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Charlottesville is a place, not an event, with Molly

Nearly a year after the white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally drew national headlines, Charlottesville, VA activists are still dealing with the fallout. The death of Heather Heyer at the vehicle of James Alex Fields, Jr. wasn’t the only incident of violence last summer, and activists are still preparing for trials of both white supremacists and local Black Lives Matter activists, struggling to institute proactive reforms, and bracing for the potential of another white supremacist rally in their town. I spoke with Molly, one of those local activists, on what’s happened and why the eyes of the nation should still be on Charlottesville.

 

On Friday, after Corey was convicted the judge sentenced him to 360 days active confinement with 340 suspended. That is a 20 day sentence that you actually have to serve. Typically, around here, you serve half of a misdemeanor sentence. You serve 10 days. He has the option of serving it on weekends. So, he could serve five consecutive weekends. Again, the prosecutor requested during sentencing that there be no active incarceration and the judge chose to sentence him to that anyways. Typically, if both the prosecutor and the defense agree on what the sentence should be, the judge just goes with that. He was choosing to send a message here.
We have heard a lot of that “both sides” narrative from both of the judges we hear from mostly are general district judge, Judge Downer, and our circuit court judge, Judge Moore. They both do a little bit of moralizing and sermonizing during sentencing and he said, you know, “bad behavior on both sides.” Like I said, I didn’t take a lot of detailed verbatim notes. It is the same speech every time. I have it written down maybe twenty times across six notebooks. “The whole day was very chaotic, very unfortunate. It cost the city its reputation. We went from a world class city to the city where this happened. This behavior is very serious. We have limited resources for keeping people incarcerated.”
And yet, you still chose to sentence Corey to active incarceration. And the fact that he chose that moment to say that, “What really was damaged here was our city’s reputation.” Not that this young man’s life was in danger. Not that someone died. Three people died. At least people in the upper thirties were treated in hospitals. But, “This city’s reputation was damaged and it is important to send a message.” This young man who defended himself against a known imperial wizard in the Ku Klux Klan was sentenced to serve jail time and 100 hours of community service and two years of good behavior and up to one year of active supervision by offender aid and restoration.
He already served this community. He serviced this community by protecting himself and protecting us on August 12th. So, Friday night, we gathered in Justice Park, that is the park with the Jackson statue by the Albemarle Courthouse, and we marched down the downtown mall chanting and just… It is surreal living in this town because there is such a disconnect. There are so many people for whom this is so real and so present and this is our whole life now. Then, there are people who, when we’re outside the courthouse chanting and holding signs. They come up and they say, “What is this about? What is happening?” We were marching down the downtown mall on Friday night and there was I think a wedding after-party at one of the fancier bars and there is a women in a wedding dress drinking champagne and forty of us marching down the mall chanting for Corey.
As we came back around on the other side of the mall on East Market Street by Emancipation Park, the place where the disorderly conduct allegedly occurred, we took the street. We were marching in the street and I have heard from activists around town that the police used to let us do that. They used to let us take the street because it was easier to just let us quickly move through the street like we were going to do and everyone can move on with their lives than it would be to arrest eight people, like they did on Friday. All eight people were served…they were getting summonses for traffic violations. They are not criminal charges. It is pretty unusual to take people to jail for a traffic violation.

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Finding healing justice, with Cat Brooks

The Justice Teams Network is a new project aimed at challenging dominant narratives of police shootings and helping communities find healing. Building on models developed by the Anti Police Terror Project and Dignity and Power Now, the network brings together activists with training in investigation, community support, and communication to deal with the aftermath of police violence, and works on policy to prevent it. I spoke with Justice Teams Network director Cat Brooks, who has also just decided to run for Mayor of Oakland, California.

When the cops kill somebody, the responding organization, whether it’s APTP, or somewhere else, our Facebook pages go off, our Twitter pages go off, our personal phones go off, We then send an email out to a list of about 500 people who are trained and are active in the database, who are trauma-informed investigators. That means they have been trained on how to engage communities and people that have dealt with various traumas. They go to the scene, they talk to community members. They look at the pictures. They scour the scene for any video footage that might be in existence of the incident. Sometimes the will pick up evidence that might be helpful that the cops leave behind.
Then, hopefully, the find someone that is connected to the family at that scene. If they don’t, they come back to social media and they scour social media. Because, inevitably, in this day and age someone who was there has posted something to Twitter. Once we have connected with the family, we have got two primary agenda items. One is to, within 24 hours, either hold a vigil or support the community in holding their own. The second, of course, is to see what they need. Then, in talking to the family, it is about finding everything out about the person that was killed. So, the news by that time, of course, has come out and said, “Oh, the police shot a black man–black suspect is actually how they say it most of the time–He had a gun and he stole a lollipop and he stole a lollipop in 1922 from Samuel Adams.” as if whatever happened in 1922 has anything to do with why he’s dead now.
We then come out with our narrative, the family’s narrative, “They liked the color blue, they went to church on Sundays. They were parents. They took care of their mother.” Just humanize them, because…when you talk about people, like dentists, students, mothers, lawyers, cashiers, whatever, we are having a different conversation.
Then, from there, we connect them to our legal team, which is pro bono legal support, and then we support them with communications, legal, fundraising—they have to hold a funeral, often have to raise money for independent autopsies because often the one you get comes from law enforcement, they’re not going to challenge what law enforcement said happened. Then, we walk with them, and that is a long walk because while the story is in the media for a week, maybe two, for families, this is years and years and years, it never ends. The pain never ends.

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What could we spend $95 million on rather than police? With Monica Trinidad

Chicago plans to spend $95 million on a new police academy, but Chicagoans are organizing against it. A coalition of groups that have worked together successfully to bring about reparations for police torture survivors and to replace state’s attorney Anita Alvarez has now turned its attention to demanding that the money earmarked for the new academy be spent on things that the city actually wants and needs. Monica Trinidad of For the People Artists Collective and People’s Response Team explains why the fight isn’t over despite the city council’s vote for the academy.

There is so much we could be doing with that money! It is just absurd that they want to put more money into the police department when $95 million could pay for running 259 mental health clinics in our city. It could mean one brand new high school. A new school in Englewood would cost $75 million. It could build 6 new Chicago Public Library branches. $15 million is the cost for a new library that happened in Chinatown. We are being given this one option from our city that says, “Oh, we are going to give you more policing.” Then, people say, “Okay” because everybody wants more. More, more, more. We want resources. But no one is stopping and asking our communities, “What would you actually like to see done with $95 million?” That is where we are coming in and informing our communities and saying, “Here are all the things that we could actually incredibly benefit from in our city and here is what they are proposing.” This is not okay. This is not right. And, also, just making it clear that this isn’t a transparent process. This plan was well-developed long before it even was made public. And there has been no public comment or input at all whatsoever on the plan at any stage. We are making this clear to our communities that this plan is being put forward without our input in a time when our mayor is saying that the city is broke. But apparently, he can find money when he wants to. That is where we are coming from with the invest/divest. Let’s ask our communities and folks that are directly impacted by a lot of the violence that is happening and say, “What actually would make this violence stop?” That would be job training, that would be after-school programs. I think that imagination piece is what is often missing in the conversations around what we could actually invest our money in.

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Organizing for no more Harvey Weinsteins, with Mariame Kaba and Shira Hassan

Sexual violence is in the news again thanks to allegations against Harvey Weinstein, and in the past week we’ve seen plenty of discussion about how prevalent harassment, assault and rape still are. But what does ending it really entail? What can we do to end it? Shira Hassan and Mariame Kaba are longtime organizers against sexual violence and against the violence of the prison system, and they share their thoughts and ideas for how to organize for a world where, as Mariame says, interpersonal violence is “unthinkable.”

MK: I think that is another aspect of this, for people who are counting on a criminal punishment response to this…I understand feeling completely depressed and debilitated, because that system doesn’t actually know how to hold firm for survivors. It doesn’t know how to transform harm that occurs. It is a system that most people don’t access, most survivors still never access. For lots of reasons: because they don’t want to, because they have been traumatized in the past by the system, because they don’t want the person who harmed them necessarily caught up in the system. There are a million reasons. Because they don’t want to be raked over the coals, themselves. Because they try to solve problems in community. When people do access the system, they are screwed over by it, literally, in all different kinds of ways. They, also, then feel a sense of disempowerment. I can understand that if the way you think we are actually going to solve this problem, is through that system, I can understand that sense of complete debilitating depression, because that system actually can’t do that. SH: Not only can’t the system do it, but I think our belief that it can is the part that I think we feel most betrayed by most often. I think there are some of us who have let go of that betrayal because we have just stopped trying to get water from a stone. Frankly, the stone is being thrown at us. So, we are now trying to build shelter from the stone and talk to everyone who is coming inside the shelter about what we can do. That, for me, is perhaps why I feel less overwhelmed. It isn’t that I don’t feel like “Wow, we have an unbelievable amount to do” because I do feel like that. But, I do feel like we have so many more things to try away from the system than with it. What we have begun to create is this shelter together where we really can focus on who is inside this huddle and work with each person who is there in a more meaningful way to move forward.

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Taking a knee for the Right to Know Act, with Victoria Davis and Victor Dempsey


Colin Kaepernick’s original protest, taking a knee during the national anthem during football games when he was quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers has spread across the country. Yet this year, as Donald Trump has inserted himself into the fight, many felt that Kaepernick’s original meaning–his protest against state violence against black people–was being lost. Victoria Davis and Victor Dempsey lost their brother, Delrawn Small, to an NYPD officer’s bullet last year and they are part of a coalition fighting for reforms to the NYPD’s process of stopping and searching people. And to them, taking a knee–as they did recently outside of the New York City Council demanding passage of the Right to Know Act–has a very particular meaning that they are fighting not to lose.

Victoria: The thing is that people were forgetting. It started to become a hashtag with some racist rhetoric. For the past few weeks, people have been forgetting the reason that Colin Kaepernick had originally taken the knee. He wasn’t against the national anthem, the flag, or any of those things. He was taking a knee in solidarity with the victims and the families of police and state murders. For the murdered. For families like us who have loved ones who were killed by a police officer who was hired to serve and protect.
Victor: We wanted to align ourselves with that and stand up with him and take the knee with him to show that we see what he is doing, we appreciate what he is doing and we are fighting, as well. We are not just sitting here. We are fighting. And we are going to do whatever we can in our power to help make a change, because it has to stop.
Victoria: And we don’t want anyone to forget why it was done in the first place. I think that sometimes people take hashtags and they do it for different reasons, it becomes almost like a fad, a hashtag. Taking the knee and putting faces to these victims and putting faces to the hurt, like I always say, we – meaning the families – cannot take a knee and then everything is right in our lives and we are just able to move on and move forward. We take the knee and that is taking a stand.
We still have to go back to our lives without Delrawn and Delrawn was a huge part of our lives. Things have been terrible since he has been gone. We just want people to remember exactly why the take the knee action was taken in the first place and not to stray away from that. I think too often people forget because things move so fast in life. If they feel strongly about taking the knee, then please feel strongly about supporting the families in any way that you can. It can be kind words. It can be coming to a vigil, a rally, or even just… I have seen people hashtag #taketheknee and they will write something and someone else will write something and I will counter something negative, it’s like changing the narrative. Because once we change the narrative and the way we see these police killings, then we will see it as not just a hashtag, but we will see that these are humans, these are people. Delrawn was a human. He was a kind person. He was a reliable person. He meant everything to us.

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Marching with the Juggalos, disrupting Trumpcare with Allison Hrabar

Last weekend, in Washington, D.C. the Juggalos—fans of the band Insane Clown Posse and their record label—marched against their criminalization. In 2011 the FBI decided to classify the Juggalos as a “hybrid gang,” meaning that their love for a particular musical act marked them as threats. Juggalos are often written off by the rest of society, but to some leftist political organizations, the march was an opportunity to demonstrate solidarity and build connections with a group of people politicized by their outcast treatment. Allison Hrabar of Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America was part of a solidarity delegation to the Juggalo march, and also shares the latest organizing against the latest version of zombie Trumpcare.

We were excited about it as soon as we heard about it. The idea of the Juggalos marching on Washington is an exciting idea. I think everyone on the internet can relate to that. When we heard about the actual issues, we knew it was something we ideologically supported. As socialists, we don’t like state repression. We don’t like the abuses that law enforcement inflicts on our citizens. At our recent DSA convention in August, actually, we passed a resolution about dismantling the police state and abolishing prisons. So this falls in line with our party assessed ideas.
Also, we want to build a movement that actually reflects what the nation looks like. DCDSA tends to lean white, it tends to lean professional. So the idea of being able to reach out to a group of working class people, reaching out to people who have actually been affected by police. Not just people who care about the issue, but people who can talk about how this has really affected their lives, was really important to us.

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Living socialism in Houston, with Amy Zachmeyer

The Democratic Socialists of America are one of the political organizations on the ground doing disaster relief in Houston after Harvey, and to co-chair Amy Zachmeyer that work is an expression of working-class solidarity, “really living socialism.” She talks to me about the work DSA has done, where the austerity state has failed, and the environmental issues that make climate change tangible in Texas.

AZ: For large portions of Houston, things are going back to normal. The highways are reopening, people are going back to work, and their lives look relatively the same. But, for other portions of Houston, things are not going to be okay for a very long time. A lot of those divides are economic divides. It has also really highlighted the racial segregation in our city, because you go to some neighborhoods and they look fine. Everyone still has their home and their manicured lawn and their car sitting out front. Then, you go into some of the other neighborhoods that were affected and you see where people’s entire lives have been removed from their home, including the drywall. Everything inside a home that made that home a home has been pulled out and thrown in a large heap on the side of the road. It is a very visual representation of which neighborhoods are affected and which neighborhoods are just business as usual. SJ: We see the inequality really clearly in times of disaster. AZ: In a lot of the neighborhoods that we have gone to, we have actually had people tell us, “Nobody else has come to check on me.” Maybe their pastor has come to check on them, but no other organizations have been out there besides the Democratic Socialists in their red shirts. There is something really heartbreaking about that to me.

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After Arpaio, what next for Arizona? With Alejandra Gomez


Donald Trump’s pardoning of infamous “Sheriff Joe” Arpaio was a signal to his base–both the police and the open white supremacists. But Arizonans aren’t done fighting. They removed Arpaio from office in the last election, and they’ve been organizing across communities to build a coalition, led by Latino youth, to change the very nature of Arizona politics. Alejandra Gomez tells me all about it.

Arpaio is the type of person who always wanted to be in the media and anything that really got him media attention he would do. So, Tent City was one of the worst ideas that could possibly happen. A complete violation of human rights and prisoners’ rights. What would happen in Tent City was, in Arizona, the temperatures reach about 120 degrees at any given time in the summer. You have prisoners outside with no air conditioning, people that have been incarcerated, outside with no air-conditioning. There are outhouses for bathrooms. So, all of the feces and urine have stagnated so you have that smell. You also have everything that is accumulating in terms of bacteria and all of that among the people that have been incarcerated.
On top of that, Sheriff Joe would make it known that he felt people that were in jail should not receive what he would consider food as a luxury. So, he would often give moldy bread and green macaroni to people that were in custody. People had also passed away in the jails because of the harsh conditions. That is just Tent City.
Under his jurisdiction there were smaller cities, these areas where you have largely Native American and Latino populations. In Surprise, Arizona there were a number of rape cases that were being reported of young women, of young girls, and the sheriff was failing to investigate those rape cases. Millions of dollars were misappropriated. This was all before SB 1070. Then, the raids started to happen and Arpaio completely revamped all his vans and basically it looked worse than border patrol. They would have signs, “If you see an illegal person, report them.” Pictures of people. It was a terrible sight to see these vans. Outside of his office, he had a big military tank. All of that is like, “Why does a sheriff need a military tank?” also. That goes back to the misappropriation of funds.

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A People’s Congress of Resistance, with Jodi Dean and Brian Becker


In September, frontline activists are coming together for a “people’s Congress” in Washington, D.C., organized around an openly radical platform that aims to put a left political horizon in front of the resistance movements that have grown against Trump. Jodi Dean and Brian Becker are part of the group convening the Congress and they spoke with me about why it’s important to build an independent political movement that doesn’t revolve solely around Trump or focus on electoral outcomes for Democrats.

JD: If we think about a society for the many in the United States, what does that have to look like? It has to look like the society that people would want to produce. And if we’re going to produce one that is desirable, a good place to live, then we have to confront directly and honestly the dual legacy of the US founding, which was in slavery and genocide. The most direct ways that we have of confronting head-on the fact that the country was anchored in slavery and genocide is by taking up the two answers that have been put forward as just the starting point of confronting it, namely Native American sovereignty and reparations. That’s the way that you can even start the conversation of how do we build a society for the many. Confront the basic crimes that have been at the basis of the entire country.
BB: The people who say that reparations for black America, for instance, will alienate people, they’re not talking about black people. They’re talking about a certain segment of society. It demonstrates who we’re aiming for. In other words, to build a really powerful viable social movement, yes we want people from all classes and all sectors to be it, but the things that really make history change are when the masses of people, meaning the poorest, the most oppressed, those sectors of society come onto the political stage. That’s why the sort of semi-revolution, the civil rights revolution happened, when Rosa Parks refused to give that seat up to a white man, the next nine years the masses of people came into politics. And so the Congress of the United States, which was compositionally the same as it was when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in 1955, nine years later voted for the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, the two most progressive pieces of social legislation, it was because the poor, the masses, the working classes, the black community in particular came into political life. That’s what makes change possible, and that’s who we’re orienting toward with the People’s Congress.

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Moving pieces for system change, with Jeff Ordower


It’s been nearly eight months since the inauguration of Donald Trump, and things could be a lot worse, notes longtime organizer Jeff Ordower. Yet it is not enough to simply congratulate ourselves for saving the Affordable Care Act or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, he says. Instead, we should be thinking about how to move the protests and uprisings of recent years onto the next level.

I think the story is really critical. Uprisings and movements happen because something horrible happened or something that affects people is going to happen. They are going to poison the water on indigenous land at Standing Rock or there is yet another police massacre in cold blood or there are people who are worried about their healthcare and what is going to happen to them and more importantly what is going to happen to their children. That is really important and can’t be underestimated as a starting place. How we tell that story and who is affected and having affected people take the biggest and boldest risk, being in the front is critical.
Then, I think a lot of times as organizers we sometimes fall into the trap where we want to have the perfect thing; either it is the perfect narrative, the perfect story—I know in the early days of the healthcare fight, for example, people were like, “If you want to move McCain, you have to get seven veterans to go to McCain’s office.” I think sometimes we try to be too strategic. Really, if people want to move, we have got to give them something to do that makes sense. Sometimes that is occupying a park or putting your bodies on the line and sometimes that is just like, “Show up with a handwritten letter. Here is your toolkit for organizing this alternative town hall.” I think creating those containers where everyone can take action is really, really important.
It is no different than when I was first training as an ACORN organizer back in the 1990s and you sit on someone’s couch and you’re talking about neighborhood issues. The way people were going to get involved or not, you are saying, “What do you think it would take to get a stop sign on the corner?” and they would say, “I don’t know. We have got to get some people in the street” and you are like, “How many people would it take to block the street?” “Thirty.” You would say, “Great. Could you be one of those thirty?” and if they could see themselves doing that, then they were going to join. And if they thought it didn’t make sense, they wouldn’t. I think creating things that people can see themselves doing is really, really critical to all the fights. That ask is different. It is not always an easy thing to do. People will go and be in the streets as we saw in St. Louis, as we saw in Ferguson, night after night after night, because they felt like that was the most important thing that they could do.

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