Thursday, February 23, 2012

Bradley Manning, Solitary Confinement and Occupy 4 Prisoners, By Bill Quigley

Today US Army Private Bradley Manning is to be formally charged with numerous crimes at Fort Meade, Maryland. Manning, who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by members of the Icelandic Parliament, is charged with releasing hundreds of thousands of documents exposing secrets of the US government to the whistleblower website Wikileaks. These documents exposed lies, corruption and crimes by the US and other countries. The Bradley Manning defense team points out accurately that much of what was published by Wikileaks was either not actually secret or should not have been secret.

The Manning prosecution is a tragic miscarriage of justice. US officials are highly embarrassed by what Manning exposed and are shooting the messenger. As Glen Greenwald, the terrific Salon writer, has observed, President Obama has prosecuted more whistleblowers for espionage than all other presidents combined.

One of the most outrageous parts of the treatment of Bradley Manning is that the US kept him in illegal and torturous solitary confinement conditions for months at the Quantico Marine base in Virginia. Keeping Manning in solitary confinement sparked challenges from many groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the ACLU and the New York Times.

Human rights’ advocates rightly point out that solitary confinement is designed to break down people mentally. Because of that, prolonged solitary confinement is internationally recognized as a form of torture. The conditions and practices of isolation are in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Convention against Torture, and the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination.

Medical experts say that after 60 days in solitary peoples’ mental state begins to break down. That means a person will start to experience panic, anxiety, confusion, headaches, heart palpitations, sleep problems, withdrawal, anger, depression, despair, and over-sensitivity. Over time this can lead to severe psychiatric trauma and harms like psychosis, distortion of reality, hallucinations, mass anxiety and acute confusion. Essentially, the mind disintegrates.

That is why the United Nations special rapporteur on torture sought to investigate Manning’s solitary confinement and reprimanded the US when the Army would not let him have an unmonitored visit.

History will likely judge Manning as heroic as it has Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers.

It is important to realize that tens of thousands of other people besides Manning are held in solitary confinement in the US today and every day. Experts estimate a minimum of 20,000 people are held in solitary in supermax prisons alone, not counting thousands of others in state and local prisons who are also held in solitary confinement. And solitary confinement is often forced on Muslim prisoners, even pre-trial people who are assumed innocent, under federal Special Administrative Measures.

In 1995, the U.N. Human Rights Committee stated that isolation conditions in certain U.S. maximum security prisons were incompatible with international standards. In 1996, the U.N. special rapporteur on torture reported on cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in U.S. supermax prisons. In 2000, the U.N. Committee on Torture roundly condemned the United States for its treatment of prisoners, citing supermax prisons. In May 2006, the same committee concluded that the United States should "review the regimen imposed on detainees in supermax prisons, in particular, the practice of prolonged isolation."

John McCain said his two years in solitary confinement were torture. "It crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance effectively than any other form of mistreatment." The reaction of McCain and many other victims of isolation torture were described in an excellent 2009 New Yorker article on isolation by Atul Gawande. Gawande concluded that prolonged isolation is objectively horrifying, intrinsically cruel, and more widespread in the U.S. than any country in the world.

This week hundreds of members of the Occupy movement merged forces with people advocating for human rights for prisoners in demonstrations in California, New York, Ohio, and Washington DC. They call themselves Occupy 4 Prisoners. Activists are working to create a social movement for serious and fundamental changes in the US criminal system.

One of the major complaints of prisoner human rights activists is the abuse of solitary confinement in prisons across the US. Prison activist Mumia Abu-Jamal said justice demands the end of solitary, “It means the abolition of solitary confinement, for it is no more than modern-day torture chambers for the poor.” Pelican Bay State Prison in California, the site of a hunger strike by hundreds of prisoners last year, holds over 1000 inmates in solitary confinement, some as long as 20 years.

At the Occupy Prisoners rally outside San Quentin prison, the three American hikers who were held for a year in Iran told of the psychological impact of 14 months of solitary confinement. Sarah Shourd said the time without human contact drove her to beat the walls of her cell until her knuckles bled.

When Manning was held in solitary he was kept in his cell 23 hours a day for months at a time. The US government tortured him to send a message to others who might consider blowing the whistle on US secrets. At the same time, tens of thousands of others in the US are being held in their cells 23 hours a day for months, even years at a time. That torture is also sending a message.

Thousands stood up with Bradley Manning and got him released from solitary. People must likewise stand up with the thousands of others in solitary as well.

So, stand in solidarity with Bradley Manning and fight against his prosecution. And stand also against solitary confinement of the tens of thousands in US jails and prisons. Check out the Bradley Manning Support Network, Solitary Watch, and Occupy 4 Prisoners for ways to participate.

Bill teaches law at Loyola University New Orleans and works with the Center for Constitutional Rights. A version of this article with sources is available. You can reach Bill at

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Message to Occupy Prisons Protests, By Robert King

The below message, from Robert King, a former New Orleans Black Panther and member of Angola Three, was recently published in the International Coalition to Free the Angola Three newsletter.
First of all I would like to applaud and salute those in the Occupy movement for focusing on the hideous corruption of corporate America and the effects this corruption has on all of us in the 99%, including the well over two million individuals that fill our detention facilities and their families.

Being in prison, in solitary was terrible. It was a nightmare. My soul still cries from all that I witnessed and endured. It does more than cry- it mourns, continuously. I saw men so desperate that they ripped prison doors apart, starved and mutilated themselves. It takes every scrap of humanity to stay focused and sane in this environment. The pain and suffering are everywhere, constantly with you. But, it's was also so much more than that. I had dreams and they were beautiful dreams. I used to look forward to the nights when I could sleep and dream. There's no describing the day to day assault on your body and your mind and the feelings of hopelessness and despair.

There is far more than a casual relationship between the Occupy Movement and the work so many of you are doing to change the criminal justice system.

The same people who make the laws that favor the bankers, make the laws that fill our prisons and detention centers. We have to continue to make the connection between Wall St. and the prison industrial complex. The growth of the private prison industry is just one symptom of this unholy alliance.

I stand in solidarity with the Occupy 4 Prisoners rally and hope these rallies shed further light on the insidious effects of prisons for profit and politics.

Free all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience!

Robert H. King, a.k.a. Robert King Wilkerson, is the only freed member of the Angola 3. Along with his comrades Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace, he was targeted for his activism as a member of the Black Panther party. After 31 years in Angola prison in Louisiana, 29 spent years in solitary confinement, King was released in February 2001. Since that time he has been described as an author, a candy maker, a former political prisoner and an activist. His life’s focus is to campaign against abuses in the criminal justice system and for the freedom of Herman and Albert, who are now serving their 40th year in solitary confinement.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Report From Resistance in Alabama to Racist Anti-Immigrant Bill HB56, By Ingrid Chapman

I arrived in Alabama 2 days before HB 56 went into effect with the original plan of being here for 2 weeks. That turned into 3 months. I have just returned for 6 more months to work with the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice.

I learned about the incredibly egregious law HB 56 and I listened to my heart, which told me to respond to the call for organizing support and to go to Alabama. Now I am living in Alabama, a place I never imagined myself, every day is incredibly challenging, full of simultaneous heartbreak and inspiration and yet I am thankful to be here. I am working side by side with hundreds of incredible people and I do believe from this atrocity a movement is being born that will impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of people if not millions.

I know many do not know the extent of both the crisis and developing movement and so I want to update you and ask for your thinking and support building a national movement and outcry against the most vicious anti-immigration law in the country. I have included some suggested ways to support at the very bottom.

The first weeks were really trying, with a heart-breaking human rights disaster exploding across the state. Alabama citizens taking on the role of immigration enforcers and checking people’s immigration status at every intersection of people’s lives; public schools, children’s sports teams, power and water companies, hospitals, pharmacies, super stores like Walmart, trailer parks, apartment buildings, by police at every traffic stop and much, much more.

The goal of this law is to make Alabama unlivable for undocumented immigrants. Thousands and thousands of people have left the state. Thousands are living in fear and only leave their homes for work, school and the absolute necessities. At the same time thousands are stepping up and organizing, fighting back and an incredible cross cultural, multiracial movement is growing in Alabama.

Alabama is a place that has experienced some of the harshest racism and civil rights abuses and yet some of the most impactful and influential organizing of the civil rights movement. That history is still so present, and many of the veterans and descendants of the civil rights movement are stepping up in the struggle against HB 56, outraged at the parallels of racism, abuse and Jim Crow.
The movement in Alabama right now is probably one of the most inspiring examples of immigrant communities coming together with African Americans and building unity on a state wide level. Immigrants are getting organized and forming new organizations all over the state. In late December we held a rally in Montgomery. Community leaders mobilized over 26 buses from around the state and 3,000 people to march to the Governor’s mansion. Hundreds of children led the march bringing letters they had written to the Governor asking him to repeal HB 56.
That afternoon we held a strategy meeting with immigrant leaders. Community leaders representing all regions of the state shared the success from their efforts over the past 3 months and their strategies for building up power in the coming period to fight for repeal of HB 56. Just this week we held another strategy retreat with over 85 immigrant leaders representing cities from around the state, building up organizing skills and collectively setting the priorities for the legislative and organizing struggle ahead. Feb 7th, the first day of the legislature is the next big action in Montgomery.

We are also amidst a major education and organizing campaign happening among communities of faith. Immigration 101 workshops are being held in churches across the state and hundreds of faith leaders are speaking out against the law.

As the impacts become more widely felt and recognized unlikely allies, such as Republican farmers, local and international business owners, business associations, city chambers of commerce, mayors, county sheriffs and police chiefs are coming out against the law. The implementation of the law is having deep economic impacts, with a loss of skilled workers, businesses shutting down, loss of jobs and of state tax revenues.

International businesses are canceling projects in AL, because it is not safe for their workers. Farmers whose tomatoes rotted in the field because all their workers fled the state have confronted the Governor with buckets asking if he would help pick the crops. The Alabama Farmers Federation estimated the sector would suffer $63 million in losses as the result of the new law going into effect. The Sheriff of Jefferson County spoke at a congressional hearing stating that the police force absolutely does not have the resources or training to take on the role of immigration enforcement and admitted that the law requires his officers to racially profile. A survey done showed that the majority of Alabamians are now against the law.
It is becoming more and more clear that HB 56 a law driven by racism and scapegoating is a false solutions to economic problems and will not fix the economy but devastate the lives of thousands and hurt all Alabamians morally, spiritually and economically. Also ever-present is the potential national impact of the struggle and possible deep effects of a repeal of HB 56. This law is the most aggressive and extensive statewide anti-immigrant bill in the country with 30 different provisions.

Below are some of the harshest pieces of the law that are in effect and just some of the stories of the real human impacts:

1) Police are required to check the immigration status of people they stop and reasonably suspect to be in the country unlawfully.
Racial profiling of all people who are brown and or have accents. People are afraid to leave their homes, afraid to drive to work, to school, to the grocery store. People have feelings of being hunted and constantly surveilled. A 13-year-old told me she sends text messages to her parents all day while she is at school fearing everyday may be the day she loses her parents because they have been detained and deported during a traffic stop. A mother I met started having panic attacks from the stress of fearing she will be torn apart from her children and deported. A judge advised a lawyer that the lawyer had an obligation to report her own client to ICE as undocumented. The same judge stated that he might have to report to ICE any person who asked for an interpreter, as such a request would be a red flag.* Latino workers on a construction jobsite were threatened by a group of men with guns, who told them to go back to Mexico and threatened to kill them if they were there the following day. They declined to report the crime to law enforcement because of fears of what would happen to them if they did.* A victim of domestic violence went to court to obtain a protective order. The clerk told her that she’d be reported to ICE if she proceeded.* Much, much more…

2) All new contracts between an undocumented immigrant and another person are unenforceable in state court.
In Northport, the water authority provided notices to Latino customers that their services will be shut off if they didn’t provide proof of immigration status immediately.* In Madison County and in Decatur, the public utilities have announced that they will not provide water, gas, or sewage service to people who could not prove their status.* A women called and said the manager of her trailer parked asking residents to prove their status and then evicted everyone, claiming their leases where now null and void. A mother took her ill child to the hospital and was denied health care and thus service. A husband called us to report that his wife, nine months pregnant, was too afraid to go to a hospital in Alabama to give birth, and that he was trying to decide whether to have her give birth at home or somehow to try to get to Florida.* Clerks at Walmart have asked Latinos to show an Alabama drivers license in order to check out. A mother spoke to the local office of the Department of Human Resources about her US citizen children's eligibility for food stamps. The social worker told the mother that she would be turning the mother into the federal government for deportation. The family went into hiding.*

3) It is a felony for undocumented immigrants to enter into a “business transaction” with the state of Alabama.
People could not renew car tags, providing more excuses for the police to stop them. People could not renew their tags for their mobile homes; causing fear people may lose their homes. Immigrant owned businesses went under causing more unemployment and decrease in revenue for the state. A Latino man was arrested and detained. While in jail, he was told that he could not use the telephone to call his attorney because the use of the phone would be a “business transaction” prohibited by HB56* (the business transaction part of the law has recently been advised against enforcing by the AL attorney general and is changing in some parts of the state).

4) K-12 school officials are required to question students about their immigration status and that of their parents.
Parents were afraid to send their kids to school. 2500 children were taken out of school by their parents. Thousands more were absent in the first weeks. An ESL teacher told me the parents dropped their kids off at her house afraid the schools would report them to ICE if they took their children directly to school. Schools lost millions of dollars in federal funding, and thus jobs because of the un-enrollment of thousands. Racism and bullying has increased in the schools. Teachers jokingly made comments about ICE picking up absent Latino students. A group of immigrant children were denied the ability to participate on a sports team, with coaches stating they were not supposed to invest resources in immigrant children. (This part of the law went into effect and then was temporally enjoined two weeks later. However much damage was done.)

*Stories from the ACIJ hotline

Other provisions of the law have been temporarily blocked by the courts. These include provisions that:

● Prohibit residents from transporting or harboring undocumented immigrants

● Make it a traffic violation for motorists who stop in the roadway to hire a day laborer

● Prohibit universities from enrolling certain immigrants – including asylees, refugees or those granted temporary protected status

● Make it a misdemeanor for failing to complete or carry an alien registration card

● Prohibit employers from taking state tax deductions for wages paid to undocumented workers

● Allow employers to be sued for discrimination by people with U.S. citizen or legal immigration status when they are fired or not hired by an employer with undocumented employees

Because the law is so extensive AL citizens are taking on the role of interpreting the law on their own and enforcing it as they see fit. This is causing wide spread and deep human consequences.

The potential and impact of both our victories and losses in Alabama will be far reaching. Organizing resources in AL are very minimal and national solidarity and outcry against this law are imperative to whether AL sets the new standard for the level of racism, abuse and dehumanization that is acceptable and the new normal or whether this is the moment the tide really turns and laws like this become politically impossible.
What you can do:
Talk amongst your friends and organizations about how you can help build the movement nationally in support of the people of Alabama.
Learn from national solidarity organizing against Arizona’s SB 1070 (example: pass city council resolutions condemning HB 56 and committing your city to be a welcoming city to all. Organize artists to create visuals and cultures of resistance to HB 56). Also be creative and develop new ideas, then make a plan and make it happen.
Help organize an Occupy Day of Action in Solidarity with the people in AL and against racist false economic solutions such as scapegoating of immigrants.
The Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice needs resources to do the organizing on the ground. Organize a fundraiser to raise awareness and funds. Show your solidarity and make a meaningful personal donation at Raise the national consciousness by getting and keeping what is happening in Alabama in the media, both mainstream and social media.
We need skilled organizers on the ground in Alabama (Spanish speaking a major plus). Fundraise in your community and come to AL for 2 weeks or longer and plug into a growing and imperative movement.

Thank you for reading this update and for your solidarity and support.

For more information and updates:

Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice (ACIJ)

100 Reasons Why Alabama’s Immigration Law is a Disaster

Ingrid Chapman is an anti-racist activist and until recently a member of the Catalyst Project. She spent many months in New Orleans post-Katrina volunteering with Peoples Hurricane Relief Fund, Common Ground, and other organizations.

Top image: Days after HB 56 went into effect, One Family One Alabama pray outside of church of HB 56 sponsor, Senator Scott Beason. 100 people came out with a day and half notice.
Other images: 3000 people rally in Montgomery against HB 56.

What Does Gender Have To Do With Housing? By Shana griffin

From the Bridge The Gulf website:
This article is adapted from my comments on the panel “Laying the Groundwork: Why do we need to understand gender to understand the major housing issues of our day?” with Gary Perry of Seattle University, and Charmel Gaulden with the Gulf Coast Fair Housing Center. The panel was part of the 2012 Fit for King summit on Women and Fair Housing, hosted by the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center with support from the Gulf Coast Fair Housing Center, Women’s Health & Justice Initiative, and the Anna Julia Cooper Project on Race, Gender and Politics in the South at Tulane University.

For the Women’s Health & Justice Initiative, our organizing acknowledges the intersections of gender and housing—as much of our advocacy challenges the use of social policies, and the ideologies embedded in them, that perpetuate violence in the lives of women of color. At WHJI, we organize from a framework that regards housing as a gendered phenomenon[1] – and as an important aspect of gender and racial inequalities.

By ‘gendered phenomenon’ I’m referring to the disproportionate utilization of public and subsidized housing programs among women of color and poor women; the gender disparities in high-cost subprime mortgage-lending, particularly among Black women; women and queer people’s elevated risk of vulnerability to poverty due to housing costs and discrimination; and the pervasive nature of gender-based violence in the context of accessing, securing, and maintaining one’s housing. Gender is an important dimension in understanding how access to housing is structured, how racial and economic disadvantage translates to housing disadvantage, and how housing disadvantages reinforce economic dependency and racial and gender segregation.

Access to housing is not only gendered, but varies amongst women according to structural forms of inequality and factors such as a women’s race, ethnicity, marital status, sexual orientation, income, ability, education, and whether or not her household includes children. We employ an ‘intersectional approach’ to examine and challenge these structural forms of inequality in shaping one’s access to housing.

Housing and housing policy are major areas of concern for us, as low-income women of color bear the brunt of housing related poverty, violence, discrimination, and displacement—much of which is the result of gender and racial inequality in society, gender blind housing policies, and myths and stereotypes of low-income communities and people of color.

Housing and reproductive violence

Our work examining the various ways reproductive violence[2] is embedded and manifested in housing policies show that women who are disproportionately impacted by housing discrimination are also disproportionately targeted by campaigns that seek to control their fertility and criminalize their reproductive capabilities.

As such, the utilization of government funded housing programs by poor women and women of color, particularly among black women, to secure housing for themselves and their families is often meet with racist and sexist stereotypes and stigmatizing labels associated with ‘welfare,’ ‘crime,’ ‘laziness,’ ‘uncontrolled-sexually,’ and ‘poverty’ in the housing market.

Stereotypes and stigmatizing labels such as these, implicitly and explicitly inform low-income women experiences and vulnerability to housing discrimination, ‘not-in-my-backyard’ attitudes, sexual harassment, residential segregation, and social isolation from needed resources.

The racial and gendered subtext of prevailing welfare and public housing assistance stereotypes are revealed in the attitudes and priorities of some policy makers.

Take for example comments made by Louisiana representative Richard Baker in response to public housing post-Hurricane Katrina: “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn‘t do it but God did.”

Or the racist and eugenic 2008 legislative plans of Representative John LaBruzzo to pay poor women $1,000 to get sterilized under the cloak of reducing the number of people on welfare and those utilizing public housing subsidies in Louisiana. He said, “I wonder if it might be a good idea to pay some of these people to get sterilized. My solution: pay impoverished women $1,000 to have their tubes tied so they will stop having babies they can’t afford.”

In September of 2008, when Mr. LaBruzzo’s infamous statements were made, the number of people receiving public cash assistance in Louisiana had dropped by 74% since Hurricane Katrina, and had be declining since the mid 1990s. Currently, less than 1% of Louisiana’s population receives ‘welfare’ or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) – a number representing approximately 13,000 out of a population of 4.5 million people, with the vast majority of recipients being children and the average public assistance grant being $189 a month for a family of three.

The divestment and attacks on housing programs intended to assist low-income women violates the reproductive rights and autonomy of marginalized women, particularly the rights of women with children. Three core aspects of reproductive justice is the right to have children, the right not to have children, and the right to parent the children we have in safe and healthy environments with access to resources and enabling social conditions. Without access to safe, stable, and sanitary housing, the reproductive rights of women with children are constantly violated.

In an effort to address the multiple ways reproductive violence policies interact to regulate and police the lives of those existing and operating through identities and locations of subjugation, it is very important for us to have an intersectional understanding of gender and housing, and how housing policies shape and influence one’s health and well-being.

Housing is not simply about the dwelling in which one lives, but about how one is situated in a school district, a public transportation system, a job market, a social network, and a community of opportunity. Access to housing is not simply an exercise of finding somewhere to live, but is a continuous process of sustaining access and avoiding losing a home. Many of the challenges women face in securing and maintaining access to housing reflect and reinforce wider gender inequality in society.

The value of taking an intersectional approach

Organizing from an intersectional approach allows us to understand and respond to the ways gender and other identities intersect with housing policies and practices of discrimination – to work in coalition with not in isolation from other social justice, human rights, and service-based organizations without segmenting, isolating, or pitting one priority of our work against another.

For example:

Many black women who are Section 8 vouchers holders in the city often report discrimination in the private housing market at the hands of landlords who refuse to participate in the subsidized voucher program.

It is the intersection of the Section 8 voucher holder’s identities as

  • a woman,
  • a black person, and
  • a poor person

that puts her in the position of vulnerability. It is the intersection of policies, programs, and practices such as

  • fair housing laws,
  • subsidized housing programs, and
  • income discrimination

that support and maintain that vulnerability.

Instead of relying solely on fair housing enforcement organizations to remedy the discrimination experience by black women Section 8 voucher holders, engaging in an intersectional approach of housing justice would create opportunities for various organizations and advocacy approaches to be utilized.


[1] In talking about housing as a ‘gender’ phenomenon, it’s important to understand that the terms and identities "woman" and “women”, do not signal particular types of bodies or fixed gender identities. Women differ by age, race, ethnicity, gender expression and identity, sexuality, education, ability, relationship status, work sector, and citizenship status.

[2] For WHJI, reproductive violence refers to the methods used to sustain reproductive oppression. These methods include policies, laws, initiatives, behaviors, practices, and procedures designed to reduce, control, and/or eliminate the reproduction of marginalized communities, as well as regulate and repress one’s sexuality.

Shana griffin (37) is a life-long resident of New Orleans, mother of two, black feminist, researcher, and social justice activist, who has over 16 years experience organizing nationally and locally with low-income communities of color on critical issues pertaining to racial and gender justice; sexual health and reproductive justice; housing affordability; ending gender-based violence; prison abolition; gender and disaster vulnerability; just sustainabilities; education equity; and climate justice. Shana is co-founder of the Women’s Health & Justice Initiative, where she currently serves as Research & Advocacy Director (volunteer), and is the former Interim Director of the New Orleans Women’s Health Clinic she co-founded in 2007. Shana is a member of INCITE! and currently serves on the Board of Directors of Women With A Vision, Inc. and Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative, a local neighborhood-based housing and community development non-profit.

The Women’s Health & Justice Initiative is a radical feminist of color organization based in New Orleans, dedicated to improving the social and economic health of women of color and our communities. For more info please visit:

Photo: Shana griffin and Gary Perry discuss gender and housing at the Fit for King summit on Women and Fair Housing.

Monday, February 13, 2012

For Volunteers in New Orleans: Principles of Partnership, Collaboration, and the Struggle for Justice

More than six years after Hurricane Katrina, volunteers are still coming to New Orleans from across the US. We appreciate the solidarity, but we also think it is important to be conscious of the limits of volunteerism. In that spirit, we believe it is useful to republish this 2007 letter, originally written by Bill Quigley.

We hope volunteers coming to New Orleans to support rebuilding justice for our city will read this letter, and think about it as they approach their volunteer efforts. The letter is reprinted in full below:

Letter to Katrina Volunteers and Partners 2007 Principles of Partnership, Collaboration, and the Struggle for Justice

An aboriginal activist said it best: "If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us struggle together."

Our community needs the solidarity, action and support of people and institutions from local, regional, national and international areas and all walks of life in our struggle for justice. New people and organizations can bring our community much needed new ideas, new resources, and new ways of looking at issues. Our justice struggles bind us together and we must proceed in ways that respect all of the participants.

Solidarity, action and support must be based on respect of the dignity and ongoing history of the people and work that has already occurred in our community. It is an unfortunate fact that there are numerous examples of people and organizations from outside the community who come to local justice efforts and, despite their very best intentions, make mistakes that actually harm the ongoing local justice work. Those who made the mistakes then leave the community and return to their own communities. The difficult work left behind, the work of reconstruction and reconciliation and dealing with unmet promises or unachievable expectations, adds to the ongoing work which must be done by local justice workers.

In order to minimize mistakes and missteps by volunteers, short-term workers, or newly arrived or newly engaged people and organizations, we ask each partner to respect the work that has already gone on and the history that has occurred. In order to respect this work and history, people must first learn it.

Practically, this respect means that for newcomers to the community, listening is more important than speaking, learning must be prized over teaching, and reflection with the community must precede action. Most importantly, people should not take actions or make verbal commitments or raise expectations in the community that are not achievable. Unmet promises and unfilled expectations seriously undermine and discourage local organizing and justice work.

We ask our partners to agree to struggle with us in a principled way. The principles that should guide our partnership include that every person and organization starts out with a presumption of respect. New people or organizations joining this work agree to learn the local people, the local history of our justice struggles, and the local community justice situation before taking independent action. People or organizations who join this work agree to engage in real dialogue on all issues before taking independent action.

Once new people and organizations have spent the time and energy to begin to learn about local issues and our community, real partnership then means mutual accountability with the other partners and mutual supervision and mutual discussion about plans, resources, people, and work before, during and after steps are taken.

We expect to learn from our new volunteers and partners. We expect our partners will learn from us. We hope these principles will guide us in creating mutual and meaningful partnerships which can help all of us join in advancing the struggles for justice in our community.

Photo above from blackboard in St Mary's School, Upper Ninth Ward.

How Much is a Black Vote Worth? Who Wants to Buy it? And Who is Willing to Sell? By Parnell Herbert

On May 10, 1994 former political prisoner Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was elected the first Black President of South Africa.

I remember seeing a newspaper photograph of three elderly South African women. Two of them struggled as they carried the third woman between them by her arm pits, for the third woman had no legs. The caption below the photo spoke of the many miles these women had trekked tired and worn but determined. Nothing would stop them from the privilege of exercising their newly earned right to vote.

When there are local elections (nothing really important on the ballot), I hesitate to get out of my recliner, turn off the TV, walk out the door, get into my car and drive a few blocks to vote. I think back to that photo and I think back to the people in the US who suffered and died to earn the right for me to vote.

The memory of those elders and the vision of that photograph inspire me to get out and vote. I think of the selfish and complacent society we have become. I think of how we disregard and disrespect the memories of the people on whose shoulders we stand.

Even more distasteful to me are the people who are willing to sell their votes, sell their souls and sellout their people. Reportedly white City Councilwoman Stacey Head attempted to buy votes in a large Black church with a $1,500 check and a kiss on the cheek from a Black City Councilman.

A few days later, Head spoke on a local Black radio show. Several regular callers say they were blocked from calling in to confront and/or to challenge some of Head’s statements and her record during her eight years in office. Today we can hear the lovely voice of actress Vanessa Williams as she provides us with a Black history moment followed by an anonymous voice; “This Black history moment was paid for by Stacy Head.”

While some bloggers and newsletters will report news stories open and honestly there are others who seem to depend on Mayor Mitch Landrieu to feed their families. These writers will send out news reports but will not report negative news about their mayor. They may sometimes even promote their mayor.

We have all heard stories of political organizations with names like BOLD, SOUL, COUP as well as other like organizations. Now we have Democratic politicians being financed by Republican dollars.

In order to complete a sale there must be an agreement between both the buyer and the seller. There must also be a reason and even a desire to buy and to sell. There is no problem understanding the purpose of the buyer. In this case they want to buy themselves a job.

The seller on the other hand is not as easy to understand. Why does a man sell his vote, sell his soul and sellout his people?

I really wish I had saved that photograph of those three women in South Africa eighteen years ago. I wish others could see it now and know the story behind it. Maybe then there would be some degree of conscious thought and foresight before we set a price on our vote and on our people.

Parnell Herbert is a recently returned New Orleanian who was previously displaced to Houston by Hurricane Katrina. He is active on many social justice causes, including the right of return for New Orleanians, and freedom for the Angola Three. His new play, Angola Three, has been performed in New Orleans and other cities.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Sentencing in Noose Incident at Louisiana Middle School

Three men, aged 21 - 25, were sentenced today in an incident in which they sought to intimidate African American children away from attending a school in Morehouse Parish, LA. The school had recently seen increased enrollment by Black students because of a new busing policy.

In other news, the FBI has reportedly also joined in an investigation of a potential hate crime in Washington Parish.

More info on the sentencing in Morehouse is in the Justice Department press release, reprinted here:
The Department of Justice announced today that three men were sentenced for a federal hate crime stemming from an incident that took place at Beekman Junior High School in Beekman, Morehouse Parish, La. U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Hayes sentenced James Lee Wallis Jr. to eight months in prison, Tony L. Johnson to six months in prison and Brian Wallis to five months in prison. All three defendants will also receive one year of supervised release and must attend a cultural diversity and sensitivity program.

On Aug. 12, 2011, defendant Johnson pleaded guilty to intentionally attempting to intimidate and interfere with African-American students who were attending Beekman Junior High School. Brothers Brian Wallis, 21, and James Lee Wallis Jr., 25, pleaded guilty to the same offense on Sept. 2, 2011. During their respective plea hearings, all three defendants admitted that they hung a dead raccoon in a noose from a flagpole located in front of Beekman Junior High School. They each further admitted that they were angered by the school’s new busing policy, which had increased the number of African-American children attending the school, and that they wanted to scare the African-American children into leaving the school.

“Every child, regardless of race, is entitled to an education free from intimidation or discrimination,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “Unfortunately, acts of hate such as this one are all too common in this country in 2012. The Justice Department will continue to enforce our nation’s civil rights laws in order to protect the most vulnerable in our society.”

“There is no place in our schools for this kind of intimidation,” said Stephanie A. Finley, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana. “Every child has the right to an education and to feel safe in school. I hope this case sends a message that this type of activity will not be taken lightly.”

This case was investigated by the FBI and prosecuted by Senior Litigation Counsel Mark Blumberg and Trial Attorney Christine M. Siscaretti of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary J. Mudrick for the Western District of Louisiana.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Occupying Corporations: How to Cut Corporate Power, By Bill Quigley

“Corporations are people, my friend.” - Mitt Romney at Iowa State Fair

Corporations are obviously not people. But Romney is accurate in the sense that corporations have hijacked most of the rights of people while evading the responsibilities. An important part of the social justice agenda is democratizing corporations. This means we must radically change the laws so people can be in charge of corporations. We must strip them of corporate personhood and cut them down to size so democracy can work. People are taking action so democracy can regulate the size, scope and actions of corporations.

One of the most basic roles of society is to protect the people from harm. The massive size of many international corporations makes democratic control over them nearly impossible.

Corporate crime is widespread. The New York Times, ProPublica and others have revealed Wall Street giants like JPMorgan, Citigroup, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs have been charged with fraud many times only to get off by paying hundreds of millions. Professors at University of Virginia have documented hundreds of corporations which have been found guilty or pled guilty in federal courts.

Corporate abuse is even more widespread. For example, Corporate Accountability International named six to its Corporate Hall of Shame, including: Koch Industries for spending over $50 million to fund climate change denial; Monsanto for mass producing cancer causing chemicals; Chevron for dumping more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into the Ecuadorian Amazon; Exxon Mobil for being the worst polluter; Blackwater (now Xe) for killing unarmed Iraqi civilians and hiring paramilitaries; and Halliburton, the nation’s leading war profiteer.

Making corporations responsible to democracy of the people is challenging considering Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest corporation, does more business itself annually than all but two dozen of the two hundred plus countries in the world. Without dramatic changes, how can we expect people in small or even big countries to force corporations like Wal-Mart, Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon Mobil, BP, Toyota or Chevron to live by the same rules all the people have to?

Justice demands we make sure corporations do not harm people. Democracy must require that they operate for the common good.

In order to cut corporations down to size, the people must strip corporations of the special artificial legal protections they have created for themselves.

The story of how corporations took the full rights of legal persons in one of the great perverse tragedies in legal history. Corporations have worked the courts mercilessly since 1819 to take a wide variety of constitutional rights that were designed to cover only people. For example, the Fourteenth Amendment was passed in 1868 to make sure all citizens, particularly freed slaves and people of color, had full rights. There was no mention of protecting corporations. But corporations jumped on this opportunity resulting in a questionable Supreme Court decision that granted them legal personhood. At roughly the same time, the Supreme Court approved “separate but equal” racial segregation. Thus in thirty years, African Americans lost their legal personhood, while corporations acquired theirs.

Corporations now claim: 1st amendment free speech rights to advertise and influence elections; 4th amendment search and seizure rights to resist subpoenas and challenges to their criminal actions; 5th amendment rights to due process; 14th amendment rights to due process where corporations took the rights of former slaves and used them for corporate protection; plus rights under the Commerce and Contracts clauses of the constitution.

The most recent corporate judicial takeover of constitutional rights is the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United versus the Federal Election Commission. The court ruled that corporations are protected by the First Amendment so they can use their money to influence elections.

Because of the bad Supreme Court decisions, it takes a constitutional amendment by the people to change the laws back. An amendment requires two-thirds of both houses of Congress to agree then three-quarters of the states must vote to ratify. This will take real work. But despite the growing size and unrestricted power of corporations, people are fighting back.

Dozens of groups are working to reverse Citizens United and restore limits on corporate election advocacy. In January 2011, groups delivered petitions signed by over 750,000 people calling on Congress to amend the Constitution and reverse the decision. More than 350 local events were held in late January 2012 to challenge the Citizens United decision.

Groups challenging this injustice include Code Pink, Common Cause, Free Speech for People,, Move to Amend, National Lawyers Guild, POCLAD, Public Citizen, People for American Way, The Center for Media and Democracy, and Women’s League for Peace and Freedom.

Many groups are asking for a broad constitutional amendment that makes it clear that corporations are not people and should not be given any constitutional rights. Representatives Ted Deutsch of Florida, Jim McGovern of Massachusetts and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont have sponsored bills in Congress to start the process for a constitutional amendment to make it clear that corporations are not people, are not entitled to the rights of people, and cannot contribute to political campaigns.

There are also many energetic actions at the state level. People for the American Way list organizational efforts in nearly all 50 states to end corporate influence in elections or amend the constitution.

Massive corporations now rule the earth. But they are recent arrivals which can and should be dispatched. It is time for people to again take control. The legal fiction of corporate personhood and the constitutional rights taken by corporations must cease. Join the efforts to cut them down to size and restore the right of the people to govern.

Bill is a human rights lawyer who teaches at Loyola University New Orleans and works with the Center for Constitutional Rights. A version of this article with full sources is available. You can reach Bill at