Trump’s Plan To Gut HUD Threatens America’s Poor

Trump’s Plan To Gut HUD Threatens America’s Poor

Reprinted with permission formAlterNet.

Rosemary Holmes has lived in Newark’s Terrell Holmes for the better part of six decades. She, like many others in the building, has raised children in its courtyards and hallways, and forged a tight-knit community of friends and neighbors. At the age of 68, she has been forced to band with other tenants to fight local efforts to shutter the facility. Now, as the Trump administration weighs plans to gut the Department of Housing and Urban Development, she has a new battle on her hands.

“Any time they move a person to someplace they don’t want to live, it’s imprisonment,” she told AlterNet over the phone. “I am a human being, and I deserve to live where I want to live. Us, the ones who really want to be here, we are going to be uprooted because of the sabotage of HUD and the Housing Authority.”

Horsley is one of countless public housing residents across the country directly impacted by news that the Trump administration is mulling whether to slash HUD’s budget by at least $6 billion, or 14 percent, in the 2018 fiscal year. The proposed cuts were revealed Wednesday by Washington Post reporter Jose A. DelReal, who cited “preliminary budget documents” that he had obtained. If implemented, the reductions will hit a federal agency that is already unable to meet the level of human need, thanks to systematic defunding over the course of decades.

Douglas Rice, a senior policy analyst for the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington, D.C., think tank, reports that the proposed cuts would, in fact, amount to $7.7 billion dollars, or a 16 percent reduction, in 2018. He arrives at this number by evaluating expected funding levels for 2017, writing: “it’s reasonable to presume that the final budget will be close to the average of the bills the House Appropriations Committee and the full Senate approved last summer.” By contrast, DelReal wrote his story based on 2016 funding levels.

Either way, the cuts are poised to be dramatic. Rice told the Washington Post that 20,000 renters will lose their assistance for every 1 percent slash to the budget of HUD. “The reality is that we’ve been living under these austere budget caps, and budgets like HUD’s have already been pretty much cut to the bone,” Rice said, pointing to the sequestration cuts of 2011. “And when you try to cut below that, you really end up with harmful impacts.”

The proposed cuts would go deep. “Budgets for public housing authorities—city and state agencies that provide subsidized housing and vouchers to local residents—would be among the hardest hit,” writes DelReal. “Under the preliminary budget, those operational funds would be reduced by $600 million, or 13 percent. Funds for big-ticket repairs at public housing facilities would be cut by an additional $1.3 billion, about 32 percent.”

Public housing in the United States already faces a backlog of $26 billion in repairs, according to a 2010 report commissioned by HUD.

The Community Development Block Grant Program, which was budgeted to receive $3 billion this fiscal year, would be entirely slashed if the proposed changes were implemented. While the budget document reportedly suggests that funds for the program “could come from outside the HUD budget as part of a separate White House bill,” it is not immediately clear where exactly such dollars would come from and whether they would be guaranteed. The HOME Investment Partnerships Program, which helps fund local affordable housing, would also be eliminated.

The gutting of HUD would take money directly out of the hands of renters in need. The Post story notes, “Under the proposal, direct rental assistance payments—including Section 8 Housing and housing vouchers for homeless veterans—would be cut by at least $300 million, to $19.3 billion. Additionally, housing for the elderly—known as the Section 202 program—would be cut by $42 million, nearly 10 percent. Section 811 housing for people with disabilities would be cut by $29 million, nearly 20 percent. Money available for Native American housing block grants would fall by $150 million, more than 20 percent.”

According to Rice’s analysis of the Post report, if the cuts go through, “Housing Choice Vouchers that some 200,000 low-income households currently use to pay their rent would be eliminated in 2018.” He explained, “Reducing the availability of this crucial support would increase and prolong homelessness for vulnerable people with disabilities, families with children and others.”

“It should be very clear to our movements, to our communities, and to the entire country that [the] Trump administration is intent on further destabilizing and dismantling programs that our communities rely on to survive,” Malcolm Torrejón Chu, communications organizer with the Right to the City Alliance and organizer for the National Homes for All Campaign, told AlterNet. “These threatened cuts to housing are threatened cuts to our community survival. And we have no illusions that the current HUD programming is enough.”

The proposed reductions are in line with Trump’s recent claim that he will pay for a $54 billion increase to the war budget in large part by cutting domestic programs.

But long before Trump made this assertion, HUD Secretary Ben Carson—who has no prior experience in housing policy—has been open about his desire to dismantle key public housing initiatives. In 2014, he opposed an agreement between the city of Dubuque and the Department of Housing and Urban Development to address the city’s housing policies that discriminate against black residents, suggesting it was proof America was “becoming communist.” In 2015, he vocalized his opposition to a HUD fair housing rule that is aimed, in part, at reducing segregation, calling it a “failed socialist experiment.”

Following the Post report, Carson reportedly sent a letter seeking to reassure staff on Thursday, stating: “Please understand that budget negotiations currently underway are very similar to those that have occurred in previous years. This budget process is a lengthy, back-and-forth process that will continue. It’s unfortunate that preliminary numbers were published, but please take some comfort in knowing that starting numbers are rarely final numbers.”

Yet the fact that such drastic cuts were proposed at all has alarmed those whose housing—and lives—are on the line. Rhonda, who lives in Terrell Homes and did not want her last name to be used, said the immediate impacts of such cuts, if they go through, would be straightforward. “They need to keep public housing, because without public housing, people will be homeless,” she said. “The numbers of homeless people in America will be going up. People will have to choose between housing and food.”

‘They want us out’

Michael Higgins, Jr., an organizer with the Brooklyn-based Families United for Racial and Economic Justice, told AlterNet that news of proposed cuts to HUD didn’t come as a surprise. “There’s been steady cuts in every administration going back to Reagan,” he said. “Because there have been consistent cuts, and because public housing is in such bad shape, there are a decreasing number of options for people in public housing.”

According to a Congressional Budget Office report released in September 2015, federal housing assistance is already falling far short. “Currently, only about one-quarter of the eligible low-income population receives housing assistance through federal spending programs,” the office stated.

Long before the Trump administration’s proposed slash to the HUD budget, Terrell Homes residents were fighting a years-long battle against efforts to shutter their facility. “Since December 2013, there have been attempts to shut it down,” Drew Curtis, the director of community development and environmental justice for the Ironbound Community Corporation, told AlterNet. “Tenants fought back and stopped the initial demolition, but last summer they started trying again to shut down Terrell Homes.”

Curtis said that one of his first thoughts when he found out about the proposed HUD cuts was, “There is going to be even more ammunition for the local housing authority to shut this down. Tenants will need to stay diligent and keep putting on political pressure. The biggest cuts proposed were public housing operating funds and Community Development Block Grants, which often go into housing repairs. This would dramatically affect them.”

Horsley said she is exhausted after fighting a years-long battle to stay in her home. “The whole thing is, they want us out,” she said. “They cannot verbalize and come out and say they don’t want the poor blacks, the poor Hispanics, because we no longer fit the new normal.”

Terrell residents are not alone. In a statement released Thursday, the New York City-based CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities said, “The announced proposed cutting of $6 billion to HUD and $150 million funding for NYCHA and Section 8 vouchers is cutting the vein that keeps working-people from being able to keep this City running.”

“While these proposed cuts happen, New York taxpayers have spent $24 million to protect Trump’s private properties from Election Day to inauguration. It is estimated that $127,000 to upward of $308,000 will be spent each day to protect the Trump family at their NYC residence,” the statement continues. “We refuse to let our public dollars be spent to protect the rich’s war machine and unjustly kill millions of innocent Muslim lives around the world. We refuse to let our public dollars police and criminalize black and Latinx communities that fuel the deportation machine.”

Higgins underscored that, “In New York, there was already an extreme crunch of public housing. Over the years, HUD has moved more into a Section 8 voucher scheme, instead of rent being directly paid by the government. When you see Section 8 being taken, it means certain people will be out of their homes.”

Organizers say that it will be important to meet any proposed cuts with a continuation of the robust resistance that has already seen millions take to the streets, mobilize and defend their communities against Trump administration policies.

According to Torrejón Chu, “We are clear that the Trump administration is an administration that is interested in privatization and corporate profits and not people’s actual needs. We need to continue to show and expose that the administration does not represent our communities or the people.”

“We see this as a moment to not just resist cuts, but to put forward a vision of a totally different world,” he continued. “We think it’s important that our communities develop and strengthen our vision of an alternative world where we have control over land, resources and housing. A world where housing, land and community aren’t commodities. This moment is calling for us to have a vision.”

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet.

IMAGE: Ben Carson listens to a question from a reporter during a campaign stop in Las Vegas, Nevada, February 23, 2016. REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus/File Photo

Labor And Women’s Rights Activists Plan Mass Protests To Fight Trumpism

Labor And Women’s Rights Activists Plan Mass Protests To Fight Trumpism

Reprinted with permission fromAlterNet.

Sectors of the U.S. labor movement are throwing their weight behind an International Women’s Day call for mass actions to protest the gendered violence wrought by neoliberalism, from workplace harassment to environmental destruction to the gutting of welfare systems.

Timed for Wednesday, March 8, the global day of action was “organized by and for women who have been marginalized and silenced by decades of neoliberalism directed towards working women, women of color, Native women, disabled women, immigrant women, Muslim women, lesbian, queer, and trans women,” according to the International Women’s Strike, which describes itself as a grassroots movement.

The mobilizations also have the backing of the organizers of the January 21 Women’s March, the largest inaugural protest in U.S. history. While Women’s March organizers have termed March 8 “a day without women,” actions will include rallies, protests, direct actions, and teach-ins, in addition to a more traditional work stoppage. Similar actions are slated to sweep nearly 30 countries, from Mexico to Bolivia to Russia.

Tithi Bhattacharya, who is active with the U.S. arm of the International Women’s Strike, is a longtime activist for Palestinian justice, a professor of South Asian History and the director of Global Studies at Purdue University. She told AlterNet, “We knew very well when we used the word ‘strike’ that women (and men) in the vast majority of workplaces will not be able to go on strike. How could they? Union density is currently at its lowest in this country. Moreover, even where unions exist, they usually carry no-strike clauses in their contracts. A vast number of people work in states where striking has been criminalized for years.”

“But despite these challenges,” Bhattacharya continued, “the involvement of labor unions and labor groups has been amazing.”

Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools just announced it will close down March 8 because it expects large numbers of employees to go on strike.

Under the banner, Women Workers Rising, major unions and workers’ organizations are calling for a demonstration at the Department of Labor in Washington, D.C., to “end workplace violence and harassment and promote pay equity, one fair living wage, paid leave, and labor rights at work.” The action is being organized by One Billion Rising in coalition with at least eight union or worker organizations, including National Nurses United, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, OUR Walmart, the American Federation of Teachers, Jobs with Justice, the Domestic Workers’ Alliance, and other labor and social justice groups.

“Every day, we see the Trump administration’s attack on women’s bodies and lives, especially immigrants and women of color,” Andrea Cristina Mercado, the campaign director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, told AlterNet. “Our work, contributions, and humanity continue to be undervalued. That is why we endorsed A Day Without Women—as a way of showing opposition to the terrorizing and criminalizing of our communities.”

“While some domestic workers are participating, we did not call on members to strike, because it’s hard for many who are caring for elders or children to take a day off,” Mercado continued. “But there are so many ways to show resistance, and on March 8, we will stand together, and embody radical sisterhood.”

The day of action has earned the endorsements of union locals and workers’ organizations, including Labor for Palestine, Rutgers AAUP-AFT and UAW Local 2325 — Association of Legal Aid Attorneys. Among the endorsers is the SEIU Lavender Caucus, which describes itself as “the Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/ Transgender (L/G/B/T) Caucus of the Service Employees International Union, whose purpose is to facilitate open and respectful communication between the L/G/B/T community and the labor movement.”

Megan Moskop is a New York City teacher and an organizer with the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE), the social justice caucus of the United Federation of Teachers. Moskop said MORE officially endorsed the March 8 day of actions “because 70 percent or more of the teaching profession in New York City is women. Sexism in our profession is rampant. We only have the most basic family medical leave. Part of the reason it is such a hard job is because it’s a job women have traditionally done.”

“When women are standing up in the international community and saying sexism is real, we want to stand alongside them,” Moskop said.

The U.S. platform for the International Women’s Strike includes calls for labor rights, a halt to gender violence, environmental justice, and an “anti-racist and anti-imperialist feminism,” stating: “This means that movements such as Black Lives Matter, the struggle against police brutality and mass incarceration, the demand for open borders and for immigrant rights and for the decolonization of Palestine are for us the beating heart of this new feminist movement.”

In addition, the platform calls for “full social provisioning” and issues the demand “that the welfare system work to support our lives rather than shame us when we access such rights.”

Organizers say they draw inspiration from mass protests far beyond U.S. borders. “Following the example of Icelandic women in 1975, Polish women went on a day-long strike to halt plans for criminalizing abortion and miscarriage on Oct. 3, 2016,” the International Women’s Strike writes. “That planned legislation was immediately withdrawn by the government. Similar issues brought Korean women to protest several times that same month against introduction of higher penalties for doctors performing abortions. On Oct. 19, 2016, Argentine women responded with massive hour-long strikes and rallies to an inhuman femicide and brutal repression [by police] of the Women’s National Meeting.”

Union members told AlterNet that these kinds of mass protests are sorely needed in the United States, and that labor’s participation is often driven by the rank and file. “It’s important to see labor use its power to move protests further and go from demonstrations to strikes,” Peter Lamphere, a member of MORE-UFT and a teacher in New York City, told AlterNet. “We’ve seen that already in the immigrant community and with New York City taxi workers.”

On February 16, thousands of people across the United States walked off the job, shut down their stores and restaurants and stayed home from school to participate in an immigrant strike against the deportation policies of the Trump administration. The strike was accompanied by mass protests in cities and towns across the country, including Chicago, Raleigh, Austin, and San Francisco.

Those mass protests followed a one-hour strike on January 28 by the New York Taxi Workers, in solidarity with large-scale protests against Trump’s travel ban targeting Muslims. “Drivers stand in solidarity with thousands protesting [the] inhumane and unconstitutional Muslim ban,” the 19,000-member strong union declared over social media.

“We see the Trump administration as posing an existential threat to the labor movement, so right after the election we immediately got involved in pushing UFT to take whatever action it could to challenge what Trump was doing,” Lamphere emphasized. “So we pushed for the union to endorse the Women’s March and sent buses. The women’s strike is the next step coming out of that.”

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet.

IMAGE: People gather for the Women’s March in Washington. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Undocumented Communities Ready To Fight Trump’s Mass Expulsion Orders

Undocumented Communities Ready To Fight Trump’s Mass Expulsion Orders

Reprinted with permission fromAlterNet.

The Trump administration’s campaign of hate and mass expulsion targeting immigrants is being met with sustained resistance by the very communities caught in the crosshairs.

Thousands of Wisconsin residents refused to go to work or school and shuttered their business on February 13 to participate in a state-wide Day Without Latinos, Immigrants, and Refugees. According to the Wisconsin-based advocacy organization Voces de la Frontera, the aim was to “resist Trump’s executive orders on immigration and the resulting wave of immigration raids sweeping the country, and to stop Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke from enrolling his department in the federal 287(g) program, which would deputize his sheriffs to act as immigration agents.”

Germán Sanchez, an Omro, Wisconsin dairy worker who walked off the job with five coworkers, said in a press statement: “We love what we do, but we are organized and ready to fight against people like Trump, Clarke, or any politician who attacks our families. We have power. Trump needs to know that if he is putting Latinos at risk, he is putting the dairy industry and the whole economy at risk.”

On February 16, thousands of people nationwide followed suit, as workers walked off the job, shut down their stores and restaurants and stayed home from school to participate in an immigrant strike to protest Donald Trump’s deportation policies. Mass demonstrations swept cities and towns across the country, among them San Francisco, Chicago, Raleigh, and Austin. According to news reports, at least 100 people were fired from their jobs for staying home.

Meanwhile, people have been using their bodies to attempt to stop the deportation of their community members. Earlier this month, Phoenix residents staged a 15-hour direct-action protest against the deportation of Guadalupe García de Rayos, a mother of two who had been living in the United States for 21 years. Protesters, including her own son and daughter, sat in the street holding hands to stop an ICE vehicle from taking her away, resulting in an hours-long stand-off captured on live-stream. Protesters gathered outside of the ICE regional office and thousands of people contacted Sen. John McCain and the ICE field director, urging them to stop the deportation. Despite the outpouring organized by the group Puente Arizona, García was deported to Mexico.

Anticipating an ongoing escalation of deportations, activists are fighting to expand the sanctuary movement, calling for protection of all communities targeted by the Trump administration, including undocumented, Muslim, LGBTQ, black, and poor communities. Immigrant-led organizations are partnering with the Movement for Black Lives to build and support local campaigns to call on mayors and city councils to “stand up and defend our cities.” The aim is not merely to return to the policies of the Obama era, which saw unprecedented deportations and the highest rates of imprisonment in the world, but to demand an improvement on what came before.

Critically, the fight to defend and expand sanctuary is not centered only in large cities, but is heating up in places like Richmond, Virginia, which is seeing ongoing rallies. Meanwhile, activists in Louisville, Kentucky, are waging their own campaign to expand sanctuary, calling on the mayor and local lawmakers to say “no to Executive Orders that hurt immigrant families, refugees, black communities, LGBTQ youth, the disabled, and low-income and working people.”

People can find and connect with their local sanctuary campaigns by plugging their zip codes into a resource produced by Mijente. In addition, Mijente has released a new crowd-sourced guide on how to “defy, defend and expand” the fight for sanctuary.

While fighting to expand sanctuary, movements are also preparing to defend their neighbors and communities from a rise in deportations. Starting next week, Mijente plans to kick off its Protect and Defend training series, focusing on how to respond to raids and build response networks.

The last week of February will also see escalating direct actions to build awareness about the upcoming general strike on May 1, also known as May Day and International Workers’ Day. Carlos Rojas Rodriguez, a spokesperson for Movimiento Cosecha, told AlterNet, “This week we have around 30 cities across the country who will be promoting May Day through banner drops.”

“Movimiento Cosecha feels tremendous excitement that our message around boycotts and strikes is resonating heavily with immigrant families,” Rodriguez continued. “Banner drops are essential to promoting May Day. In Latin America and Africa, movements rely heavily on street art and political writings to promote their messages with directly affected communities. Banner drops allow us to capture the attention of immigrant families with clear and direct call to action.”

More organizations are throwing their weight behind the May 1 call for a general strike, among them the organizers of Wisconsin’s state-wide actions. “Following Monday’s Day Without Latinos, Immigrants, and Refugees in Wisconsin, we are witnessing a spontaneous groundswell of immigrant workers, small business owners, and our supporters taking similar bold action to demand an end to Trump’s deportation raids,” said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera. “Monday, May 1st, 2017, must be a national Day Without Latinos, Immigrants, and Refugees to demand Trump rescind all of his executive orders on immigration.”

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet.

IMAGE: People participate in prayers during an interfaith event and the Jummah prayer outside Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, U.S., February 3, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Here Comes The Police State

Here Comes The Police State

Reprinted with permission fromAlterNet.

The rise of right-wing populism in the United States—from the White House to state legislatures—has been met with public resistance on a stunning scale. Millions have taken to the streets, staged direct actions, and flooded airports to resist a flurry of presidential decrees targeting undocumented, black, refugee, LGBTQ, and poor communities. And long before Trump took the White House, the Black Lives Matter movement and indigenous water protectors at Standing Rock were leading the way with sustained mobilizations in the face of staggering repression.

Now, under cover of the Trump administration’s “law and order” platform, Republican lawmakers at the state level—often with the backing of police unions—are advancing a spate of bills aimed at crushing this groundswell. The proposed legislation would impose draconian penalties on protest organizers and participants, expanding local powers to put demonstrators in jail, seize their assets, and further criminalize property destruction.

In recent weeks and months, politicians in at least 11 states—Minnesota, Washington, Iowa, Michigan, North Dakota, Indiana, Virginia, Colorado, Missouri, North Carolina, and Arizona—have either introduced or threatened to introduce bills that make it more dangerous or costly to attend protests, or be anywhere near them. One bill recently proposed in North Dakota, and clearly aimed at Standing Rock resistance, would have expanded protections for drivers who “accidentally” hit and kill protesters. While the legislation failed earlier this month, it nonetheless reflects a troubling political push to snuff out dissent.

Using racketeering laws to go after protesters’ assets

A bill that just passed through the Arizona State Senate would expand the state’s racketeering laws on organized crime to “rioting,” broadly defined to include acts that result in property destruction. This move would broaden the powers of authorities to target protest organizers and participants—and even seize their assets.

Backed by the Arizona Police Association, Senate Bill 1142 “[e]xpands the definition of riot to include immediate power of execution which results in damage to the property of another person,” according to an Arizona State Senate fact sheet.

“A person commits riot if, with two or more other persons acting together, such person recklessly uses force or violence or threatens to use force or violence, if such threat is accompanied by immediate power of execution, which either disturbs the public peace or results in damage to the property of another person,” the bill states.

According to Steve Kilar, spokesperson for the ACLU of Arizona, the proposed legislation’s definition of rioting is “fuzzy and incredibly vague.” This law “would allow police and prosecutors to go after anyone who is at a protest” that authorities claim turned into a riot, he explained.

The Senate fact sheet notes that including “rioting” under racketeering statutes would provide prosecutors with “options that are generally not available under other types of criminal statutes, such as forfeitures, including the ability to confiscate the fruits of criminal activity from those convicted of racketeering offenses.”

The legislation itself emanates from false conspiracy theories. “Sen. Sonny Borrelli has said this is in response to unverified claims that protesters are being paid,” Kilar said. “He is using this false paid-protesters argument to connect his bill to anti-racketeering laws, which are targeting the financial incentives of criminal enterprises.”

The bill, which is headed to the Arizona House, also aims to blur the line between rioting and terrorism. According to Kilar, “If this bill were to pass, riots would join terrorism as the only racketeering crimes under Arizona state law that would not require financial incentive.”

The legislation appears to be aimed at mass mobilizations to oppose deportations. Earlier this month, ICE was met with a 15-hour, direct-action protest when it tried, with the help of Phoenix police, to deport Guadalupe García de Rayos. Protesters, including her own son and daughter, sat in the street holding hands to stop an ICE vehicle from taking away Guadalupe, who has lived in the United States for 21 years. After an hours-long stand-off, which was captured on live-stream, the mother of two was eventually deported to Mexico. By then, images of resistance against her expulsion had spread across the country.

“It appears that the state legislature wants to silence people’s voices by passing these laws,” said Ernesto Lopez, an organizer with Puente Arizona, which mobilized the opposition to Guadalupe’s deportation. “This seems to be really extreme and aimed at silencing small organizations and people’s movements in a very negative way.”

‘They’d rather we just be quiet’

The bill wending its way through Arizona’s legislature is not an isolated case. The Minnesota House of Representatives is currently weighing HF 322, which gives the city broad latitude to sue protesters for the cost of policing demonstrations. The bill’s author, Representative Nick Zerwas, once made the jaw-dropping pronouncement that “Rosa Parks sat in the front of the bus. She didn’t get out and lay down in front of the bus.”

Meanwhile another Minnesota bill, if passed, would impose harsher penalties on protesters who conduct acts of civil disobedience on highways, making such acts punishable by up to a year in jail.

Both pieces of proposed legislation target the Black Lives Matter movement in the state, which has actively protested the state-sanctioned killing of black residents, including Jamar Clark and Philando Castile.

“It is really unfortunate that this is what the GOP is choosing to focus their time on,” Mica Grimm, an organizer with Black Lives Matter – Minneapolis, told AlterNet. “I think that Trump has definitely emboldened some people in the GOP to infringe on civil liberties and criminalize dissent. They’d rather we just be quiet.”

One bill introduced in Indiana initially mandated that authorities clear protesters from roadways within 15 minutes by “any means necessary.” Following public outcry, lawmakers removed the “by any means” language from the bill, but the latest text still calls for the increased criminalization of participants in acts of civil disobedience.

Along similar lines, SF 111, currently being weighed by the Iowa legislature, says that people who blocked traffic on highways can be hit with felony charges, punishable by up to five years behind bars. The legislation was direct retaliation for November protests against Trump that shut down the I-80 highway.

Meanwhile, Washington lawmakers are currently considering SB 5009, which would stiffen penalties against protesters who cause “economic disruption,” imposing sentences ranging from 60 days to a year in jail. Sen. Doug Ericksen, who introduced the bill, said in a press statement that “The measure is prompted by recent illegal actions that have blocked rail and highway transportation, including a demonstration at a rail chokepoint in Skagit County last summer that blocked traffic between Seattle and Vancouver for 11 hours.” Over 50 people were arrested in May 2016 when they blocked trains to two key oil refineries to protest climate change and fossil fuels extraction.

‘This is how you move toward fascism and nationalism’

Heavy crackdowns on protesters are not limited to cities and towns where anti-protest bills have been introduced. Over 200 people mass arrested at an inauguration protest in Washington, D.C., have been hit with felony riot charges, each facing up to 10 years in jail and a $25,000 fine. Meanwhile, law enforcement is compelling tech giants including Apple and Facebook to mine the personal data of its users, and the companies appear to be complying.

Because the arrests took place in Washington, D.C., the cases are being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, which is directly accountable to the Department of Justice, now overseen by the notorious white supremacist Jeff Sessions.

“We are seeing Sessions prosecuting mass arrests from January 20, and it is very obvious that they are using draconian tactics to criminalize dissent,” Pooja Gehi, the executive director of the National Lawyers Guild, told AlterNet. “The protesters were charged with inciting felony riot, under a subsection that’s never used. This is a new precedent meant to terrorize people.”

Flint Taylor, a founding partner of the Chicago-based People’s Law Office, told AlterNet that he believes that Trump’s three executive orders on crime and policing have emboldened these state-level initiatives. One decree, titled “Preventing Violence Against Federal, State, Tribal, and Local Law Enforcement Officers,” is premised on the false claim that there is a war on cops. The order instructs the executive branch to “develop strategies, in a process led by the Department of Justice (Department) and within the boundaries of the Constitution and existing Federal laws, to further enhance the protection and safety of Federal, State, tribal, and local law enforcement officers.”

Sessions, who heads the DOJ, has said that he does not believe systemic police brutality is a problem worth addressing.

“The language of this executive order is focused on ‘preventing violence,’ which was the exact language of the memoranda that former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover wrote justifying the neutralization—i.e. destruction—of everyone from Martin Luther King Jr. to the Black Panthers,” said Taylor. “One of the key aspects of COINTELPRO was to ‘prevent violence.’ That was the cover for destroying movements.”

“Together with all the other preliminary indications from the Trump administration, this executive order bodes extremely ill, particularly for communities of color, in terms of unleashing the already awesome and racist power of police departments in cities across the country.”

Meanwhile, right-wing Republicans in Congress, with apparent backing from the Trump administration, are advancing efforts to declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. The initiative, which emanates from far-right conspiracy theories that the Sunni Islamist group is infiltrating the U.S. government, is aimed at crushing Muslim civil society organizations at the core of resistance to Trump.

Amidst a climate of authoritarianism, anti-protest laws are advancing alongside so-called Blue Lives Matter bills that protect police officers under hate crime laws meant to safeguard historically oppressed communities. These initiatives are spreading across the country, with Republicans now in control of roughly two-thirds of the partisan legislative chambers in the United States.

“I definitely think there are a lot of Republicans who feel that Trump is a dog whistle to start writing bills that infringe on people’s rights, because we’re seeing that on a federal level,” said Grimm. “They are taking advantage of this time to make sure that people who don’t agree with them don’t have the right to express that. This is how you move toward fascism and nationalism, by getting rid of dissent.”

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet.

IMAGE: Sacramento Police officers gather after multiple people were stabbed during a clash between neo-Nazis holding a permitted rally and counter-protestors on Sunday at the state capitol in Sacramento, California, United States, June 26, 2016. REUTERS/Max Whittaker 

Obama Handed Trump’s Gang Of White Nationalists A Lethal Deportation Machine

Obama Handed Trump’s Gang Of White Nationalists A Lethal Deportation Machine

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

On January 18, Barack Obama used his final press conference as president to pledge to the public that he will speak up if the administration of Donald Trump crosses a line, whether that’s imposing “systematic discrimination” or silencing the press. “There’s a difference between that normal functioning of politics and certain issues or certain moments where I think our core values may be at stake,” Obama told journalists assembled in the White House briefing room. “I would put in that category efforts to round up kids who have grown up here and for all practical purposes are American kids, and send them someplace else, when they love this country.”

Yet the president’s palliative remarks that afternoon concealed a more harrowing truth: sweeps and forced expulsions of children would not constitute a break with norms of his own administration, which oversaw more deportations than any other in U.S. history. During Obama’s tenure, mass incarceration of mothers and their children became a mainstay of the U.S. response to the violent displacement of peoples across Central America. And amidst the greatest refugee crisis since World War II, Obama has greatly expanded the U.S. deportation machine, overseeing a higher number of border patrols than any previous administration. That deportation machine is now being handed to Trump, whose administration is aggressively delivering on his fascist and white supremacist campaign pledges to slam the door on refugees and migrants.

“We have to remain vigilant of what Obama’s actual policies were, and not just pay attention to the rhetoric,” Tania Unzueta, an organizer with the Chicago-based Organized Communities Against Deportation (OCAD) and Mijente, told AlterNet. “If you look at the actual policies from the White House and how they impacted our communities, it is obvious that the policies were bad and were harming people.”

Forced Expulsions

During his tenure, Obama forcibly deported more than 2.5 million people—a figure that does not include those refused entry at the border, self-deported due to the climate of fear, or died trying to reach safe haven. This number of expulsions is not only unprecedented, but marked an increase of 23 percent from the George W. Bush administration.

These deportations played out in harrowing scenes across the country, right through the final year of Obama’s presidency. In the beginning of 2016, former Department of Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson presided over a significant escalation in raids targeting immigrants, migrants and refugees primarily from Central American countries. “Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents barged into homes, even when asked for warrants at the door, removing mothers and children as young as 4 years old,” the advocacy organization Not1More Deportation reported in January 2016.

This targeting accelerated last spring, with ICE boasting in May that it had “arrested 331 individuals during a month-long operation targeting criminal aliens and other immigration violators in six Midwestern states.” When Johnson was invited to deliver the commencement address at the Nashville-based Martin Luther King Jr. Magnet High School last May, he was shouted down by community members, including teachers of nine high school students who had been detained since the beginning of the year. “Education, not deportation! Stop the raids!” the protesters chanted.

But these violent sweeps date back further still. In December 2013, the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice released a report detailing an ICE-enforced program of “race-based community raids” known as the Criminal Alien Removal Initiative. According to Saket Soni, the executive director of the workers’ center, the program enforced “indiscriminate community raids at apartment complexes, grocery stores, laundromats, Bible study groups, and parks based purely on racial profiling. Often working with local law enforcement, New Orleans ICE arrests people who appear Latino and uses high-tech mobile bio-metric devices, first created for U.S. military use in Iraq and Afghanistan, to conduct immediate bio-metric record checks. Most people are handcuffed before the fingerprinting begins, and based on the results, many are immediately separated from their families and transported to ICE detention centers for deportation.”

Unzueta said that such raids give a glimpse of what an escalated crackdown could look like under Trump. “We know a little bit about how these raids could look because they were done under Obama,” she said.

Increased Criminalization

The spike in deportations has been coupled with the continuation of the country’s unrivaled prison industrial complex. Shortly after Obama was elected, he expanded the so-called “Secure Communities” program created under George W. Bush. Established as a collaboration between DHS and the Department of Justice, Secure Communities relied on collaboration between local, state, and federal law enforcement to target undocumented people ensnared in the criminal justice system and labeled “criminals.” The program has worsened racial profiling and escalated the criminalization and deportation of undocumented people across the United States. Advocates have long decried the division of undocumented people into “good” and “bad” immigrants based on their incarceration histories, underscoring that everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity.

Under George W. Bush, the program existed in only 14 counties. In 2009, that number ballooned to 88. By 2012, it was ubiquitous across the country. Thanks to sustained grassroots resistance led by the communities targeted, Obama announced in 2014 that he was ending the program. But its replacement—the Priority Enforcement Program—still relies on the targeting of people caught in the prison industrial complex.

Meanwhile, Obama escalated prosecutions against people seeking to move across the U.S. border. Marisa Franco and Carlos Garcia noted for The Nation in June, “Within two years of coming into office, President Obama doubled the number of people being prosecuted for reentry by expanding Bush’s border-court system, Operation Streamline, which tries up to 70 people per day in a cattle line of sentences. The experiment went from three jurisdictions in 2008 to every single border sector except California by 2010. From the time of its invention in 2005 to just four years later in 2009, Streamline sent over 209,000 individuals to serve federal prison sentences for no reason other than crossing the border.”

The rise in criminal prosecutions impacted borderlands as well as the internal United States. The advocacy organization Grassroots Leadership reported in 2012 that “From 2008 to 2011, unauthorized re-entry convictions (8 U.S.C. § 1326) in court districts not on the Southwest border increased by the greatest margin of any four-year period in history, more than double that of the previous four years.”

Meanwhile, Obama expanded the 287(g) program, which was authorized in 1996 by former President Bill Clinton. According to ICE, the program “allows a state or local law enforcement entity to enter into a partnership with ICE, under a joint Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), in order to receive delegated authority for immigration enforcement within their jurisdictions.” The program expanded immigration enforcement powers to local police, giving them the authority target undocumented people in the streets and in jails, leading to an escalation in racial profiling. While the Obama administration later partially scaled back 287(g), Trump has referenced this initiative and Secure Communities as models to emulate and “revitalize.”

The Obama years have not been without hard-fought gains by the immigrant justice movement. The Dreamer movement of undocumented students successfully pressed Obama to take executive action in 2012 and pass Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). But even this reform, which grants limited deportation reprieve to some undocumented young people who came to the country as children, is being targeted by the Trump administration. Now, those Dreamers who fought for DACA are teaming up with undocumented people across the country to build Movimiento Cosecha, or Harvest Movement. They are preparing to go on the offensive during the Trump years, building towards the ultimate goal of launching “massive civil resistance and non-cooperation” to defend the dignity and safety of the estimated 11 million undocumented people living in the United States.

Family Incarceration

In 2014, the mass detention of families fleeing violence and poverty in Central America became the cornerstone of Obama’s response to the displacement crisis, which was exacerbated by U.S. policies in the region. As the Detention Watch Network explains, “Family detention is the inhumane and unjust policy of jailing immigrant mothers with their children – including babies. Upon arrival in the U.S., families are locked up in remote and punitive detention centers, with little access to legal and social services, often experiencing widespread human and civil rights violations.”

The large-scale incarceration of children was condemned by human rights organizations, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and a survivor of a World War II-era Japanese-American internment camp. And it has been loudly protested by detained mothers, who have waged repeated hunger strikes and issued public letters decrying their conditions and indefinite detention.

“We are desperate because this will be the second Christmas that our children have to spend here,” seventeen prisoners at the Berks County Family Detention Center wrote to state authorities ahead of the 2016 holiday season. “This is in addition to all the other special dates—such as the birthdays of our children and our own, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc.—that we have had to spend in this jail… We ask you, seventeen desperate mothers, to give the biggest gift to our children of being able to spend Christmas among family.”

In an August 10 open letter to Jeh Johnson, 22 mothers imprisoned at the Berks Family Residential Center wrote, “Our children, who range in age from 2 to 16, have been deprived of a normal life. We are already traumatized from our countries of origin. We risked our own lives and those of our children so we could arrive on safe ground. While here, our children have considered committing suicide, made desperate from confinement. The teenagers say that being here, life makes no sense. One of our children said he wanted to break the window to jump out and end this nightmare.”

Yet, the Obama administration has aggressively fought court efforts to shut down these family prisons, leaving intact an infrastructure that allows U.S. authorities to incarcerate thousands of mothers and their children.

Family internment does not include the tens of thousands of other people who have been detained on immigration charges, a number that ICE put at 42,000 last year. High levels of incarceration have fed the booming private prison industry, even as it supposedly fell out of favor with the Obama administration’s justice department. Like family detention centers, private and public immigration prisons have faced rolling hunger strikes. Immigrant detention is consistent with the U.S. track record of remaining, under Obama, the world’s largest jailer by far.

Border Militarization

Obama’s funneling of public resources to ICE and other deportation initiatives has aided and abetted these nationwide sweeps. According to the American Immigration Council, “The number of Border Patrol agents deployed between ports of entry roughly doubled from 10,717 in FY 2003 to 21,394 in FY 2012. At the same time, the number of CBP officers working at ports of entry grew from 17,279 to 21,423. And the number of ICE agents devoted to Enforcement and Removal Operations more than doubled from 2,710 to 6,338.”

Immigration authorities are responsible for the systematic disappearing and deadly targeting of migrants, as outlined in a must-read report released in December 2016 by the Arizona-based organizations Derechos Humanos and No More Deaths/No Más Muertes. The Clinton-era “Prevention Through Deterrence” plan imposed in the mid-1990s has “pushed migration into increasingly remote corridors,” the report states. “In turn, Border Patrol agents have been tasked with apprehending migrants, refugees, and other border crossers in the isolated, vast expanses of wilderness between official ports of entry. With the exception of those border crossers who have already decided to surrender to border agents, the sole method of apprehension available to Border Patrol personnel is chase through deadly terrain.”

“Border Patrol agents chase border crossers through the remote terrain and utilize the landscape as a weapon to slow down, injure, and apprehend them,” the report states, noting that such chases “lead to heat exhaustion and dehydration, blisters and sprains, injuries due to falls, and drownings.” Meanwhile, border patrol agents “regularly assault border crossers at the culmination of a chase.” In remote areas, excessive force often takes the form of “beatings, Tasers, dog attacks, and assault with vehicles,” the report states.

The result is a crisis of deaths and missing persons in the borderlands. According to the report, which draws on the testimony of border crossers and hundreds of cases from the Missing Migrant Crisis Line, tens of thousands of people have disappeared since the 1990s, with 1,200 going missing last year alone. “We run as if we were blind, as if we had a cloth over our eyes,” one unnamed border crosser who suffered wounds after running into a barbed-wire fence, told researchers. “Border Patrol can see everything though, and they know where the fences and the cliffs are. They will chase you towards them.”

“The known disappearance of thousands of people in the remote wilderness of the U.S.-Mexico border zone marks one of the great historical crimes of our day,” the investigation concludes.

‘Remembering lessons’

“It’s really important to understand that there is already this massive deportation machine that was constructed by Obama,” Bethany Carson, researcher and organizer for Grassroots Leadership, told AlterNet. “The massive nature of our immigration enforcement system already is widely misunderstood and underestimated, as well as the fact that there is a very militarized border that is harder to cross than any time in our history.”

Carson warned that this apparatus is now in the hands of an even more dangerous administration. “The kind of prioritization Trump is doing is no prioritization at all,” she said. “The way he has expanded who he is prioritizing for deportation means every single immigrant who is now removable is going to be a priority. Now we are seeing that Trump is very willing to sign these authoritarian and outrageous executive orders that constitute an all-out attack on immigrant communities.”

Trump’s first two weeks in the White House have been met with growing resistance, as millions around the world have taken to the streets, flooded airports, and protested American embassies. Communities are staging popular assemblies and holding trainings to prepare for rapid response to defend their neighbors against a potential spike in mass expulsions. Amid this groundswell is a nationwide push, led by undocumented communities and the Movement for Black Lives, demanding an expansion of sanctuary to defend everyone from state-sanctioned violence, including deportations, police violence and mass imprisonment.  This movement is not just calling for a return to Obama-era policies, but demanding an improvement on what came before so that real sanctuary is afforded to all: immigrants, refugees, Black, poor, Muslim, and LGBTQ communities.

“We need to hold people to high standards,” said Unzueta. “We have to remember that Democrats have also pushed anti-immigrant policy. We have to remember the lessons we learned under Obama. The conversation about sanctuary cities is a popular response to that. We have seen that we need to deal with criminalization and police if we want true sanctuary in our cities and towns. We need to look beyond rhetoric and statements and look at how actual policies are affecting our communities.”

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.

IMAGE: ndlon via Flickr

A National Sanctuary Campaign Rises To Defy Trump’s Xenophobic Agenda

A National Sanctuary Campaign Rises To Defy Trump’s Xenophobic Agenda

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Defying a multi-pronged assault from the Trump administration, Black, Latino, and migrant organizations gathered inside Chicago’s city hall on Thursday to demand that officials expand existing sanctuary policies so that they materially defend the safety and well-being of all residents.

“Sanctuary in Chicago today means a commitment not just to symbolically defy Trump but to actually transform our city’s policies to stop targeting us for imprisonment, risk of removal, and state violence at the hands of police and aggressive immigration agents,” said Tania Unzueta, who hails from Organized Communities Against Deportation (OCAD) and Mijente.

Erupting into chants of “Undocumented, unafraid!” the groups were part of a nationwide push to take on the rising tide of fascism and white supremacy in the United States through escalating mobilizations and organizing. Many of those taking to the streets, reaching out to their neighbors, and packing public assemblies across the country come from communities directly targeted by the White House.

While the mayor of Miami took just one day to cave to the Trump administration’s demands, calls like the ones issued in Chicago are part of a larger groundswell of support for a radical expansion of sanctuary. “If Trump seeks to strip us of sanctuary, then we must defy him,” wrote Marisa Franco, an organizer with Mijente and #Not1More Deportation, in a Truthout article published Wednesday. “And our defiance must not simply recreate what existed, but instead expand, reimagine and breathe life into its possibilities.”

“We have multiple targets on our backs,” Franco continued. “There is no time for our ideas of sanctuaries to be exclusive. Sanctuaries must include not only undocumented people, but also non-immigrant Muslims, LGBTQ people, Black and Indigenous folks, and political dissidents. Trump cares nothing for our survival, and he is willing to persecute us.”

‘Hostile political climate and incriminating narrative’

Crowds packed Chicago’s city hall just one day after Donald Trump issued an executive order targeting hundreds of jurisdictions across the United States that, to some degree, limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities. The decree instructs authorities to cut off federal grants to jurisdictions with sanctuary provisions, “except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes.” As the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability points out, it is not immediately clear whether Trump has the authority block such funding without congressional approval, but this has not stopped the executive order from unleashing fear and resistance in those locations targeted.

“The hostile political climate and incriminating narrative developed and advertised by the U.S. government via executive orders, legislation, and propaganda are creating unsafe living conditions across the US,” Mayra Jaimes Peña, a San Francisco-based immigrant justice organizer with Causa Justa/Just Cause, told AlterNet. “The values sanctuary cities hold need to be expanded to be inclusive of Muslim, Black, Asian, LGBTQIA, and any other communities who are being attacked by the xenophobic Trump administration.”

The order also takes the outrageous step of mandating that the Department of Homeland Security, on a weekly basis, publish a list of “criminal actions” allegedly committed by undocumented people, while calling for a dramatic increase of immigration officers. In addition, the decree revives the discriminatory “secure communities” federal program and instructs DHS to deport undocumented immigrants who “have been charged with any criminal offense, where such charge has not been resolved” or who “in the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.”

These provisions will almost certainly initiate a dramatic escalation of discrimination, racial profiling, and criminalization of those who are undocumented, or merely perceived as such. Furthermore, because the crackdown hinges on the targeting of people with criminal convictions, it will disproportionately impact black immigrants and refugees. As a report released in 2016 by the Black Alliance for Just Immigration notes, “Black people are far more likely than any other population to be arrested, convicted, and imprisoned in the U.S. criminal enforcement system—the system upon which immigration enforcement increasingly relies.”

Compounding this discrimination, Trump is expected to roll out a series of orders targeting Muslims and people from Africa and the Middle East by blocking visas issued to nationals of Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Iran, and Sudan. The United States is currently bombing or has recently bombed all but one of these countries, directly contributing to the violent displacement of those who will be categorically denied safe haven.

Other decrees further codify Trump’s white supremacist and xenophobic campaign pledges. In the week since taking office, he has dealt orders to immediately start constructing a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, slash health care access, and advance the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines, over the sustained resistance of indigenous water protectors.

The decree targeting sanctuary cities comes amid concerns that already-existing sanctuary cities and towns were not doing enough to protect their residents under the Obama administration, which oversaw an unprecedented number of deportations and erected family immigrant detention centers that continue to imprison children with their mothers.

For this reason, those calling for an expansion of sanctuary are not merely seeking a return to Obama era policies. They are going on the offensive, meeting Trump’s executive orders with their own demands to improve on what came before. “We are fighting for the widest idea of sanctuary, and that vision, that aspirational demand, is under profound attack,” writes Franco.

Trump’s executive orders are poised to escalate existing racism and violence. South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) recently released a report which found that levels of violence and hate speech targeting South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Arab, and Middle Eastern people are at their highest levels since the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Addressing reporters on Wednesday following Trump’s order to build a wall, Jude Ssempungu, a board member of the Chicago-based United African Organization, proclaimed: “We are proud to stand with our allies to express collective indignation in the face of racist attacks by the Trump administration.” He added, “Now, more than ever, we need each other.”

“We are facing an attack on Latino immigrants, Mexicans and Central Americans, Arabs, Muslims, Black communities, women, and queer people,” Hatem Abudayyeh, the executive director of the Arab American Action Network, told AlterNet. “Because people in Chicago have for a long time been building relationships, it is easier to come together in moments like this. The theme of the day is resistance—not being afraid and intimidated.”

Reimagining sanctuary to include everyone

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel says he will stand up against Trump, declaring on Wednesday, “We’re going to stay a sanctuary city. Wherever you came from, you’re welcome here.”

But in Chicago, Emanuel’s existing sanctuary policies exclude many of those targeted by Trump’s decrees. Individuals named in the city’s shadowy gang database, as well as people who have certain criminal convictions or charges, or who are simply named in a criminal warrant, are left out of the protections.

Furthermore, despite Chicago’s sanctuary status, government forces continue to aggressively detain and deport undocumented immigrants, prompting OCAD, the Chicago Religious Leadership Network and the #Not1More Deportation Campaign to demand a civil rights investigation into Chicago Immigration and Customs Enforcement last August. The groups report that, during one raid carried out last February, Chicago ICE “pretended to be local police officers concerned about a close friend of the family who had supposedly been in an accident. This is how they got Reynold Garcia, the father, out of his church where he was seeking solace after his family had been detained.”

“To me, sanctuary means feeling protected, feeling safe, and feeling like the city has my back,” Unzueta told AlterNet. “The reality is that, when it comes to people with criminal records and police interactions, Chicago’s not [a] sanctuary city.”

To defend sanctuary, groups including OCAD, Black Youth Project 100, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice say the city must immediately pursue “the decriminalization and alternative processing of crimes of survival, DUIs disproportionately policed in Black and Latino neighborhoods, incidents at schools, drug-related offenses and more.” The organizations also call for the elimination of the gang database and the “reallocation of city resources from law enforcement to community institutions that provide long-term safety, such as schools, clinics, and hospitals.” And finally, they demand the “Welcoming City” ordinance be amended to “prevent collusion with federal deportation agents.”

“It’s not enough to not cooperate with immigration agents for only some undocumented immigrants. It’s not enough for the city to rely on this ‘good immigrant, bad immigrant’ dichotomy that uses alleged criminal or gang involvement as a marker of exclusion,” said Janae Bonsu of BYP 100. “While Rahm Emanuel has pledged that Chicago will remain a sanctuary city, the bar for what `sanctuary’ means has been set way too low.”

Emanuel already faces public outrage over an epidemic of police killings, violence, and racism. A September 2014 report prepared by We Charge Genocide found that black residents are 10 times more likely to be shot by the CPD than their white counterparts. Earlier this month, the Department of Justice released its own investigation, which echoed the We Charge Genocide report, concluding that the Chicago Police Department is perpetrating harassment, “unreasonable” killings and systematic civil rights violations against the people of Chicago.

According to Bonsu, an expansion of sanctuary requires an investment in black futures by diverting public resources away from the police and towards schools, mental health services, and other public goods.

‘Protect and defend ourselves and each other’

Chicago is not alone in calling for a radical expansion of sanctuary. Grassroots organizers with Movimiento Cosecha and Mijente are working with their networks to defend and expand sanctuary under the Trump administration. They are joined by organizations and people across the country, including a student movement demanding sanctuary campuses at colleges and universities.

Paulina Helm-Hernandez is the Atlanta-based co-director of the queer liberation organization Southerners on New Ground. She told AlterNet, “We’re calling on Mayor Kasim Reed to repeal all city laws and policies that degrade, discriminate and cause harm against undocumented individuals and their families, Black lives, people of color, women, Muslims, immigrants and refugees, trans and queer people, and poor people.”

Atlanta organizers are demanding “an end to the use of city resources in the detention and deportation of our immigrant communities including:  Atlanta police participation in ICE (Immigration Customs Enforcement) raids, transfer or hold requests, the 287(g) program, and any newly formed federal deportation and removal programs,” explained Helm-Hernandez.

“It’s clear that southern communities will have to protect and defend ourselves and each other from the political regression and repression the Trump regime is only beginning to unveil,” Helm-Hernandez told AlterNet. “Part of our push back to this tyranny must include local organizing and resistance. SONG is working with our members and coalitions all across the South to build and expand towns and cities that we can call sanctuary.”

Communities are already reporting violations of existing sanctuary policies. Peña told AlterNet, “in San Francisco today we already witnessed ICE agents coming into a Latino community organization and requesting their compliance with the detainment of an individual. Community organizations are hubs for vital survival resources. ICE presence is unacceptable, a direct violation of our Sanctuary City policy, and increases fear.”

“Sanctuary cities are standing on the side of justice and are creating an environment of inclusivity,” continued Peña. “It is necessary to expand that model beyond immigration issues and encompass all communities under attack.”

Marcia Olivo, an organizer with the Miami Workers’ Center and a member of the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, told AlterNet that, even where politicians acquiesce, communities will continue to fight. “The action taken by Mayor Gimenez has serious implications for women: domestic workers, survivors of domestic violence,” said Olivo. “Many of them have been calling us, coming to the office full of fear and anxiety. We condemn his decision and hold him responsible for the lives he is going impact in Miami-Dade.”

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.

IMAGE: Activists gather outside the White House to protest President Donald Trump’s executive actions on immigration in Washington January 29, 2017.  REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

Alabama NAACP Not Backing Down After Sessions’ Office Lashes Out

Alabama NAACP Not Backing Down After Sessions’ Office Lashes Out

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

“We are trying to stop Jeff Sessions from becoming the Attorney General of the United States,” Benard Simelton, president of the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP, told AlterNet over the phone. “We are not backing down at all.”

Just days ago, Simelton was one of dozens who staged a sit-in at Sessions’ Mobile, Alabama office, an action timed to coincide with the onset of the 115th Congress. Media attention and support from across the country poured in.

Simelton, one of six people arrested for the action, noted that following their release from detention, protesters met at a TGI Fridays restaurant to “plan our next strategy.”

By then, their protest had caught the attention of Sessions’ office, whose spokesperson, Sarah Isgur Flores, smeared the protesters in her comments to the Washington Examiner. “What a sad statement on the left’s political reality that they would falsely smear a man’s character and reputation as a fundraising gimmick,” she said. Flores sent a series of tweets referring to the protesters as “pathetic.”

But Simelton says the response is proof that their protest got under Sessions’ skin. “The statements don’t bother us at all,” he said. “Irrationality is what we expect. They are trying to change the focus from them to us, so that people won’t focus on the things he has done.”

Sessions, a U.S. Senator from Alabama, built his national reputation by vociferously opposing civil rights. In the 1984 case now known as the Marion Three, he prosecuted three civil rights workers on baseless charges of voter fraud (all were acquitted), in an effort to intimidate and suppress the black vote. His opposition to voting rights has continued throughout his career, including his support for the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision to gut the Voting Rights Act.

Sessions was appointed by former President Ronald Reagan in 1986 as a federal judge, but rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee—some of them Republicans—on the grounds that he was too racist to serve.

Former Justice Department civil rights lawyer J. Gerald Hebert testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee that Sessions had called the NAACP “un-American” and “communist-inspired.” More recently, Hebert told CNN, “Things that I had heard firsthand from him were things that demonstrated gross racial insensitivity to black citizens of Alabama and the United States.”

Thomas Figures, a former assistant U.S. attorney who is African American, testified that Sessions called him “boy” and joked about the Ku Klux Klan, saying he thought they were “okay, until I found out they smoked pot.”

Sessions has been one of the most right-wing members of the Senate, consistently voting for harsh crackdowns on immigrants and punishing austerity measures. In just one example, he supported Alabama’s harsh HB56, described by the ACLU as “an extraordinary attempt to regulate every aspect of the lives of immigrants.”

The first sitting senator to support Trump’s presidential bid, Sessions has expressed his support for a form of torture euphemistically referred to as waterboarding. He was part of a small group of senators who voted against the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, which according to Human Rights Watch, “barred the use of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment against any detainee in U.S. custody and required the Defense Department to follow the U.S. Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogations when conducting interrogations.” He also opposed a later anti-torture amendment to the annual defense bill, which passed in 2015.

Sessions opposed a 2009 law to protect women from job discrimination and defended Trump’s boasting about sexually assaulting women. He has consistently voted against the most basic LGBTQ protections.

Writing for the Nation, Ari Berman noted that Sessions, if confirmed Attorney General, will be in charge “of enforcing the civil-rights laws he once opposed, like the Voting Rights Act.”

More than 1,100 law school professors from across the United States registered their opposition to Sessions in an open letter sent Tuesday. “Nothing in Senator Sessions’ public life since 1986 has convinced us that he is a different man than the 39-year-old attorney who was deemed too racially insensitive to be a federal district court judge,” they wrote. A petition opposing Sessions has garnered over 200,000 signatures.

“To not support something like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, to not believe that there is voter suppression going on in the United States, to not support the expansion of the Voting Rights act—those are the things the attorney general would be responsible for enforcing,” said Simelton. “This is very urgent, and we want to get the word out to people cross the nation that we here in Alabama are not supporting Sessions for Attorney General. We want people to know what kind of record he has.”

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.

IMAGE: Benard Simelton (L), president of the Alabama NAACP State Conference, Cornell William Brooks (2nd L), president & CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and Devon Crawford (R), a fellow with with the NAACP Youth & College Division, occupy the office of Jeff Sessions, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for for attorney general, in Mobile, Alabama, January 3, 2017. Daniel Valentine/via Reuters

Here’s How We Prepare To Be Ungovernable In 2017

Here’s How We Prepare To Be Ungovernable In 2017

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

“We cannot and should not legitimize the transfer of authority to a right-wing populist who has neo-fascist orientations,” Kali Akuno told AlterNet over the phone. “We shouldn’t legitimize that rule in any form or fashion. We need to build a program of being ungovernable.”

As the co-director of the Mississippi-based group Cooperation Jackson and an organizer with the nationwide Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, Akuno is one of countless people across the country working diligently to build a platform sturdy enough to confront Trump’s America.

Movimiento Cosecha, led by undocumented people and immigrants, is planning to go on the offensive to organize a a migrant boycott and general strike demanding “permanent protection, dignity, and respect of immigrants.” Groups including Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM) are already striking preemptive blows against a potential Muslim registry under Trump by successfully demanding that the Obama administration eliminate the regulatory framework for a Bush-era registry. The New Sanctuary Movement, meanwhile, is getting ready to mobilize large numbers of people to intervene against a potential escalation of raids targeting immigrants.

For Akuno, whose organizations strive for self-determination for people of African descent and the eco-socialist transformation of society as a whole, now is an important time for movements to be talking to each other and strategizing how to unfold a program of noncompliance and noncooperation on both the federal and state levels. “We are not going to legitimize this regime, and we are going to try to draw a deeper level of criticism to the entire system,” he emphasized. “If Trump and Clinton were the best the system could offer, there is something wrong with the system. There always has been. We need to start envisioning what kind of future we want and need.”

A call for civil servants to resist

“A core component of resistance is to get the class of civil servants, particularly on the federal but also the state level, to not comply with arbitrary laws and policies that are going to be created,” said Akuno. “To not recognize the laws we know are coming that will discriminate against Black people, Latinos, immigrants and queer people. There is no need for anyone to comply. Let’s not give it legitimacy just because it’s the law. We need to be prepared to disobey and engage in civil disobedience. We need to get ready for that now.”

Akuno said there are already encouraging signs that such resistance is building among civil servants. Concerned that critical climate data will vanish under a climate-change denying Trump administration, scientists and meteorologists are working to copy and safely store public data using independent servers. Earlier this month, the University of Toronto held a “Guerrilla Archiving” event inviting volunteers to “join in a full day of hackathon activities in preparation for the Trump presidency.” The website “Climate Mirror” was erected as part of an effort to “mirror public climate datasets before the Trump Administration takes office to make sure these datasets remain freely and broadly accessible.”

Meanwhile, media reports are emerging that some Department of Energy officials are refusing to comply with a Trump administration demand to hand over the names of all of the agency’s contractors and employers who have worked on key climate policies under President Barack Obama. The request elicited concerns of a witch hunt and purge orchestrated by the incoming administration. But The Independent reported earlier this month, “The US Department of Energy (DOE) has refused to answer questions issued to them by Donald Trump’s transition team.”

In a letter dated December 28, attorney general offices from 13 states threatened litigation against Trump if he discards the Clean Power Plan, as he has vowed to do.

Such resistance, of course, contrasts with the narrative of a “peaceful transition of power” at times embraced by the Obama administration and much of the Democratic Party. But among lower-level workers, opportunities for resistance are manifold. According to Akuno, “it is impressive to see a certain level of resistance that members of civil society are already engaging in. I don’t think this should be taken lightly. A broad alliance can be made, with a clear articulation of a call for resistance.”

Akuno emphasized that such resistance is just one prong of a broader strategy that he says entails “not going to work, not participating in your run-of-the-mill economic activities, with the hope and aim that we can build prolonged acts of civil disobedience that lead to a general strike.” While such plans are not fully fleshed out, he noted organizations across the country are actively discussing such a possibility.

‘Build and fight’

Strategies for large-scale disobedience should be buttressed by local plans that simultaneously prepare us for survival and orient us towards social transformation, he argued. “Cooperation Jackson is in the midst of a pivot that we’re calling, ‘Build and Fight,’” said Akuno, explaining that the initiative is premised on the assumption that “the left’s infrastructure domestically and internationally is profoundly weak. There needs to be a building piece in our view. This has to be a primary focus, and we want to build something that leans in an anti-capitalist orientation, like community-production based, cooperatively-owned digital fabrication.”

For inspiration, Cooperation Jackson looks to black freedom organizers like Fannie Lou Hamer, who, in 1969, helped found the Freedom Farm Cooperative in Sunflower County, Mississippi, which was aimed at boosting food security and independence for Black community members who faced systematic dispossession. The Federation of Southern Cooperatives, meanwhile, has played a critical role in protecting those communities on the front lines of Black freedom and civil rights movements.

According to Akuno, now is a time to fortify infrastructure for autonomy and resistance. “That’s where co-ops, land trusts, time banking, mutual exchange, community production, and other new social relationships come in,” he said. “We want to build society in a prefigurative way. We want a guaranteed level of food security and energy security. We need bottom-up solutions to sustain ourselves and transform the world.”

Towards this end, Cooperation Jackson is building three green cooperatives, as well as an eco-village aimed, protected by a community land trust. These bottom-up alternatives are coupled with a push for policies aimed at a “just transition” away from policies that worsen climate change and environmental racism.

In materials emailed to AlterNet, the organization explained that its approach is “premised on ending our systemic dependence on the hydro-carbon industry and the capitalist driven need for endless growth on a planet with limited resources, while creating a new, democratic economy that is centered around sustainable methods of production and distribution that are more localized and cooperatively owned and controlled.”

“We need to be building participatory democratic structures from below,” Akuno emphasized. “We should be building people’s assemblies, not as a substitute of the state, but to deal with areas where the neoliberal state is failing to provide basic social services.”

Learning from history

“This moment calls us to really look at our collective history critically,” said Akuno. “In reality, this is not a democratic society, never has been. But, it’s based on democratic myths, not the concrete practice of democracy. We can look at the struggles of indigenous, Black, Xican@, Puerto Rican communities and draw new lessons. We can win genuine multiracial class unity that can benefit us during this time of struggle.”

Akuno emphasized that there are plenty of lessons to be learned from struggles around the world. “In the 1950s through 80s, movements fought the right-wing neo-fascist dictatorships of Argentina and Chile,” he said. “It took decades to turn the tide, people were organizing on an underground basis after most of the left was liquidated. How folks organized and delegitimized the regime—I think there’s a lot to be learned from that.”

From South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement to Spain’s civil war to 1930s-era Germany, Akuno emphasized that we need to “use history as a guide.” But he also underscored that we have to recognize what is unique about this moment, which he says emerges from a uniquely American legacy of “white supremacy in its segregationist apartheid form.”

“The orientation we’re taking is not just about surviving Trump, but drawing attention to the fact that the system was already heading towards more severe types of repression, surveillance and austerity,” he said. “We’re also looking at the global dynamics as to why right-wing populism and fascism is spreading internationally.”

What is clear, says Akuno, is that the right-wing populism of the Trump administration will not be defeated by civil discourse and liberal democracy. He emphasized, “If we are serious and steadfast, we can create a clear and comprehensive message around being ungovernable.”

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet.

IMAGE: Cooperation Jackson

The Racial Wealth Divide In America Is Staggering

The Racial Wealth Divide In America Is Staggering

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

After predicating his presidential campaign on racist incitement against Muslims, immigrants and Black Lives Matter, President-elect Donald Trump set to work appointing a cabinet that, so far, is setting new records as the wealthiest, and least diverse, in American history. In less than a month, that administration will take the White House of a country that faces the highest levels of wealth disparities along racial lines in nearly three decades.

The Pew Research Center determined in June that white homes possess roughly 13 times the wealth of their black counterparts. Analysis of federal government data also determined that black people in the United States are at least two times as likely as white people to be poor or unemployed. Meanwhile, homes headed by a black person “earn on average little more than half of what the average white households earns,” Pew concluded.

A separate Pew report concluded in 2014 that the wealth gap between white and black people in the United States is at its highest point since 1989.

Those findings were followed by a separate report released in August by the the Institute for Policy Studies and the Corporation for Enterprise Development found that, if economic trends over the past three decades continue on pace, it “will take black families 228 years to amass the same amount of wealth white families have today.” It would take Latino families 84 years to accrue the same wealth as their white counterparts.

The study projects that, by 2043, when people of color are projected to comprise a majority of the U.S. population, the wealth divide with white families on one side and Latino and black families on the other while be double current levels.

“This growing wealth divide is no accident,” states the report. “Rather, it is the natural result of public policies past and present that have either been purposefully or thoughtlessly designed to widen the economic chasm between White households and households of color and between the wealthy and everyone else. In the absence of significant reforms, the racial wealth divide—and overall wealth inequality—are on track to become even wider in the future.”

This economic divide dovetails with racial segregation on the neighborhood level. A report authored by Century Foundation fellow Paul Jargowsky in 2015 found that “more than one in four of the black poor and nearly one in six of the Hispanic poor lives in a neighborhood of extreme poverty, compared to one in thirteen of the white poor.”

“Through exclusionary zoning and outright housing market discrimination, the upper-middle class and affluent could move to the suburbs, and the poor were left behind,” he writes. “Public and assisted housing units were often constructed in ways that reinforced existing spatial disparities. Now, with gentrification driving up property values, rents, and taxes in many urban cores, some of the poor are moving out of central cities into decaying inner-ring suburbs.”

Impacted communities have long been sounding the alarm about this trend. In their policy platform released earlier this year, the Movement for Black Lives proclaimed, “We demand economic justice for all and a reconstruction of the economy to ensure Black communities have collective ownership, not merely access.”

The platform states, “Together, we demand an end to the wars against Black people. We demand that the government repair the harms that have been done to Black communities in the form of reparations and targeted long-term investments. We also demand a defunding of the systems and institutions that criminalize and cage us.”

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.

IMAGE: AFP Photo/Mladen Antonov

Over 1,000 Communities Across The U.S. Have 4x The Lead Poisoning Of Flint, Michigan

Over 1,000 Communities Across The U.S. Have 4x The Lead Poisoning Of Flint, Michigan

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Flint, Michigan’s lead-poisoned water crisis, which erupted in 2014, shined a global spotlight on the dangerous confluence of austerity, poverty and environmental racism. A new in-depth investigation by Reuters finds that Flint is far from alone, with nearly 3,000 areas nationwide facing lead poisoning rates “at least double those in Flint during the peak of that city’s contamination crisis.” In 1,100 of those communities, residents had lead levels in their blood that were four times higher than those found in Flint.

Journalists M.B. Pell and Joshua Schneyer made these determinations by examining neighborhood-level data from state health departments and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “The poisoned places on this map stretch from Warren, Pennsylvania, a town on the Allegheny River where 36 percent of children tested had high lead levels, to a zip code on Goat Island, Texas, where a quarter of tests showed poisoning,” they wrote. “In some pockets of Baltimore, Cleveland and Philadelphia, where lead poisoning has spanned generations, the rate of elevated tests over the last decade was 40-50 percent.”

Reuters sent reporters to many of those impacted locations and they noted that “poverty remains a potent predictor of lead poisoning” but “victims span the American spectrum.” The report states that “Like Flint, many of these localities are plagued by legacy lead: crumbling paint, plumbing, or industrial waste left behind. Unlike Flint, many have received little attention or funding to combat poisoning.”

Lead poisoning can have irreversible impacts on the brain. According to the World Health Organization, “Young children are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead and can suffer profound and permanent adverse health effects, particularly affecting the development of the brain and nervous system. Lead also causes long-term harm in adults, including increased risk of high blood pressure and kidney damage. Exposure of pregnant women to high levels of lead can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth and low birth weight, as well as minor malformations.”

The CDC notes, “No safe blood lead level in children has been identified.”

“The disparities you’ve found between different areas have stark implications,” Dr. Helen Egger, chair of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center’s Child Study Center, told Reuters. “Where lead poisoning remains common, many children will have developmental delays and start out behind all the rest.”

In a February article published on Tom Dispatch, David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz referred to lead poisoning as America’s “coast-to-coast toxic crisis,” noting that it is rooted in political and economic factors. “[E]conomically and politically vulnerable black and Hispanic children, many of whom inhabit dilapidated older housing, still suffer disproportionately from the devastating effects of the toxin,” they wrote. “This is the meaning of institutional racism in action today.”

“As with the water flowing into homes from the pipes of Flint’s water system,” they continued, “so the walls of its apartment complexes, not to mention those in poor neighborhoods of Detroit, Baltimore, Washington, and virtually every other older urban center in the country, continue to poison children exposed to lead-polluted dust, chips, soil, and air.”

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet.

IMAGE: Volunteers distribute bottled water to help combat the effects of the crisis when the city’s drinking water became contaminated with dangerously high levels of lead in Flint, Michigan, March 5, 2016.  REUTERS/Jim Young  


Kushner Newspaper Publishes Op-Ed Urging FBI Crackdown On Protests

Kushner Newspaper Publishes Op-Ed Urging FBI Crackdown On Protests

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

The New York Observer, a newspaper owned by Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, published an opinion piece last Friday calling for the FBI to launch a coordinated crackdown on nationwide anti-Trump protests, mobilizations, and recount efforts.

Titled “Comey’s FBI Needs to Investigate Violent Democratic Tantrums,” the article was written by Austin Bay, a retired U.S. Army Reserve colonel and adjunct professor at the University of Texas in Austin.

Kushner, who is married to Ivanka Trump, purchased a majority stake in the New York Observer in 2006 for roughly $10 million and currently operates as the outlet’s publisher.

Bay’s opinion piece appeals to FBI director James Comey to “conduct a detailed investigation into the violence and political thuggery that continue to mar the presidential election’s aftermath,” including a “thorough probe of the protests—to include possible ties to organizations demanding vote recounts.”

“The hard left’s violent reaction to Donald Trump’s election is vile and dangerous,” writes Bay. “Peaceful protests? No, the demonstrators vandalize and destroy. They have two goals: intimidating people and sustaining the mainstream media lie that Donald Trump is dangerous.”

The piece raises fears of “communists,” smears the Black Lives Matter movement as violent and even raises alarm about the multi-billionaire George Soros. “Sure, there are a lot of fringe theories out there about Soros,” writes Bay. “But Soros has a record for funding leftist political action.”

Bay also tars grassroots campaigns urging electors to honor the popular vote and keep Trump from the White House. “Reports that members of the Electoral College are being harassed and threatened by angry, vicious (and likely Democratic Party) malcontents require Comey’s quick and systematic attention,” Bay writes.

Jim Naureckas, editor of Extra!, the media watchdog magazine of Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting, told AlterNet that Bay’s op-ed is one of the most disturbing things he has seen since the election. “To have the incoming ruler’s son-in-law using his paper to call for the federal police to investigate protests against the ruler, that is pretty far gone,” he said. “It struck me as a ‘first they came for the communists’ moment.”

“He ties up this conspiracy of protesters, people seeking recounts and George Soros into one vast conspiracy that the FBI ought to get to the bottom of,” Naureckas continued. “It shows you the outlines of how you would justify a complete crackdown on dissent. It’s frightening.”

Naureckas said it does not matter that Kushner himself did not write the piece. “This publication is literally in the family,” he said. “This paper has been an organ of the Trump movement from the beginning, and it is owned by one of the closest confidants Trump has. The idea of sending the secret police after protesters is an incredibly dangerous idea, and it must be repudiated.”

The opinion piece comes amid mounting concerns over the incoming administration of Trump, who has vowed to ban Muslims from entering the country, carry out torture, deport more than 11 million immigrants and crack down on the free press by “open[ing] up” libel laws. So far, Trump has unveiled an alarming bevy of far-right administration appointees, including White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who headed the white nationalist publication Breitbart, and Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions, who was deemed too racist to serve as a federal judge under the Reagan administration.

Throughout his campaign, Trump repeatedly incited violence against anti-racist protesters at his rallies. In February, Trump said of a protester at one of his Las Vegas campaign events, “I’d like to punch him in the face.” He added that, “in the old days,” such protesters would be “carried out in stretchers.”

When protests swept the country following Trump’s victory in the electoral college, Trump took to Twitter to condemn the mobilizations as “very unfair” and falsely painted participants as paid agents who are “incited by the media.”

Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the election there has been a spike in hate crimes across the country. The Southern Poverty Law Center documents at least 867 “post-election hate incidents,” noting that “K-12 settings and colleges” have been “the most common venues for hate incidents.”  The hate crime monitoring organization notes that this is likely a drastic undercount, as not all such incidents are reported to authorities.

Stephen Zunes, a professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco, told AlterNet that the demonstrations that the New York Observer article took aim at “are constitutionally protected exercises in free speech.” He warned that, “Combined with the recent bipartisan legislation in Congress to crack down on pro-Palestinian activism on college campuses, this may presage a serious crackdown on civil liberties in the coming years.”

 Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet. A former staff writer for Common Dreams, she coedited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.

IMAGE: Stephen Bannon, (R) senior advisor to President-elect Donald Trump and Jared Kushner (L) walk from Trump’s plane upon their arrival in Indianapolis, December 1, 2016.  REUTERS/Mike Segar

How The U.S. and U.N. Created A Major Cholera Outbreak In Haiti

How The U.S. and U.N. Created A Major Cholera Outbreak In Haiti

Scientists say the warming of the ocean due to human-made climate change has intensified mega-storms like Hurricane Matthew, which recently tore through the Caribbean and parts of the United States, killing more than 1,000 people in Haiti alone, according to some estimates.

Now, with 1.4 million Haitians in need of emergency assistance, Haiti is bracing for another human-made disaster: a resurgence of its cholera outbreak, which dates to the aftermath of the catastrophic 2010 earthquake.

It took six years for the United Nations to publicly acknowledge what the scientific community has long known: the cholera epidemic was introduced to Haiti by U.N. peacekeepers, originating at one of the global organization’s camps in the upper Artibonite River valley, and from there, spreading through the country’s crumbling water system. The global failure to swiftly acknowledge the source of the outbreak and take aggressive action to eradicate it, has left the country vulnerable to the new uptick in infections.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said last week that it expects “an important upsurge in cholera cases in Haiti after Hurricane Matthew, given the context of flooding and the storm’s impact on water and sanitation infrastructure.”

“Water and sanitary conditions are expected to worsen due to the effects of Hurricane Matthew,” said Ciro Ugarte, the head of PAHO’s Program on Health Emergencies. “Efforts were already being directed to control the current epidemic of cholera and the high levels of vector-borne and water-borne diseases, but there is a limited capacity to respond to those challenges.”

Dominique Legros, cholera expert for the World Health Organization, told reporters Tuesday that there have been roughly 200 new cases after Hurricane Matthew. “It is more than usual. I know it is a sharp increase compared to [the] usual figures,” he said.

While cholera is preventable and easily treated under the right conditions, it has torn a devastating path through Haiti. Since October 2010, there have been more than 790,000 reported cases, and more than 9,300 people have been killed by the disease, according to PAHO. At its worst point in 2011, the epidemic was infecting 6,766 people every week. While cases continue, they have declined significantly, from 300,000 in 2011 to roughly 36,000 in 2015.

An expert panel convened by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon concluded in a 2011 report that cholera spread from a U.N. peacekeepers camp in the upper Artibonite River valley to the Meye Tributary system, which is used by “tens of thousands” of people for “washing, bathing, drinking and recreation.” Poor sanitation infrastructure caused human waste to contaminate the river system, leading to Haiti’s first cholera case in more than 100 years.

Numerous other scientific studies also pointed toward the role of the peacekeepers. Julianna LeMieux, senior fellow in molecular biology at the American Council on Science and Health, recently wrote, “The scientific community has known for years that the U.N. brought cholera to Haiti.”

Yet it was not until six years after the U.N. report came out—in August 2016—that the global institution made a nod to responsibility for its role in spreading the outbreak in Haiti, with spokesperson Farhan Haq proclaiming that “the U.N. has become convinced that it needs to do much more regarding its own involvement in the initial outbreak and the suffering of those affected by cholera.”

This statement fell short of a full apology for the years that the U.N. spent denying its role in introducing the outbreak. Meanwhile, the U.N. continues to fight legal efforts by Haitian victims to win restitution, claiming immunity from a complaint filed on behalf of 5,000 victims of cholera. According to the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, the victims are demanding that the United Nations, “Install a national water and sanitation system that will control the epidemic; compensate individual victims of cholera for their losses; and issue a public apology from the United Nations for its wrongful acts.”

Dan Beeton, international communications director for the Center for Economic and Policy Research, told AlterNet that the new wave of cholera infections could have been avoided “had there been a serious effort to eradicate cholera. What we’ve seen since the epidemic started six years ago is a focus on treatment during the rainy season when infections go up, but during the dry season people back off, so the epidemic remains.”

In a prescient warning, CEPR researchers Jake Johnston and Keane Bhatt wrote in 2011 that “health interventions launched to fight cholera have been hobbled by the initial missteps made in the wake of the epidemic. The international community underestimated the virulence of the outbreak; the U.N. initially denied responsibility for its introduction; and there was hesitation in investigating the circumstances surrounding its appearance.”  At the same time, the U.N.-backed National Plan for the Elimination of Cholera in Haiti, 2013-2022, remains woefully under-funded, with the medium-term plan only 22 percent pledged and under 11 percent disbursed.

Some U.S. lawmakers are directing criticism toward the U.N., with 158 members of Congress who wrote a letter to John Kerry in June calling on the State Department to “immediately and unreservedly exercise its leadership to ensure that the United Nations take concrete steps to eliminate the cholera epidemic introduced to Haiti in 2010 by waste from a U.N. peacekeeper camp, and to comply with its legal and moral obligations to provide cholera victims with access to an effective remedy.”

However, this finger-pointing deflects from the central role that the U.S. played in setting the stage for the post-earthquake crisis, by undermining efforts to improve the country’s public water infrastructure. A paper published 2013 by the journal of the National Institutes of Health found that “Haiti has the lowest rates of access to improved water and sanitation infrastructure in the western hemisphere. This situation was likely exacerbated by the earthquake in 2010 and also contributed to the rapid spread of the cholera epidemic that started later that same year.”

The U.S. government bears responsibility for keeping Haiti’s water system in a state of disrepair. According to a report released in 2008 by Partners In Health, Zanmi Lasante, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice and the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center, the U.S. government clandestinely undermined a $54 million loan granted in 1998 by the Inter-American Development Bank to the Haitian government to improve its outdated water system. According to the report, the U.S. was motivated by the desire to destabilize Haiti’s elected government under then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

However, the report notes that the root causes date back further. “Continual requirements to pay its debilitating debts—which date back to its early days of independence, when Haiti was essentially forced to purchase its freedom from the French for an exorbitant sum, and which has further amassed during two centuries of political turmoil, foreign occupation, and corruption—have left the Haitian government unable to funnel its limited resources into social infrastructure programs like water and sanitation systems, with catastrophic effects on the health and well-being of the Haitian people,” the report states.

Reprinted by permission from Alternet. Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet. A former staff writer for Common Dreams, she coedited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.

IMAGE: People are treated at a cholera treatment center at a hospital after Hurricane Matthew passed through Jeremie, Haiti, October 11, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia 

Citing Humanitarian Nightmare, Aid Agencies Are Pulling From Europe’s Refugee Prisons

Citing Humanitarian Nightmare, Aid Agencies Are Pulling From Europe’s Refugee Prisons

This article originally appeared on Alternet.

“We will not allow our assistance to be instrumentalized for a mass expulsion operation,” declared Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) official Marie Elisabeth Ingres this week, joining the chorus of major humanitarian institutions pulling their operations from Greek island refugee “hotpots” that have been transformed into nightmarish prisons. “[W]e refuse to be part of a system that has no regard for the humanitarian or protection needs of asylum seekers and migrants.”

As ever-increasing numbers of war and poverty survivors reach Greek islands, the land masses have become ground zero for a newly escalated European Union crackdown, which decrees: “All new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands as from 20 March 2016 will be returned to Turkey.” Before being subject to mass expulsion, refugees are being forcibly held in “hotspots” that were created under a separate EU agreement last year.

The United Nations Refugee Agency wrote Tuesday that, since the deal went into effect, 934 people had arrived in Lesvos alone and are “being held at a closed registration and temporary accommodation site in Moria on the east of the island.” Numerous humanitarian organizations testify that the sanitation and public health conditions at this location are dismal.

The UN agency said it has, until now, “been supporting the authorities in the so-called ‘hotspots’ on the Greek islands, where refugees and migrants were received, assisted, and registered. Under the new provisions, these sites have now become detention facilities. Accordingly, and in line with our policy on opposing mandatory detention, we have suspended some of our activities at all closed centers on the islands. This includes provision of transport to and from these sites.”

Now, other organizations that have been providing critical humanitarian support for the people at Moria—from medical care to hygiene assistance to daily essentials—say they can no longer do so in good conscience.

In a statement released Thursday, the humanitarian NGO Oxfam announced it is suspending all aid operations in the Moria camp to “protest to the suspension of migrants’ rights by the EU and Turkey.” This is the same location that MSF is also withdrawing from.

Giovanni Riccardi Candiani, country representative for Oxfam in Greece, rebuked the detention of people “who committed no crime and who have risked their lives in search of security and a better future.” He added: “Our withdrawal from Moria is a tragic testament of how the migration crisis is gradually developing into a moral crisis in Europe.”

Citing similar concerns, NGOs are pulling from “hotspots” at numerous Greek islands. Save the Children announced Wednesday that it has suspended all activities on Lesvos, Chios, Samos, Kos and Leros “related to supporting basic services at all detention centers on the Greek islands due to extreme concerns that newly-arrived vulnerable children and their families are in danger of unlawful and unjustified custody for sustained periods of time.”

“We already know that among those being detained are unaccompanied children who are particularly vulnerable as they require specialist support and protection which they cannot receive in their current environment, and we remind authorities that the detention of children is unlawful and never in their best interests,” said Janti Soeripto, interim CEO the international non-governmental organization.

Meanwhile, the Norwegian Refugee Council announced that it is halting activities at the Vial “hotspot” in Chios, noting that, as of March 20, location “has changed from an open registration facility into a closed detention center.”

The horrific treatment of refugees and migrants, meanwhile, does not stop at the makeshift prisons. Those deported to Turkey face a country where Iraqis and Afghans, by law, cannot receive refugee status—and are therefore subject to forcible deportations.

According to Amnesty International, the very day that the EU refugee crackdown was announced, roughly 30 Afghan asylum seekers were deported to Afghanistan by Turkish authorities. “The ink wasn’t even dry on the EU-Turkey deal when several dozen Afghans were forced back to a country where their lives could be in danger,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s director for Europe and Central Asia.

Meanwhile, in perhaps the most cynical aspect of the EU deal, Syrian refugees are cast as bargaining chips to be traded with Turkey, currently home to an estimated 1.9 million refugees. “For every Syrian being returned to Turkey from Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled from Turkey to the EU,” the agreement states. It is not clear what this resettlement to the EU will look like, and reports are emerging that caps have been set extremely low.

Meanwhile, humanitarian crises are breaking out at the Athens port of Piraeus in Greece—a country whose people and public infrastructure have been ravaged by EU-enforced austerity policies. Human Rights Watch reports that thousands of asylum-seekers and migrants at the port face “appalling conditions as the crisis for people trapped in Greece due to border closures intensifies.”

Eva Cossé, Greece specialist at HRW, said: “The suffering in Piraeus is a direct consequence of Europe’s failure to respond in a legal and compassionate way to the crisis on its shores.”

“I’m diabetic, my leg was amputated because of the diabetes,” Muhammad, a 60-year-old Syrian man in a wheelchair, told HRW researchers at Piraeus. “All day and all night I’m sitting in my wheelchair.” Muhammed reportedly explained that he and his family have applied with the EU for relocation to Sweden, to join relatives there. “If they tell me to go to to Turkey, I’ll go to Syria,” he said. “I’d rather die in my land. We’re Kurds, we don’t feel safe in Turkey.”

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet. A former staff writer for Common Dreams, she coedited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.

Photo: Migrants and refugees stand by a fence at a makeshift camp at the Greek-Macedonian border near the village of Idomeni, Greece, March 27, 2016. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

Have We Learned Nothing? 13 Years After America’s Disastrous Iraq Invasion, Obama Quietly Deploys More Troops

Have We Learned Nothing? 13 Years After America’s Disastrous Iraq Invasion, Obama Quietly Deploys More Troops

This article originally appeared in Alternet.

It has been thirteen years since former president George W. Bush sat in the Oval Office and announced the invasion and large-scale bombing of Iraq to “free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.”

That war and occupation would go on to take the lives of over one million Iraqi people, according to some estimates, and leave behind decimated infrastructure, environmental poison, a sectarian political system and the conditions that fueled the rise of the “Islamic State.”

Met with the largest coordinated global protests in human history, the 2003 invasion was, for people in Iraq, one of many violent U.S. interventions in the country.

As the Iraqi Transnational Collective recently documented, it has been 25 years since the U.S. attacked a bomb shelter in Baghdad’s Amiriyah neighborhood, killing 403 civilians as part of “Operation Desert Storm” assault on cities, infrastructure and people. The brutal U.S. sanctions regime during the ‘90s is estimated to have killed at least half-a-million children – a death toll that was cruelly described in 1996 by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as “worth” the price.

Now, on the anniversary of a war that is broadly considered to be a disaster of epic proportions, and even acknowledged as a mistake by some who initially rallied behind the invasion, the Obama administration is quietly deploying more troops to the country. These deployments come despite the president’s previous pledges that there would be no “boots on the ground” in military operations against the “Islamic State,” which have now been waged in Iraq and Syria for roughly a year-and-a-half.

U.S. Central Command announced on Sunday that it has assigned “a detachment of U.S. Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit to the support of Iraqi Security Force and Coalition ground operations.” The military did not disclose the specific number of marines who will be deployed to a country where there are already nearly 4,000 U.S. troops on the ground.

That announcement came one day after the Pentagon announced that Marine Staff Sergeant Louis F. Cardin was killed by rocket fire on a base near Makhmour, located southeast of Mosul.

CNN’s Barbara Starr reported over the weekend that the firebase had not been previously disclosed to the public and was only revealed by Cardin’s death.

An unnamed defense official told CNN that the Pentagon had been planning to reveal the existence of a “couple hundred” marines living in tents near Makhmour. However, such claims are questionable, given the military’s repeated failure to share the most basic information about its ongoing wars, including civilians it has killed in Iraq and Syria.

“The fact that the U.S. is sending undisclosed numbers of marines back to Iraq is a sad indication that the the Obama administration’s policy in the country does not depart from the policies of former administrations,” Raed Jarrar, government relations manager for the American Friends Service Committee, told AlterNet. “In addition to direct military intervention, the U.S. is also sending Iraq weapons and military aid. It is indirectly supporting human rights violations and war crimes committed by our partner in the country.”

“Obama ran on a platform of ending the Iraq War,” Jarrar continued. “The U.S. has been engaged in military intervention in Iraq since 1991, and Obama is the fourth consecutive president who seems to be following the same unfortunate policies of continuing to interfere in Iraq militarily and continuing to be part of the problem.

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet. A former staff writer for Common Dreams, Sarah co-edited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.

Photo: Iraqi soldiers train with members of the U.S. Army 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, at Camp Taji, Iraq, in this U.S. Army photo released June 2, 2015.