Category Archives: Leftists in the U.S. South
Visit http://www.occupytogether.com for information on your local “Occupy” event
From a New York Times article
The once-booming South, which entered the recession with the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, is now struggling with some of the highest rates, recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show.
Several Southern states — including South Carolina, whose 11.1 percent unemployment rate is the fourth highest in the nation — have higher unemployment rates than they did a year ago. Unemployment in the South is now higher than it is in the Northeast and the Midwest, which include Rust Belt states that were struggling even before the recession.
For decades, the nation’s economic landscape consisted of a prospering Sun Belt and a struggling Rust Belt. Since the recession hit, though, that is no longer the case. Unemployment remains high across much of the country — the national rate is 9.1 percent — but the regions have recovered at different speeds.
Now, though, of the states with the 10 highest unemployment rates, six are in the South. The region, which relied heavily on manufacturing and construction, was hit hard by the downturn.
Economists offer a variety of explanations for the South’s performance. “For a long time we tended to outpace the national average with regard to economic performance, and a lot of that was driven by, for lack of a better word, development and in-migration,” said Michael Chriszt, an assistant vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s research department. “That came to an abrupt halt, and it has not picked up.”
The recent execution of Troy Davis has caused many to again discuss the merits of the death penalty in the United States. (It also sparked a mass march in New York City that was met with a heavy handed police response). According to the Daily Beast, the South has the highest execution rate in the country, as well as the highest murder rate. On top of that, the incarceration capital of the world is a southern city: New Orleans.
These renewed debates not only bring into question broad topics like the death penalty itself, but they should also let us contextualize them in a regional sense. We should begin asking why is the South the home to so many problems still (to throw yet another one in there: the South is “bearing the brunt” of the US’s raising poverty rate). There are plenty of answers to the question of why the South faces these problems. But one thing should be quite clear, it is something often repeated on this site: the South remains an important part of the country to organize progressive forces.
Amongst the many lessons we learned from the Troy Davis incident (to steal the ANSWER coalition’s article title), we should also add the lesson that the world pays attention to the South, not only to the injustices that happen there but to the folks that organize against those injustices.
[This article was originally posted on Liberation News]
Victory shows power of solidarityAugust 1, 2011Working-class unity and courageous struggle made the difference for Ikea workers in Danville, Va.
Workers at the first U.S. Ikea factory in Danville, Va., voted in favor of union representation on July 24. Winning by a landslide margin of 76 percent, or 221 to 69, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers successfully concluded a three-year struggle at the factory.
Swedwood, the Ikea subsidiary that runs the Virginia plant, forced its workers to endure low pay, cuts to starting pay, firings, unsafe conditions and long hours. African-American workers also faced discrimination, constantly being assigned to the lowest-paying departments and least-desirable shifts. Management also hired the union-busting firm of Jackson Lewis to intimidate workers.
It was through solidarity, one of the most powerful weapons in the working-class arsenal, that this election was won.
“This struggle was global, with support and assistance from every continent by more than 120,000 workers, various social partners, and many other global union federations,” said Bill Street, union organizer and director of the Wood Works Department of IAMAW. (BWI, July 27)
Once certified as the representative of the employees at the Danville factory, the union hopes to resolve these pressing issues. People have already begun expressing their support and gratitude.
“So we can have a voice. So we can all be heard and have another leg we can stand on when we need to,” said worker Coretta Giles, explaining why she supports the union. (Danville Register & Bee, July 27)
It was working-class unity and courageous struggle that secured this first step in the fight for justice at the Swedwood/Ikea factory. The struggle in Danville shows that no matter how bad a situation seems, workers can defend their rights by standing up and fighting back!
[This article originally appears on workers.org]
Tens of thousands of immigrants and their supporters filled blocks of Atlanta’s downtown streets on July 2 wearing white, carrying beautiful banners and hand-printed signs, and chanting nonstop in English and Spanish.
Many of the slogans referenced HB 87, Georgia’s “show me your papers” legislation, which authorizes local police to act as immigration agents and is designed to intimidate undocumented workers into leaving the state.
The march was led by members of the Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance (GUYA), who are challenging the restrictions on their future and calling for passage of the DREAM Act. Banners called for an end to the raids and deportations.
Many children carried signs pleading not to deport their parents. Challenging the racist aspects of the law, a huge banner depicting a strong Latina declared: “Brown Is Beautiful.” Numerous signs referenced the millions of dollars already lost to the state’s agricultural economy as crops rotted in the fields for lack of skilled farmworkers.
Four counties in Georgia operate under 287(g) agreements that have resulted in the detention and deportation of thousands of immigrants, most of whom were arrested for traffic infractions. The largest, privately operated detention center is in the town of Lumpkin and holds some 1,900 men.
Corrections Corporation of America, which operates the Stewart Detention Center there, has been denounced for its profiteering off the separation of immigrant families.
The failure of the Obama administration and Congress to address legalization and a just immigration policy was addressed in chants and on placards.
In response to a call by the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR), protesters came from across the state, from as far as Valdosta, Dalton, Columbus and Rome. Supporters from North Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee and as far away as Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arizona, California and New York joined the protest.
Week of intense struggle
The march and rally at the Georgia State Capitol capped off a week of intense struggle by immigrant communities and human rights advocates.
On June 27 a federal district judge agreed to grant a temporary injunction suspending two sections of HB 87, scheduled to be enacted on July 1. Judge Thomas Thrash stopped Georgia from giving law enforcement agencies throughout the state the power to detain and arrest anyone who could not show sufficient identification following any violation, no matter how minor, including traffic stops or jaywalking. He also prevented the implementation of a provision that would make it illegal to knowingly transport or harbor an undocumented person.
This is the fourth federal court that has barred states from assuming responsibility for enforcing immigration policies.
While immigrant and civil rights activists hailed this victory in stopping two of the most egregious sections of HB 87, Georgia law now makes it a crime to use false documents to secure a job, punishable by 15 years in prison. Starting in January, most private employers will be required to use the federal E-Verify system, known to be flawed, to ascertain the legality of new hires. Citizens will be able to sue elected officials for failing to uphold HB 87.
The day after the federal ruling, GUYA held a “Coming Out of the Shadows” rally inside the state Capitol building where five young people from Georgia and one from New York told their stories. Each concluded by saying their name and that they were “undocumented and unafraid.”
At an outside rally, longtime civil rights leaders and members of the African-American religious community proclaimed their support for the immigrants’ rights movement. They applauded the role of young people in confronting injustice, risking their lives and safety to bring about needed change.
Dressed in caps and gowns, the students led a crowd of hundreds in a march around Georgia State University, one of the state’s five institutions of higher education which the Georgia legislature has banned undocumented youth from attending.
Their lead banner read “Undocumented, Unafraid, Unashamed, Unapologetic!”
Returning to the Capitol, the students spread a large canvas with the words “We Will No Longer Remain in the Shadows” in the intersection and sat down surrounded by supporters. Traffic was brought to a standstill. Eventually, many police arrived and arrested the six. As each heroic youth was taken to a police car, dozens of chanting young people surrounded them and the vehicle.
All six were charged with multiple state offenses. Three were released to their parents’ custody because they were under 17. The other three spent the night in the Fulton County Jail and were then released on their own recognizance with an August court date.
This was the second such civil disobedience action in Atlanta with undocumented youth risking deportation to press the issue of the status of children who have spent most of their lives in the United States and have no path to legalization. Without papers, they cannot get a driver’s license, find employment, receive public benefits or attend Georgia’s top five universities, regardless of their grades.
July 1 strike spurs resistance
During the week, a number of community meetings were held in metro Atlanta to provide information in multiple languages — from Korean and Chinese to Portuguese and Spanish — about the impact of HB 87 and the injunction. Similar events were organized around the state, including one in Dalton where people were particularly concerned about police roadblocks in immigrant neighborhoods. Students and community members held a rally in Athens on June 30 at the gates to the University of Georgia, one of the universities barred to undocumented students.
On July 1, the day HB 87 went into effect, GLAHR called for a “Day without Immigrants,” a stay-at-home strike where people would not work, shop or go about their usual business. More than 125 businesses owned by immigrants, from beauty shops to food markets, closed that day in solidarity. Restaurant, construction, landscaping, hotel and other workers took the day off. Shopping mall parking lots in immigrant communities were empty.
People outside Georgia are encouraged to cancel any conventions, reunions, meetings or vacations as part of the “Boycott of a State of Hate.”
Volunteers are coming from throughout the country this summer to help build local resistance to HB 87 and other anti-immigrant legislation. A campaign to identify “BuySpots” and “Sanctuary Zones” will identify businesses that agree to publicly oppose HB 87 by refusing to allow police into their establishments to check people’s identification without a warrant and by pledging not to financially support elected officials who promote anti-immigrant legislation.
Already many bookstores, restaurants, clothing and record stores, markets, beauty and barber shops display the BuySpot sign. Churches and other religious institutions, community centers, homeless shelters and other public gathering sites that make a similar pledge will be identified as Sanctuary Zones. For more information, visit WeAreGeorgia.org.
It is hot in Georgia during any summer, but this summer the heat will be on right-wing politicians, spotlighted by a rising people’s movement engaging thousands of workers, youth and women. They are stepping out of the shadows, undocumented and unafraid.
Alabama recently passed a new anti-immigrant law that many have described as “more harsh” than the controversial anti-immigrant law in Arizona that essentially promotes racial profiling (this argument is focused on the fact that folks can be questioned for being “suspected of” being an undocumented worker). Georgia recently passed a similar law, making the South the center of the immigration debate.
As usual, both sides of the “mainstream” debate fall short of getting to the real issues at heart: the real manifestations of racism, and international labor relations (see NAFTA as an important variable to immigration itself). Even the “liberal” arguments against these laws are full of sentiments like “well immigrants do the jobs no one else wants to do for that price.” This line of logic is just as problematic as the more “overtly racist” arguments by the far-Right, in that the “servant class” role for undocumented workers is seen as justified or not problematic itself.
Florida also recently attempted to pass a similar law, but the state legislature as not unified and faced a strong activist response (with the Florida Capitol looking a lot like the halls of the Wisconsin Capitol for a few days).
These laws need to be fought with a mass movement based on solidarity and workers power.
The following video was produced by the Florida AFL-CIO about the actions that workers took to fight back against the reactionary legislature in Florida.
[This originally appeared on Common Dreams]
It’s become a TV ritual: Every year on April 4, as Americans commemorate Martin Luther King’s death, we get perfunctory network news reports about “the slain civil rights leader.”
The remarkable thing about these reviews of King’s life is that several years — his last years — are totally missing, as if flushed down a memory hole.
What TV viewers see is a closed loop of familiar file footage: King battling desegregation in Birmingham (1963); reciting his dream of racial harmony at the rally in Washington (1963); marching for voting rights in Selma, Alabama (1965); and finally, lying dead on the motel balcony in Memphis (1968).
An alert viewer might notice that the chronology jumps from 1965 to 1968. Yet King didn’t take a sabbatical near the end of his life. In fact, he was speaking and organizing as diligently as ever.
Almost all of those speeches were filmed or taped. But they’re not shown today on TV.
It’s because national news media have never come to terms with what Martin Luther King Jr. stood for during his final years.
In the early 1960s, when King focused his challenge on legalized racial discrimination in the South, most major media were his allies. Network TV and national publications graphically showed the police dogs and bullwhips and cattle prods used against Southern blacks who sought the right to vote or to eat at a public lunch counter.
But after passage of civil rights acts in 1964 and 1965, King began challenging the nation’s fundamental priorities. He maintained that civil rights laws were empty without “human rights” — including economic rights. For people too poor to eat at a restaurant or afford a decent home, King said, anti-discrimination laws were hollow.
Noting that a majority of Americans below the poverty line were white, King developed a class perspective. He decried the huge income gaps between rich and poor, and called for “radical changes in the structure of our society” to redistribute wealth and power.
“True compassion,” King declared, “is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”
By 1967, King had also become the country’s most prominent opponent of the Vietnam War, and a staunch critic of overall U.S. foreign policy, which he deemed militaristic. In his “Beyond Vietnam” speech delivered at New York’s Riverside Church on April 4, 1967 — a year to the day before he was murdered — King called the United States “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” (Full text/audio here. http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article2564.htm)
From Vietnam to South Africa to Latin America, King said, the U.S. was “on the wrong side of a world revolution.” King questioned “our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America,” and asked why the U.S. was suppressing revolutions “of the shirtless and barefoot people” in the Third World, instead of supporting them.
In foreign policy, King also offered an economic critique, complaining about “capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries.”
You haven’t heard the “Beyond Vietnam” speech on network news retrospectives, but national media heard it loud and clear back in 1967 — and loudly denounced it. Time magazine called it “demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi.” The Washington Post patronized that “King has diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people.”
In his last months, King was organizing the most militant project of his life: the Poor People’s Campaign. He crisscrossed the country to assemble “a multiracial army of the poor” that would descend on Washington — engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience at the Capitol, if need be — until Congress enacted a poor people’s bill of rights. Reader’s Digest warned of an “insurrection.”
King’s economic bill of rights called for massive government jobs programs to rebuild America’s cities. He saw a crying need to confront a Congress that had demonstrated its “hostility to the poor” — appropriating “military funds with alacrity and generosity,” but providing “poverty funds with miserliness.”
How familiar that sounds today, nearly 40 years after King’s efforts on behalf of the poor people’s mobilization were cut short by an assassin’s bullet.
In 2007, in this nation of immense wealth, the White House and most in Congress continue to accept the perpetuation of poverty. They fund foreign wars with “alacrity and generosity,” while being miserly in dispensing funds for education and healthcare and environmental cleanup.
And those priorities are largely unquestioned by mainstream media. No surprise that they tell us so little about the last years of Martin Luther King’s life.