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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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Self-determined governance and electoral justice, with Jessica Byrd and Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson

2018 is a midterm election year, and that means the news cycle and a lot of the political energy (and funding) will be running to electoral politics. But what does that mean for social movements, for the Movement for Black Lives? I talk with Jessica Byrd, cofounder of the Movement for Black Lives Electoral Justice Project, and Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson of Highlander Education and Research Center about what role elections play in movements for liberation, what barriers still exist to democracy in the U.S., and much more.

JB: This part of elections that I think we talk about the least is the real structural barriers in accessing democracy. Right now, our democracy is really an aspirational one versus one that we are actually finding the fruits of. What happens as we attempt to continue to access it more and more is that there are more barriers put in place for us to fully participate. When I say “us” I mean nearly everyone but white men who own land and have a college degree, etc. Those laws largely were passed as folks were gaining access to democracy and access to voting and elected leadership and finding ways to make their voices heard in our electoral system. Part of what the movement has to engage in, as well, is removing those barriers.
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AWH: I think that what has become ever more real in the southern specific context is that even with the achievements of Black liberation movements before us, specifically around voting rights and civil rights, that we deserve more than what policy ever gave us. I think that the Movement for Black Lives is really pushing both in the Electoral Justice Project and through the Vision for Black Lives policy platform, calling for what we have always deserved and not just what we would concede to.
That looks like demanding even more protections for folks that are exercising their right to vote as one particular form of participation and building people’s democracy. It is not the only tactic, but it is definitely one that we don’t have the luxury to ignore, especially with working class Black people, especially in places that tend to be more disenfranchised, whether because you are a formerly or currently incarcerated person. Alabama, again, is another case study–people who have never been convicted of a crime that are literally not being allowed to vote. We saw folks fight and win protections for those folks and over 10,000 formerly and currently incarcerated people registered to vote in this last election.

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Building rural power with Down Home North Carolina

Brigid Flaherty moved home to rural North Carolina after the election of Donald Trump to put her years of organizing experience to work “down home,” bringing together a multiracial organization of working-class people to build power in their communities. A year later, Down Home North Carolina has organizers and members in several counties and campaigns on national, regional and local issues, from healthcare to racial justice to energy bills. Flaherty joins me with member Kischa Peña and organizer Juan Miranda to talk about Down Home’s work in the last year and what’s coming up for them in 2018.

BF: When we were looking at the political makeup of North Carolina and what had happened since 2010 and the far-right takeover of the state and then moving into 2016 and watching that happen at the federal level, it felt like the best offense that we were going to have was to make sure that we were building strong local leadership in places in North Carolina that weren’t necessarily the places that had a lot of infrastructure. For us, this felt like a long-term project that needed to happen in order to make sure that working people got what they deserved, were able to build their leadership, and flex their muscle so that we could really be making winds that could change people’s lives in the years to come.
We said in November that we were going to start Down Home and then actually got off the ground in June this year. We have been around for about six months. Originally, it started out just Todd and I doing the organizing. I moved back to the mountains where my mother lives and I was actually living with her for the first few months and Todd was organizing in Alamance in the center part of the state. We just got out on the doors using a listening survey. We went with three broad questions, basically, which were: What are the issues that matter most to you and your family? Who or what is responsible for those issues? What are your solutions?
I think one of the things we really felt we learned from the 2016 election is that a lot of working people don’t feel listened to. The parties have never contacted them. It felt like a lot of people were speaking for them and yet they were like, “Y’all have never come to our door. You have never sat in our living room.” Again, we have only been around for six months. We basically used the first four and a half/five months to just listen and use that survey to really be able to develop the leaders and develop the issues that would be the things that we were going to fight on as Down Home. That is really how we got started.

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Launching the new Poor People’s Campaign with Rev. Emily McNeill


When Martin Luther King Jr. died, he was in the middle of building the Poor People’s Campaign–a multiracial endeavor challenging America’s persistent class divide. But the campaign was left unfinished, and the class divide has only gotten worse and will continue to do so under the latest policy from the Republican Congress, a massive package of tax cuts for the rich and tax hikes for everyone else. So a group of organizers and faith leaders is coming together to finish the work that King started and launching the new Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. Rev. Emily McNeill is part of that campaign in New York State, and also director of the Labor Religion Coalition in New York, and she looks back on the year that was and forward to the campaign coming up.

I think that is a really important aspect of the campaign and it is intentional—to be pushing back on this myth that we all could raise ourselves up by our bootstraps and just continue to accumulate and become rich. It has obviously never been a reality in the history of the United States. But, there is also this history of people on the bottom, in all sorts of ways, coming together and organizing and claiming their identity.
One of the explicit goals of this phase of the campaign is about changing the moral narrative of all these issues; around racism and poverty and militarism and ecological devastation. Part of the narrative that the campaign wants to shift is that being poor is something to be ashamed of and instead to say, “No, poverty is something that our society should be ashamed of. We have nothing to be ashamed of if we are not making ends meet because there are structural reasons for that and people are getting rich off the fact that we are poor.” To claim that, that “We have nothing to be ashamed of, the people that are perpetuating the system are the ones who should be ashamed” is a big part of the messaging that we want to get through to people.
That is what comes across in the testimonies that the campaign has already been putting out from directly impacted folks from around the country, people standing up and saying, “There is nothing wrong with me. I am not…” There is a great video from this young woman who was part of the launch event. She is from Grays Harbor in Washington State and talking about, “I was homeless not because I am lazy, but because society doesn’t have any problem with me being homeless” and just really naming that she is not ashamed and she has no reason to be ashamed to be poor.

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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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The long history of antifa, with Mark Bray


A lot of attention has been paid recently to “antifa,” but where does it actually come from? Historian Mark Bray has a new book out, Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, to explain the history and present of anti-fascist organizing. He explains the various tactics, inspirations, and motivations for anti-fascists throughout the 20th century, and how that work pertains to today’s political moment.

The interviews I did with anti-racists from the late 1980s and early 1990s were unanimous in citing the origins of their organizing in contestations over the local punk scene. A lot of Europeans talk about anti-fascism as kind of a gateway drug for politics or as a first exposure to radical politics because of the immediacy of the white power threat in social scenes, community centers, punk shows, everyday life for youth. People that I spoke to in the US from a number of different places talked about this being a politics that was immediate, that mattered in their everyday life. I interviewed an anti-fascist from Denmark who emphasized that as a young person, combating capitalism was such a huge task, it was a global task. But being able to push a dozen neo-Nazi skinheads out of the scene was something that was achievable and tangible and immediate and super important in everyday life in a way that young people could feel like they were making a difference. The people that I spoke to said that by the mid-1990s, by the late 1990s anti-racist organizing in North America had largely been successful in marginalizing white power skinheads and pushing them out of the scene. To me, that is a huge accomplishment that needs to be on the record. If this were all laid out for mainstream pundits, I think they would still be dismissive of the importance subcultural scenes, in general, but I think that the whole anti-fascist politics takes seriously subcultural spaces as a way that they can promote politics more widely.

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Defending DACA, with Alan and Renee


On Tuesday, September 5, the Trump administration announced a “phase-out” of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), program for immigrant youth. This decision leaves hundreds of thousands of young people vulnerable to deportation—young people who voluntarily gave the government personal information about themselves in order to gain protections in the first place. Around the country, emergency protest rallies were held. In Kingston, New York, outside of the office of newly-elected Republican Congressman John Faso, I spoke with two immigrant organizers about the decision to revoke DACA and the struggle for justice for immigrants.

The fee is around $465, that includes biometrics, and applying for a work permit. We pay basically for everything, there’s no fee waivers, nothing like that. Maybe for residents, to become citizens there are waivers but for DACA there’s nothing. There’s 800,000 DACA recipients, and that’s just lowballing, if you do the math, 800,000 times $465 comes out to be $400 million. That’s a lot of money into the economy. That’s not counting when you go purchase a car, that’s not counting when you go to get a driver’s license, paying taxes.
We did that. We had to ask people for money because we didn’t have $465, it’s a lot of money for a low-income household.
They have to really understand our struggle in order for them to do something about it. Everybody says “Oh, just apply for citizenship.” But there’s no path for that. They don’t know how hard it is. They keep telling me “just be a legal resident,” they don’t know how hard that is. Especially now that the fees are going up. The fees are going up even to become a citizen, $300 more, to become a legal resident it’s $300 more. They’re making money off immigrants, that’s why I think they want to keep it at that level, to get money from us.

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Mapping the power behind Trumpism, with Molly Gott


To effectively protest, you have to know who you’re protesting and where the pressure points are. The folks at LittleSis have created a database and research tool that helps organizers figure out who their opponents are, how they’re connected, and where to push in order to get results, and now they’re introducing a project to help bring those research skills to people across the country. Molly Gott of LittleSis tells me all about it.

The first project that we did was on corporate collaborators of Trump in Philadelphia. We went through and looked at “Who are the key donors to Trump in Philly? Who are people that he had created business relationships for? Who are people that were leading business councils or members of business councils that he was appointing?” to really put those folks on display. We released that set of information ahead of May Day when there were some actions happening in Philly, to bring the focus not just on Pat Toomey who is our Republican Senator, but also these corporate villains that are in Philly and didn’t really want to be publicly associated with Trump. That was one thing.
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Some of my thinking around “What is the role of research in our movements?” came about because I was involved in building some of the jail support apparatus in Ferguson and seeing the ways that actually attracted and gave roles in that movement to folks who maybe couldn’t do other things and gave them a home to be doing political work. So, I was thinking about the way that research can do that, as well. We have been pushing folks, which has been really fun to be doing research in community more. In Philly, we had research pizza nights where we all just bring our computers and do a bunch of tasks really quickly. It is way more fun than just being by yourself behind a computer screen, for sure.

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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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