When people step up to the plate and fight in a righteous cause, I think that we should not leave those people for dead.”


2010: A Flashpoint in Georgia

The wave of hunger strikes and work stoppages that have built up to the September 9 coalition began in December 2010, when inmates at six Georgia prisons refused to report for meals and work assignments.

Since almost all the work that allows Georgia’s prison system to function comes from unpaid inmate labor—cooking meals, maintaining facilities, picking up trash, repairing storm damage, and doing other work for county government that would otherwise be filled by members of the community (many incarcerated workers work alongside workers from the free world), even building new prisons and handling administrative tasks for prison officials—the strike made an immediate and lasting impact.

The strikers’ demands were simple and familiar. So was the State’s response. The Georgia Department of Corrections reacted by shutting off water and electricity to the strikers’ living quarters. Most of them quickly succumbed to these harsh measures, but a handful dug in and continue to resist.

The state retaliated against 37 inmates who were identified as organizers with extreme isolation and punishment.

Prison guards at Smith State Prison in South Georgia were captured on film brutally beating Kelvin Stevenson and Miguel Jackson with hammers [caution: graphic violence]. In what prisoners say is a long-running practice, the two men were isolated from public view and denied visits from family members and legal counsel until their wounds healed.

Three Georgia corrections officers were convicted in 2014 for an earlier beating, but justice continues to elude Jackson, Stevenson and their families. The Georgia Department of Corrections responded to the beatings by asking Google to censor the YouTube video.

Four of the original Georgia strikers, now under close security, staged another hunger strike in 2015. This time their only demand was that their security level be reconsidered, per state policy.


The Rising Tide

The Southeast, which incarcerates more of its residents than any other US region, has been a focal point of prison organizing.

Inspired by the actions of their Georgia neighbors, incarcerated workers and supporters in Alabama began organizing work stoppages and hunger strikes of their own under the banner Free Alabama Movement (FAM). Since its inception, FAM has organized for a flurry of work stoppages and minor uprisings at St. Clair, Holman and Staton Correctional Facilities in 2014, 2015 and earlier this year.

FAM organizers explain in this YouTube video why they’re organizing incarcerated workers:

“They [Alabama Dept. of Corrections] not gonna make this man go to school if he needs a GED. They’re not gonna make him get a skill or trade. They’re not gonna make him do the things that will help him be successful when [he] gets back to the streets. They gonna make him work for them and provide free labor. And that’s where Free Alabama Movement comes in.”

FAM developed a manifesto called “Let the Crops Rot in the Fields,” which lays out a framework that’s spread to prisons across the country. Instead of relying on support from the outside or passive actions like hunger strikes, incarcerated workers are utilizing the most powerful tool they have: their labor.

Incarcerated workers are paid pennies an hour—or not at all in Georgia and Texas—for often-backbreaking labor that keeps prisons operating and benefits the state and, increasingly, private corporations.

If they refuse or are unable to work, inmates say they’re subject to punishment, including “isolation, restraint positions, stripping off our clothes and investigating our bodies as though we are animals.”

FAM is also working within the system to enact legislation geared toward improving conditions for incarcerated people in Alabama. They recently presented the Alabama Freedom Bill, which would expand access to education, rehabilitation, and reentry services—services which are already supposed to exist on paper, but rarely do in practice.

Pastor Kenneth Glasgow, a formerly incarcerated person whose organization, The Ordinary People’s Society (TOPS), was a critical player in the early resistance in Georgia and Alabama, says: “They created the School-to-Prison Pipeline, we want to flip that and organize a Re-entry Pipeline.”

Considering the barriers to employment, education and housing created by a criminal record, reentry services are vital, yet the state rarely gives them priority—if they provide them at all.


An Alternative to the Silence of Mainstream Unions 

At a time of high tension, this coalition finds itself at a critical intersection of racial, structural and economic oppression.

Mainstream unions have been largely silent on the issue of inmate labor. In fact, major unions like American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), and the Teamsters represent corrections officers and police across the country—placing them in direct conflict with prison workers and the most marginalized people in our society.

These unions frequently fight to keep prisons open, even when their members are guaranteed work elsewhere. This effectively puts them in the same boat as private prison companies like Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group, whose contracts often contain quotas which require a certain percentage of beds remain filled.

IWOC currently counts about 1,000 incarcerated members, a number which continues to grow as September 9 approaches. This  makes it the largest area of organizing within Industrial Workers of the World—a labor union controlled directly by workers which operates outside the mainstream union model.

Most, though not all incarcerated people have committed crimes—or at least, what are considered “crimes” under our current system. But they often do so out of necessity, sometimes to support drug problems where treatment or harm reduction services don’t exist and, too often, to support families or just survive in a system which discriminates by race, gender, sexuality and economic status, and robs anyone with a criminal record of opportunities.

Incarcerated workers are still workers, regardless of criminal records. Other than by ending or massively reducing incarceration itself, it is only by building connections between workers behind bars and in the free world that will we begin to reform a system that feeds on human suffering.


A Canary in the Coal Mine

September 9 could be the most powerful call in over a generation to reform—or dismantle—a system that IWOC organizer and Ohio prisoner Sean Swain calls a “third world colony” within the US and a “canary in the coal mine.” Conditions in prison today foreshadow what workers on the outside might face in the future, because the oppression inside is merely an amplified version of the oppression faced by poor people everywhere. In this way and others, this issue impacts allworking people, not just those living in prison.

Most incarcerated people will be released one day. Do we want people who are bitter, humiliated, lacking work skills and education, desperate just to put food on the table and at great risk of reoffending living next door?

Or do we want people who can work, who have ties to their communities, have maintained relationships with loved ones, and who have a vested interest in helping build stronger, more socially and economically just communities when they return home?

If we succeed in making the US pay attention to the events of September 9, it might just help the country decide which of those paths to pursue.


1. The New York Times, “Women Inmates Battle Guards in North Carolina,” June 17, 1975.

2. Dixie Be Damned: 300 Years of Insurrection in the American South, “On the 1975 Revolt at the North Carolina Correctional Center for Women,” Neal Shirley and Saralee Stafford

Jeremy Galloway is harm reduction coordinator at Families for Sensible Drug Policy, program director at Southeast Harm Reduction Project, co-founder of Georgia Overdose Prevention, and a state-certified peer recovery specialist. He lives in North Georgia with his wife and three cats. He writes and speaks regionally about drug policy reform, harm reduction, his experiences, and the importance of including the voices of directly impacted people in policy decisions. His last article for The Influence was “Let’s Abandon the Assumption That If You’ve Been Addicted to a Drug, Total Abstinence Is Essential.”

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Labor Mourns Death of Philando Castile

Posted by randyshannon on July 16, 2016

PhilandoAFL-CIO, Teamsters mourn shooting death of Philando Castile

July 7, 2016

The Minnesota AFL-CIO(link is external) and Teamsters Local 320(link is external) have issued statements mourning the shooting death of Philando Castile, who was killed Wednesday night after his car was stopped by police in Falcon Heights.

Castile was a member of Local 320 since 2002 and worked as a nutrition services supervisor at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School in St. Paul.

“The 11,000 members of Teamsters Local 320 are saddened and grieving the loss of Teamster brother Philando Castile,” Local 320 said in a statement. “This is a tragedy on every level and all Teamsters are encouraged to keep the Castile family in our thoughts and prayers.”

Secretary-Treasurer and Principal Officer Brian Aldes said, “Last night, Teamsters Local 320 lost a union brother and my deepest condolences are with his family in their time of grief.”

Teamsters Local 320 President Sami Gabriel said, “I have known Philando ‘Phil’ Castile since he joined the Teamsters back in 2002 and he was an amazing person who did his job at St. Paul Public Schools because he loved the children he served. He will be deeply missed by his colleagues and his community.”

The union also said that, while it represents law enforcement personnel in some jurisdictions in Minnesota, it did not represent the officer involved in the shooting.

Minnesota AFL-CIO President Bill McCarthy issued the following statement:

“Words cannot even begin to describe what Philando Castile’s family and friends must be going through right now. Minnesota’s labor movement grieves for the loss of yet another young African-American man.

“While our thoughts and prayers are with Philando’s family and friends, we know that thoughts and prayers aren’t enough.

“We need to begin by giving state and federal authorities time to do their jobs, conduct impartial investigations, and let due process take its course.

“However, we must acknowledge that a double standard exists for African-American men when interacting with law enforcement. Whether the bias is intentional or not, too many African-American men find themselves on the receiving end of deadly force.

“There are no quick and easy solutions to this all too familiar incident. These are complex problems that will require tough conversations and decisions.

“Minnesota’s labor movement remains committed to helping address the racial inequalities, in both the economic and criminal justice systems, that continue to persist in our state and nation.”

The Minnesota AFL-CIO is the state labor federation made up of more than 1,000 affiliate unions, representing more than 300,000 working people throughout Minnesota.

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