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AFSC Representative to Join Mexico Fact-Finding Trip June 12 – 26

american friends service committee logo (AFSC)MEXICO CITY – Arnie Alpert, the longtime co-director of the American Friends Service Committee’s (AFSC) New Hampshire Program, will spend two weeks in Mexico with an AFSC delegation looking into the effects of U.S. policy, including arms sales, on human rights in Mexico.

“U.S. arms sales to the Mexican police and military have grown enormously, to $3.5 billion since the end of 2012,” Alpert said.  “The bulk of the dollar value of these sales is in helicopters used by police, Army, Navy and Air Force, as well as armored vehicles.  These weapons are contributing to high levels of official violence that some have said constitute crimes against humanity.”  

Alpert pointed to a recent study by Open Society Justice Initiative which concluded that Mexican government agents “have committed murder, torture, and disappearance that have been widespread, systematic, and part of a policy to attack civilian populations.”  The report, Undeniable Atrocities: Confronting Crimes against Humanity in Mexico, also accuses successive governments of almost completely failing to ensure accountability for atrocity crimes, due primarily to political obstruction.

Others have reached similar conclusions.  “Little has been done to investigate the thousands of accusations of torture, forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings that have mounted since former President Felipe Calderón began his nation’s drug war a decade ago,” the NY Times reported last month.

Nearly 13,000 guns have been lost or stolen from Mexico’s public security agencies over the last ten years, according to another recent report.  Many of them, no doubt, originated in the United States, Alpert said.

Arnie Alpert Full“We are troubled that our tax dollars are being used to finance Mexican violence in which civilians are too often the victims,” Alpert said.  “Corporations like Sikorsky, now a division of Lockheed Martin, and AM General are profiting off of Mexico’s misery,” he added.

The AFSC delegation, from June 12 to 26, will include meetings with Mexican researchers who are studying the impact of U.S.-supplied weapons.  The group will also visit the southern border, where U.S. policy has encouraged security measures that may deny human rights protections to people fleeing persecution in Central America. 

“Instead of fulfilling U.S. obligations to offer due process and protection to migrants fleeing violence, Mexico’s US-backed Southern Border Program has criminalized and locked up migrant families, while outsourcing to Mexico massive and callous deportations,” Alpert commented.

This will be Alpert’s sixth study tour to Mexico.  He will leave for Mexico on June 12 and return on June 26.  When he returns to expects to share what the group learns through articles and talks, including one at World Fellowship in Albany NH on July 2. 

The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization supported by people of many faiths who support peace, social justice, and nonviolent change.  Alpert has been at the organization’s Concord office since 1981.  

[Click here for additional information on AFSC’s program, “Stop US-Fueled Violence in Mexico.”]

End Governing Under The Influence, Stamp Money Out Of Politics

Stamp Stampede, an organization founded by Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry’s, held a rally at the State House in Concord on July 30 to bolster efforts to “stampmoney out of politics.”  I was one of the speakers.  The following is based on my prepared remarks.  Click here for a video of what I actually said.

Quakers say no one has all the truth and everyone has a piece of the truth, soP7300025 we need to look for truth in unusual places.  It’s interesting that one of the prophets we look to now is Dwight Eisenhower, a 5-star general, who warned about “the acquisition of unwarranted power by the military industrial complex.”

Pentagon contractors invested $27 million in candidates for Congress in the 2012 election cycle.

Just the top ten Pentagon contractors spent $23 Million on politics.  For that they received $202 billion in contracts last year.   Not a bad return on investment.

The Pentagon contractors spend $128 million a year spent on lobbying, conducted in many cases by former members of Congress, former Pentagon officials, former high-level Congressional staff members.  This is what we call the “revolving door.”

They hold job fairs for retiring generals and admirals looking for lucrative careers selling weapons back to their former colleagues. 

They sponsor trade groups, such as the Aerospace Industries Association, the Aircraft Carrier Industrial Base Coalition, the Submarine Industrial Base Council, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems (the trade group for drone makers), the Shipbuilders Council of America, the Surface Navy Association, the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, and more.

They sponsor “think tanks.”

They sponsor the media, for example Politico’s “Morning Defense” newsletter, brought to me each day by Northrup Grumman.

They even donate to the pet charitable projects of spouses of members of the Congressional armed service committees.

P7300029This is a classic case of what we call “governing under the influence,” or GUI.

And it’s not just the military industrial complex:

It’s the Wall Street industrial complex, the prison industrial complex, the pharmaceutical industrial complex, the fossil fuel industrial complex, and more,

They are all practicing GUI to corrupt the political process and serve private interest at the public’s expense.

If DUI is a hazard to the people on our roads and sidewalks, GUI is a hazard to democracy.

If DUI needs to be approached as a public health problem of great importance,GUI needs to be seen as a political health problem of the greatest importance.

But while DUI is a crime, GUI is entirely legal.  And it’s gotten more legal due to the Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions which further opened the gates for floods of cash to flow into the political system from billionaires aP7300017nd corporations. 

The rich are getting richer.

The mega-rich are getting mega- richer.

The giga-rich are getting giga-richer.

And it is easy for them to recycle their wealth into the political system to generate policies that generate more wealth for themselves, leading to higher inequality, less democracy.   

Eisenhower said only “an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing” of industrial might with democracy’s needs.

Article 10 of the New Hampshire Bill of Rights says:

Government being instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security, of the whole community, and not for the private interest or emolument of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, whenever the ends of government are perverted, and public liberty manifestly endangered, and all other means of redress are ineffectual, the people may, and of right ought to reform the old, or establish a new government.

We say people power can be stronger than corporate power and we say today we have not yet exhausted all other means of redress.  

We are calling on the candidates to tell us what they will do to end the GUI system.

We are asking:

What will they do to make sure the corporations that profit from building weapons of mass destruction are not determining our foreign policy?

What will they do to make sure corporations that own and manage prisons are not running our immigration and corrections policies?

What will they do to make sure our police departments don’t become just another profit center for the military industrial complex?

What will they do to make sure our political system is based on the principle of one person one vote, not the principle of one dollar one vote?

So far we have trained more than 500 people in NH and a couple hundred more in Iowa.  The GUI project is putting the candidates on the spot and documenting their responses.

The GUI system is strong, but not invulnerable.  It has a crack that opens in NH and Iowa.

We have a little over six months to make sure the candidates hear from us.

End GUI.

Stamp money out of politics.


 

This post originally appeared at InZane Times, a blog run by Arnie Alpert. 

 


 

Ben Cohen, founder of Stamp Stampede

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The Stamp Stampede is tens of thousands of Americans legally stamping messages on our nation’s currency to #GetMoneyOut of Politics. As more and more stamped money spreads, so will the movement to amend the Constitution and overturn Citizens United.

You can get your own stamp online at www.stampstampede.org. Or, if you’re a member of CWA, you can get a stamp from your LPAT coordinator. The average stamped bill is seen by 875 people – which makes stamping a highly-effective way to get the message out about how money in politics is corrupting our government.

It’s time to #GetMoneyOut of politics and take back our government.

InZane Times: Declare Independence from Corporate Rule

An American flag festooned with dollar bills and corporate logos flies in front of the Supreme Court during oral arguments in the case of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission.  Image by JayMallin.com

An American flag festooned with dollar bills and corporate logos flies in front of the Supreme Court during oral arguments in the case of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission.
Image by JayMallin.com

I wrote this for the Governing Under the Influence blog.

In 1776, the signers of the Declaration of Independence stated that government derives its “just powers from the consent of the governed.” But in these days of rising escalating economic inequality, unlimited campaign spending, and a multibillion-dollar lobbying industry mostly devoted to corporate interests, the consent of the governed often seems irrelevant in the corridors of power. 

“Governing under the Influence” or “GUI.”  That’s what we call the interconnected web of campaign spending, lobbying, and revolving doors between Capitol Hill, lobbying firms, think tanks, and the Pentagon that feed private interests at the expense of public good.

Governing under the Influence can be seen at work in how public officials spend our taxpayer dollars. Let’s look at U.S. military spending, for example. Since President Eisenhower coined the phrase, the “military-industrial complex” has grown to include outsourcing of government surveillance, transforming the U.S.-Mexico border into a war zone, converting police into paramilitary forces, and turning over the military’s own core functions to private contractors.  

Lockheed Martin is a prime example of corporate influence on public policy. The corporation is the Pentagon’s top contractor. It spends over $14 million a year on lobbying, and its employee PAC (political action committee) raises another $4 million for campaign contributions. Lockheed’s 71 registered lobbyists include a former US Senator and 2 former US Representatives, one of whom chaired the committee which oversees the DOE’s nuclear weapons budget.

Norman Augustine, the corporation’s former CEO, is now co-chair of a government panel on nuclear weapons that has called for relaxed oversight of weapons labs and more lucrative contracts for private companies, such as Lockheed, that run them.   (See “Nuclear Weapons Complex: Foxes Guard Chickens.”)  The current CEO, Marillyn Hewson, sits on the International Advisory Board of The Atlantic Council, a think tank with close ties to the military and foreign policy elite.    

What does Lockheed Martin get from its investment and connections? More than $25 billion in government contracts every year. Lockheed is the primary contractor on the F-35 fighter plane, the most expensive weapons system in Pentagon history, and it also runs the Sandia nuclear weapons lab in New Mexico.  According a report of the Department of Energy’s Inspector General, released last November, Lockheed has illegally used funds from nuclear weapons contracts to lobby for more contracts.  (See “Nuclear weapons lab used taxpayer funds to obtain more taxpayer funds” from the Center for Public Integrity for details.)

This may be business as usual in Washington, and sometimes it’s easier to shrug our shoulders and give in to the thinking that this system will never change.

But something is bubbling up in Iowa and New Hampshire, where the first contests for the 2016 presidential nominations will take place. There, the Governing Under the Influence (GUI) project is reminding candidates that the interests of the people must come first.

With seven months to go before the Iowa caucuses, we’ve already trained more than 500 volunteers to “bird dog” candidates about the excessive corporate influence that drives our country toward more wars, more prisons, and more violence. Our team of volunteers is at town halls, fairgrounds, living rooms, TV studios, city sidewalks—anywhere candidates appear—to ensure these issues get the attention they deserve. 

The GUI project isn’t partisan; it’s not about ranking the candidates or telling anyone how they should vote. It’s about shifting the political discourse by exposing forces that steer us in the wrong direction. And we’ve already seen results, drawing out responses from close to 20 candidates and garnering attention from media outlets like the Boston Globe, Fox News, and Huffington Post.

This Fourth of July, join us in declaring independence from corporate rule.  If “just powers” come from the consent of the governed, the GUI project may be just the thing to bring about change.

Arnie Alpert: Will NH Privatize Youth Corrections?

Sununu Youth Services-Manchester (image by Prime Roofing Corp)

Sununu Youth Services-Manchester (image by Prime Roofing Corp)

Devil is in the Details of Budget Proposal

Another version of this was published in the Concord Monitor.

The budget proposal now under consideration in the House Finance Committee calls for a $7 million cut in the budget of the Sununu Youth Services Center, the state’s residential detention center for juvenile offenders. It also mandates “the option for the Department to enter into contracts to operate the facility.” The outsourcing provision would be included in HB 2, the budget “trailer bill.”

We’ve been around this block before.

In 2011, the budget trailer bill, HB 2, mandated creation of “a committee to develop a plan for privatizing the department of corrections,” and specified that “on or before September 1, 2011, the commissioner of administrative services shall issue a request for proposals by vendors for provision of correctional services or any other services provided by the department of corrections.”

That line, buried in what became Chaptered Law 0224 when it passed on June 22, 2011 and became law without the signature of Governor John Lynch eight days later, set in motion a costly two-year investigation into the possibility of outsourcing the state’s prisons to a for-profit firm.

First, staff at the Departments of Corrections and Administrative Services spent five months preparing three lengthy “Requests for Proposals” to solicit interest from private firms.

The responses from four companies, which arrived between late January and early March. There was so much paper in the bid documents — said to be so bulky they filled a room at the State House Annex – that the State needed an outside consultant. It took four more months, and an appropriation of $177,000, for the state to hire MGT of America to analyze the proposals.

It took nine months for MGT to compete its report. 

Among its findings were that the “annual compensation for security staff” in the bidders’ business plans “was one-half the current compensation currently paid to similar positions in the state.”

High Turnover, Low Safety

“The state should be concerned that this significantly lower wage may make it difficult to maintain a trained and experience staff,” MGT said. “This could result in high turnover and ultimately impact and safety and security of the correctional facilities.” In other words, the way to make a correctional facility profitable is to lower the wages and benefits paid to workers. That dooms the facilities to dependence on workers who hope to leave and find a better job, not the kind of people we want to manage adult or juvenile corrections.

Based on the consultant’s report, the State “determined that it was in the best interest of the State to cancel the solicitation process,” according to a report released in April 2013, nearly two years after the process started.

“The decision to cancel, after having invested so much time and consideration, was not made lightly,” the Departments of Corrections and Administration said.

With that in mind, we should not go lightly into a new privatization process, this time for youth corrections.

Evidence from around the country has shown that for-profit companies are ill equipped to handle the responsibility of incarceration, whether the prisoners are juveniles or adults. Their facilities tend to be under-staffed, less secure, and don’t even save money for taxpayers.

Riots and Abuse in Florida

Just last week a riot broke out at the Les Peters Academy, a juvenile correctional facility near Tampa, Florida. It’s the third time violence has broken out at one of G4S Corporation’s juvenile facilities, and that’s just in the Tampa area. The State of Florida is investigating “whether all policies and procedures were followed.”

Last summer Florida cancelled a contract with another for-profit operator of youth detention facilities, Youth Services International, after evidence of excessive or unnecessary use of force. The company is barred for a year from bidding on new contracts, but it still runs nine other Florida facilities.

A lengthy report by Chris Kirkham for Huffington Post says “those held at YSI facilities across the country have frequently faced beatings, neglect, sexual abuse and unsanitary food over the past two decades.” Not only that, according to Kirkham, Florida’s “sweeping privatization of its juvenile incarceration system has produced some of the worst re-offending rates in the nation.”

Caroline Isaacs of the American Friends Service Committee, who has documented abuses at for-profit facilities in Arizona and nationwide, says “the track record in juvenile facilities is even more horrifying than the usual for adult prisons.”

We’ve been around this block before. Let’s not go there again.

Acclaimed Journalist Hedrick Smith To Speak At Manchester MLK Day Event

hedrick smith bwMANCHESTER–Hedrick Smith, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who began his career covering the civil rights movement, will speak at the Martin Luther King Coalition’s 33rd annual Martin Luther King Day Community Celebration. This free event will take place at 2 pm, Monday, January 19 at Saint George Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Manchester.

The celebration also includes an awards ceremony, remarks from Governor Maggie Hassan, live music and food.

The 2015 Martin Luther King Award will go to JerriAnne Boggis of Milford, President of the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail and chair of the NH Advisory Committee to the US Commission on Civil Rights.

Dorothy Krasner of Manchester will receive a special Community Service Award in recognition of decades of volunteer work in projects promoting education and civil rights. Student winners of the Coalition’s Arts and Writing Contest will also receive recognition.

Music will be performed by the Memorial High School Jazz Band.

The Martin Luther King Day Celebration is free and open to the public.  It begins with a potluck meal and social hour starting at 2 pm, with the program beginning at 3 pm and concluding at about 5 pm with singing of “We Shall Overcome.”

After covering the Civil Rights Movement for UPI in Memphis, Nashville, and Atlanta from 1959 to 1962, Hedrick Smith moved on to the New York Times, where he reported from  1962 to 1988.  In 26 years with The New York Times, Mr. Smith covered Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights struggle, the Vietnam War from Saigon, the Middle East conflict from Cairo, the Cold War from both Moscow and Washington, and six American presidents and their administrations. In 1971, as chief diplomatic correspondent, he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team that produced the Pentagon Papers series. In 1974, he won the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting from Russia and Eastern Europe. He also won two Emmy Awards for programs produced for the Public Broadcasting System. Hedrick Smith’s latest book, Who Stole the American Dream? details the rising political influence of private corporations since the 1970s.

“In this year which marks the 50 year anniversary of the Voting Rights Act and fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ‘Citizens United’ decision, Hedrick Smith will be a great speaker on what is needed to realize the promise of American democracy,” said Arnie Alpert of the American Friends Service Committee, one of the Coalition’s member groups.

The Martin Luther King Coalition formed in 1982 to organize Manchester’s first observance of Martin Luther King Day.  From its beginnings, the Coalition has grown to include organizations from the worlds of education, religion, labor, civil rights, and social justice advocacy who all identify with Dr. King’s philosophy and ideals.

The theme of the 2015 Celebration is “the time is always right to do what’s right,” a quotation from a speech Dr. King delivered at Oberlin College in 1964.

Saint George Greek Orthodox Cathedral is located at 650 Hanover Street in Manchester.  The program will be interpreted for speakers of American Sign Language by students from UNH Manchester.

For more information about the Martin Luther King Coalition, visit www.mlknh.org

“America Out Of Whack” By Arnie Alpert of InZane Times

Writing in the New York Times, Thomas Edsall assembles an impressive array of facts that illuminate the realities of wealth inequality in America.  

Citing Federal Reserve figures, Edsall reports that household net worth, corporate profits, and the value of real estate have been going up at an impressive pace.  If you think that sounds like evidence of recovery you’d be mistaken, at least if you equate “recovery” with economic conditions that are improving for most workers.   

“The September Federal Reserve Bulletin graphically demonstrates how wealth gains since 1989 have gone to the top 3 percent of the income distribution,” he writes.  “The next 7 percent has stayed even, while the bottom 90 percent has experienced a steady decline in its share.”

It’s not just wealthy individuals getting wealthier; it’s also the corporations they own and run.    Citing statistics from Goldman Sachs, Edsall says corporate profits rose five times faster than wages last year.  And he quotes an article from Business Insider that stated,

“America’s companies and company owners — the small group of Americans who own and control America’s corporations — are hogging a record percentage of the country’s wealth for themselves.”

Edsall asks, “Why don’t we have redistributive mechanisms in place to deploy the trillions of dollars in new wealth our economy has created to shore up the standard of living of low- and moderate-income workers, to restore financial stability to Medicare and Social Security, to improve educational resources and to institute broader and more reliable forms of social insurance?”

It’s the right question. 

For answers he turns to a bunch of economists, who provide data about tax rates, labor force participation, the declining growth of well-paying jobs, globalization, and the reduction of labor’s share of profit relative to capital in a time of rising productivity.  

My answer is a bit more straightforward:  America’s companies and company owners — the small group of Americans who own and control America’s corporations — are hogging the political system.  This is nothing new, but in the legal environment created by recent Supreme Court decisions (Citizens United and McCutcheon in particular) it is becoming easier for corporate interests to wage class war and win.  Simply put, the people who make the laws and set the policies have their receptors tuned to the frequency where the corporations are broadcasting. 

Edsall notes survey data that reveal corporations are not so popular in the USA and other so-called “advanced countries.”   He asks if the legitimacy of free market capitalism in America is facing fundamental challenges.

My gut response is to say “I hope so.”  But the dynamics described by all those economists are not the workings of “the invisible hand.”  The market is operating under a set of rules established by those who already have more than their fair share of power, wealth, and privilege.  The legitimacy of our corporate-directed political system that must be challenged as well.

#GUI

In The Steps Of “Granny D” (via InZane Times)

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A quiet country road from Dublin to Hancock, New Hampshire was the site of the New Hampshire Rebellion’s latest “Granny D Walk” to end the influence of money in American politics.P8230046 (2)

Granny D was the public moniker for Doris Haddock, a long-time Dublin resident who set out from California a few days short of her 89th birthday to walk across the USA and publicize the need for campaign finance reform.  She had just turned 90 when she reached the nation’s capital on February 29, 2000. 

The path of today’s walk was one she used to train for her historic pilgrimage, which ended at the US Capitol on February 29, 2000, a month after she turned 90.

Few people reflect the strength of conviction demonstrated by Granny D, observed Larry Lessig, the writer and Harvard Law School professor who launched the Rebellion last year.  The group conducted a winter march from Dixville Notch to Nashua in P8230054January and another along the New Hampshire seacoast in July. 

Today forty people, aiming to make breaking the money-politics link a central issue of the 2016 presidential nominating contest, continued Granny D’s quest.  Walking through a wooded area with no pedestrians and barely any cars, there weren’t many people to educate and convince.  But perhaps that wasn’t the point. P8230045

There’s a long history of walks, marches, and pilgrimages intended to bolster movements for social change.  Gandhi’s march to the sea, the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, the United Farm Workers Union’s 300-mile march from Delano to Sacramento, and the regular peace walks led by the Nipponzan Myohoji monks come to mind as examples.  Yes, they are expressions of political views, but they also embody spiritual power. 

When we sing “we won’t let nobody turn us around,” we aim to capture that same spirit.  When musicians Leslie Vogel and Fred Simmons treated us to “Just a P8230063Walk with Granny D” before the march, I felt the spirit in motion. 

Part of the point was also to get to know new people, Dan Weeks said at the walk’s outset.  Dan, who was recently appointed as Executive Director for theNH Coalition for Open Democracy (NH COD), says his own activist inclinations began when Granny D visited his high school.  At that time the impressionable 15-year old learned from his elderly neighbor that companies which profited from selling tobacco had a heavy hand in writing the nation’s laws through their political involvement.  Children were dying because of the nation’s twisted approach to campaign finance, Granny D explained.  Dan was hooked, not on cigarettes, but on money & politics activism.  “The systemP8230109excludes so many of our people,” he says. 

To put it another way, if money is speech, then those with the most money get the most speech.  And as the distribution of wealth becomes increasingly skewed, inequality of speech becomes a profound political problem for a country where government of the people, by the people, and for the people is supposed to be imperishable.

From Dan’s perspective, a walk in the steps of Granny D is a statement that we have not given up hope.

Two hours after setting out, clusters of walkers arrived in the center of Hancock, a town with a population of fewer than 2000 people.  There we were greeted by volunteers and treated to ice cream donated by Ben & Jerry’s.  The crowd had grown to about P823011760 people, now including Jim Rubens, a Republican candidate for the US Senate who has made campaign finance reform a plank in his platform (and who says he’s the only Republican in the race who is speaking out against the third Iraq war).  

When the ice cream had been eaten, Dan Weeks introduced Professor Lessig for a short speech by the gazebo on the Hancock Common.  Lessig apparently didn’t feel a need to educate the assembled dozens about the corruption caused by the billions of dollars in the political system, nor did he choose to restate the strategy of the NH Rebellion.  He chose instead to exhort the small crowd about the importance of action, something he says our country has become unaccustomed to taking. 

“We’ve just gotten through a century of very passive politics, where we were told to shut up and listen to the commercials and just show up to vote,” Lessig said.

“That’s the only thing we were to do. We weren’t to organize or to get people out in P8230104the streets.  We weren’t about ordinary citizens trying to lead.  We weren’t practiced in that kind of politics.”

“But that’s the kind of politics this will take,” he continued.  “Neither the Republican nor the Democratic Party leadership like this issue.  Neither of them are going to make this transition happen on their own.  It will only happen if we force them.”

Plans are already being hatched for another walk next January, timed to coincide not only with Granny D’s birthday but also with the fifth anniversary of the Citizens United court decision.

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InZane Times: “On the Centennial of Joe Hill’s Trial”

I can’t say I ever dreamed about Joe Hill, the legendary songwriter and Industrial Workers of the World member. But on the hundredth anniversary of the verdict in a Salt Lake City court that would put him before a firing squad sixteen months later, he is once again in my waking thoughts.

It was probably Joan Baez singing about Joe Hill that first drew my attention to him. (No, I wasn’t at Woodstock, but I saw the film and listened to the record album.)

“The copper bosses killed you, Joe,

They shot you Joe,” says I.

“Takes more than guns to kill a man,” said Joe,

“I didn’t die.”

My sister brought home a 1968 Phil Ochs album, “Tape from California,” with his ballad about Joe Hill’s life. Like Joe Hill did so many times, Ochs put new words to a familiar tune, in this case the English folk song, “John Hardy,” which had also been used by Woody Guthrie for his “Ballad of Tom Joad.”

Ochs described Joe’s arrival in New York as an immigrant from Sweden, how he took up with the IWW “cause the union was the only friend he had,” and how he began writing songs to raise the spirits of union members.

Now, the strikes were bloody and the strikes

Were black as hard as they were long

In the dark of night Joe would stay awake and write

In the morning he would raise them with a song

The IWW – known as “The Wobblies” for reasons that remain a bit obscure – had a revolutionary vision of a single union that would unite workers across lines of race and national origin, across lines of gender, across industries, and even across borders to take away power from the capitalist class and put it in the hands of workers. As the final phrase of “Solidarity Forever,” a labor anthem written by an IWW member puts it, “We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old when the union makes us strong.”

The Wobblies believed in direct action, especially strikes, as the primary means for achieving power in the workplace and in the larger society. Their “anarcho-syndicalist” approach contrasted with the socialists who put up candidates for election.   But the radical movements of the early twentieth century found much in common. Eugene Victor Debs, for instance, was present at the IWW’s founding convention in 1905.

Joe played the fiddle and other instruments, but is not remembered as a musician. He was, however, a decent cartoonist and a brilliant lyricist, who took popular tunes and substituted new words.

Phil Ochs sang:

He wrote his words to the tunes of the day

To be passed along the union vine

And the strikes were led and the songs were spread

And Joe Hill was always on the line

The late folksinger and song-writer Utah Phillips used to say the IWW songwriters  used hymns because they had pretty tunes and wrote new words “so they’d make sense.” In that vein “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” becomes “Dump the Bosses Off your Backs.” The Doxology becomes,

Praise boss when morning work bells chime,

Praise him for bits of overtime,

Praise him whose wars we love to fight,

Praise him fat leech and parasite.

Joe Hill’s most famous song, “The Preacher and the Slave,” is a send-up of a hymn often sung by Salvation Army bands on street corners. During the free speech fights, when IWW members who were barred from using the same street corners to proselytize for the “One Big Union” took to the streets in acts of mass civil disobedience, Joe converted “In the Sweet By and By,” to “You’ll get pie in the sky when you die (that’s a lie).”

It was Joe Hill, who “more than any other one writer, had made the IWW a singing movement,” according to Joyce Kornbluh, editor of Rebel Voices: an IWW Anthology. His songs, and others, were printed in The Little Red Songbook, new editions of which the IWW would put out from time to time. The publication’s was designed so workers could easily fit it in their pockets and take it out on picket lines or in jail cells. (I’m proud to say I have a song in the 38th edition, on sale from the IWW.)

“A pamphlet, no matter how good, is never read more than once, but a song is learned by heart and repeated over and over,” Joe wrote in a letter from his prison cell. “I maintain that if a person can put a few cold, common sense facts into a song, and dress them … up in a cloak of humor to take the dryness off them he will succeed in reaching a great number of workers who are too unintelligent or too indifferent to read a pamphlet or an editorial in economic science.”

In addition to “The Preacher and the Slave,” Joe Hill is remembered for “There is Power in a Union,” “Casey Jones: Union Scab,” and “The Rebel Girl,” a song inspired by Concord native Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.

Joe Hill on Trial for Murder

When John Morrison, a Salt Lake City shopkeeper, and his son Arling were killed at their store on January 10, 1914, Joe Hill was living and working nearby. A victim of a never-explained gunshot wound received the same night, Hill was arrested and charged with the crime.

“In reality, there was virtually no evidence to suggest that the police had the right man,” writes William Adler, in an excellent biography, The Man Who Never Died: The Life, Times, and Legacy of Joe Hill, American Labor Icon.“The state’s case was entirely circumstantial and leaned heavily on the theory that the younger

Morrison, in the moment before he had died, had fired the shot that had torn Hill’s chest. But the prosecutor could not prove that Morrison’ gun had been fired, let alone that Hill had been at the store. Nor could the state show a motive, or produce the murder weapons, or elicit testimony that positively identified the defendant. In short, the state failed to meet Utah’s statutory standard for a cased based on circumstantial evidence; that the chain of proof ‘be complete and unbroken and established beyond a reasonable doubt.’”

Hill insisted he had been with a woman that night and would not divulge her identity out of a sense of honor. Whether he had a naïve faith that the American system of justice really did put the burden of proof on the prosecution, or whether in some sense he desired martyrdom, he failed to mount an effective defense. “Like many Wobblies,” Adler writes, “Joe Hill was principled to the point of recklessness.”

Adler holds that Joe Hill chose “apparently came to believe, consciously or unconsciously, that he could better serve the union by dying. And later, once it was clear that he would not be getting a new trial, he perhaps came to see his death as necessary, or at the very least as valuable propaganda for advancing the cause of industrial unionism. The cause needed a martyr, someone to incite his fellow workers, to inspire them not to mourn but to organize, and he cast himself in that swaggering role.”

Adler says “The irony of Hill having taken on the role of good soldier in the class war was as inescapable as the penitentiary. For he was on trial for his life for a crime that had nothing to do with politics. Yet his prosecution, baseless as it was, in the end was about nothing but politics: about a partial judge … abetting an ambitious prosecutor to make the case that State of Utah v. Joseph Hillstrom was as much a class action against the IWW as it was a murder trial.”

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, “Utah was the first state to resume executions after capital punishment was reinstated in the United States in 1976, when Gary Gilmore was executed by a firing squad on January 17, 1977.” It is also the only state that has used a firing squad in recent times.

Many more rebels have been jailed on trumped up charges since Joe Hill’s day. And as has become terribly clear, plenty of people have been sentenced to death for crimes they did not commit. Since 1973, 140 people have been exonerated and freed from death row. How many innocent people are still under sentence of death is impossible to know, but a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimates it could be more than 4% of the death row population.

As for Joe Hill, “Death imbued his life with meaning,” Adler concluded. “What, after all, attests more powerfully to a righteous cause than the willingness to die for it?”

On June 27, 1914 Joe Hill was found guilty of the murder of John Morrison. He was killed by a firing squad on November 15, 1915.

Phil Ochs:

Yes, they lined Joe Hill up against the wall
Blindfold over his eyes
It’s the life of a rebel that he chose to live
It’s the death of a rebel that he died.

Ochs may have gotten a few facts wrong, but hey, it’s a folksong, and it worked for me.

The song Joan Baez sang at Woodstock is from a poem written by Alfred Hayes in 1934.  The labor icon appears in a dream.

“Joe Hill ain’t dead,” he says to me

“Joe Hill ain’t never died,

Where workingmen are out on strike,

Joe Hill is at their side.”

Yours for the O.B.U.

“Aggressive Progressives” Meet in Henniker (Via Arnie Alpert’s InZane Times)

Written by Arnie Alpert on InZane Times.

P6070066

Atlant Schmidt and Cathy Goldwater at Bird-dogging workshop

The third annual New Hampshire Progressive Summit brought 150 activists to New England College yesterday for a conference devoted to practical political skills and information in a wide range of P6070068topics.  Renewable energy, youth organizing, preserving Social Security and Medicare, poverty, GMOs, use of social media, and more kept the crowd moving for the day.  There was even time for debate over the Northern Pass powerline project, an issue about which there is not unity in the New Hampshire Left.  

The Summit included 19 workshops and another 6 “mini-workshops,” plus sessions for elected officials and candidates.  I was able to catch ones on LGBT issues (with Mo Baxley and Jamie Capach) and on the perils of privatization (with Diana Lacey and Janice Kelble) plus 20-minute “mini workshops” on the American Legislative Exchange Council (with Caitlin Rollo and Rep. Marcia Moody) and reducing gun violence (with Janet Groat of Moms Demand Action).  The presenters all were masters of their subjects and led effective discussions.

I also sat in on a presentation about the NH Rebellion, a growing project to put P6070028pressure on candidates to end the “system of corruption” caused by the flood of cash in the political system. The rebels are planning to join four July 4 parades and assemble hundreds of people to walk from Hampton Beach to New Castle on July 5, all in the spirit of Doris “Granny D” Haddock.  Their supporters at the Summit included several old friends from Occupy NH. 

With Olivia Zink and Addy Simwerayi, I led a session on P6070057“bird-dogging” skills, i.e. how to let candidates know what is on our minds and find out what is on theirs. These sessions are always lively, fun, and hopefully useful.  We had a great assortment of activists concerned about trans rights, climate, GMOs, money and politics, and other issues, all eager to hone their skills.  With the 2014 election campaign heating up and the campaign for the 2016 NH Presidential Primary already underway there is plenty of bird-dogging to be done. 

In fact, the lobby outside the main meeting room was filled with tables from Democratic Party groups, including “Ready for Hillary.” 

What it means to be an “aggressive progressive” was the theme of Richard Kirsch’s keynote.  The speech ran through dozens of popular progressive concepts like aP6070009 higher minimum wage, defeat of “right to work,” the use of the tax code by the 1% to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else, the need for paid sick leave, and the importance of not only preserving but expanding Social Security.  “We all do better when we all do better,” he said.  

Punctuated with applause, Kirsch’s remarks were deliberately formulaic, and in fact, he said they were drawn from the key message points of “An America that Works for All of Us,” a glossy brochure included in everyone’s conference packet (and available online).  From the speaker’s perspective “repeating, repeating, repeating and telling the same story,” what he calls the “progressive narrative,”  is the P6070080key to political success.

Coming out of movements based on direct action, I’m not totally sold on this “narrative” concept.  I think we create the “narrative” by our actions as much as by our words, but I agree it’s important to communicate effectively and have always believed that the “progressive agenda” – good schools, fair taxes, protection of civil rights and liberties, decent wages for workers, etc. — ought to be popular with the majority of Americans.  But let’s give attention to actions beyond voting and appeals to those who get elected.  I hope there’s still room for direct action on the progressive agenda.  

May 1 – A Day for Labor to Join the Anti-Death Penalty Movement

Albert Parsons and August Spies were hung in 1887. Joe Hill was shot by a firing squad in 1915. Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were electrocuted in 1927. Their methods of execution were different, but their “crimes” were common: they were put to death because of their staunch advocacy for the rights of working people to decent wages and working conditions.

The application of the death penalty has always been political – from the Salem Witch trials to New Hampshire’s Attorney General using a death penalty prosecution in her election campaign to yesterday’s verdict by an Egyptian judge that condemned 683 people to death.  (See statement from Amnesty International.)

With International Workers Day, a day that began in honor of Albert Parsons and August Spies, four days away, this is as good a time as any to recall why the cause of labor should be tied to the movement for an end to the death penalty.

Parsons and Spies were leaders of the International WorkingHaymarketRiot-Harpers.jpg People’s Association in Chicago, which was fighting for the eight-hour day. They had already been singled out for condemnation by city leaders, Parsons even threatened with lynching by Chicago businessmen, when they led the planning of a peaceful rally at Haymarket Square on May 1, 1886.

Three days later Parson, Spies, and Sam Fielden, also a member of the Working People’s Association, spoke at another rally, peaceful as well until it was rushed by club-wielding police and then shattered by an explosion.

Eleven people, including seven police officers, died. No one knew who had brought or thrown the bomb, but Spies and Parsons – who was with his wife and two children at a nearby saloon when the bomb went off – were immediately blamed.

In the words of Richard O. Boyer and Herbert M. Morais, authors of Labor’s Untold Story, “the nation’s press was a unit in declaring that it made no difference whether Parson, Spies, or Fielden had or had not thrown the bomb. They should be hanged for their political views, for their words and general activities and if more trouble makers were given to the hangman so much the better.” The Chicago Tribune, for example, said the labor leaders should be “held, tried and hanged for murder.”

And that’s exactly what happened, despite the lack of any evidence tying them to the bombing or the deaths of the police officers. “The trial was conducted with all the sensation histrionics, all the stage properties which so often transform American legal proceedings into lurid public spectacles,” according to Boyer and Morais, who added, “the verdict was almost a formality.”

This May Day, let’s remember Albert Parsons and August Spies and pledge to end the government’s option to execute those it decides are its enemies.

[Thanks to Wikipedia.org for graphics.]

The last words of Albert Spies

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