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Prison strikers building a movement for justice and decarceration, with Janos Marton

The nationwide prison strike that began August 21 is ongoing, and it comes at a moment when Americans are perhaps primed to hear demands from prisoners and consider them in a new way. Protests and uprisings in recent years have called attention to the rampant inequality perpetuated by prisons, jails, arrests, and prosecutions, and as prisoners coordinate with each other to resist their conditions on the inside, Janos Marton of the ACLU’s Smart Justice program joins me to talk about what people on the outside can do to support the strike and the demands of the prisoners.

 

People have been asking me what they can tangibly do. The organizers made clear in the lead-up to this strike that they weren’t expecting people on the outside to be able to do a whole lot to actually support the strike as it is happening because it is something that is facility specific and driven by and organized on the inside.
But they made a few exceptions. One is to the extent that there are protests being held outside of facilities, they said that it not only gives them energy and hope when they see people protesting in solidarity outside of their own facilities, but it also generally causes Corrections to think twice before retaliating, which is a major concern we had as an organization in the lead-up to the strike–that the organizers of the strike are going to be retaliated against either during or after the strike is over. The people can participate in local actions, that makes a big difference.
There is a Twitter account @IWW_IWOC which has been posting updates from the strike and occasional calls to action, usually around this issue saying something like, “Call such and such facility to make it clear to them not to retaliate against people participating in the prison strike.” Just continuing to amplify these messages.
I think the idea that there is a prison strike and what the demands of the prison strike are are still not well understood to the broader public. So, the more people who are aware of these issues can do to amplify the ten demands and the fact that the strike is happening, then that is helpful, too.
On a final note, when people read through the ten demands they may be surprised to see how many of them they already knew about and agreed with. Even though this is a radical act to strike in a prison setting and that is why we have to show such solidarity to these brave men and women, at the end of the day what they are asking for is very much in line with what people have been demanding for a very long time outside of prison walls, as well: an end to racist policing, investing in rehabilitation in the system rather than punishment, reducing the length of sentences, and ultimately this right to vote, this right to participate in democracy for all people.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here

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A new agenda for labor law, with Celine McNicholas


Labor law in the US has been broken down over the past several decades until it’s nearly nonexistent. And yet a new wave of worker resistance and political interest in labor makes it a good time to push for a reimagining and rebuilding of the laws that govern the workplace. The Economic Policy Institute has just published a new agenda for doing just that–rebuilding the right to a union, giving unions real power again, and protecting workers who don’t have unions for what the institute calls “First Day Fairness.” Celine McNicholas, one of the authors of the report, joins me to talk about the movement that will be necessary to rewrite the rules to give workers an equal chance.

I think it is really encouraging that so many of these reforms already live in existing, already-introduced legislation in Congress. None of them get a great deal of attention, but in particular the Workers’ Freedom to Negotiate Act which was introduced this Congress which goes to the heart of many of the reforms aimed at ensuring that folks can unionize. That is the piece of legislation that includes some of the re-imagined right to strike reforms, as well. In terms of how likely it is that any of this passes, I think that is really on all of us. We have a responsibility as advocates to get in there and make sure that people are, number one, aware of these bills, and also that there is a grassroots movement. I think mentioning that you are in Wisconsin, there is a great demonstration in what workers can demand from elected officials. We absolutely have to greet this new Congress with the clear understanding, if it is Democratic controlled, that these issues are top-tier issues, that we demand that they be considered in the first hundred days. The fact that we haven’t had a minimum wage increase in so long at this point, we are looking at over a decade of failure to pass legislation, that is shared by both parties. I think in terms of the likelihood of all of these measures, any of these measures, passing is really incumbent upon all of us to speak up and demand that our elected officials don’t just treat these things as campaign slogans, but that we really demand action on these critical reforms that, quite frankly, affect all of us regardless of party affiliation, regardless of many of the other issues that may divide us. I think a fair economy and how we are all treated at work, how we are all paid, and economic justice, to me, is such a unifying issue that I really hold out hope that it will be a top-tier issue in a Democratic controlled Congress. Let Trump veto a minimum wage increase. Let Trump veto a bill that would actually give people in this country a meaningful path to have a union in their workplace. I remain optimistic that Democrats will recognize that these issues simply cannot be ignored going forward. That said, we have to demand it. It is not enough to just be against the status quo. We really need meaningful reform in this area.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here

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Continuing the teachers’ fight in West Virginia, with Rebecca Diamond

The teachers in West Virginia kicked off a multi-state strike wave last winter when they shuttered every school in the state over their consistently low wages, lousy working conditions, and most importantly, their broken Public Employee Insurance Agency (PEIA), the system that insures every public employee in the state. They won a raise, but the biggest fight, says Rebecca Diamond, a West Virginia teacher and member of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, is still ongoing–the fight to fix and fully fund PEIA. I spoke with Diamond recently at Netroots Nation.

They have had task force meetings and they have gone to all the communities and they have basically gathered from the communities what their main concerns are with PEIA and how it is going to affect them. These panel members are supposed to take it back to the committee and then, they are all supposed to meet and they are supposed to have a decision made before the election – Surprise! – and come up with what they feel like is going to be a solution.
The only solution that I feel like is going to suffice for teachers is if there is a funding source for it. If there is not a funding source for it…which, they have known for the last five years that there was not a funding source for PEIA. They basically just continued to put it on the backburner, because we have not done anything about it. And it is not just teachers, it is every state employee in the State of West Virginia. It is not like they were just hit by a truck and realized that, “How are we going to pay for that PEIA? What are we going to do for it?”
We have given them options. People have given them options to fund PEIA, but nobody wants to take the initiative to make that a funding source for PEIA.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here

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Contesting the Right’s Designs on Public Space, with Prof. Jalane Schmidt

August 11 will be the first anniversary of the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where Heather Heyer was killed and several other people injured when white nationalists and white supremacists from around the country rallied–and brought weapons. In preparation for the anniversary, Charlottesville activists are planning vigils and teach-ins and keeping an eye on the far right’s activities, from Portland, OR to Washington, D.C. Prof. Jalane Schmidt is an organizer with Black Lives Matter Charlottesville, and she joins me to discuss the recent far-right violence in Portland, the planned rally in D.C., and what Charlottesville activists are planning for the anniversary and beyond.

They are trying to push decent citizens out of the public square, anyone who opposes white supremacy, out of the public square, and also, to normalize their movement.
Part of what they are doing is they really like to go to places with iconic vistas; whether it is the Lee statue or to Mount Vernon, Washington’s estate up in Northern Virginia–that is where Identity Evropa went a few months ago–or other places. They like to have clean, unobstructed sight lines between themselves and whatever iconic place where they are: university auditoriums, for instance, the Oval Office, because that is very good for their recruitment. This makes for very good propaganda videos.
For instance, here, May 13th, 2017 was the first alt-right torch rally here in Charlottesville. Some 150 white supremacists gathered uncontested. They caught us flat-footed, by surprise. Then, of course, August 11th, around the Jefferson statue at the University of Virginia. Again, largely uncontested. Then, October 7th, 2017 they had a third torch rally here in Charlottesville, also catching us by surprise. That is what they like for their propaganda videos. That is what they like to circulate online. And Richard Spencer even said that last August 11th on the steps of the rotunda at the University of Virginia, “Look! We just took over!”
So, they want spaces cleared of the rest of us, especially those of us who are people of color. But, they are also trying to grow their movement. It is a strategy. That is why it is important to, yes, show up in greater numbers – there is safety in numbers – to say, “No, we won’t allow you to scare us away and we won’t allow you to take over public spaces and to normalize with your appearances there, your movement.”

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here

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Pressing Amazon to stop cooperating with ICE, with Cata Santiago of Movimiento Cosecha


In this week’s episode we talk to Cata Santiago of Movimiento Cosecha, an immigrants rights organization that is spearheading a campaign against Amazon for its cooperation with ICE and Trump’s deportation machine. The world’s biggest retailer, with the world’s richest man at its helm, is lending technology that is mostly used to crack down on low-wage workers while exploiting its own low-wage workforce. As Amazon workers struck in Europe for better treatment, Cosecha launched actions in the US to pressure Amazon to stop cooperating with ICE.

We went in New York City where we shut down Amazon, where we saw customers not be able to go in, where they locked the doors, and where the lights went off. This action was to come out and be vocal about what is happening and also have this bigger invitation to the immigrant community and to anyone who thinks about what is happening for years against families is not right. So, we have this possible action. An action is planned for July 31st where we are asking people at the local level to bring the mounting pressure through, to ask for ICE contracts to end and calling for local county jails to not be used as detention centers. There are different industries that are also in partnership with ICE. So, it is basically exposing that.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here