National Archives Has Asked for Documents Trump Improperly Took Since Early 2021
New reporting indicates that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) had requested that Donald Trump return government documents even while he was still in office — debunking the former president’s claims that the execution of a search warrant on his Mar-a-Lago property to retrieve the documents earlier this month was unnecessary.
An email from NARA chief counsel Gary Stern in May of 2021 that was recently made public shows that he and other agency officials — along with Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel at the time — had requested that Trump return the documents during the final days of his administration.
While in office, Trump regularly took government documents to the residence wing of the White House, where they would be stacked on top of each other and rarely returned.
The email to Trump lawyers in May demonstrates that the agency was anxious to get the documents back nearly 100 days after Trump left the White House.
“We know things are very chaotic, as they always are in the course of a one-term transition…But it is absolutely necessary that we obtain and account for all presidential records,” wrote Stern, who has served as chief counsel of NARA since 1998.
According to The Washington Post, the agency continued to press Trump advisers through fall of 2021 to get him to send the documents back. After the agency threatened to involve Congress in the matter, Trump agreed to return some of the documents in January of 2022; NARA officials then retrieved fifteen boxes from Mar-a-Lago.
But not all of the documents were returned. After NARA discovered that some of the documents they had retrieved were classified, the Department of Justice (DOJ) subpoenaed Trump to return more classified documents in June.
As part of that subpoena, Trump was required to attest that he had returned all classified material, which one of his lawyers did on his behalf. But after an informer — and surveillance footage from Mar-a-Lago — alerted the DOJ to the fact that more classified material was being kept at the estate, the FBI executed a search warrant in early August to retrieve the missing documents.
The new reporting from The Washington Post contradicts Trump’s claim that he was “working and cooperating with the relevant government agencies” prior to the FBI search at Mar-a-Lago.
More than 300 boxes of classified documents have been removed from Mar-a-Lago since the start of the year. Some of the documents include information relating to the FBI, the CIA and the National Security Agency. It’s also possible that some of the documents contain information about nuclear weapons.
The portions of the DOJ warrant that have been made public so far indicate that the department is looking into possible violations of the Espionage Act, a law used to prosecute individuals who mishandle government information to the detriment of U.S. interests abroad. The law is most often used to prosecute whistleblowers and antiwar activists.
In a legal filing his lawyers submitted earlier this week, Trump demanded that the documents be returned to him, citing his supposed “executive privilege.”
“If he’s acknowledging that he’s in possession of documents that would have any colorable claim of executive privilege, those are by definition presidential records and belong at the National Archives,” said Asha Rangappa, a former FBI agent and former associate dean at Yale Law School.
Big Oil Wants to Refreeze Alaska Permafrost — So It Can Keep Drilling There
If ConocoPhillips gets its way, there will soon be chillers on the Alaskan tundra, refreezing the ground so that it can support new oil drilling equipment. The Arctic permafrost is melting so fast, the company explains, that this perverse techno-solution is necessary.
Nothing better expresses the cruel absurdity at the heart of ConocoPhillips’s “Willow Project” — its 30-year plan to extract hundreds of millions of barrels of crude from ecologically sensitive lands of the far North.
If approved, this plan will fashion a new Prudhoe Bay atop increasingly unstable tundra, locking in decades of oil production even as the climate crisis destabilizes ecosystems in Alaska and around the world. Unless the Biden administration stops this project, ConocoPhillips will massively expand petroleum production on Alaska’s North Slope — beginning as early as this winter.
Endorsing the Trump-era plan undermines President Joe Biden’s climate promises, threatens the health of the Indigenous community of Nuiqsut, and continues the long tradition of sacrificing large swathes of Arctic Alaska to the short-term interests of the fossil fuel industry. It also perpetuates the fantasy held by many Alaskan political leaders that unsustainable resource extraction can remain their state’s primary economic model.
The Willow Master Development Plan is staggering in scale. ConocoPhillips, the Texas-based oil and gas giant, proposes to industrialize enormous stretches of land, filling it with sprawling spiderwebs of fossil fuel infrastructure. The project would build five new drill sites, as well as pipelines, a gravel mine, a processing facility, an airstrip, gravel roads, ice roads, and more, all on federal lands in the Western Arctic. At peak production, the Willow Project will yield over 180,000 barrels of oil per day, and ConocoPhillips plans to drill there for the next 30 years. According to the Washington Post, the company has privately told investors that it will extract 3 billion barrels of oil — five times more than the estimate used by government scientists to assess Willow’s climate impact. All ConocoPhillips needs now is for the Biden administration to grant final approval.
The company plans to construct this project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, which — despite its name — is not a fossil fuel warehouse waiting to be tapped. Established in 1923 as the Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 4 (to provide emergency fuel supplies to the Navy), it was renamed in 1976 and its management was transferred to the Department of the Interior. Spanning over 23 million acres, the reserve is the largest public land holding in the United States. It is also a vibrant and diverse ecological space sustaining huge populations of wildlife species that migrate from across the continent and around the world. Thousands upon thousands of shorebirds, waterfowl, loons, geese, and other birds seek shelter and sustenance in the reserve’s lakes and wetlands; beluga and bowhead whales, spotted seals, and other marine mammals feast in the neighboring waters; and the Teshekpuk Lake caribou herd, currently numbering over 50,000 animals, relies on the reserve as its calving grounds.
Moreover, the reserve is vital to the culture, health and food security of Iñupiat communities along the North Slope, making the Willow debate an urgent issue of environmental justice. The Iñupiat stewarded Arctic lands long before they were stolen by Russia in the 18th century and sold to the United States in 1867. Now, like other Indigenous communities across Alaska, they are on the front lines of the climate crisis. But Big Oil wants to turn more Indigenous homelands into industrialized oil fields.The company has privately told investors that it will extract 3 billion barrels of oil — five times more than the estimate used by government scientists to assess Willow’s climate impact.
In the Alpine fields, just east of the reserve, ConocoPhillips began drilling in the 1990s — and the effects were soon felt in the nearby Iñupiat community of Nuiqsut. Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, a community health aid at the time, began to notice an alarming spike in patients suffering from asthma and other respiratory illnesses.
“I had to start staying up all night to help people breathe,” she recalled. “When you hold those little babies, and you see those sick little eyes, and you’re fighting for them to breathe, you get very active in the process of questioning what’s happening to our village.”
Ahtuangaruak is now the mayor of Nuiqsut. She emphasizes that the Alpine development has caused both ecological and social stresses in the community. Not wanting to let ConocoPhillips further encircle their village with fossil fuel development, Ahtuangaruak and others in Nuiqsut oppose the Willow Project. They are joined in this opposition by the advocacy group Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic and many environmental organizations.
“We shouldn’t be sacrificed for the national energy policy,” Ahtuangaruak says. “Our way of life is important to us. We want to continue to harvest food on our lands and waters.”
Unfortunately, the Biden administration has taken a page from the Trump playbook in refusing community requests to extend the comment period on the controversial project. This blatant disregard for Indigenous rights stifles community participation and appears to cater to ConocoPhillips’s efforts to rush the approval process.
ConocoPhillips has made clear that the Willow Project is designed for expansion and that it will pave the way for the “next great Alaska hub” for fossil fuel development. With petroleum production in decline elsewhere in the state, Sen. Lisa Murkowski and other political leaders are enthusiastically backing the project, believing that it will pump more oil into the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and inject more oil revenues into state coffers.
Chillers on the tundra may sound like an image ripped from a climate dystopian novel, but they may soon be a reality in the northern reaches of Alaska. The hubris of ConocoPhillips must be stopped. Refreezing the melting permafrost so that more oil can be extracted will only heat Arctic lands — and the planet — even more. Last year, President Biden promised to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030. While recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act has been celebrated for its historic climate investments, approving the Willow Project would undercut this progress and follow the science-denying path of his predecessor. The public has until August 29 to urge the Biden administration to put an end to this colossal project of environmental violence.
The Far Right Is Taking Over Florida School Boards, Thanks in Part to Dark Money
Republicans are claiming a massive victory after a number of Florida school board candidates — who enjoyed unprecedented support from right-wing groups and politicians — won their races Tuesday. In total, five school boards in the state flipped to conservative control, including Sarasota County, which will now have a 4-1 conservative majority, and Miami-Dade, which will become the nation’s largest school district to be overseen by elected conservatives.
Many of the candidates received endorsements and campaign support from right-wing activist groups like Moms for Liberty and the 1776 Project PAC — founded in 2021 explicitly to support right-wing school board candidates — as well as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has made attacking public education a cornerstone of his administration, and Rep. Byron Donalds, a Florida Republican who has argued that “the battle for our country” runs through America’s schools. (Donalds’ wife, Erika Donalds, runs a consulting business dedicated to launching charter schools affiliated with Hillsdale College, the influential conservative Christian school.)
In mid-July, as Salon reported, DeSantis spoke at length at the first national summit of Moms for Liberty, highlighting some of his numerous endorsements of school board candidates in Florida. On Tuesday afternoon, he tweeted a list of 30 such candidates on the ballot that day, declaring them all “committed to the student-first principles of the DeSantis Education Agenda.” Twenty-five of those candidates ended up winning their elections, prompting Steve Bannon, CEO of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and former White House chief strategist, to crow about “the moms who are taking over the school boards.”
Other conservatives involved in the races were also quick to claim credit for the wins. On Tuesday night, 1776 Project PAC founder Ryan Girdusky tweeted that all the counties where his group had campaigned had been flipped. On Wednesday, Moms for Liberty boasted that 43 candidates it had backed had either won their races or were advancing to runoffs.
The results, Girdusky told Breitbart News, showed parents’ desires to reject “transgender ideology, critical race theory, critical gender ideology, and equity which destroys merit in education.” On Tuesday night, the PAC tweeted, “Yesterday a Texas school board that we flipped last May banned CRT and gender ideology. Today our PAC helped flip FIVE Florida school boards from majority liberal to conservative, including Miami Dade. We are removing left-wing ideologies from our schools one county at a time.”
Other conservative actors got involved as well. As writer and podcaster Hemant Mehta reported this week, the pastor of a Palm Coast church in Flagler County, Greg Peters, recently brought three conservative school board candidates on stage, citing the candidates’ endorsements by the 1776 Project PAC and urging his roughly 1,000-member congregation to vote for them “in order for the school board to be flipped from liberal to conservative.” Should they win, said Peters, the candidates “will rise up against a woke agenda and they will seek to promote truth as it is spelled out clearly in [God’s] word.”
One of those three candidates, incumbent Jill Woolbright, made news for a separate church appearance in recent weeks, where she described her time on the school board as spent battling “satanic” forces. “I have never in my life been in such a satanic warfare, spiritual warfare, that I’ve felt for the past two years on the board and especially during this election season,” Woolbright said, calling for a “breakthrough” that would institute a “conservative, God-fearing majority on our board.”
Although it bills itself as a grassroots organization, Moms for Liberty has plentiful ties to powerful conservative organizations and leaders, as well as opaque but substantial financial backing from right-wing groups. In July, Maurice Cunningham, author of the 2021 book Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization, argued in the Tampa Bay Times that Moms for Liberty’s rapid nationwide expansion had occurred “at a pace that only a corporation’s monetary resources could manage.” The same month, Politico reported that Julie Jenkins Fancelli — the heir to the Publix grocery store fortune who also donated $650,000 to fund Trump’s Jan. 6 rally, plus $60,000 to cover Kimberly Guilfoyle’s speaking fee that day — has supplied nearly the entire budget of the the Moms for Liberty PAC. The PAC in turn contributed modest donations to more than 50 school board candidates, earmarking the rest for advertising campaigns to replicate its success “all over the country.”
A number of Florida’s conservative school board candidates also benefited from the in-kind support of conservative activists and media, who helped stir up controversies about their opponents or their existing local school board composition. On Tuesday, anti-CRT activist and Manhattan Institute fellow Christopher Rufo re-publicized the claims of a father in Clay County — another district that will now have a conservative majority — who charged that the school district had “secretly transitioned” his child by using the pronouns and name the student requested.
A defeated incumbent school board member in Duval County last week was the subject of another Breitbart story charging that she had used racist language against a Black conservative working with Moms for Liberty, by referring to her as a “token.” And earlier this month, conservative media and influencers, including the high-traffic right-wing Twitter account Libs of TikTok, shared a video of Sarasota School Board vice-chair Tom Edwards saying, at a community forum for educators concerned about Florida’s revisionist new civics standards, that there are Florida school board members who “are ‘woke'” and who are “working from the inside” to protect teachers.
“You need to know, we have your backs,” Edwards told a panel of educators at the forum. “And we’re working in the best strategic spot because we’re on the inside.”
That story was picked up and shared across conservative media, ranking coverage from Fox News, Breitbart and Moms for Liberty, which tweeted, “Yes, please woke school board members — be more vocal about your plans to subvert parental rights.” The video was originally posted by Christian Ziegler, vice-chair of the Florida Republican Party and husband of current Sarasota School Board member Bridget Ziegler — who herself has been a formidable right-wing activist, helping draft DeSantis’ 2021 Parents’ Bill of Rights and serving as one of the original co-founders of Moms for Liberty.
As Dan Goodwin, a reporter at Ars Technica, wrote on Twitter last week, the story led to a string of slurs against Edwards, who is gay, claiming that he was “pushing the child grooming agenda.”
The race in Sarasota also brought out a number of far-right supporters of the three conservative candidates: Ziegler, Timothy Enos and Robyn Marinelli, all of them also endorsed by the 1776 Project PAC and DeSantis. (Ziegler and Enos were additionally endorsed by Moms for Liberty.) A right-wing PAC called ABCD campaigned on behalf of the three candidates under an acronym of their last names, “ZEM,” including by driving a mobile billboard around the area that called one of the trio’s opponents a “LIAR” and “BABY KILLER” because she had once worked at Planned Parenthood. (Goodwin also noted that a campaign leaflet promoting the “ZEM” slate called their opponents “BLM/PSL/ANTIFA RIOTERS, PLANNED PARENTHOOD BABY KILLERS, [who] WANT GROOMING AND PORNOGRAPHY IN OUR SCHOOLS.”)
That mobile billboard was such a glaring violation of norms for school board races, which by law are supposed to be nonpartisan, that even DeSantis denounced the move. Yet according to local parent and public school advocate Jules Souliere, the far-right groups ended up becoming the campaigns’ most obvious street presence.
“The Republicans didn’t want the ‘ZEM’ signs, but on every street corner, Proud Boys were out there waving them,” Souliere told Salon. “The Republicans ran a normal campaign for their candidates but the ZEM promoters, made up mostly of Proud Boys, Moms for America [a distinct right-wing group from Moms for Liberty] and other extremists such as [Michael] Flynn, were the ones with boots on the ground out there doing the work for the Republican-backed candidates.”
In late 2021, Souliere co-authored an op-ed for the Herald-Tribune denouncing one Sarasota school board member and another candidate for speaking at a town hall event sponsored by a group founded by Proud Boys members. Earlier this month, the Sarasota Democratic Party decried the “ugly politicization” of the school board races, noting that one of the “ZEM” candidates, Marinelli, had been forced to withdraw from a campaign event in June “when it was learned that members of the terrorist group the Proud Boys were listed as VIP attendees.”
Yet in the end, a victory was a victory for Florida Republicans. On Twitter Tuesday night, DeSantis spokesperson Christina Pushaw shared the Libs of TikTok post of the Edwards video, writing, “Sarasota School board had a 3-2 liberal majority. Today @RonDeSantisFL endorsed candidates won and flipped the school board so it’s now 4-1 anti wokes [sic] indoctrination and pro parental rights.”
Overall, conservatives in Florida and beyond were celebrating. The 1776 Project PAC boasted of their wins Wednesday, inviting readers on Twitter who “want us to get involved in a school board race” in their districts to apply for an endorsement. And groups and figures from the PAC’s Girdusky to Moms for Liberty to Florida first lady Casey DeSantis all sounded a common message: They were only getting started.
There were some signs of momentum in the other direction on Tuesday night, however. In Flagler County, incumbent school board member Jill Woolbright — she of the “satanic warfare” — lost her re-election bid after student activists campaigned to replace her. Woolbright had also tried to remove an LGBTQ-themed book, “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” from school libraries, even filing a criminal complaint with the county sheriff.
In the Alachua County school district, which became a particular target of DeSantis after bucking his 2021 ban on school mask mandates, none of the candidates backed by the governor won. Former district superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon — who was fired in March after DeSantis filled an open school board seat with a homeschooling missionary and local Republican operative — heralded the defeat of the conservative candidates there on Wednesday. “DeSantis pumped major money into our county to turn Alachua’s School Board ‘Red.’ He failed miserably!!” tweeted Simon, who has since founded a progressive PAC, Families Deserve Inclusive Schools. “Every candidate he funded/endorsed lost with huge margins. The appointee he inserted to terminate me… she’s gone too! Stop meddling @RonDeSantisFL, we don’t want you here!”
In deep-red Polk County, where DeSantis also endorsed a candidate, there was a surprising outcome, notes education writer and former school board member Billy Townsend. In races for four open seats, two liberal candidates were defeated, including the first openly LGBTQ person ever elected to a Florida school board. But a third liberal candidate won and another advanced to the general election, largely because, Townsend says, a number of Republican voters seemingly defected from the conservative slate.
“They succeeded in drawing some blood, most notably in Sarasota County,” Townsend told Salon. “But strong, fighting school board members stood their ground and won big battles in Alachua, Monroe and Seminole counties.” (Among those victories was Sue Woltanski, a board member in Monroe County who spoke to Salon this winter about Hillsdale College’s influence in Florida education.) “It’s a fight with angry cranks,” Townsend concluded. “It’s not won, but it’s not lost either.”
Student Debt Activists Say Much More Is Needed — Including Free College
After scoring a major but partial victory in the yearslong fight to eliminate the crushing burden of student debt, progressive lawmakers and campaigners stressed the importance of a deeply interconnected goal as they work toward total debt cancellation: Making public colleges and universities tuition-free for all.
While President Joe Biden’s plan to wipe $10,000 off the student loan balances of most federal borrowers includes reforms that will make debt repayment more manageable going forward — as well as new rules aimed at cracking down on institutions that drown vulnerable students in debt — it will do little to alter an absurd and massively unjust system that allows colleges to drive up costs at will.
“Much like the medical system, higher education is badly in need of price regulation,” writes The American Prospect’s Ryan Cooper. “For decades now, the government has been shoveling subsidies into colleges and universities, and (with a few exceptions) they have responded by jacking their prices through the roof. Biden can’t do this by himself, of course, but it’s long since time for the government to start demanding a better deal for itself — and American students.”
During his 2016 presidential campaign, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) helped elevate and mainstream the solution of tuition-free public colleges and universities, which he frequently noted are a mainstay of several major countries and used to be commonplace in the United States.
But public college and university tuition and fees have surged in recent decades, making it necessary for students from lower-income families to take on often obscene levels of debt to pursue a higher education. The average federal student loan debt balance is $37,113 — and with private loan debt included, that figure jumps to nearly $41,000.
“The average public university student borrows $30,030 to attain a bachelor’s degree,” notes the Education Data Initiative.
Estimates of what it would cost the federal government to make public colleges and universities tuition-free — thus removing the primary reason for student loan debt — vary, with some analysts putting the cost at around $80 billion a year.
That sum, a mere fraction of the Pentagon’s yearly budget, is easily affordable. As economist David Deming has noted, “the federal government spent $91 billion on policies that subsidized college attendance” in 2016.
“That is more than the $79 billion in total tuition and fee revenue for public institutions,” Deming observed. “At least some of the $91 billion could be shifted into making public institutions tuition-free.”
“In short,” he added, “at least some — and perhaps all — of the cost of universal tuition-free public higher education could be defrayed by redeploying money that the government is already spending.”
Alternatively, Sanders and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) have proposed financing a plan for tuition-free public colleges and universities by taxing Wall Street speculation.
“If the United States is going to effectively compete in the global economy, we need the best-educated workforce in the world, and that means making public colleges and universities tuition-free as many other major countries currently do — and that includes trade schools and minority-serving institutions as well,” Sanders said in a statement Wednesday.
“In the year 2022, in the wealthiest country on Earth,” the senator continued, “everyone in America who wants a higher education should be able to get that education without going into debt.”
Others echoed that message Wednesday. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) argued in the wake of Biden’s announcement of $10,000 in student debt cancellation for most borrowers that “student debt relief is just one component of a moral society.”
“We also need to make college tuition-free so debt is not accumulated moving forward and invest in universal early education,” said Omar.
Consider, though, that in 2016 (the most recent year for which detailed expenditures are available), the federal government spent $91 billion on policies that subsidized college attendance. That is more than the $79 billion in total tuition and fee revenue for public institutions. At least some of the $91 billion could be shifted into making public institutions tuition-free.
During his presidential campaign, Biden endorsed making public colleges and universities tuition-free for students from families with annual incomes of less than $125,000.
But the president hasn’t pushed for that proposal during his first year and a half in the White House. Last year, an attempt to make community college free as part of the Build Back Better package collapsed amid opposition from right-wing Democrats.
According to the Education Department, the president’s newly announced plan will entail “steps to reduce the cost of college for students and their families and hold colleges accountable for raising costs, especially when failing to deliver good outcomes to students.”
“The department is announcing new steps to take action against colleges that have contributed to the student debt crisis,” the agency said in a statement Wednesday. “These include publishing an annual watch list of the programs with the worst debt levels in the country and requesting institutional improvement plans from colleges with the most concerning debt outcomes that outline how the college intends to bring down debt levels.”
While welcome, such changes are unlikely to result in large-scale reductions in tuition costs.
“We intend to keep fighting until all student debt is canceled and college is free,” tweeted Astra Taylor, a co-founder of the Debt Collective, the nation’s first debtors’ union and a driving force behind grassroots support for broad-based student debt cancellation.
“If Biden can cancel this much debt, he can cancel it all. And one day, a president will,” Taylor added. “And yes, we are coming for medical debt, rent, and carceral debt too.”
As Attacks on Queer and Trans People Accelerate, We Need Solidarity Now
“The stakes right now are really high when it comes to queer and trans life. I can say in terms of my own lifetime, I haven’t felt like it has been this dangerous ever,” says journalist Melissa Gira Grant. In this episode of “Movement Memos,” host Kelly Hayes talks with Gira Grant about right-wing attacks on trans people, Republican school board takeovers, and how the right’s “groomer” discourse has expanded to include queer people, drag performers and public school teachers.
Music by Son Monarcas and David CelesteTRANSCRIPT
Note: This a rush transcript and has been lightly edited for clarity. Copy may not be in its final form.
Kelly Hayes: Welcome to “Movement Memos,” a Truthout podcast about organizing, solidarity, and the work of making change. I’m your host, writer and organizer Kelly Hayes. Today, we are talking about the escalating violence, harassment and demonization of queer and trans people in the United States and what we can do about it. In recent months, we have seen efforts to attack and dehumanize trans people reach new heights in the U.S. Right-wing characterizations of trans people as “groomers” — who are psychologically conditioning children for the purpose of sexual molestation — have expanded to include all queer people, drag performers, public school teachers, and increasingly, anyone who claims that queer and trans people are not a threat to children. The language of “contagion” is being deployed to suggest that trans and queer people are infecting young people with their desires and lifestyles.
On August 19, the Federalist ran a story with the headline “The Transgender Movement Is Not Just Intolerant. It’s Barbaric And Violent, And It’s Coming For Your Children.” On Friday, House Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene introduced a bill that would make providing gender-affirming medical care to transgender minors a felony. While it would be virtually impossible to pass such a bill at present, given that Democrats control Congress, the idea of such a law serves as a rallying cry —and offers fascist voters a glimpse of how reclaiming the federal government might allow them to dominate and control trans people’s bodies.
Tucker Carlson has rallied his Fox News audience to harass health care workers at Boston Children’s Hospital by spreading lies about the supposed “mutilation” of young people who receive gender affirming care. Right-wing columnist and podcaster Matt Walsh, whose Twitter bio includes the phrase “theocratic fascist,” and the right-wing Twitter account Libs of TikTok have expanded the harassment campaign to include Yale New Haven Hospital and Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital.
Historically, this trajectory of demonization and dehumanization, paired with the kind of radicalized violence we have seen from Republicans, points toward atrocity. The fascist crusade to eliminate trans people from public life is one of the most urgent stories of our time, with frightening implications for us all, and yet, the corporate media has continued to neglect the issue.
One journalist who has remained committed to covering attacks on trans rights, as well as grassroots efforts to fend off those attacks, is Melissa Gira Grant. Her work on this subject is deeply important, in terms of helping us understand the crisis, and who the players are, and I also feel that her writing is an important contribution to the work of keeping history. As things escalate, some of us are going to take action, and some people are going to pretend, later on, that they had no idea what was coming, and that no one could have known. Because, historically, that’s what people say after doing nothing in times like these. But thanks to people like Melissa, there is a record of how these attacks are being waged, who is waging them, and who is fighting back.
While I do believe we will see continued escalations in violence, I also believe in our potential to prevent a great deal of harm, and I will talk a bit more about that later. But first, we are going to dig into the nature of our current situation and who and what we are up against.
Melissa Gira Grant: The stakes right now are really high when it comes to queer and trans life. I can say in terms of my own lifetime, I’m 43, I haven’t felt like it has been this dangerous ever. When you hear rhetoric about “grooming” or all of this more mainstream rhetoric about trans women in sports and trans girls in sports, it might seem like a backlash or a regression and I think it’s something more than that. I think we’re seeing an expression of ideas that I think could accurately be labeled fascists that go further than just a cultural pendulum swing from rights to repression. There’s a different character to the kinds of arguments that we’re hearing right now against queer and trans folks. And I think part of it is sometimes it comes dressed up as something like, “We’re just asking questions,” or “We’re just having a reasonable debate.”
And usually, at the heart of that framing is this idea that there’s only so many rights to go around. And if some people have rights, then others must not, this zero sum game as if there’s a marketplace for rights. And I think there’s a lot of problems with a human rights framework like that being part of it right there that it gets lost in those debates, but it ends up pitting people against each other. So, we’re seeing this pitting against LGB and T people. We’re seeing feminists or people who are at least saying they’re feminists, whether or not they actually are, alleging that we can’t say “woman” anymore, which couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s so obvious and yet that’s their Great Replacement Theory dog whistle is the way that I’ve been looking at it. We, the “right” women, are being replaced by these people who have no claim to being women. That’s essentially what they’re saying, but dressing it up in this rhetoric where it paints them as the victim. It’s very insidious that way and it’s very hard I think for people who aren’t necessarily in these debates to challenge something that might sound innocent seeming or to even just do the basic amount of fact checking, because it’s all so preposterous. Some of these arguments, like the grooming arguments, you can’t win with facts necessarily.
I mean, you can try to fact check them, but it goes deeper than that, because they’re about amassing of violent backlash in some cases when we’re talking about the way that this rhetoric has fueled targeted harassment of LGBTQ teachers and librarians across the country against venues that are doing drag events for all ages or for families. You can’t divorce this rhetoric of the groomer and alleging that people are grooming children from the way that it’s used in the real world.
We’re not just talking about things that are said on the Twitter account, Libs of TikTok, for example, which is a huge driver of this. We’re talking about how people then take that rhetoric, go out in the world, harass people, make threats to people face to face, and often record videos of that content, which then feedback loops back to somewhere like Libs of TikTok or even the Tucker Carlson Show. I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.
KH: When it comes to bad takes and bad politics, these are dizzying times, but one of the moments I found most alarming in recent months was when some liberals began to characterize the use of gender-inclusive language like “pregnant people” as an erasure of women. I was honestly floored. I immediately thought of Marie Shear’s famous words, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” In 1986, the idea of being viewed as an actual person was aspirational for many women, who had experienced so much objectification and dehumanization in a deeply misogynistic society. In 2022, the idea of being viewed as a person, rather than specifically being referred to as a woman, in all cases, has been depicted by some people as a form of oppression that is comparable to forced birth. So how the fuck that did that happen? And how do we push back against it?
MGG: Yeah, one of the things that makes it difficult to push back on what is eliminationist rhetoric but coming in the guise of a liberal argument about rights and politics and debate and all those things is that it’s misstating what’s actually going on.
So, on the one hand, we’ll get something like this opinion piece in The New York Times from one of their new opinion columnists named Pamela Paul, who I’m not even sure if she would identify as a feminist. She’s certainly not a liberal, but the role that she plays across several pieces that she’s written now about trans rights is to launder a very borderline fascist in some of her pieces and I think now creeping into actually fascist ideas about gender and sexuality in one of her more recent pieces, which she alleged that the far right and the far left agree on one thing, women don’t count.
So, there’s two really scary things going on right there. She’s drawing an equivalency that doesn’t exist between the far right and the far left and she’s also claiming that we should be concerned with this more abstract idea that we can’t use the word “women” anymore when we’re debating. So, it drags what’s going on into the realm of debate and talk and op-eds, and it conveniently leaves the people whose lives are actually being put under threat right now. It takes people whose lives are under threat right now and pushes them out of the frame. They aren’t actors in this conversation. They certainly aren’t agents. They aren’t people with free will, but really the people that you have to worry about are people who want to have you state your pronouns.
On its face is that eliminationist? On its face is that advocating for “Great Replacement Theory”-type ideas like Tucker Carlson has mainstreamed? It is and it isn’t. What it is doing though is saying, “This is the realm in which we’re going to have this fight where we’re fighting in these abstract ways about who belongs and who matters as if they don’t have real world consequences.” And it’s also asserting their power to be able to say who counts as a woman, to say whose rights matter, people who actually, if they wanted to see their shared fate, cis women and trans women.
Cis women and trans folks generally have a shared fate when it comes to bodily autonomy and reproductive freedom, but this isn’t that, right? This isn’t somebody saying, “When someone harms you, it harms me.” This is someone saying, “When you get something, you take something from me.” That’s setting up something very dangerous.
KH: I think it’s very important to remember that the reactionary tendencies of fascists are further enabled by the biases of liberals, leftists, and others who may not be murderously resentful of trans people, but who may be pissed off about things like being expected to remember pronouns, or who are squeamish about trans kids playing on girl’s sports teams, or who would rather hear their gender identity emphasized, at all times, rather than being referred to as a person. If these beefs sound especially petty in comparison to what we are all up against, in a society where our bodily autonomy is under siege, that’s because they are. I don’t care if a trans person was ungenerous about you misgendering them. I don’t care what you think of any identity-based discourse, or conflicts you may have experienced organizationally. If you believe your politics are bigger than those petty concerns, then I am going to have to ask you to prove it. Opposing fascist attacks on marginalized groups should be our baseline collective response. When we stop fighting for people who are under siege, we are lost. Under such conditions, our enemies will thrive and they will cause a level of havoc and destruction that most of us have not yet imagined. So this is a good time to keep our priorities in order.
While liberals and leftists fail to adequately mobilize against attacks on queer and trans communities, the right has been honing its tactics of mobilization around digital content creation. Some right-wing groups are staging confrontations with targeted groups and individuals, and quickly turning those moments into viral posts and tweets, which then inspire online harassment campaigns and further popularize these aggressive, media-based tactics.
MGG: When we’re thinking about how attacks on queer and trans life are being immediately turned into content for right wing media, we have to talk about Libs of TikTok. That might be the place to start. This account that has, last time I checked, I think, upwards of 3 million followers, where their MO is to essentially troll the internet for the most outrageous gender nonconforming or openly queer and happy videos, better if they can say that they’re educators and share those and to try to put a target on actual individual lives.
The other kinds of things that they do are encourage parents and others to submit public records requests to schools to try to get any educational materials related to gender and sexuality, to then share those on that account without context and put whole school districts on blast. So, now educators are operating in an environment where any email that they send could potentially end up on Libs of TikTok putting a target on them. So, that infrastructure has now been weaponized by this group on the far right that I don’t think has gotten enough attention compared to maybe the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers. This is the Groyper Movement. This is the Christo fascists. They’re Gen Z.
For the most part, they are going out and taking marching orders from an account like Libs of TikTok like, “Here’s the queer bar in Dallas that we’re going to protest today.” But then of course, the entire thing is about no offense, Gen Z, but content generation. They’re very savvy in knowing that any video that they make, any confrontation that they can provoke and capture. In the case of what happened in this one community venue in Dallas during Pride Month, those videos showed up on Tucker Carlson in around 48 hours. So, there’s a pipeline between who’s putting targets on communities.
Vigilantes then are going to run out and turn that into action and then that feedback loops back to someone like Fox News. When it appears there, it seems almost like this organic thing. Oh, my God. Did you hear in this community, there was an all ages drag event during Pride Month and these concerned citizens just happen to be there? It was entirely manufactured. And in the case of this event in Texas, then it takes one more step, which is we have state legislators saying, “We need to ban drag in any venue where minors may be present.” That was mentioned within two or three days as well.
KH: As we have previously discussed on the show, we have seen a dropoff in support for trans people, since the end of the Trump administration. In my opinion, the lack of pushback has played a powerful role in emboldening and empowering the right as they have escalated their attacks on trans people.
MGG: So, I’ve seen a real shift in the last year or so when it comes to how people are responding to this unprecedented wave of anti-trans legislation. And we’re talking about at this point hundreds of proposed laws, bills that do everything from requiring genital exams for children to play sports in a public school to correctly gender them or misgender them.
We’re seeing proposals that would bar access, not just to medical forms of gender-affirming care, but also social transition is being floated in Florida right now. We are seeing processes that aren’t really laws or even executive actions like we’re seeing in Texas, where the Governor and the Attorney General have instructed the State Child Protective Services Agency to investigate the parents of trans kids who affirm them. And that last one I think is if we want to think of something emblematic of what’s going on right now, that’s a really key one, because it’s complicated and that it wasn’t actually a law. It’s not like parents got to go to the state legislature as they often do in Texas and have been doing for years to push back on this legislation.
This was actually a response to the fact that that legislation couldn’t even get through the Texas state legislature as conservative as it is and as dominated by an America first, Trumpian expression of conservatism. So, when they couldn’t pass a law, they just did it anyway and created chaos and let the chips fall where they may. And I think we’re seeing a version of this and they’re maybe learning from a version of this around abortion bans and the complex ways that abortion bans that were on the books before Roe are now coming into effect and people are having to scramble to make sense of them. What we saw in Texas after this action by Governor [Greg] Abbott and Attorney General [Ken] Paxton is parents having to make a really cold calculus.Do we have to leave? Do I have to uproot my family?
I’ve talked to families a year ago, so May 2021, when the state legislature was actually in session who wanted to stay in fight and were committed to protect the positive communities that they created for their kids. They didn’t experience the entire state as a hostile place. They felt like they had created affirming community for trans kids and their kids in particular and didn’t want to have to give that up. All of this like, “Oh, just abandon Texas. Just move somewhere else. You’re asking a lot.” And they refused to do that. Most of those families that I met in 2021 during the legislative session in Texas have left the state or have plans to leave the state because of that executive action.
These are people who, because they testified at the state legislature, are out and known as the parents of trans kids. There’s active investigations of parents of trans kids and there’s legal challenges to this too. The ACLU is involved in these legal challenges. There is movement to push back, but in the meantime, as the court process winds on, people are having to pull their kids out of school, sell their houses, and uproot themselves. And to be honest, that was a really chilling moment for me personally, as a journalist, as a human being, to see people go in the span of a year from stay and fight to, “I have no choice but leave.”
I remember some of the conversations that were going on right after the election of Trump and I feel like that us was a lot more widespread, even if people weren’t in imminent danger, but amongst of liberals in general, the #resistance folks, there was a lot of sort speculation about, “Well, when would you leave? When would you know that things were bad enough to leave?” To see that playing out already in this community and it’s played out in other communities before now, but this particular community that was resolved to stay and fight a year ago, to see many of them feeling like they have no choice to protect their families but to leave, that is a line in the sand moment for me. It’s not the end, right? What’s going on in Texas is just the beginning of it.
KH: Melissa’s coverage of attacks on trans youth has also helped me understand the role right-wing mothers are playing in the larger panic we’re seeing about trans and queer people. And I really want to emphasize to people who haven’t paid attention to these school board wars that we cannot afford to ignore the impact that radicalized right-wing parents are having. In a piece called, “The Arizona Republican Primary Is Ground Zero for America’s Hysteria Over Critical Race Theory and Drag Queens,” Melissa chronicled the rise of Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, whose story I think is really important to understanding this moment. Lake is a political novice and conspiracy theory enthusiast whose credibility as a “fellow mamma bear” has channeled the political will of parents who have disrupted school board meetings to protest mask mandates, critical race theory, and any discussion of social justice. Lake has also championed the crusade against queer and trans people in public schools, posting, “They kicked God out of schools and welcomed the Drag Queens … They took down our Flag and replaced it with a rainbow. They seek to disarm Americans and militarize our Enemies. Let’s bring back the basics: God, Guns & Glory.”
In 2021, fueled by a moral panic about critical race theory, conservatives took over dozens of school boards around the country. In Colorado Springs, plans to diversify staffing and overhaul disciplinary practices were quashed by the right-wing takeover of school boards. These conservative takeovers have also led to the removal or resignation of dozens of school superintendents in the state. As Michael Thomas, a superintendent who chose to resign told the Washington Post, “Our schools are where social warfare is waged in America.” While communities in some states have rejected extremist school board candidates, Republican crusaders are often met with less resistance.
In California about half of the state’s 5,000 school board seats are up for election this year. In the San Francisco Bay area, at least 100 candidates are running unopposed. One of those candidates is known anti-gay extremist Dennis Delisle, who has written that descendants of slaves “are so much better off” than they would have been if their ancestors had been left in Africa. In Florida, Ron DeSantis has provided campaign funds, covered the cost of mailers and held rallies in multiple cities, in support of 30 right-wing school board candidates, even though such races are historically nonpartisan.
Libs of TikTok has also fueled parental hysteria around queer and trans people in public schools, often dictating the right’s talking points on the subject. By late April, a Media Matters review of the account indicated that Libs of TikTok had “tagged or named at least 222 schools, education organizations, or school system employees in 2022, often directing users to harass an individual school district or teacher.”
The power and potential of these parent groups is not lost on Republicans. As Melissa reported, one of the most prominent right-wing groups organizing against school boards, a group called Moms for Liberty, held a national conference in July. At the event, Republican Senator Rick Scott, who is leading Republican efforts to retake the Senate, emphasized the importance of school board disruption as a political phenomenon, telling parents, “If you guys run, you are going to make everybody else win.”
MGG: Motherhood is such a complicated part of all of this when we’re talking about mostly the moms in Texas, for example, who are coming out and standing in the way of the legislators who want to take health care and education away from their children. That was my introduction to these empowered moms. Especially after COVID, it seems like there was a wave of parents getting involved in school districts. But most of the time, what they were getting involved in was not about protecting their children. It was about weaponizing COVID to advance other right-wing causes.
So, what we saw in Arizona is indicative of something that’s happened across the country, but I narrowed in on the Scottsdale Unified School District, because you could see this develop very clearly from 2020, where we have mothers mostly, but not only, organizing themselves on a private Facebook Group to take over these meetings essentially and just filibuster meetings with comments that have nothing to do with what’s on the agenda, ostensibly there to reject masking and any other kinds of COVID precautions. And once that ball is rolling, then we find out they’re also opposing what they call critical race theory, which the educators there say, the school board there says, “Critical race theory is not actually being taught here.”
And I feel like I just have to sidebar for a second and say, who cares if it was, right? The problem isn’t like whether or not this is being taught. The problem is this is being weaponized by people who don’t even understand it and are tweeting about any discussion of race and racism in the classroom as something that they have the right to censor their children’s exposure to and all children in the school district’s exposure to. And then from organizing and the way that they are against masks, against what they believe is CRT, the grooming rhetoric then flowed in alongside that. And we see parents also alleging that children are being sexualized by any discussions of LGBTQ people, history, rights.
In Florida, it even went a step further with any classroom discussion of gender or sexuality for kindergartners through third graders was potentially considered sexualizing and inappropriate with teachers subject to sanctions for that. So, these three things converged over the last two years. What we’ve seen now heading into the midterms in 2022 is candidates are seizing on this. So, in Arizona, probably the candidate who most actively aligned with these activist moms is Kari Lake who just won the Republican nomination for governor in that state and she amplified their conspiracy theories about being targeted.
So, the victimhood of rhetoric comes into play where after disrupting these meetings, after proposing things that are deeply unpopular and after doing so in such a way that is getting up in the face of people, making them feel uncomfortable, taking over the meetings, by the way, are tactics that could be useful in other situations, but what’s going on here is just trying to sink the entire process into chaos. The end game for them is no public education. Pull their kids out of schools, pull all kids out of schools. Everything moves into charter and religious education. What’s going on here is an attempt to crash a system essentially and you can’t reason with it.
And part of the reason that you can’t is it’s driven by these conspiracy theories about grooming or critical race theory or thar COVID is fake. And the latest one in this school district that found its way into campaign ads for Kari Lake is the idea that the parents were being surveilled by members of the school board, that a secret dossier was compiled against them. And it wasn’t. What happened there sounds pretty reasonable. Parents who were coming to school meetings quite often like the father of one of the school board members started creating a Google Drive documenting who they were and some of the stuff he put on there was unsavory and insulting to them. Some of it was just screen caps of things they said on social media themselves, but they took all of this to feed into this larger victim narrative of, “We are the ones who are under attack. Our values are under attack.” And then Kari Lake runs with this to say, “This is what’s going on in these schools. And if you vote for me, we’re going to put an end to all parents being put subject of investigation,” which they are not, but it doesn’t matter. She’s now the Republican nominee in that state and the school year is starting. Those parents are still active and people there that I’ve talked to are just stumped.
It’s like, “How do you disrupt this?” Because it isn’t happening in reality and yet it is, because it’s their kids and the educators who have to show up every day in this environment and the pressure that comes with that, feeling these groups are actually the one surveilling them. I don’t know. I don’t know where that ends. I’m still doing a lot of reporting on that. And I think what’s going on in Scottsdale is happening in a lot of other school districts as well.
Ron DeSantis and Kari Lake are not exactly the same, but I think you can think of them as a second generation post-Trump who share a lot of his base and use a lot of his flourishes rhetorically to try to distinguish themselves. We’re not those regular Republicans. We’re something else. Even DeSantis sometimes is treated as an opponent of Trump, regardless if he is running Florida, he is Trump. It’s a certain style of politics that he is very well versed in and I think one of the reasons people should be concerned about him is he seems to be better at it. He seems to actually be able to get his demands implemented.
And in Florida, that has included what I would say is an abuse of power targeting the state education department, health departments, trying to bake into their policies which aren’t necessarily getting as much airtime as things like the Don’t Say Gay legislation, but trying to bake into these policies trans exclusionary and anti-LGBT rhetoric that will fall on students, but also young people across the state. Sometimes I think this happened with Don’t Say Gay. It was treated as like, “Well, this is Ron DeSantis’s culture war. This is Ron DeSantis trying to appeal to the Trump base,” as if it didn’t have real material cost.
Even before the bill went into effect this July, the kind of environment that it creates, the kind of permission giving that it sets for how to treat queer and trans people in the State of Florida and your community, the level of pressure and fear that educators are under because nobody knew exactly how that law would be implemented. We’re already starting to see in the very early days that librarians are losing a lot of power over what books they can have in a library and even what kinds of story times they can offer. The law itself wasn’t meant to be clearly implemented. The law was meant to create this environment of fear and chaos and pressure. And I don’t think that’s incidental. He’s not just playing to his base. This is actually who he is and how he operates. The way that he operates is essentially to just abuse his power like it’s nothing, to say, “This state agency now has to fall into line with me. The state legislature has to do my bidding,” which theoretically, they’re not necessarily on the same page. We should have some division there. I’m trying to think of how to say it in relationship to Trump. I mean, there’s something about what DeSantis is doing around turning LGBTQ people into a scapegoat and then embedding that in state agencies under the rubric of protecting children, which is an old traditional conservative way of doing politics. This is all about protecting the children.
This is the state that Anita Bryant is from, the orange juice lady who went on a nationwide homophobic campaign in the ’70s. These aren’t necessarily new tactics, but with DeSantis, we also see that we have openly far right and fascist groupings coming out to support him with him refusing to condemn them. When you have a governor who speaks at a convention, in this case, it was the Turning Point USA Student Convention in Florida. And the next day, a bunch of apparent neo-Nazis show up with swastika flags and also flags that say, “DeSantis Country.” Why is it so hard to just condemn that, just to say that is unacceptable?
I mean, some other Republicans at least came out and said that was unacceptable, but he hasn’t. We’re also talking about a state where we have Proud Boys working, if not on Republican state boards, county-level Republican party organizations. There’s a collapsing happening in Florida that isn’t just about this “culture war.” You can’t really separate out these two things and I don’t think that you can wage that fascist power grab without doing things like turning queer and trans folks into scapegoats. It’s part of the playbook. It’s part of how it has happened historically and it isn’t a side show. It is the thing.
KH: The nonprofit group Run for Something is helping to train and support Democratic school board candidates around the country to fight back against what the group calls “a coordinated right-wing attack that’s turning schools into the newest front in the culture wars.” But such groups are up against an avalanche of funding from Republican PACs and wealthy donors, who are pouring “staggering amounts” of money into previously “low-profile” school board races.
I also think it’s important to note that by making schools a primary site of contestation, politically, and by including teachers in the ever-widening category of “groomer,” these parents are enacting another known element of fascism, which is to attack unions and unionized workers. Public school teachers have been characterized as “groomers” for respecting the gender expression of trans children, educating students about sex and gender, and for completely made up reasons, like a hoax circulated by Libs of TikTok in April claiming that a second grade teacher in Austin, Texas was teaching children about “furries.” Teachers are at the forefront of labor struggles and are often the primary target of conservatives who vilify unionized public workers as lazy and overpaid. Unsurprisingly, the right-wing movement to overtake school boards has found strong allies among longtime opponents of teachers unions.
While many people are aware of right-wing attacks on school boards, most people have not closely tracked the political dynamics at work or the damage done by these groups. Having a headline-level awareness of such issues can prove dangerous, because it prevents us from developing better strategies of defense, and it also leaves us open to unpleasant surprises, because you cannot anticipate the next moves of people you are not watching closely — which brings us back to Ron DeSantis.
One of the many perils of Trumpism is that it has narrowed our political focus, in many instances, with people viewing Donald Trump as the ultimate evil — our political worst case scenario — when in reality, men like DeSantis are no less dangerous, and will benefit from the path that Trump has paved.
MGG: After the “Don’t Say Gay” law, I think some of the attention on DeSantis also faded. It’s not like he won and he’s no longer scapegoating queer and trans people in the state. He’s taking the fight into places of Paxton and Abbott, into these administrative processes that maybe not as many people pay attention to.
So, for example, setting policies at the level of the State Board of Education that say that we don’t have to follow the Biden’s administration’s Title IX guidance, which is queer inclusive and trans inclusive or using the State Department of Business and Professional regulation, right, boring, to go after an LGBTQ venue that had an all ages drag event, to just openly use that state agency to target a community venue. You can draw a straight line from that kind of targeting to what we saw on Libs of TikTok, creating controversies in communities around queer specific venues. And he cited a Libs of TikTok video in why he weaponized this agency to investigate one queer venue.
And then I think most dangerously, he’s using the state’s health care administration to exclude gender-affirming care from any kind of best practices and actually positioning the affirmation of trans kids as something that is dangerous to children, to the extent that now they are threatening these agencies, threatening schools and educators that if they don’t follow the DeSantis line, which says reject the federal guidance, which also is held weapon in things like the Supreme court case in Bostock [Bostock v. Clayton County], to just reject this. And if you don’t reject it, you risk violating the law, which isn’t true. The law says otherwise. That your school board could be subject to penalties or you individuals could be subject to penalties.
This is creating an atmosphere of suspicion and pressure and using any lever of power he has within the state to do so. As important as it was to stand up and oppose things like Don’t Say Gay, this is actually how that stuff is weaponized and operationalized in a much more insidious way. People like Chase Strangio, I think, said this at the time that Don’t Say Gay, it was almost like trans people who were affected by that legislation got lost. Other queer people who were affected by that legislation got lost and it was smoothed into the slogan that didn’t capture this full DeSantis project of scapegoating queer and trans people.
KH: When we talk about unseen, right-wing political strategies, and people who get erased from popular narratives, I am reminded of how disconnected most people are from the day-to-day realities of what’s happening to trans people. The media is to blame for a lot of that. But I feel like there’s a lot of important work to be done, at the community level, to overcome that disconnect and bring us together in meaningful ways around this issue.A group of activists hold lighted letters spelling out the words “SAVE TRANS LIVES” on the Morse elevated train overpass in Chicago on August 20, 2022.Love & Struggle Photos
Over the weekend, I co-organized a direct action in Chicago that called on our community to support our trans neighbors. We spelled out the words “DEFEND TRANS LIVES” in lights on an elevated train overpass, above the Glenwood Avenue Arts festival, which is a popular annual event in the area where I live. We believed a lot of people at the fest would be supportive, so we designed and printed up a lot of posters to hand out, bearing messages like “We Will Defend Trans Lives” and “We Will Defend Our Trans Siblings.” We were betting that if we offered the signs to onlookers and invited them to join the moment, they would, and many people did. The people who joined us held their signs high and cheered for the folks holding light boards on the platform. There were a lot of hugs and tearful thank yous from people who were moved by the experience. But I want to say a few words about a guy who was decidedly unhappy about the action.
When I spoke through a bullhorn on the street, below the train platform, I identified myself as a queer, non-binary person who feels safe in my community because I believe that my neighbors will defend trans and queer lives. I talked about the arcane laws being passed around the country, about fascism, and the need for acts of solidarity. A man who was apparently displeased with the whole spectacle, and about what I had to say in particular, started to approach me while I was addressing the crowd. Another man stepped in his path, and said a few words, and the man backed up. While I continued to speak, I noticed the unhappy man acting like he might move toward me a couple of times, but he kept hesitating. When I finished speaking, he finally made his move, scurrying past me and uttering a laughably weak “fuck you,” as he sort of power walked away. My friends and I laughed. We laughed because we were safe and the man who wanted to trouble us had fled, because he was afraid. He was afraid of our numbers, of our solidarity, and of the people standing around him chanting, “All genders, all voices, our bodies, our choices” while they held signs vowing to defend trans lives. In that moment, those people were my safety.
I think it’s really important to remember that most of those people had no plan to attend a protest that night. They were handed signs and invited to join a moment of political communion, and they did. They were invited to make a commitment, emphatically, together, in public, to defend trans lives, and they did. They were invited to remember their collective power, and they did. And in that moment, they were not going to allow any of the trans or non-binary people involved with that action be harmed. I am moved by the fact that we have the power to issue such invitations, and that people are willing to accept them.Two attendees of the Glenwood Avenue Arts Festival in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood join a direct action in defense of trans lives on August 20, 2022.Love & Struggle Photos
I also want to emphasize that this was not some politically uniform group of people. I am sure that some of the people who paused to hold signs and chant and weep and experience joy with us hold some views I might object to. They might use language I don’t appreciate, and I doubt they all share my view that we should abolish police or prisons. But none of that mattered in the street that night. Because whatever differences may have existed between us, all of those people would have thrown down to protect me. They would have protected any trans or gender variant person involved with that action, and they would have protected each other. I could feel that in the energy between us and I could see it in their faces. And as an organizer operating on a politically siloed and sub-siloed landscape, I will tell you, that moment of shared purpose was really fucking special.
That collective willingness to defend one another, and a refusal to abandon anyone to the fascists, or whoever might be attacking us, is what it’s going to take to survive these times. I’m not saying that solidarity will come easily, or as beautifully as it did at our action, but it is entirely possible — and it is where all of our hopes lie.
I also want us to remember the power that crowd had, because I want us to think about how we can leverage that kind of strength. As I recently heard Robert Evans discuss on his podcast Behind the Bastards, determined people can sometimes prevent atrocities. Evans noted in his show that, historically, when we look at places where atrocities were likely or about to occur, but did not happen, solidarity and pushback made the difference. Fascists are not uniformly bold or sure of themselves. Many will not proceed without the promise of impunity. Even the vague threat that someone might “get them in trouble,” or that a crowd might turn on them, might be enough to stop some people. If we want to give these people pause about causing harm, we have to generate that hesitation by establishing that we will defend one another. I saw some of that hesitation being created in real time on Saturday, and I will tell you all, it feels good to be safe.
I think it’s also worth noting that some people have refused to participate in attacks on trans people, and I think we should all take inspiration from their actions. According to a recent report by the Houston Chronicle, “nearly 2,300 employees have left the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services since the beginning of the year.” Reports of staff leaving the department over Gov. Greg Abbott’s order to investigate the parents of transgender children have been circulating for months, but the exodus of 2,300 employees demonstrates the magnitude of resistance to these policies. I am so grateful for those workers and for the sacrifices they have made —and I am also grateful for the hope their actions have inspired. Because we need that kind of hope right now.
As Melissa and I rounded out our conversation, we also talked a bit about abortion access. Efforts to restrict abortion are obviously tied to efforts to criminalize gender-affirming care, but Melissa wanted to raise another concern for our listeners, and it’s one I feel very strongly about as well: that we must expect information crackdowns in the coming years, and that we have to do all we can to preserve and spread knowledge about self-managed abortion as widely as we can, while we can do so without legal intereference.
MGG: My pitch everywhere right now is while you can, please share information about medication abortion. One of the scary things that I uncovered in my reporting over the last couple of months after Roe ended and in the lead up to that anticipating that there is legislation right now on the books at the federal level which prohibits talking about abortion online. It’s a law that’s passed as part of a broader telecommunications act in 1996. That at the time President Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno said, “We will not prosecute people for this. This is unconstitutional.” And hence ever since then, it hasn’t been used, but it’s there on the books and it was recently cited by the attorney general as rationale for criminalizing medication abortion.
That hasn’t happened there yet, but just the existence of this law is being used to say that this is fair game. And in fact, another administration coming in potentially in 2024 with a different Department of Justice could start enforcing this prohibition on talking about abortion online, which comes with jail penalties and financial penalties. So, it’s something that’s gotten lost in both the internet policy world and in the reproductive rights world, I’m trying to put more attention on. We could basically kill this entire thing if Congress was willing to repeal the Comstock Act of 1873, which created these prohibitions on communication about abortion, but also birth control, porn and prostitution through the federal mail at that time, because it’s 1873.
So, in 1996, it was just updated for the internet era and again, hasn’t been enforced. People should not be concerned that it’s going to be enforced tomorrow, but it would be very, very easy to get this off the books in a normal Congress, if there’s ever been such a thing. I don’t think there’s that many people who think that you should be banned from talking about abortion online. I mean, this would ostensibly also hit anti-abortion groups too.
So, given that we are in a moment where we can feel a little more confident about talking about medication abortion online, sharing that information, making sure that information is archived in communities in such a way that we aren’t reliant on going online to get it because there’s lots of reasons people might not want to access that information online when it comes to leaving a digital trail, I think it’s really important right now to get well versed on what medication abortion is, how to do it, where to get pills, and to share that information widely, destigmatize it and make it accessible to people who might not even know it’s an option.
If you don’t know if medication abortion exists, you’re not necessarily going to know to Google it. This has to just become common knowledge, especially as we go into this next phase of what a world without Roe looks like with potentially Attorney General Ron DeSantis.
KH: We talk a lot on this show about what’s wrong and what we need to be afraid of, but I hope our listeners and readers are also coming away from these episodes with some inspiration and ideas about how to take action. This week, I would really like folks to think about how they can assert their willingness to defend trans lives, if they are in fact willing to do so. How can you enact solidarity in your community? How can we all make it clear that trans and queer people will not go undefended? What beautiful visions of solidarity can we dream up together? And how can we invite each other into moments that strip away concerns about our petty differences, and make the work before us clear? Let’s dream on it.
I would also recommend that people who need ideas about how to support trans people during this dangerous time check out our previous episodes with Chase Strangio and Dean Spade, which you can find linked in the show notes of this episode.
I also hope folks will heed Melissa’s advice and preserve information about self managed abortion, and help to make that information common knowledge — which is a topic we will be returning to soon. I want to thank Melissa Gira Grant for joining me today. To learn more from Melissa, you can check out her work in The New Republic and follow her on Twitter at @melissagira, and that’s Gira spelled G-I-R-A. You can also find links to some of Melissa’s articles on the topics we have discussed today in the show notes of this episode on our website at truthout.org.
I also want to thank our listeners for joining us today. And remember, our best defense against cynicism is to do good and to remember that the good we do matters. Until next time, I’ll see you in the streets.
To learn more from Melissa, you can follow Melissa on Twitter at @melissagira or check out her work in The New Republic.
Previous episodes you may want to check out:
- Trans Youth Are Facing Right-Wing Attacks and a Solidarity Shortage with Chase Strangio
- Attacks on Trans Youth Are a Fascist “Moral Battering Ram” with Chase Strangio
- Attacks on Trans Rights and Abortion Rights Are “Bound Together” with Shane Burley
- Dean Spade Is Asking Activists, “How Much Bolder Could You Be?” with Dean Spage
Self managed abortion resources:
- If you are self managing an abortion and need support, you can call the call the Miscarriage + Abortion Hotline at 1-833-246-2632.
- If you or someone you know finds themselves under scrutiny for a miscarriage of any type, you can contact If/When/How for legal assistance.
- Plan C provides up-to-date information on how people in the U.S. are accessing at-home abortion pill options online.
- Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and HowToUseAbortionPill.org have created this video series for anyone looking to learn more about an abortion with pills up to 13 weeks of pregnancy.
- Ron DeSantis’s War on LGBTQ People Is Essential to His Agenda by Melissa Gira Grant
- The Arizona Republican Primary Is Ground Zero for America’s Hysteria Over Critical Race Theory and Drag Queens by Melissa Gira Grant
- A Pizzagate in Every City by Melissa Gira Grant
- “Grooming” Is Republicans’ Cruel New Buzzword for Targeting Trans Kids by Melissa Gira Grant
- Pamela Paul’s Great Replacement Theory by Melissa Gira Grant
- Distraught over orders to investigate trans kids’ families, Texas child welfare workers are resigning By Eleanor Klibanoff
- ‘I will resign’: Gov. Abbott’s order to investigate trans youth elicited anger, confusion inside state protective services, internal emails show by Ryan Wood
- Flood of 2,300 departing workers leaves Texas child welfare agency scrambling: ‘Absolutely a crisis’ by Cayla Harris
- Part Two: Ancient Genocide and the War on Carthage (Behind The Bastards podcast, hosted by Robert Evans)
- Libs of TikTok tweeted fake accusations about a school teaching second graders about furries by Matt Binder
- Candidates backed by conservative PAC sweep Tarrant County school board elections by Jason Beeferman
- “Libs of TikTok” has used Twitter to target over 200 individual teachers, schools, and districts in 2022 for supporting LGBTQ students by Sophie Lawton
- Sleepy School Board Races Present Openings For Extremists
- Across the country, educational equity was in vogue. Then it wasn’t. by Laura Meckler
Climate Crisis Is Killing Off Key Insects and Spreading Insect-Borne Diseases
Love them or loathe them, we need insects, yet their numbers are decreasing. From declining monarch butterflies in North America to disappearing bumblebees in Europe, there is mounting evidence that insects are in rapid decline. This should worry us all, for insects are overwhelmingly important; they are food for innumerable larger creatures such as birds and bats, they control pests, recycle nutrients, help to keep the soil healthy and they pollinate three-quarters of the crops we grow. Without insects, life as we know it would grind to a halt.
The causes of insect declines are numerous, with habitat loss and the industrialization of global farming leading the way, assisted by growing use of pesticides, the depredations of invasive species, increasing light pollution, and more. Populations of many insects are now much reduced compared to the past, and most now exist in habitat “islands” — fragments of their favored habitat surrounded by inhospitable terrain.
Sadly, climate change is likely to be the final straw for some. Of course, the climate has changed in the past, many times, and insects have survived. Indeed, insects have come through all five of the previous mass extinction events on our planet (though many individual species must have been lost). However, this time is different. In the past, climate change was usually much more gradual, and species could gradually shift their ranges in response, shifting towards the poles as the climate warmed and returning towards the equator as it cooled. Such movement used to be easy, for there were vast tracts of suitable habitat. Today, to move pole-wards, insects must somehow hop from one patch of habitat to the next, crossing roads, landscapes filled with polluting factories, arable fields sprayed with insecticides, housing estates, and other alien, human-made landscapes.
Insects do not live in isolation, but depend upon particular plants to provide food for their larvae, or nectar and pollen for adults. If these plants haven’t travelled ahead of them — for example via seeds blown on the wild — then they cannot survive, so entire communities of organisms need to make this journey. It seems that they are failing to do so. Studies of bumblebees in North America and Europe have revealed that they are disappearing from the southern edges of their ranges as the climate becomes too warm for them, but the northern edges of their ranges have not moved northwards as we might expect. It has been described as a climate “vice,” the ranges of the bees being gradually squashed from the south. Some mountain-dwelling bumblebees in Colorado and Spain have responded to climate warming by moving higher in the mountains, but eventually they will run out of mountain and be left with nowhere else to go.
Studies of these mountain bees have also revealed that climate change may disrupt the seasons in subtle but important ways. Many insects time their life cycle carefully to ensure that times of activity coincide with availability of a vital resource. As the climate warms, different organisms may use different cues to time their life cycle, leading to mismatches. For example, some mountain plants in Colorado are now coming into flower before the bumblebees that feed on them have emerged from hibernation, meaning that the plants are not pollinated and set few seed.
Bumblebees seem to be particularly sensitive to warming as they are creatures found primarily in cool, temperate climates. Their large size and furry coats are adaptations to keeping warm in cool conditions, and they literally overheat in hot weather. Above about 30 degrees Celsius (30oC), most bumblebee species seem unable to maintain prolonged activity. The recent heat waves that afflicted much of Europe’s temperatures (even in the U.K.) exceeded 40oC, leaving bumblebees unable to gather food for extended periods.
Are bumblebees an exception? Many other insects are more “thermophilic” — warmth loving — and thrive in hot climates. For example, many butterflies are at the northern edge of their range in the U.K., so we might expect them to benefit from a warmer climate. To test this, the charity Butterfly Conservation analyzed changes in the populations of 46 butterfly species that all reach the northern edge of their range in the U.K. — the species we would expect to be enjoying warming. Between 1970 and 2000, three-quarters of these species declined significantly. The pattern differs between sedentary habitat specialists (fussy species with very specific requirements and low mobility, comprising 28 species) and the generalist, highly mobile species (18 species). Of the habitat specialists, 89 percent had declined, while only half of the generalists had declined and a few, including pest species, were thriving. This gives us a clue as to why climate warming has so far not benefited even warmth-loving butterflies. Mobile generalists can more easily move in response to warming, and are more likely to find somewhere where they can survive when they get there.From declining monarch butterflies in North America to disappearing bumblebees in Europe, there is mounting evidence that insects are in rapid decline.
Of course, climate change is not simply a matter of slight increases in temperature. Perhaps more impactful on wildlife is the increased frequency of extreme weather events, such as droughts, heat waves, wildfires, storms and floods, all of which are likely to become more frequent and more extreme in the future. We have little idea what impact these will have on insects, but of course very few of them will be positive. Fires will obviously kill insects, although the flush of new flowers that follows fires in some ecosystems would benefit some. Summer storms are likely to batter delicate adult insects such as butterflies, and flash floods are likely to destroy underground nests of creatures such as bumblebees. Drought causes water-stressed plants to cease nectar production in their flowers, which will certainly harm pollinators. In prolonged droughts, plants wilt and become unpalatable for caterpillars — for example, in the hot British summer of 1976, many caterpillars of the Adonis blue butterfly died as their food plant, horseshoe vetch, shriveled in the heat. As a result, numbers of the adults were much lower the following year, and some populations died out. With the U.K. now experiencing the worst drought since 1976, it is a fair bet that 2023 will be an especially poor year for butterflies.
Although climate change is undoubtedly bad news for many insects, there is no doubt that some are thriving. Ironically, these tend to be undesirables, from a human perspective. Adaptable, mobile species that can thrive in urban landscapes, such as house flies and mosquitoes, are on the increase. For example, the yellow fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti) seems to have adapted well to urbanization and thrives in cities, breeding in blocked gutters, discarded tires, barrels, buckets, and any other human refuse that traps puddles of water. It is one of the main vectors of several nasty diseases, including dengue fever, chikungunya, Zika fever and of course yellow fever, as its name suggests.
The Anopheles mosquito, the main transmitter of malaria, is also benefiting from the spread of human activities. Cases of malaria tend to become more frequent in areas where forests are cleared for agriculture, because the mosquito likes to breed in sunlit puddles and ditches, which are hard for it to find in dense forest. Climate predictions suggest that malaria is likely to spread to higher-altitude regions of the tropics, for example in Colombia, Kenya and Ethiopia. These regions are densely populated with humans in part because, until recently, they were largely free from malaria. The southern states of the U.S., southeastern Europe, parts of China and the densely populated areas surrounding São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil are all likely to become suitable for malaria by 2050. Dengue fever is similarly predicted to become far more common throughout North America, as far north as southern Canada.
There are no simple solutions to these problems. Clearly, we need to place tackling climate change as the single most urgent priority for humankind, both for the sake of the astonishing biodiversity on our planet and for our own wellbeing. Preserving as much nature-rich habitat as possible and attempting to link habitat patches together may help insects and other wildlife to cope in the meantime.
Oklahoma Teacher Disciplined for Sharing Access to Banned Books Has Quit
A high school English teacher in Oklahoma has resigned from her position after school officials placed her on administrative leave for sharing with her students a way to access books that the state banned educators from including in their lesson plans.
Summer Boismier, who has taught in the state for the past nine years, began this year at Norman High School in Norman, Oklahoma, by greeting her students with a unique display — bookshelves covered in red construction paper that read, “books the state doesn’t want you to read.”
The display was meant to respond to legislation, signed into law last year by Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, that restricts a number of classroom materials, including books that reference “discriminatory principles.” Books that address inequalities and discuss issues relating to systemic racism and LGBTQ topics are the ones that are primarily targeted by the law.
Stitt claimed that the law would protect children from feeling “discomfort” over learning about discrimination and other acts of bigotry in the U.S. — a common talking point among far right officials and pundits who have implemented or promoted such bans elsewhere while ignoring the discomfort students of color or LGBTQ students feel by not having teachings that are representative of their identities or experiences.
Included in Boismier’s display was a QR code to the Brooklyn Public Library. That library system is providing digital copies of books being banned by state legislatures and municipalities across the country, free of charge to teenagers.
Boismier viewed the QR code as a loophole to the state law and her own school’s rules on the matter. “Nowhere in my directives did it say we can’t put a QR code on a wall,” she said to Gothamist.
Officials at her school disagreed, and she was placed on administrative leave for her actions.
After the school said that she could return to teaching this week, Boismier refused, citing “fundamental ideological differences between myself and district representatives that I just couldn’t get past,” in a statement. She further added that the restrictive law and the high school’s strict adherence to it created “an impossible working environment for teachers and a devastating learning environment for students.”
Boismier also noted that her departure created an unfortunate situation for students at the high school:
For the second year in a row, students at Norman High will be without a certified English teacher for a substantial amount of time. The fault for that lies with Governor Stitt and Republican state leadership.
Boismier has raised grievances with the law on her social media profile as well. Earlier this month, she expressed anger at the new guidelines she was forced to follow.
“The censorship of LGBTQ+ and multicultural texts … is the latest in a long line of attempts to enact violent erasure on marginalized communities and vulnerable populations in Oklahoma,” she said on Twitter.
“Every child — andImeaneverychild — deserves to see themselves reflected and validated in our schools. But no #oklaed student deserves to see their identity — nay, their humanity — vilified by adults in powerful positions who are supposed to protect them… all of them,” she said in a follow-up tweet.
Mainstream Press’s Initial Coverage of Climate Bill Was a Lazy Distortion
Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson once compared the behavior of much of the national press corps to a wheeling flock of birds. Each bird follows the other birds in search of The Story, until they all move generally in the same direction. Though it tends to have a deleteriously narrowing effect on how people understand the world, the phenomenon is rarely nefarious. It’s just lazy, and more than a little chickenshit (speaking of birds): No one wants to get too far out front, no one wants to fall too far back, so everyone reports essentially the same thing, and everyone gets to keep their job.
Take the strangely named Inflation Reduction Act, so labeled to appease a coal baron senator from West Virginia while signaling to a grumpy public that the I-word is being dealt with… even though the bill itself will do little to combat inflation, which is already retreating on its own anyway, as most everyone predicted it would sooner or later.
The Story on the Act that was settled on by the press birds tells the tale of an ambitious Build Back Better Act that ran into the wheat thresher of conservative Democratic resistance in a narrowly divided Congress. A surprise 11th-hour deal revived Build Back Better in the guise of a much-reduced Inflation Reduction Act, and the press for the most part made it sound like the second coming of the New Deal.
“Massive” and “sweeping” were among the most commonly used press descriptors, even as the bill itself was anything but; it delivers a pretty nifty bag of treats for the fossil fuel industry, and the policies meant to address environmental degradation are better suited to the climate crisis as it stood 40 years ago. The mainstream press spun the fact that something had gotten done — after months of watching Joe Manchin drop No-bombs all over the process — into a narrative that indicated nearly everything had gotten done. They made lemonade while the sun was shining.
Somewhere in the middle of all that, scrambled between the venn diagram lines deployed to simplify the reporting, was some legislative language that actually made significant history. The New York Times reports:
When the Supreme Court restricted the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency to fight climate change this year, the reason it gave was that Congress had never granted the agency the broad authority to shift America away from burning fossil fuels. Now it has.
Throughout the landmark climate law, passed this month, is language written specifically to address the Supreme Court’s justification for reining in the E.P.A., a ruling that was one of the court’s most consequential of the term. The new law amends the Clean Air Act, the country’s bedrock air-quality legislation, to define the carbon dioxide produced by the burning of fossil fuels as an “air pollutant.” That language, according to legal experts as well as the Democrats who worked it into the legislation, explicitly gives the E.P.A. the authority to regulate greenhouse gases and to use its power to push the adoption of wind, solar and other renewable energy sources.
The legislation specifically defines carbon dioxide, hydrofluorocarbons, methane, nitrous oxide, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride as “pollution” and “greenhouse gases” under the Clean Air Act, significantly muscling up the E.P.A.’s ability to address and restrict them. As Environmental Defense Fund general counsel Vickie Patton told Bloomberg Law, “There’s a tapestry that is woven throughout the fabric of the Clean Air Act under this legislation that makes it abundantly clear it is EPA’s responsibility to address climate pollution, meaning greenhouse gases or air pollutants.”
Thwarting that badly wrongheaded anti-E.P.A. ruling by the far right Supreme Court is only part of the story. The addition of language specifically meant to strengthen the agency stands in direct contravention to the newest Trump-born attack on government as a whole, a woefully underreported assault traveling under the guise of something called “Schedule F.”The binding concrete of “conventional wisdom” does not have to rule the day.
“Schedule F involves nothing less than the obliteration of vast swaths of the federal workforce,” I wrote back in July, “who would reportedly be replaced by employees loyal to Trump and his madding MAGA horde. It is the realization of Steve Bannon’s war on the administrative state, combined with Trump’s apparently bottomless need to inflict chaotic pain in the name of revenge, and would damage the function of the federal government for generations.”
These oversights happen, I guess. All the time, as it turns out. How many months have we been hearing about the looming doom awaiting the Democrats in the November midterms? Maybe not so much with that, actually. Trump appears to have his base convinced he is locked in final combat with the forces of evil, while his actual defense more accurately resembles two torpid cats fighting under a rug. Meanwhile, our always-available narrow view of the planet is focusing on the drought here in the U.S., and has barely deigned to notice the terrifying water calamity looming over China and the rest of the world.
Pro tip: If a news story catches your eye, read about it again a couple of weeks later. Like as not, the details will have changed substantially, and far less prominently than when the story first broke. The binding concrete of “conventional wisdom” does not have to rule the day; birds are gonna do what birds do, but that doesn’t mean you have to follow them.
The nice thing — sometimes — about our atomized media landscape is the fact that we have a vast array of choices regarding where to feed when we are hungry for news. Determining the reliability of a source is of paramount interest these days, of course, but the impact of the wheeling birds phenomenon is leavened by the fact that there are more than four news networks out there now, along with this thing called the internet.
Let’s say you’ve decided Truthout is a worthy source; congratulations, you’re correct! If you’ve followed our coverage of the Inflation Reduction Act, like as not you’ve seen this piece weighing the pros and cons of the bill in detail; this piece on the Manchin Effect; and this piece on Bernie Sanders’s tireless fight to improve the bill even as it lumbered toward a final vote.
In other words, it’s not all about the barmy birds if you know where to look. Some of us fancy ourselves owls, and a gathering of owls is called a “parliament.” I just think that’s so cool.
Former FBI Agent: Trump “Admits” He Took Docs Through Executive Privilege Claims
The legal filing from former President Donald Trump’s lawyers this week seeking to have classified documents removed from his Mar-a-Lago estate returned to him appears to include arguments that are admissions from him that the documents do not actually belong to him, but to the federal government.
Asha Rangappa, a former FBI agent and former associate dean at Yale Law School, made the contention this week, following the filing by Trump’s legal team on Monday.
Among the many claims Trump is making in his lawsuit seeking the documents’ return, he is saying that he has “executive privilege” to continue holding them. Such an argument suggests that the classified material emanated from the executive branch of the federal government, rather than from him personally.
In other words, while the documents may have been produced during his presidency, that doesn’t mean he is the owner of them.
“If he’s acknowledging that he’s in possession of documents that would have any colorable claim of executive privilege, those are by definition presidential records and belong at the National Archives,” Rangappa said to The Guardian.
Although former presidents have some limited ways to claim executive privilege, ultimately only the current president — in this case, President Joe Biden — has the final say on what material falls under that purview.
Such an argument by Trump’s lawyers is an improper one for them to be making in this case, Rangappa said, and one that inadvertently suggests that Trump’s actions were illegal.
“It’s not clear that executive privilege would even be relevant to the particular crime he’s being investigated for and yet in this filing, he basically admits that he is in possession of them, which is what the government is trying to establish,” she explained.
Trump’s legal motion is asking for a special master to look through the documents before investigators do. Such a figure, usually a former judge, would examine evidence to determine if any types of privilege (including attorney-client privilege, for example) should preclude investigators from looking at the documents.
A Department of Justice (DOJ) “filter team,” separate from the team investigating Trump, is already reviewing records to determine if there is privileged material among the documents retrieved from Mar-a-Lago. Requesting the involvement of a special master is not atypical in these circumstances, but making the request several weeks after the material was seized is peculiar, and puts into doubt the claim that this is a time-sensitive matter.
Trump claims in his lawsuit that he has been “fully cooperative” with investigators in returning classified documents he took from the White House to Mar-a-Lago. But the series of events of the past weeks and the DOJ’s actions throughout the year suggest otherwise.
Trump returned 15 boxes of classified documents in January after the National Archives came to his Palm Beach, Florida, home demanding them. In June, the DOJ recovered an additional 26 boxes after it served Trump with a subpoena telling him he needed to return additional classified material he was holding on to. Within that subpoena, Trump was also ordered to return any other classified documents he possessed or came across.
When surveillance footage of Mar-a-Lago, and following the cooperation of an informant with knowledge of what was kept on the property, alerted the DOJ to the fact that Trump possessed more documents than he had previously disclosed, a search warrant was obtained and executed earlier this month. An additional 20 boxes of classified documents were retrieved in that raid.
Biden Announces Long-Awaited Plan to Cancel Up to $20K in Student Debt
In a long-awaited announcement, President Joe Biden said that his administration is canceling up to $10,000 in student debt for a large portion of the 45 million Americans burdened by student loans on Wednesday, after years of pressure from progressive activists.
The administration is canceling $10,000 in student debt for individuals making under $125,000 a year, or couples making under $250,000 a year. The cancellation will not be counted as taxable income, and likely includes debt incurred from graduate schooling.
Biden additionally announced that recipients of Pell Grants – funding for undergraduate students with low incomes – will be granted an additional $10,000 in debt forgiveness for a total of $20,000. The plan will allow those with undergraduate loans to cap payments at 5 percent of their monthly income.
The president also said he is extending the student loan payment pause “one final time” until December 31, past the midterm elections, allowing borrowers to hold off on paying their student loans for another four months. The payment pause was set to expire on August 31, or in one week.
“In keeping with my campaign promise, my Administration is announcing a plan to give working and middle class families breathing room as they prepare to resume federal student loan payments in January 2023,” Biden wrote in a tweet on Wednesday morning.
Biden’s announcement came after nearly two years of pressure from student debt activists, who have been urging him to cancel student debt since before he took office.
The plan is far short of what activists have called for – debt advocates have urged Biden to cancel up to $50,000 or cancel all student loans with no income restrictions. As officials in the Education Department have said, placing an income cap on the plan makes it far harder for the government to administer the loan forgiveness and burdens the program with what advocates say are unnecessary hurdles for borrowers.
The Biden administration spent months deliberating over the plan. The administration has been sidetracked by debunked conservative arguments, including those saying that student debt forgiveness will only benefit the wealthiest Americans.
Not only a self-defeating argument – wealthy people largely don’t have student debt – but it has also been disproven by research showing that student debt cancellation is a progressive financial policy that will disproportionately help people with low incomes. Indeed, the administration says that 90 percent of the relief will go toward households with incomes of $75,000 a year or less.
Conservatives have also argued that the plan will carry a high cost, but advocates say that the supposed cost of the plan is moot. A large portion of the debt, especially for borrowers who have larger debt burdens, would never have been paid off.
Progressive lawmakers and debt activists celebrated the announcement. “Today is a day of joy and relief,” wrote Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts). “President Biden is canceling up to $20,000 of federal student debt for as many as 43 million Americans – a powerful step to help rebuild the middle class. This will be transformative for the lives of working people all across this country.”
Activists pledged to keep fighting for more relief for the millions of Americans who owe more than $10,000 or $20,000 of student debt.
“This didn’t just happen folks. We organized. Now some 20M Americans should be getting student debt relief,” wrote Braxton Brewington, press secretary for the Debt Collective. “This is truly just the beginning – I promise you.”
“If we can cancel $10k we can cancel it all,” the Debt Collective added.
Texas District Votes to Forbid Acknowledging Trans People Exist in Schools
Students, teachers and staff at a Texas school district will be forbidden from discussing transgender issues, or even acknowledging that transgender people exist at their school, under a new policy adopted by the school board.
The Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District (GCISD), located just northwest of Dallas, Texas, adopted the policy with a 4-3 vote on Monday evening, following around 200 comments from members of the community, most of which were against the policy. The policy bars the recognition of pronouns for transgender students or staff, and requires teachers to only use pronouns for students that they were assigned at birth.
“[A]ny theory or ideology that (1) espouses the view that biological sex is merely a social construct; (2) espouses the view that it is possible for a person to be any gender or none (i.e., non-binary); or (3) espouses the view that an individual’s biological sex should be changed to ‘match’ a self-believed gender that is different from the person’s biological sex” is expressly forbidden from being discussed, per the new policy.
Even if parents sign a note specifically requesting a teacher use the student’s proper pronouns, teachers and other school staff will not be required to do so.
The new policy would also restrict students from using restrooms or joining sports teams that correspond to their gender identity. And it restricts teachers from having classroom discussions about transgender issues.
In addition to trans issues, the policy also forbids the teaching of critical race theory (CRT), a set of college-level teachings that discuss how institutions perpetuate racism in society. Though CRT is not part of the curriculum at most K-12 schools, the far right has used it as a political bogeyman, wrongly portraying it as a social ill, harming the nation and influencing students.
According to reporting from LGBTQ Nation, the new guidelines adopted by GCISD “are the result of a concerted campaign organized by conservative [and Christian Nationalist] group Patriot Mobile Action, which has spent millions of dollars electing conservative majorities to Texas school boards.” Although many in attendance during the Monday school board meeting donned shirts with that organization’s name, most spoke out against the district adopting the new set of harmful and bigoted policies.
“By implementing these policies you are preventing our kids, the kids who were trusted into your care, from getting the help and support that they need,” a teenager from the district said during the public comment period. “You will alienate them even more from getting help. … Help my friends. Don’t tell them they should be erased.”
An alumnus from the school who said he graduated from GCISD with the school board president also spoke out against the policy, recounting how, when they were teens, one of their peers was beaten up and afraid to attend school for a full year after being outed as gay.
“This is why we expose kids to LGBTQ viewpoints,” the alumnus said. “Not to indoctrinate, not to make them gay or trans, but to teach them empathy, to show them that they are human beings who deserve care and love. … Kids deserve better than to be otherized and demonized.”
An alumnus from GCISD who went to school with the board president relates a story of a gay student who was outed and then beaten up in a bathroom, making them afraid to come to school for a year.
"This is why we expose kids to LGBTQ viewpoints, not to indoctrinate them."
— steven monacelli (@stevanzetti) August 23, 2022
“It’s so disappointing that our kids can’t walk into what should be a safe place for all of them. … By banning inclusive language in our schools, you’re taking away representation, [which is] part of safety,” another parent said during the hearing. “If they’re not represented, they don’t feel safe.”
Although the proposal came about through the help of far right Christian Nationalists, a United Methodist Pastor named Andrew Fiser, whose congregation includes many students who attend school in the district, vociferously opposed the new policy.
The ideas being considered by the board are “a white nationalist, fascist agenda you have brought here,” Fiser said. “You are beating up on LGBTQ+ students, on children, to get your agenda passed, and to have power. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves. This is not Christian behavior.”
Such restrictions on recognizing transgender students can have enormously detrimental effects on them, particularly on their mental health. According to a survey from The Trevor Project, 45 percent of LGBTQ youth overall seriously considered suicide last year.
LGBTQ youth typically have such thoughts due to being “placed at higher risk because of how they are mistreated and stigmatized in society,” the organization said. Lacking affirming spaces can increase suicidal risk — indeed, research from the organization shows that “LGBTQ young people report lower rates of attempting suicide when they have access to LGBTQ-affirming spaces,” including at their schools.
Chomsky: Six Months Into War, Diplomatic Settlement in Ukraine Is Still Possible
The war in Ukraine continues unabated. There are no visible signs of a conclusion to this tragedy, although it’s hard to imagine the current situation remaining unchanged for much longer. The war has exposed dramatic weaknesses in Russia’s armed forces, while Ukrainian resistance has surprised even military experts. In the meantime, it is more than obvious that the U.S. is fighting a “proxy” war in Ukraine, as Noam Chomsky underlines in the exclusive interview for Truthout, thus making it extremely difficult for Russia’s military planners to make major advances.
From day one, Noam Chomsky established himself as one of the most important voices on the war in Ukraine. He condemned Russia’s invasion as a criminal aggression while analyzing the subtle political and historical context surrounding Putin’s decision to launch an attack on Russia’s neighbor. In the interview that follows, Chomsky reiterates his condemnation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, suggests that the situation over peace talks inevitably recalls the “Afghan trap,” and talks about the exceptional form of censorship that is taking place in the U.S. through a systematic suppression of unpopular ideas over the war in Ukraine.
Chomsky is institute professor emeritus in the department of linguistics and philosophy at MIT and laureate professor of linguistics and Agnese Nelms Haury Chair in the Program in Environment and Social Justice at the University of Arizona. One of the world’s most-cited scholars and a public intellectual regarded by millions of people as a national and international treasure, Chomsky has published more than 150 books in linguistics, political and social thought, political economy, media studies, U.S. foreign policy and world affairs. His latest books are The Secrets of Words (with Andrea Moro; MIT Press, 2022); The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power (with Vijay Prashad; The New Press, 2022); and The Precipice: Neoliberalism, the Pandemic and the Urgent Need for Social Change (with C.J. Polychroniou; Haymarket Books, 2021).
C.J. Polychroniou: It’s been six months since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, yet there is no end to the war in sight. Putin’s strategy has backfired in a huge way, as it not only failed to take down Kyiv but also revived the western alliance while Finland and Sweden ended decades of neutrality by joining NATO. The war has also caused a massive humanitarian crisis, brought higher energy prices, and made Russia into a pariah state. From day one, you described the invasion as a criminal act of aggression and compared it to the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the Hitler-Stalin invasion of Poland, in spite of the fact that Russia felt threatened from NATO’s expansion to the east. I reckon that you still hold this view, but do you think that Putin would have had second thoughts about an invasion if he knew that this military adventure of his would end up in a prolonged war?
Noam Chomsky: Reading Putin’s mind has become a cottage industry, notable for the extreme confidence of those who interpret the scanty tea leaves. I have some guesses, but they are not based on better evidence than others have, so they have low credibility.
My guess is that Russian intelligence agreed with the announced U.S. government expectations that conquest of Kyiv and installation of a puppet government would be an easy task, not the debacle it turned out to be. I suppose that if Putin had had better information about the Ukrainian will and capacity to resist, and the incompetence of the Russian military, his plans would have been different. Perhaps the plans would have been what many informed analysts had expected, what Russia now seems to have turned to a Plan B: trying to establish firmer control over Crimea and the passage to Russia and to take over the Donbas region.
Possibly, benefiting from better intelligence, Putin might have had the wisdom to respond seriously to the tentative initiatives of Macron for a negotiated settlement that would have avoided the war, and might have even proceeded to Europe-Russia accommodation along the lines of proposals by de Gaulle and Gorbachev. All we know is that the initiatives were dismissed with contempt, at great cost, not least to Russia. Instead, Putin launched a murderous war of aggression which, indeed, ranks with the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the Hitler-Stalin invasion of Poland.
That Russia felt threatened by NATO expansion to the East, in violation of firm and unambiguous promises to Gorbachev, has been stressed by virtually every high-level U.S. diplomat with any familiarity with Russia for 30 years, well before Putin. To take just one of a rich array of examples, in 2008 when he was Ambassador to Russia and Bush II recklessly invited Ukraine to join NATO, current CIA director William Burns warned that “Ukrainian entry into NATO is the brightest of all redlines for the Russian elite (not just Putin).” He added that “I have yet to find anyone who views Ukraine in NATO as anything other than a direct challenge to Russian interests.” More generally, Burns called NATO expansion into Eastern Europe “premature at best, and needlessly provocative at worst.” And if the expansion reached Ukraine, Burns warned, “There could be no doubt that Putin would fight back hard.”
Burns was merely reiterating common understanding at the highest level of government, back to the early ‘90s. Bush II’s own Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recognized that “trying to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO was truly overreaching, … recklessly ignoring what the Russians considered their own vital national interests.”
The warnings from informed government sources were strong and explicit. They were rejected by Washington from Clinton on. In fact, on to the present moment. That conclusion is confirmed by the recent comprehensive Washington Post study of the background to the invasion. Reviewing the study, George Beebe and Anatol Lieven observe that “the Biden administration’s efforts to avert the war altogether come across as quite lacking. As Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov put it during the weeks preceding the invasion, for Russia `the key to everything is the guarantee that NATO will not expand eastward.’ But nowhere in Post’s account is there any mention that the White House considered offering concrete compromises regarding Ukraine’s future admission into NATO.” Rather, as the State Department had already conceded, “the United States made no effort to address one of Vladimir Putin’s most often stated top security concerns — the possibility of Ukraine’s membership into NATO.”
In brief, provocations continued to the last minute. They were not confined to undermining negotiations but included expansion of the project of integrating Ukraine into the NATO military command, turning it into a “de facto” member of NATO, as U.S. military journals put it.Reading Putin’s mind has become a cottage industry, notable for the extreme confidence of those who interpret the scanty tea leaves.
The glaringly obvious record of provocation is, presumably, the reason for the tacit rule that the Russian assault must be called “unprovoked,” a term otherwise scarcely if ever used but required in this case in polite society. Psychologists should have no problem explaining the curious behavior.
Though the provocations were consistent and conscious over many years, despite the warnings, they of course in no way justify Putin’s resort to “the supreme international crime” of aggression. Though it may help explain a crime, provocation provides no justification for it.
As for Russia’s becoming a “pariah state,” I think some qualifications are in order. It is surely becoming a pariah state in Europe and the Anglosphere, to an extent that has amazed even seasoned cold warriors. Graham Fuller, one of the top figures in U.S. intelligence for many years, recently commented that:
I don’t think that I’ve ever seen—in my entire life—such a dominant American media blitz as what we’re seeing regarding Ukraine today. The U.S. isn’t only pressing its interpretation of events — the U.S. is also engaging in full-scale demonization of Russia as a state, as a society, and as a culture. The bias is extraordinary — I never saw anything like this when I was involved in Russian affairs during the Cold War.
Picking up those tea leaves again, one might perhaps surmise that as in the required reference to the “unprovoked” invasion, some guilt feelings are not too well concealed.
That is the stance of the U.S. and to varying degrees its close allies. Most of the world, however, continues to stand aloof, condemning the aggression but maintaining normal relations with Russia, just as western critics of the U.S.-UK invasion of Iraq maintained normal relations with the (entirely unprovoked) aggressors. There is also considerable ridicule of the pious proclamations on human rights, democracy, and “sanctity of borders” issued by the world champions in violence and subversion — matters the Global South knows about well from ample experience.
Russia claims that the U.S. is directly involved in the Ukraine war. Is the U.S. fighting a “proxy war” in Ukraine?
That the U.S. is heavily involved in the war, and proudly so, is not in question. That it is fighting a proxy war is widely held outside of the Europe-Anglosphere domain. It is not hard to see why. Official U.S. policy, open and public, is that the war must go on until Russia is so severely weakened that it cannot undertake further aggression. The policy is justified by exalted proclamations about a cosmic struggle between democracy, freedom, and all good things vs. ultimate evil bent on global conquest. The fevered rhetoric is not new. The fairy tale style reached comical heights in the major Cold War document NSC 68 and is commonly found elsewhere.
Taken literally, official policy entails that Russia must be subjected to harsher punishment than Germany was at Versailles in 1919. Those targeted are likely to take explicit policy literally, with obvious consequences as to how they may react.
The assessment that the U.S. is dedicated to a proxy war is reinforced by common Western discourse. While there is extensive discussion of how to fight Russian aggression more effectively, one finds hardly a word about how to bring the horrors to an end — horrors that go far beyond Ukraine. Those who dare to raise the question are usually vilified, even such revered figures as Henry Kissinger — though, interestingly, calls for a diplomatic settlement pass without the usual demonization when they appear in the major establishment journal.
Whatever terminology one prefers to use, the basic facts about U.S. policy and plans are clear enough. To me, “proxy war” seems a fair term, but what matters are the policies and plans.
As was to be expected, the invasion has also led to a prolonged propaganda war on the part of all sides involved. On that note, you said recently that, with the banning of RT and other Russian media venues, Americans have less access to the official adversary than Soviets had in the 1970s. Can you elaborate a bit on this, especially since your statement about censorship in the U.S. over the war in Ukraine was totally distorted, leaving readers to think that what you implied is that censorship in the U.S. today is worse than it was under communism in Russia?
On the Russian side, the domestic propaganda war is extreme. On the U.S. side, while there are no official bans, it’s hard to deny Graham Fuller’s observations.Official U.S. policy, open and public, is that the war must go on until Russia is so severely weakened that it cannot undertake further aggression.
Literal censorship in the U.S. and other western societies is rare. But as George Orwell wrote in 1945 in his (unpublished) introduction to Animal Farm, the “sinister fact” about free societies is that censorship is “largely voluntary. Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban,” generally a more effective means of thought control than overt force.
Orwell was referring to England, but the practice goes far beyond, in revealing ways. To take a current example, the highly respected Middle East scholar Alain Gresh was censored by French TV because of his critical comments on Israel’s latest terrorist crimes in occupied Gaza.
Gresh observed that “this form of censorship is exceptional. On the question of Palestine, it is rarely presented in such an obvious manner.” A more effective form of censorship is exercised by careful selection of commentators. They are acceptable, Gresh concludes, if they “regret the violence” while adding that Israel has “the right to defend itself” and stress “the need to “fight extremists on both sides,” but “it seems there is no room for those who radically criticise Israel’s occupation and apartheid.”
In the United States, such means of silencing unpopular ideas and keeping inconvenient facts dark have been honed to a high art, as one would expect in an unusually free society. By now there are literally thousands of pages documenting the practices in close detail. Fine organizations of media critique like FAIR in the U.S. and Media Lens in England pour out more on a regular basis.
There is also extensive discussion in print about the advantages of western models of indoctrination over the crude and transparent measures of totalitarian states. The more sophisticated devices of free society instill doctrines by presupposition, not assertion, as in the case Gresh describes. The rules are never heard, just tacitly assumed. Debate is allowed, even encouraged, but within bounds, which are unexpressed and rigid. They become internalized. As Orwell puts it, those subjected to subtle indoctrination, with a good education for example, have instilled into them the understanding that there are certain things “it wouldn’t do to say” — or even to think.
The modes of indoctrination need not be conscious. Those who implement them already have internalized the understanding that there are certain things “it wouldn’t do to say” — or even to think.
Such devices are particularly effective in a highly insular culture like that of the U.S., where few would dream of seeking foreign sources, particularly those of a reviled enemy, and where the appearance of limitless freedom offers no incentive to go beyond the established framework.
It’s in this general context that I mentioned the case of banning of Russian sources such as RT — “exceptional” as Gresh pointed out. Though there was no time to elaborate in a few brief remarks in a long interview on other topics, the direct banning brought to mind an interesting topic I had written about 30 years ago. Like much other work, the article reviewed many cases of the usual modes of silencing unpopular ideas and suppressing unwanted facts in free societies, but it also reported government-academic studies seeking to determine where Russians were getting their news in the ‘70s: the late Soviet period, pre-Gorbachev. The results indicated that despite the rigid censorship, a remarkably high percentage of Russians were accessing such sources as BBC, even illegal Samizdat, and may well have been better informed than Americans.
I checked at the time with Russian émigrés who related their own experiences of evading the intrusive but not very efficient censorship. They basically confirmed the picture, though they felt that the numbers reported were too high, possibly because the samples might have been skewed to Leningrad and Moscow.
Direct banning of the publications of adversaries is not only illegitimate but also harmful. Thus, it would be important for Americans to have been aware that immediately before the invasion, the Russian Foreign Minister was emphasizing that “the key to everything is the guarantee that NATO will not expand eastward” to Ukraine — the firm redline for decades. Had there been any concern to avoid horrible crimes and to move to a better world, this could have been an opening to explore.
The same is true of Russian government pronouncements when the invasion was already underway, for example, Lavrov’s statement on May 29 that:
We have goals: to demilitarise Ukraine (there should be no weapons threatening Russia on its territory); to restore the rights of the Russian people in line with the Constitution of Ukraine (the Kiev regime violated it by adopting anti-Russia laws) and the conventions (in which Ukraine takes part); and to denazify Ukraine. Nazi and neo-Nazi theory and practice have deeply permeated daily life in Ukraine and are codified in its laws.
It might be useful for Americans to have access to such words by a flip of the switch on TV, at least those Americans with some interest in ending the horrors rather than plunging into the apocalyptic battle conjured up from the tea leaves to cage the rampaging bear before it devours all of us.
Peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine have stagnated since early spring. Apparently, Russia wants to enforce peace on its own terms, while Ukraine seems to have adopted the position that there can be no negotiations until Russia’s prospects on the battlefield become dim. Do you see an end to this conflict any time soon? Is negotiating to end the war an appeasement, as those who oppose peace talks claim?
Whether negotiations have stagnated is not entirely clear. Little is reported, but it seems possible that “Talks to end the war are back on the agenda: A meeting between Ukraine, Turkey and the UN shows that Kyiv may be warming to the idea of discussions with Moscow,” and that “Given Russian territorial advances,” it may be that Ukraine “has softened its opposition to considering a diplomatic end to the war.” If so, it’s up to Putin to show whether his “avowed zeal for negotiations is really a bluff,” or has some substance.
What’s happening is obscure. It brings to mind the “Afghan trap” that we discussed earlier, when the U.S. was fighting a proxy war with Russia “to the last Afghan,” as Cordovez and Harrison put it in their definitive study of how the UN managed to arrange for a Russian withdrawal despite U.S. efforts to prevent a diplomatic settlement. That was the period when Carter’s National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, who claimed credit for instigating the Russian invasion, applauded the outcome even though it came at the cost of some “agitated Muslims.”Whatever terminology one prefers to use, the basic facts about U.S. policy and plans are clear enough. To me, “proxy war” seems a fair term, but what matters are the policies and plans.
Are we witnessing something similar today? Perhaps.
No doubt Russia wants to enforce peace on its own terms. A negotiated diplomatic settlement is one that each side tolerates while relinquishing some of its own demands. There’s only one way to find out whether Russia is serious about negotiations: Try. Nothing is lost.
On the battlefield prospects, there are confident and sharply conflicting claims by military experts. I have no such credentials; I think it’s fair to conclude from the spectacle that the fog of war has not lifted. We do know what the U.S. position is, or at least was last April at the Ramstein Air Base conference of NATO powers and other military leaders that the U.S. organized: “Ukraine clearly believes it can win and so does everyone here.” Whether it was actually believed then, or is now, I don’t know, and know of no way to find out.
For what it’s worth, I personally respect the words of Jeremy Corbyn published on the day after the Ramstein war conference opened, words that contributed to his being virtually expelled from the Labour Party: “There must be an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine followed by a Russian troop withdrawal and agreement between Russia and Ukraine on future security arrangements. All wars end in a negotiation of some sort—so why not now?”
“War Poisons Everybody”: Remembering Howard Zinn on His 100th Birthday
We remember the legendary historian, author, professor, playwright and activist Howard Zinn, who was born 100 years ago today. Zinn was a regular guest on Democracy Now! from the start of the program in 1996 up until his death in 2010 at age 87. After witnessing the horrors of World War II as a bombardier, Zinn became a peace and justice activist who picketed with his students at Spelman College during the civil rights movement and joined in actions such as opposing the Vietnam War. He later spoke out against the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. “I believe neutrality is impossible, because the world is already moving in certain directions. Wars are going on. Children are starving,” Zinn said in a 2005 interview. “To be neutral … is to collaborate with whatever is going on, to allow it to happen.” His classic book, A People’s History of the United States, retells the country’s history from the perspective of everyday people who resisted oppression and exploitation by more powerful forces.TRANSCRIPT
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Today we spend the hour remembering Howard Zinn, the late, great historian, author, professor, playwright and activist. Zinn was born 100 years ago, on August 24th, 1922, to working-class Jewish immigrant parents in Brooklyn. He died in 2010 at the age of 87, but his books continue to be read across the globe.
At 18, Zinn began working as a shipyard worker, then joined the Air Force, where he served as a bombardier in World War II. After witnessing the horrors of war, Howard Zinn went on to become a lifelong dissident and peace activist. He was active in the civil rights movement and other struggles for social justice, taught at Spelman College in Atlanta, the historically Black college for women. He was fired for insubordination for standing up for student protesters. While at Spelman, he served on the executive committee of SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
After being forced out of Spelman, Zinn became a professor at Boston University. In 1967, he published Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal. It was the first book on the war to call for immediate withdrawal, no conditions. A year later, he and Father Dan Berrigan traveled to North Vietnam to receive the first three American prisoners of war released by the North Vietnamese. When Dan Ellsberg needed a place to hide the Pentagon Papers before they were leaked to the press, he went to Howard and his late wife, Ros Zinn.
In 1980, Howard Zinn published his classic work, A People’s History of the United States. The book would go on to sell over a million copies, changed the way we looked at history in the United States.
Howard Zinn was a regular guest on Democracy Now! from the time we went on the air in 1996 up until his death. We begin today’s show with an interview I did with Howard Zinn in 2005, when he came to our firehouse studio.
AMY GOODMAN: It is great to have you with us.
HOWARD ZINN: Well, it’s nice of you to invite me. I was worried.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, you just came from Bedford Hills Correctional Facility?
HOWARD ZINN: Well, actually, yesterday afternoon I spoke at the Bedford Hills, euphemistically called, Correctional Facility — they hardly correct anything, but — spoke to prisoners there, women prisoners, mostly prisoners of color. I spoke to them yesterday afternoon before I gave this talk last night at Manhattanville College.
AMY GOODMAN: And what did you talk about with the women?
HOWARD ZINN: Well, they had been using my book. They have classes. They’re using my book, A People’s History of the United States. And I talked to them about history, about doing history, about why I did history the way I did, why I did unneutral history and how I came to do it. And I told them something about my life, and, of course, I always like to talk about that, you know.
And then they asked a lot of questions, a very lively, enthusiastic, excited group. I mean, if every teacher in the country had a class like that, you know, they would be inspired. And it’s wonderful — and I’ve always found this to be true — wonderful and always amazing when you talk to prisoners, who should be the last ones to be up and optimistic and in good spirits, but it’s always there. It’s actually encouraging, you know, and, of course, troubling to know that these people, these remarkable people, are being kept in prison, you know, very often, most of the time, for nonviolent crimes, and kept there for long periods of time. It’s a sort of sad commentary on American society that we have people in Washington who are free, and these people are in prison.
AMY GOODMAN: You talked about being a teacher, but, Howard Zinn, the places you were — where you did teach — well, Spelman, you were fired, and Boston University, you were almost fired.
HOWARD ZINN: Oh, are you trying to make me out as a troublemaker?
AMY GOODMAN: What happened to you at Spelman?
HOWARD ZINN: At Spelman, I got involved with my students in the actions that were going on in the South, the sit-ins, the demonstrations, the picket lines. I was supporting my students. And this was the first Black president of Spelman College, a very conservative institution. He wasn’t happy about me joining the students in all of these things, wasn’t happy about a lot of things that they did. But he couldn’t do anything about it. But when I — the students came back from, you might say, from jail and then rebelled against the campus regulations and the restrictions on them, and I supported them, that was too much.
AMY GOODMAN: During the civil rights years?
HOWARD ZINN: This was — yeah, these were during the civil rights years. And so, you know, he was very unhappy with the fact that I was supporting the students who were rebelling against the paternalism and the authoritarianism on that campus.
AMY GOODMAN: They were women students?
HOWARD ZINN: Yeah, these were Black women students. And, you know, the movement brought them out of this little sort of convent-like atmosphere of Spelman College and out into the world.
AMY GOODMAN: The author Alice Walker was one of those students?
HOWARD ZINN: Yeah, Alice Walker was one of my students. Marian Wright Edelman, the head of the Children’s Defense Fund now in Washington, she was one of my students. I’m very proud of those students I had at Spelman. And yeah, Marian Wright Edelman was in jail, and Alice Walker was in jail. And yeah, it was a great moment.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, Boston University was many years later. Why did you almost get thrown out of there?
HOWARD ZINN: Why did I almost get thrown out of Boston University? We had a strike. Faculty went on strike. Secretaries went on strike. They settled with the faculty after what was a successful strike, but not with the secretaries. And so, I and some other faculty refused to cross the secretaries’ picket line. And five of us who refused to do that were threatened with firing, even though all of us had tenure. And so it was a long struggle, but we won.
AMY GOODMAN: Going back before both of your tenures as professor, you were a bombardier in World War II.
HOWARD ZINN: That’s true, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And you talk about your final bombing run, not over Japan, not over Germany, but over France.
HOWARD ZINN: Yeah. Well, we thought our bombing missions were over. The war was about to come to an end. This was in April of 1945. You may remember the war ended in early May 1945. This was a few weeks before the war was going to be over, and everybody knew it was going to be over, and our armies were past France into Germany, but there was a little pocket of German soldiers hanging around this little town of Royan on the Atlantic coast of France, and the Air Force decided to bomb them — 1,200 heavy bombers, and I was in one of them, flew over this little town of Royan and dropped napalm — first use of napalm in the European theater.
And we don’t know how many people we killed, how many people were terribly burned as a result of what we did. But I did it, like most soldiers do, unthinkingly, mechanically, thinking we’re on the right side, they’re on the wrong side, and therefore we can do whatever we want, and it’s OK. And only afterward, only really after the war, did I — when I was reading about Hiroshima from John Hersey and reading the stories of the survivors of Hiroshima and what they went through, only then did I begin to think about the human effects of bombing. Only then did I begin to think about what it meant to human beings on the ground when bombs were dropped on them, because as a bombardier, I was flying at 30,000 feet, six miles high, couldn’t hear screams, couldn’t see blood. And this is modern warfare.
In modern warfare, soldiers fire, they drop bombs, and they have no notion, really, of what is happening to the human beings that they’re firing on. Everything is done at a distance. This enables terrible atrocities to take place. And I think, reflecting back on that bombing raid, and thinking of that in Hiroshima and all the other raids on civilian cities and the killing of huge numbers of civilians in German and Japanese cities, the killing of 100,000 people in Tokyo in one night of firebombing, all of that made me realize war, even so-called good wars against fascism, like World War II, wars don’t solve any fundamental problems, and they always poison everybody on both sides. They poison the minds and souls of everybody on both sides. We’re seeing that now in Iraq, where the minds of our soldiers are being poisoned by being an occupying army in a land where they are not wanted. And the results are terrible.
AMY GOODMAN: You learned you dropped napalm on this French village?
HOWARD ZINN: Well, we didn’t — actually didn’t know what it was. They said, “Oh, you’re not going to have the usually 500-pound demolition bombs. You’re going to carry one — you’re going to carry 30 100-pound canisters of jellied gasoline.” We had no idea what that was, but it was napalm.
AMY GOODMAN: You went to that village later?
HOWARD ZINN: Later, I went, yeah. Later, I visited that village, about 10 years after the war. And I went to the library, which had been destroyed and which was now rebuilt, and I dug out records of the survivors and what they had written about the bombing. And I wrote a kind of essay about the bombing of Royan, which appears — where does it appear? — it appears in my book The Zinn Reader and also in my book The Politics of History. But it was — for me, it was a very important experience, a very great sobering lesson about so-called good wars.
AMY GOODMAN: You learned when you were there on the ground many years later who had died?
HOWARD ZINN: Well, I — you know, I spoke to people who had survived that and whose family members had died. And they were very bitter about the bombing. And, you know, they attributed it to all sorts of things, the desire to try out a new weapon. It’s amazing how many things are done in a war just to try out new weapons. You know, maybe one of the reasons for dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were to see what this does to human beings. Human beings become sacrifices in the desire to develop new military technology. And I think that was one of those instances.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to historian Howard Zinn, here in our firehouse studio in Chinatown, just blocks from where the towers of the World Trade Center once stood. You went to Vietnam, to North Vietnam, with Dan Berrigan?
HOWARD ZINN: Yeah, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Why?
HOWARD ZINN: Why? Well, this was early 1968. This was the time of the Tet Offensive, also the time of the Tet holiday, the Vietnamese holiday. And the North Vietnamese decided they wanted to release the first three airmen prisoners who had been shot down over North Vietnam. And they wanted to release them in the custody of not the American government, but the peace movement. So Daniel Berrigan, poet, priest, whom I had never met before, he and I traveled together to Hanoi, to North Vietnam, to pick up these three American airmen who were being released by the North Vietnamese.
And then we spent some time in Hanoi and in the surrounding area, visited bombed-out areas, visited little villages that had been jet bombed in the middle of the night, a million miles from any possible military target. And that — we were being bombed — Vietnam was being bombed every night. Every day we were going into air raid shelters. Every night Daniel Berrigan would write a poem about what had happened that day. And, you know —
AMY GOODMAN: What do you say to those, then and now, before the invasion, who would go to Iraq, those who went to North Vietnam, when they would be called traitors, giving comfort to the enemy?
HOWARD ZINN: You mean Americans who went to North Vietnam? You mean like Jane Fonda and so many others who went to North Vietnam?
AMY GOODMAN: And Iraq before. I mean even people like Congressmember McDermott of Seattle, reporters saying that they should resign.
HOWARD ZINN: Oh, people have gone to Iraq. And, I mean, what about — you know, there’s people in Voices in the Wilderness, Americans who went to Iraq and violating the U.S. sanctions, bringing food and medicine, you know. And the whole business of being traitors, you know, I think there’s a whole — there’s somehow some wrongheaded notion of what treason is and what patriotism is, and there’s some notion that if you disobey the orders of your government or the laws of your government, you’re being treasonous. But I believe the government is being treasonous and the government is being unpatriotic when the government violates the fundamental rights of human beings, when the government invades another country, a country that has not attacked it, a country that has not threatened it. When our government invades another country and drops bombs and kills huge numbers of people, and then Americans have the guts to go to that country and bring people food and medicine or go to see what is going on, as many Americans did when they went to Vietnam, I think these are the most patriotic Americans.
And, you know, if you define patriotism as obedience to the government, then you are, I think, following a kind of totalitarian principle, because that’s the principle of a totalitarian state, that you do what the government tells you to do. And democracy means that the government is an instrument of the people. This is the Declaration of Independence. Governments are artificial entities set up in order to preserve the rights, equal right to life, liberty, pursuit of happiness of people. When the government violates those rights, it is the duty of people to defy that government. That is patriotism.
AMY GOODMAN: Howard Zinn, you called your autobiography You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train. Why?
HOWARD ZINN: Well, it came from — I stole it from myself. That is, I used to say that to my classes at the beginning of every class. I wanted to be honest with them about the fact that they were not entering a class where the teacher would be neutral. It was not going to be a class where the teacher spent a half a year or year with the students, and they would have no idea where the teacher stood on the important issues. This is not going to be a neutral class, I said. I don’t believe in neutrality. I believe neutrality is impossible, because the world is already moving in certain directions. Wars are going on. Children are starving. And to be neutral, to pretend to neutrality, to not take a stand in a situation like that, is to collaborate with whatever is going on, to allow it to happen. I did not want to be a collaborator with what was happening. I wanted to enter into history. I wanted to play a role. I wanted my students to play a role. I wanted us to intercede. I wanted my history to intercede and to take a stand on behalf of peace, on behalf of a racial equality or sexual equality. And so I wanted my students to know that right from the beginning, know you can’t be neutral on a moving train.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Howard Zinn, joining us in 2005 in Democracy Now!’s firehouse studio at Downtown Community Television, DCTV. When we come back, we continue with our Zinntennial, with a speech Howard Zinn made two weeks after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001, launched what became the longest war in U.S. history. Back in 30 seconds.
AMY GOODMAN: “Ludlow Massacre” by Woody Guthrie, about a Colorado militia gunning down coal strikers in 1914. Howard Zinn once said hearing the song was a defining moment for him and inspired him to research and tell stories left out of most history books.
This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue with our Zinntennial. That’s right, remembering the legendary historian Howard Zinn on what would have been his 100th birthday.
On October 21st, 2001, Howard Zinn gave a major address at the University of Vermont, Burlington. This was just over a month after the 9/11 attacks and two weeks after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, beginning what became the longest war in U.S. history. It was a year ago this month when the U.S. finally withdrew from Afghanistan and the Taliban regained control. This is Howard Zinn in 2001.
HOWARD ZINN: I emphasize this because we have to understand what we are doing in Afghanistan to end terrorism, because we need to end terrorism. We absolutely need to end terrorism. We have to, yes. And we have to begin to think about what we need to do to end terrorism. And we have to think about whether bombing Afghanistan is going to end terrorism. And because — how much thinking went into this? Really, how much thinking went into this? You think there are all these minds. It doesn’t matter how many minds you have. It’s the quality of mind that counts. And it’s also, you know, the morality of these minds, and the understanding of these minds that there may be people in other countries who deserve to live as much as those people in the Twin Towers deserve to live. You know, that’s — you know.
So, well, people say, “Yeah, but you must do something.” I agree. You know, they say, “You can’t do nothing.” I agree. You must do something. I like the logic: You must do something, therefore bomb. I don’t get it. I mean, that’s the only possible thing you can do, if you must do something?
The medical students, you know, are confronted with — you know, somebody has a leg infection. They don’t know what to do about it. Amputate it. The medical students take the Oath of Hippocrates. You don’t know what to do. Something is bad, really bad. You must do something. But the first rule is: Do no harm. Let’s — you have to start off with that: Do no harm. We are doing great harm. Great harm, you see?
And if you think we’re not, try to imagine — they say, “Oh, well, you know, we’re not killing that many people. We’re not killing that many people.” We don’t know how many people we’re killing, first of all, because you can’t believe the government. I’m not saying you can believe the Taliban. No, all governments lie. Right? But it’s just a matter of common sense and knowing the history of bombing that we know, and since there are little reports that come through, even through the filter of control and so on.
You know, there were reporters in villages in Afghanistan reporting. There they were, right on the spot, and there were these houses destroyed, and there were these freshly dug graves, and there was a man who lost his wife and four kids in a bombing. And there — and there’s some things are admitted. Yes, a Red Cross compound was hit — right? — on the same day that Bush is asking people to contribute to the Red Cross. Well, if you’re going to — we’re going to contribute to the Red Cross, first assure us that you’re not going to bomb the Red Cross, you see.
And, no, people — you know, if you think what we’re doing in Afghanistan is not very much, you know, consider that there are hundreds of thousands of people in Afghanistan who are fleeing the cities and towns in which they live. Have you seen the pictures of Afghan refugees? It started as soon as Bush promised to bomb, because there are certain American promises they can count on, you see, and that’s one of them. And the refugees immediately began moving. And so you see the pictures of these families with all their possessions, or as many of their possessions they carry on the backs and their wagons, and their kids, and hundreds of thousands of them. So this isn’t a small thing. This isn’t just, “Oh, we’re killing a few people, and that’s a price we’re willing to pay.” We are terrorizing Afghanistan. I’m not exaggerating.
The people who are — the people who are in Kabul — the people who are in Kabul — the people who are in Kabul and people in other places in Afghanistan have to live with the fear of these bombs. Have you lived under bombs? Do you know what it’s — can you imagine what it’s like? And you’re in a very backward, technologically — right? — undeveloped country, and there are these monster machines coming over with this ferocious noise and the lights and the flashing and the explosions. And it’s — yes, we’re terrorizing people in Afghanistan. And it’s not — it’s not right to respond to the fact that we have been terrorized, as we have, not right to respond to that by terrorizing other people. Absolutely wrong, you see. You know.
And furthermore, it’s not going to help. And you could say, “Well, maybe it may be worth doing, because this will end terrorism.” I mean, how much common sense does it take to know that you cannot end terrorism by indiscriminately just throwing bombs on Afghanistan. And then, of course, you get reports: “We have now destroyed three of their camps. We’ve destroyed four” — who are you kidding? How many hours does it take to set up a training camp? How easy it is to move from one place to another?
I mean, the history of bombing is mostly a history of futility. Yes, really. You know, there’s a book that came out recently called A History of Bombing. A History of Bombing. I was a bombardier. And, sure, the technology has improved, although it was claimed — even then, it was claimed our bombs are smart, because we’re using this special bombsight, this Norden bombsight. People really believed that. Even we believed that, we who were using the bombsight, because we would bomb at 11,000 feet or 4,000 feet, and we got pretty close to the target. But then, when we flew on missions, we were bombing at 30,000 feet, and the bombs went all over the place and killed an awful lot of people, all sorts of people. You know, didn’t matter.
I say it didn’t matter, because these people were ciphers. Who were these people? I didn’t even see them. You bomb, you bomb another country, you don’t see these people. You’re bombing from high altitudes. You know, our planes are bombing at high altitudes because they want to escape anti-aircraft fire, right? No, you don’t see anything on the ground. You see flashes, and you see explosions and may take pictures, but you don’t — you don’t hear screams. You don’t see blood. You don’t see severed limbs. You don’t see any of that.
We saw that in New York. We saw those scenes in New York. They horrified us. We saw people in panic, running, running from that — those explosions, that enormous pile of debris, you know, and we were horrified. These were real people to us. But then, if we bomb other countries, those people are not real to us.
One of the things I thought of after I got over my initial horror at what happened in New York, I thought, “Hey, that’s what it must have been like when I was bombing in Europe.” That’s what it must have been like, and I didn’t even know it, because these people were ciphers to me, you see. And then I thought, “Maybe to these terrorists, that’s what it is for them.” Oh, 6,000 human beings. You know, no, they have a mission. They have a goal. No. They’re not — they’re not human beings to terrorists. And people in other parts of the world have not been human beings to us.
If there’s anything we might get out of this experience, it’s that we might take that horror that we have felt looking at those scenes in New York, and compassion that we have felt for the people who endured this and their families, and extend this to people in other parts of the world who have been enduring this — enduring this for a very long time. And that does mean — that does mean examining the United States and our policies.
You know, if you — because, you know, when you do that, when you suggest that, say, “You know what? I think maybe we ought to look at ourselves and our policies,” people say, “Oh, you’re justifying what happened.” No, no, absolutely not. To explain is not to justify. But if you don’t want to explain anything, you will never learn anything. So you have to — you have to understand, you have to explain, without justifying.
And you have to look — yes, you have to dig down and see if you can figure out what is at the root of this terrorism, because there is something at the root besides, you know, irrational, murderous feeling. And, yes, this was murderous, fanatical feeling. But these were not simply madmen, who just — you know, there are people, like, who just go berserk and kill everybody in sight, right? We know that, because we’ve seen that in our country, when somebody just — you know, something goes haywire in them, and they just go wild. And they — no, it’s not that. Terrorism is not that sort of thing. There’s something underneath that, you know, that fanaticism, which may have a core of truth to it. That is, there’s something in the core of belief of these terrorists which may also be at the core of belief of millions of other people in the world who are not terrorists, who are angry at American policy but who are not fanatic enough to go and kill Americans because they’re angry at our policy, but who are capable of doing that if they are even more aroused, and even if we begin even doing more things to anger them. There’s an — you might say there’s a reservoir of possible terrorists among all those people in the world who have suffered as a result of U.S, foreign policy.
Now, I don’t know if you think I’m exaggerating when I say there are millions of people in the world who have suffered as a result of U.S. foreign policy. But, yes, there are. And Bush, at a recent press conference, said something like, “I don’t understand why these people hate us.” No, I don’t — you know, said, “We are good.” That’s what he said. “We are good.” You know, look at me. I’m good. You know. Well, sometimes the United States is good. Yes, there are a lot of good things about the United States. And yes, there are times when the United States is good. And then there are times, unfortunately many times, too many times, when the United States has been bad, evil really, and has carried out policies that have resulted in the deaths of, yes, millions of people.
AMY GOODMAN: Legendary historian Howard Zinn, speaking at the University of Vermont in Burlington in 2001, just two weeks after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan and launched what became the longest war in U.S. history. Back with our Zinntennial in a moment.
AMY GOODMAN: “Prayer for Amerikkka pt. 1 & 2” by the trumpeter jaimie branch’s group Fly or Die. jaimie died August 22nd at the age of 39 in Brooklyn, New York.
This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue with our Zinntennial. That’s right, the legendary historian Howard Zinn would have been 100 years old today. In 2006, we featured a speech Zinn delivered in Madison, Wisconsin, as he received the Haven Center’s Award for Lifetime Contribution to Critical Scholarship. His lecture was titled “The Uses of History and the War on Terrorism.”
HOWARD ZINN: I was talking to my barber the other day, because we always discuss world politics. And he’s totally politically unpredictable, as most barbers are, you see. He said, “Howard,” he said, “you know, you and I disagree on many things, but on one thing we agree: War solves nothing.” And I thought, “Yeah.” It’s not hard for people to grasp that.
And there again, history is useful. We’ve had a history of war after war after war after war. What have they solved? What have they done? Even World War II, the “good war,” the war in which I volunteered, the war in which I dropped bombs, the war after which, you know, I received a letter from General Marshall, general of generals, a letter addressed personally to me, and to 16 million others, in which he said, “We’ve won the war. It will be a new world.” Well, of course, it wasn’t a new world. It hasn’t been a new world, war after war after war.
There are certain — I came out of that war, the war in which I had volunteered, the war in which I was an enthusiastic bombardier, I came out of that war with certain ideas, which just developed gradually at the end of the war, ideas about war. One, that war corrupts everybody who engages in it. War poisons everybody who engages in it. You start off as the good guys, as we did in World War II. They’re the bad guys. They’re the fascists. What could be worse? So they’re the bad guys, we’re the good guys. And as the war goes on, the good guys begin behaving like the bad guys. You can trace this back to the Peloponnesian War. You can trace it back to the good guy, the Athenians, and the bad guys, the Spartans. And after a while, the Athenians become ruthless and cruel, like the Spartans.
And we did that in World War II. We, after Hitler committed his atrocities, we committed our atrocities — you know, our killing of 600,000 civilians in Japan, our killing of probably an equal number of civilians in Germany. These, they weren’t Hitler, they weren’t Tojo. They weren’t — no, they were just ordinary people, like we are ordinary people living in a country that is a marauding country, and they were living in countries that were marauding countries, and they were caught up in whatever it was and afraid to speak up. And I don’t know, I came to the conclusion, yes, war poisons everybody.
And war — this is an important thing to keep in mind, that when you go to war against a tyrant — and this was one of the claims: “Oh, we’re going to get rid of Saddam Hussein,” which was, of course, nonsense. They didn’t — did our government care that Saddam Hussein tyrannized his own people? We helped him tyrannize his people. We helped him gas the Kurds. We helped him accumulate weapons of mass destruction, really.
But when you go to war against a tyrant, the people you kill in the war are the victims of the tyrant. The people we killed in Germany were the victims of Hitler. The people we killed in Japan were the victims of the Japan Imperial Army, you know. And the people who die in wars are more and more and more people who are not in the military. You may know this about the different ratio of civilian-to-military deaths in war, how in World War I, 10 military dead for one civilian dead; in World War II, it was 50-50, half military, half civilian; in Vietnam, it was 70% civilian and 30% military; and in the wars since then, it’s 80% and 85% civilian.
I became friends a few years ago with an Italian war surgeon named Gino Strada. He spent 10 years, 15 years doing surgery on war victims all over the world. And he wrote a book about it, Green Parrots: Diary of a War Surgeon. He said in all the patients that he operated on in Iraq and Afghanistan and everywhere, 85% of them were civilians, one-third of them, children. If you understand, and if people understand, and if you spread the word of this understanding, that whatever is told to you about war and how we must go to war, and whatever the threat is or whatever the goal is — a democracy or liberty — it will always be a war against children. They’re the ones who will die in large numbers.
So, war — well, Einstein said this after World War I. He said, “War cannot be humanized. It can only be abolished.” War has to be abolished, you know. And it’s — I know it’s a long shot. I understand that. But you have to — when something’s a long shot, but it has to be done, you have to start doing it. Just as the ending of slavery in this country in the 1830s was a really long shot, but people stuck at it, and it took 30 years, but slavery was done away with. And we can see this again and again. So, we have a job to do. We have lots of things to do.
One of the things we can learn from history is that history is not only a history of things inflicted on us by the powers that be. History is also a history of resistance. It’s a history of people who endure tyranny for decades, but who ultimately rise up and overthrow the dictator. We’ve seen this in country after country, surprise after surprise. Rulers who seem to have total control, they suddenly wake up one day, and there are a million people in the streets, and they pack up and leave. This has happened in the Philippines, in Yemen, all over, in Nepal. Million people in the streets, and then the ruler has to get out of the way. So, this is what we’re aiming for in this country.
Everything we do is important. Every little thing we do, every picket line we walk on, every letter we write, every act of civil disobedience we engage in, any recruiter that we talk to, any parent that we talk to, any GI that we talk to, any young person that we talk to, anything we do in class, outside of class, everything we do in the direction of a different world is important, even though at the moment they seem futile, because that’s how change comes about. Change comes about when millions of people do little things, which at certain points in history come together, and then something good and something important happens.
AMY GOODMAN: Legendary historian Howard Zinn, speaking in 2006. Well, three years later, in May of 2009, the year before he died, Howard Zinn joined us in the Democracy Now! studio as he launched the paperback edition of A Young People’s History of the United States. I asked him if he thought his retelling of history about Columbus and other traditional heroes was suitable for children.
HOWARD ZINN: It’s true that people have asked that question again and again. You know, should we tell kids that Columbus, whom they have been told was a great hero, that Columbus mutilated Indians and kidnapped them and killed them in pursuit of gold? Should we tell people that Theodore Roosevelt, who is held up as one of our great presidents, was really a warmonger who loved military exploits and who congratulated an American general who committed a massacre in the Philippines? Should we tell young people that?
And I think the answer is: We should be honest with young people; we should not deceive them. We should be honest about the history of our country. And we should be not only taking down the traditional heroes, like Andrew Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt, but we should be giving young people an alternate set of heroes.
Instead of Theodore Roosevelt, tell them about Mark Twain. Mark Twain — well, Mark Twain, everybody learns about as the author of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, but when we go to school, we don’t learn about Mark Twain as the vice president of the Anti-Imperialist League. We aren’t told that Mark Twain denounced Theodore Roosevelt for approving this massacre in the Philippines. No.
We want to give young people ideal figures like Helen Keller. And I remember learning about Helen Keller. Everybody learns about Helen Keller, you know, a disabled person who overcame her handicaps and became famous. But people don’t learn in school and young people don’t learn in school what we want them to learn when we do books like A Young People’s History of the United States, that Helen Keller was a socialist. She was a labor organizer. She refused to cross a picket line that was picketing a theater showing a play about her.
And so, there are these alternate heroes in American history. There’s Fannie Lou Hamer and Bob Moses. There are the heroes of the civil rights movement. There are a lot of people who are obscure, who are not known. We have — in this Young People’s History, we have a young hero who was sitting on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, refused to leave the front of the bus. And that was before Rosa Parks. I mean, Rosa Parks is justifiably famous for refusing to leave her seat, and she got arrested, and that was the beginning of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and really the beginning of a great movement in the South. But this 15-year-old girl did it first. And so, we have a lot of — we are trying to bring a lot of these obscure people back into the forefront of our attention and inspire young people to say, “This is the way to live.”
AMY GOODMAN: Howard Zinn in the Democracy Now! studio in 2009. Tune in Labor Day for an expanded Zinntennial, our tribute to Howard Zinn to mark what would have been his 100th birthday. We’ll include dramatic readings from Voices of a People’s History, including Alfre Woodard reading the words of the labor activist Mother Jones.
Special thanks to Mike Burke, Neil Shibata and Brendan Allen. I’m Amy Goodman.
Abortion Is Now a Top Issue Driving Midterms, Due to Far Right Supreme Court
A new poll finds that abortion is now a top issue for a majority voters in the midterm election this fall. Abortion is now polling above issues like immigration after far right extremists on the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
Pew Research Center finds in a survey conducted earlier this month that 56 percent of registered voters now say that abortion is a top issue for this year’s elections. This is up 13 points from March, when Pew found that 43 percent of voters said that abortion was a top issue. Overall, this means that more voters now see abortion as a top priority than they do issues like foreign policy and immigration.
Nearly all of the increase has come from Democratic respondents, Pew found. While 46 percent of Democrats said abortion was a top issue in March, 71 percent of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters now say as such. Republicans and Republican-leaning voters showed virtually no change, meanwhile.
Other issues saw major shifts over the course of the spring and summer. Gun policy and violent crime gained the concern of more voters, with 62 and 60 percent of voters, respectively, saying they view the issues as top priorities. Voters’ top issue remains unchanged since March, however; over 3 in 4 voters say that the economy is a top issue for them, nearly identical to the proportion of voters who said the same in March.
The poll also found that, while more Republicans say they’ve given “a lot” of thought to this fall’s elections, almost as many Democrats as Republicans now say that it “really matters” which party gains control of Congress this fall, in contrast to a significantly smaller share of Democrats who said the same back in spring this year.
This polling comes after a tumultuous summer that saw a slew of far right decisions from the Supreme Court, including the revocation of federal abortion rights. Reporting has found that just two months after the overturn of Roe, a third of American women have lost access to nearly all elective abortions (though not only women can get pregnant, and abortion rights have consequences that affect more than just an abortion seeker).
Several mass shootings also brought the issue of gun violence to the forefront for many Americans in the past months. Shootings in Chicago, Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas, the latter of which left 19 elementary school students and two teachers dead, caused the issue of assault weapon ownership to resurface in the public consciousness.
The Pew results echo other polling, which shows that Democrats have been seeing gains in polls and likely have better chances at holding on to Congress this fall than are usually expected for the party that’s in control of the White House. Indeed, a poll published earlier this month shows that 50 percent of Americans now say that they want Democrats to win control of Congress this fall, compared to 43 percent of people who think Republicans should win Congress.
This data supports the predictions from political pundits and political experts that overturning Roe would give Democrats an edge this fall. Other polls show that voters oppose the Supreme Court ruling and overwhelmingly believe that abortion should be legal in all, or at least some circumstances.
Amid Redistricting-Fueled Chaos, Corporate Democrats Win in New York Primaries
Democratic Party establishment insider Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney and multi-millionaire Dan Goldman secured wins in their respective battles in New York’s primary on Tuesday, dashing hopes of more progressive challengers in a turbulent year upended by redrawn congressional districts in the state.
Maloney, chair of the powerful Democracy Congressional Campaign Committee, which controls the party’s election year war chest for House candidates, fended off progressive challenger state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi in the 17th District who said as she launched her campaign that the Democratic Party “should be led by fearless champions — not selfish, corporate politicians.”
While Biaggi was endorsed by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and numerous left-leaning advocacy groups, Maloney took 67% of the vote compared to her 33%.
In New York’s 10th District, a crowded field of progressive candidates — including state assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, U.S. Congressman Mondaire Jones, and city council member Carlina Rivera — split progressive-leaning voters to give Goldman, a prosecutor, former legal analyst for MSNBC, and wealthy heir to the Levi Strauss fortune who spent millions on his own campaign, a narrow victory over Niou.
In a speech to supporters late Tuesday night, Niou — who received 24% of the vote compared to Goldman’s 26% — said that topping the crowded progressive field in the district showed why her approach — “betting on people” — was key, even in a narrow defeat to the self-funded campaign by an ultra-wealthy candidate who had the controversial blessing of the New York Times editorial board. “We have shown them why betting on people is always the right choice,” Niou said.
.@yuhline !! pic.twitter.com/msFyTlL2MP
— Blake Deadly | Vote Yuh-Line for NY10 (@blakepruitt) August 24, 2022
As it looked clear Tuesday night that Goldman would pull out a win, the Super PAC funded by the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC announced it was glad to have spent hundreds of thousands dollars to help defeat Niou’s progressive campaign.
“We are proud to have played a role,” but not so proud that we would reveal the source of the super PAC funding before the polls closed https://t.co/p3J4djEcHP
— Ryan Grim (@ryangrim) August 24, 2022
The complexity and contentiousness of this year’s primary in New York was largely due to redestricting which led many, including several incumbents like Jones, moving districts and facing large fields of candidates. For his part, Jones opted not to face off against Maloney in the 17th, which opened the door for Biaggi’s challenge, but ended up coming in behind both Niou and Goldman in the 10th.
As progressive columnist Ross Barkin noted on social media, “The big loss of the night is probably for Mondaire Jones, who will see his one term in Congress come to a close but not in a holy war that would’ve united the left against Sean Patrick Maloney. Instead, he’ll probably be blamed for cutting into Yuh-Line Niou’s votes.”
Many on the left had openly worried about progressives running in the 10th splitting votes and giving Goldman a path to victory, and just two weeks before the primary Niou and Jones held a rare joint press conference in which they accused Goldman of using his vast wealth to “buy” the congressional seat.
Well, clearly the progressives all had an issue with Goldman – Jones and Niou held a joint presser attacking him last week – so why not find a way to stop him, rather than allowing him to win with a quarter of the vote?
— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) August 24, 2022
While Niou’s supporters express disappointment in her narrow loss in the Democratic primary, it was already being suggested that she may still have a path to win the 10th District’s congressional seat if she was willing to take Goldman on in the general election as a Working Families Party candidate. The WFP endorsed Niou in the primary and retains a ballot line in federal elections in the state so that it can run candidates when it chooses.
Alexander Sammon of The American Prospect explored this idea ahead of the Tuesday’s results and explained:
The stakes are high enough for the progressive groups backing these candidates to force this sort of post-August realignment. And if the WFP does put up Niou on their third-party line in November, it would be the highest-profile instance of this since 2003, when Letitia James, now New York’s attorney general, ran against Democratic nominee Geoffrey Davis in Brooklyn’s 35th City Council District, and won.
There are understandable reasons why this course of action by the WFP has been used sparingly. But if that option isn’t pursued in this case, it would be hard to see why the party fought so hard to keep its ballot line in the first place.
Niou’s performance on Tuesday led many in her camp to conclude that she has everything it takes to win on a more level playing field against Goldman in November.
Winnie Wong, senior advisor on the Bernie Sanders 2020 presidential campaign and vocal backer of Niou, made her position clear after seeing the available results Tuesday evening.
“The WFP should run YLN against Dan Goldman in the general,” Wong tweeted. “That’s my final answer.”
650+ Progressive Groups Vow to Fight Manchin Deal “With Everything We’ve Got”
A broad coalition of more than 650 climate and progressive advocacy groups Wednesday called on congressional Democratic leaders to reject Sen. Joe Manchin’s “alarming” demands for U.S. fossil fuel projects contained in a “dirty” side deal that the West Virginia Democrat secretly negotiated to gain his support for his own party’s historic but watered-down package on climate, taxes, and drug price reforms.
“We are writing to express our strenuous opposition to any additional fossil fuel giveaways,” states the coalition’s letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), noting that the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) signed by President Joe Biden last week “already included large giveaways to polluters.”
“We call on you to unequivocally reject any effort to promote fossil fuels, advance unproven technologies, and weaken our core environmental laws,” the letter adds. “You must stand with the communities who continue to bear the brunt of harm from fossil fuels and act to prevent wholesale climate disaster.”
According to a leaked one-page summary of what critics have called “the ultimate devil’s bargain,” the proposal would prioritize approval of projects with “strategic national importance,” set time restrictions for reviewing permits, alter federal water rules, limit lawsuits, and increase federal authority for certain facilities. Manchin is also pushing for the completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), a fracked gas project that runs through his home state but opposed by many of his constituents.
“This fossil fuel wish list is a cruel and direct attack on environmental justice communities and the climate,” the new letter argues. “Prolonging the fossil fuel era perpetuates environmental racism, is wildly out of step with climate science, and hamstrings our nation’s ability to avert a climate disaster. Supporting this legislation would represent a profound betrayal of frontline communities and constituents across the country who have called on you to prevent the multitude of harms of fossil fuels and advance a just, renewable energy future.”
The groups — including the Center for Popular Democracy, Climate Justice Alliance, Green New Deal Network, Indivisible, Oil Change International, MoveOn, NAACP, Oxfam America, People’s Action, Public Citizen, Sierra Club, and Sunrise Movement — are demanding “bold congressional action to address the existential threat of climate chaos.”
Such action “requires limiting the production of oil, gas, and coal, which are responsible for 85% of greenhouse emissions and are the root driver of the climate crisis,” the letter states. “Relying only on large-scale investments in renewable energy and environmental justice alone will not stave off climate disaster if Congress simultaneously puts its legislative foot on the gas to expand fossil fuel production and false solutions like carbon capture, hydrogen, biomass, biofuels, factory farm gas, and nuclear power.”
The dirty “deal” being forced on us by Manchin + @SenSchumer would fast-track fossil fuel projects and strip away the chance for public input or meaningful environmental review.
Take action with us to demand Congress and @POTUS stop it: https://t.co/czXlPHeGkc pic.twitter.com/FwcQCjAnns
— People vs. Fossil Fuels (@FightFossils) August 23, 2022
The letter acknowledges that Manchin wants to tie his dirty deal — which is already facing opposition from some progressives in the House — to legislation to fund the federal government after the end of next month. The right-wing Democrat has even threatened a government shutdown if members of both parties don’t back his proposal.
The coalition’s letter charges that “tethering this legislation to any must-pass legislation including a continuing resolution to fund the federal government is morally abhorrent. Holding the funding of the entire federal government hostage to satiate one senator with a heavy financial self-interest in fossil fuels is beyond irresponsible.”
“Sacrificing the health and prosperity of communities in Appalachia, the Gulf Coast, Alaska, the Midwest, the Southwest, and other frontline communities around the country makes this side-deal profoundly disgraceful,” the documents adds. “Our communities and our collective future require the political courage to stop the fossil fuel stranglehold once and for all.”
Representatives of groups that signed the letter echoed its urgent tone.
“This dirty side deal is nothing short of a wholesale giveaway to the fossil fuel industry to the detriment of frontline communities, tribal nations, and Mother Earth,” said Joye Braun, national pipelines organizer of the Indigenous Environmental Network. “The world is on fire and negotiating the amount of fuel for those flames is not acceptable. Congress needs to understand that there is no compromise when it comes to protecting the next seven generations of life and beyond.”
Here’s how you can tell your representatives to stop the fast-tracking of Big Oil deals:https://t.co/k9dZ2Mp1bL
— Our Revolution (@OurRevolution) August 18, 2022
According to Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, “it’s atrocious that Congress is even considering dismantling bedrock environmental protections just to please one senator.” He called the effort a “poisonous plan” that “must be stopped.”
The letter follows protests against the deal and resulting arrests last week at the offices of both Schumer and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the party’s third-ranked member in the Senate.
Thomas Meyer, national organizing manager at Food & Water Watch, told Common Dreams that “Manchin and Schumer are in for a rude awakening if they thought they could slip this deal through without a fuss.”
“The grassroots climate movement is fired up to stop this fossil fuel expansion deal, and the sit-ins at Sen. Schumer and Murray’s offices last week are just the beginning,” Meyer added. “After the IRA paved the way for another decade of fracking and pipelines, we have no choice but to fight this dirty deal with everything we’ve got.”
The Stop MVP and People vs. Fossil Fuels coalitions are planning a public demonstration against Manchin’s deal in the nation’s capital next month. “No Sacrifice Zones: Appalachian Resistance Comes to D.C.” is set to kick off at 5:00 pm local time on September 8 at the Robert A. Taft Memorial and Carillon.
Register here: https://t.co/pNhgK5Uuu9
— Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights (@POWHR_Coalition) August 22, 2022
“We are done being sacrifice zones, and we must stop this bill and MVP!” organizers said in a statement Tuesday. “We want to build community between intersectional Appalachian resistance organizations and have their voices heard! We must protect bedrock environmental laws and public input. We are in solidarity with all frontlines of the climate crisis.”
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Tuesday granted MVP’s request to extend its certificate of public convenience and necessity by four years — a move that Russell Chisholm of the Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights (POWHR) Coalition said “emphasizes the brutal length and uncertainty of the project.”
“This project should never be built and this decision subjects our communities to prolonged harm,” he added. “That’s why tens of thousands of people submitted comments to stop FERC from granting this extension. Now we’re taking our growing movement to D.C. to demand decision-makers stop MVP and all pro-fossil fuel legislation.”
Union Organizing at “Progressive” Companies Comes With Its Own Set of Challenges
The general manager at a sustainable, organic, member-owned food co-op. The executive director of a reproductive health center. A collective board at a community soup kitchen. The owners of a socialist-themed plant-based meats company. The bosses at a punk doughnut chain and a queer bar. What do they all have in common? Often, the answer is union busting, holding captive audience meetings and violating workers’ rights.
Organizing against abusive and exploitive bosses at for-profit, politically “neutral” companies is always difficult — but organizing workers at nonprofit organizations and businesses with a “progressive” image comes with a unique set of challenges.
At first glance, nonprofit organizations like Planned Parenthood have little in common with companies like Starbucks. One provides essential reproductive and health care services to diverse communities and is governed by a board of directors that is often comprised of local community leaders. The other is a purveyor of standardized caffeinated beverages and a massive global corporate empire with untouchable billionaire CEOs and directors. But both organizations leverage their progressive personas to cover up power imbalances, economic inequalities and exploitation of their workers in the “hidden abode of production.”
“Nonprofits have a role to play in capitalism and present themselves as something different, as an alternative,” argues Kieran Knutson, the president of Communications Workers of America Union (CWA) Local 7250 and a longtime organizer. The nonprofit sector developed in the 1970s, in part to provide essential services in areas abandoned by the state. As the state withdrew from service provision under neoliberal capitalism, nonprofits backed by wealthy funders and foundations filled in, using low-wage workers and the “volunteer society” to manage social conflict and mitigate the public’s demands for the state to provide them with resources. Said nonprofits rely on the good will of donors and a steady supply of those willing to work for the mission, often without decent wages or a say in their workplaces. In contrast with directors on corporate boards, those who serve on nonprofit boards are entirely removed from the processes of production, services provided, workplace conditions, and demands of both their employees and clients. Corporate directors can be pressured because a strike or slowdown will affect the company’s bottom line and thus stock options, salaries, bonuses and compensation. But nonprofit directors may lack a personal economic incentive and hence that pressure point.
Cultivating a progressive and inclusive image has attracted a loyal, diverse customer base and workforce for massive global corporations and small businesses alike. But the veneer of diversity and inclusion often covers for low wages with no benefits, hyper-exploitation with either long or irregular hours, and lack of power on the job. People from marginalized communities, like queer people and people of color, are often drawn to work for companies with a progressive image, only to find that they regularly experience the same discrimination and abuse found in many workplaces. Signage that states “all are welcome here,” is directed at customers and the public, not employees. Even if these workplaces are more diverse, they are often no more democratic or just than their politically neutral counterparts.
The problem with nonprofit corporations and businesses with a progressive image is that their ideals don’t apply to those who work there. Moreover, said ideals are often lacking a class and power analysis. Challenge a “progressive” boss’s power and see how quickly they behave badly.Progressive Bosses Behaving Badly The veneer of diversity and inclusion often covers for low wages with no benefits, hyper-exploitation with either long or irregular hours, and lack of power on the job.
“This is not a democracy,” stated the general manager of a sustainable, organic, member-owned food co-op as they fired a pro-union worker. The worker had accepted the cashier position in part because they were able to wear a “they/them” pronoun button at work, an indication that their gender identity would be honored by customers and coworkers. And they were excited that in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, their managers distributed Black Lives Matter buttons for employees to wear, too. To the managers at the co-op, however, pronoun and BLM buttons were a step in the right direction; efforts to form a union and circulate a petition calling for hazard pay for frontline workers during a pandemic were steps too far.
Patricia*, a member of the organizing committee at the co-op who I spoke to via Zoom in November 2021, was shocked by management’s response when the workers took their hazard pay petition public. Even with overwhelming support from coworkers and the community, the day after it was announced, “we walked into the breakroom, and ripped-up pieces of the petition were everywhere,” she said. “Then [a long-time employee and spouse of the finance director] wrote a really nasty letter that went out to the whole staff about how we were ungrateful, and we were lucky to have jobs and we should be happy with what we get.”
Similarly, the organizing efforts at a reproductive health center “all started with us doing a hazard pay petition,” that management “refused to acknowledge,” noted Josephine,* a clinic worker and union activist. Immediately after the petition was launched, the “CEO and CFO both said that they were going to be taking a 3 percent pay cut from their salary. Our CEO makes $220,000.00 a year. So, [the pay cut was] not very much. It’s about the same amount as our pay for three whole months.” Josephine and her coworkers presumed that this money was to be spent toward their demand for hazard pay, but “come to find out, after about a month, they reinstated their full salary,” she said. “So, nothing happened. We don’t even know what happened with that money.”
Alex of the Crush Bar Workers Collective, an affiliate of the Portland, Oregon, branch of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), was part of an “underground campaign” in early 2020 at the local queer bar where they were employed. Initially, organizers “just started having meetings about workplace grievances and were slowly on-boarding people. The first major thing to organize around for us was better shift meals.” Management reacted poorly and “we got our shift meals taken away,” they said. The organizing committee launched a petition to reinstate shift meals but as soon as they won, with two-thirds of the workers signing, the owner of Crush Bar used the pandemic shutdowns to fire all the employees involved in the union campaign. When the workers arrived en masse to pick up their final paychecks and speak with the owner, they were threatened, had their pictures taken, and the cops were called. The owner, along with managers and his supporters, continued by “threatening people online and in interpersonal communication,” including “outing folks and misgendering folks,” Alex told Truthout.
These are not isolated incidents. Eric Artz, CEO of REI, a consumer co-op that sells expensive outdoor gear, shared his pronouns and led a land acknowledgement before lambasting workers at a Manhattan location for organizing. “We do not believe placing a union between the co-op and its employees is needed or beneficial,” he said in a subsequent email. Likewise, the CEO of Amy’s Kitchen condemned the Teamsters for publicizing ongoing workplace injustices — including “defective equipment, blocked fire exits, workloads that lead to repetitive-stress injuries, and a lack of bathroom breaks and access to clean water” — and a boycott followed. Just recently, Amy’s fired over 300 employees and shuttered their production facility. No Evil Foods offers vegan meats with radical-sounding names, including “El Zapatista” chorizo and “Comrade Cluck” chicken, under the tagline “Protein for All. In Plants We Trust.” Nevertheless, their owners ran an intense intimidation campaign against unionizing workers, holding captive audience meetings, accusing the local union supporting the workers of corruption, and then shuttering their production facility entirely, firing staff without severance.
The boss of a homeless service agency, Central City Concern, was bold enough to call for a “no” vote for the union on video; a few miles away, the Community Alliance of Tenants hired an expensive, “infamous union-busting law firm,” according to the union. When the recently unionized workers of the punk-themed Voodoo Doughnut went out on a safety strike in the middle of the worst heat wave in recent memory, management fired them all. Workers with Doughnut Workers United, also an IWW affiliate, were only rehired after a pressure campaign and a National Labor Relations Board ruling against the employer. These examples, as with the one about the Crush Bar workers, are all from Portland, Oregon. But progressive bosses are cracking down on organizing workers across the country, and such conduct often only bolsters workers’ union campaigns.Bosses Are (and Aren’t) the Best Organizers The foundational myth of nonprofits and progressive politics is self-sacrifice for mission and members. This is a narrative that is often difficult to dispel, much less overcome.
As any union member will tell you, bosses can be the best organizers. But whereas the misleading — and potentially illegal — anti-worker and anti-union statements from out-of-touch executives such as Howard Schultz and Jeff Bezos can spur workers to organize or escalate their campaigns, it’s a bit more complex when it comes to nonprofits and supposedly “progressive” bosses.
When bosses and managers at food co-ops, reproductive health centers and queer bars provide prospects for advancement to marginalized peoples — including people of color, women, LGBTQ+ people, immigrants, and poor and working-class people — they are seemingly aligning with progressive values, even while actively limiting these opportunities. When bosses and managers provide safe spaces to wear pronoun and BLM buttons or allow employees to be public about their gender identities, it’s possible, especially in small towns, that this is one of the few workplaces that would affirm workers’ identities. But often it is these very workers who are organizing; the union effort being led at Starbucks stores across the country, for example, is led by “young, female and queer employees.”
However, calling the cops on working-class queer peoples or ignoring a national trend to award hazard pay to health care workers during a pandemic is conduct that contradicts the mission of many nonprofits and progressive businesses. Seeing a boss act counter to the mission, goals, aims and progressive politics of an organization or company is enlightening to workers and can spur them to action. Their experiences with power are educational; being disciplined, retaliated against, lied to and mistreated by a boss whom they may share values and political identities with is an opportunity to see how an organization or company — and neoliberal society as a whole —actually operates. The result can be a renewed commitment to unionization, workplace democracy and radical change.
Often, bosses use “middle management” to mitigate a unionization campaign, Josephine noted. “It was difficult because you’re working in close proximity and you had their utmost support when this unionization first happened,” she said, then “we were dealing with serious retaliation from them, which was hurtful and harmful.”
As a result of the bosses’ reaction to the hazard pay petition in the food co-op example, the organizing collapsed, and the union drive faltered. Here, organizers were not only afraid of retaliation or losing their jobs, but also of public scorn, loss of standing in the community, of negatively affecting an institution they believed in, and upsetting bosses who ate lunch with them even as they controlled their working lives. By identifying the co-op’s management with its mission, the organizers were unable to address the fundamental power differentials, expand beyond their organizing committee, and convince even their most radical members to act.
No wonder. The foundational myth of nonprofits and progressive politics is self-sacrifice for mission and members. This is a narrative that is often difficult to dispel, much less overcome.For Mission and Members
Like a progressive company’s image, a nonprofit’s charge can be powerful. Workers are drawn to their jobs for the mission as well as the members. When a boss’s bad behavior and hypocrisy is exposed, the mission still holds sway.
“When we talk about an employer like a [reproductive health center] you’re talking about workers who are there for the mission,” Josephine said. “The pushback that we were getting from coworkers was being scared about being seen as not being a part of the mission anymore.” The fear typically experienced during a unionization campaign is compounded by fear that organizing will harm the mission. Additionally, long-term employees — especially those who are older, white, straight, cisgender and economically privileged — can become social leaders who actively rally against unionization and prevent their coworkers from organizing.Workers at nonprofit organizations and businesses with a progressive image “are real workers who have real concerns and grievances and have a right to air them.”
Workers at nonprofit organizations and businesses with a progressive image “are real workers who have real concerns and grievances and have a right to air them,” Knutson said. “But not everybody’s consciousness just crystallizes. Often, there’s some kind of crisis where workers just finally had enough, and they can’t go on anymore.” The organizing challenge is to address the underlying causes of the crisis: that is, the chasm between the stated mission and the organization’s ability to care for members, clients, and consumers with low wages and lack of democracy on the job. Most of all, organizers must prevent the crisis from demobilizing and discouraging workers from organizing. This, according to Knutson, begins with “building cultures of solidarity that aren’t necessarily capital ‘P’ political, but basically the way you treat people, the way that you expect to be treated, and the kind of norms that you represent when you’re at work. And I think those do make a difference and cultivating a kind of a culture around that is one of the ways to take it on.”
A culture of solidarity is a way for members to “live the mission,” serve as a basis for further organizing, resist repression and survive regardless of the outcome of the organizing campaign. Along with community supporters, Crush Bar Workers Collective members were able to provide food boxes to fired workers and stipends for rent and other expenses. While the food co-op union faltered, there remains a culture of solidarity among coworkers who are still employed and those who have moved on. But there is an important caveat, especially when considering workers in these industries: solidarity and mutual aid must extend beyond friendship groups and social networks to all coworkers. What’s more, mutual aid fortifies relationships and builds power toward demanding concessions from the boss in the short-term while continuing and expanding struggles in the long-term.For Fairness and Fair Compensation
The mission of nonprofits extends beyond the worksite to members, clients, consumers and supporters in the larger community. Community members and activists can become an “unpaid PR department” for management, Knutson said. “Bosses present workers as being selfish: that they are not seeing the goal of the mission of the nonprofit, they’re only seeing their selfish needs in terms of benefits or wages or whatever when they should be thinking about the bigger picture.” Because the boss’s argument and power extend beyond the workplace, so must our organizing and systems of solidarity.
Nonprofits and businesses with progressive veneers often require a steady supply of low-wage workers to perform jobs with high turnover rates, scant flexibility and slim input. In addition to the sway that mission and members have over employees, working at a nonprofit, popular queer bar and a punk company like Voodoo Doughnuts has prestige. But you can’t eat prestige or pay rent with it — and prestige doesn’t give you control over the working day.
These workers are organizing to demand living wages and a say on the job. As labor scholar Robert Ovetz recently reflected:
Because the work is so closely tied to the mission, workers have found some success going beyond simply wages and benefits issues. They are successfully flipping management’s narrative. Rather than management’s claim that higher wages threaten the mission, better wages and working conditions help employees do the work of helping others by helping themselves. Nonprofit work no longer has to mean making poverty-level wages while helping clients in poverty.
For emerging and future organizing campaigns in these sectors, bringing workers out of poverty through fair compensation is vital but not enough. “A lot of progressive organizations are very much invested in neoliberalism, in capitalism, even when they use language saying otherwise,” said a former labor organizer with university-based union Kiana. “There are some really good structures to make people feel heard while nothing is actually being done. Then if you are being too loud or go public, that’s when you would start to get hazed and kicked out.”
Moreover, bosses and managers utilize the language of diversity, equity and inclusion to undermine unionization and workplace democracy. One worker shared with me how their highly paid boss attempted to shame a mostly white, low-wage workforce by saying “how dare you ask a woman of color for a raise.” Another recounted a story of how a white clinic manager covered up for the anti-trans and homophobic abuse of a coworker by claiming that “diversity includes older white women, from another generation.” And the food co-op referenced above donated considerable funds to unspecified “Black causes” while claiming they could not afford to pay more than minimum wages. The boss at Crush Bar “pitted [workers] against Black Lives Matter in this absurd and bizarre way,” Alex said. “It was toxic and manipulative and just totally inaccurate.” Recently the president of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts — who in 2020 personally made $308,191 and has 10 directors who make over $100,000 on her payroll — claimed that Roe’s overturn meant that workers shouldn’t unionize. They have the money, just not for their employees.
“I would emphasize that management’s gonna manage,” said Patricia. “It doesn’t matter if they’re feeding homeless people, it doesn’t matter if they’re rescuing puppies or protecting rivers. Management is management. There is still a power dynamic that can’t be challenged by you on your own, you can only do that with the union with your fellow workers.”Bosses and managers utilize the language of diversity, equity and inclusion to undermine unionization and workplace democracy.
Ways to change power dynamics at work include labor management meetings, workers councils, giving workers a say on corporate boards, ensuring workers are present at nonprofit board meetings, horizontal pay structures (which limits the gap between lowest and highest paid), transparency around financial and programmatic decisions, worker input into foundation partnerships and individual grants, employee stock ownership, and transitioning to a worker co-op model. All of these measures begin with organizing and lead toward a union and workplace democracy.A Union and Workplace Democracy
Every organizing campaign comes with its own set of challenges, especially for those working in nonprofits and “progressive” businesses. Workers are confronting bully bosses, low wages, a lack of benefits, and the denial of a sustainable work-life balance and control over the process and product of their working day. Recent efforts to organize in these sectors represent a reckoning that is a long time coming. Nonprofits cannot profess progressive politics and businesses cannot hide behind a progressive facade without addressing the challenges brought by unionization and workplace democracy.
Organizing is about creating new relationships and relations of power on the job as well as in the industries and communities these workers are part of. “It’s important to remember that your coworker relationships and how you feel about each other is ultimately the most important thing, over winning goals, over outside perception, anything like that,” Alex said. Without these bonds, demands for better working conditions will not have the force needed to succeed, power cannot be built, and organizing cannot be sustained.
“I remembered, when I first started at the co-op, hearing that there had been union efforts before this,” Patricia said. “So, even though this campaign failed, everyone involved learned a whole lot and [we witnessed] shifts in how management acted. Unionization at the co-op is dormant; these movements never die.”
All organizing comes with risks, and that is true of these sectors. There has been a rash of nonprofits and small businesses that have shuttered rather than share power with a unionized workforce. There are also imminent political and economic threats facing the working class and the left in the United States. Our task is to organize and democratize our workplaces while avoiding the pitfalls of prior generations. “There’s risk of getting pulled into the logic of managing a business in a capitalist context, but I think the positive side of it is conceiving of something different and conceiving of us in power, even though it’s on a micro scale,” Knutson said. “And I think all those are worth it.”
A common adage is that there is “no ethical consumption under capitalism.” To this we should add that there are no ethical workplaces, either — only better ones, which have collective bargaining agreements or are organized by solidarity unions with power on the shop floor.
* In this article several names and workplaces have been changed. Those interviewed are concerned about retaliation at current or future places of employment and want to protect ongoing organizing campaigns.
Mysterious Right-Wing Donor Drops $1.6 Billion Gift on Federalist Society Boss
Some guy almost nobody has ever heard of before just dropped a $1.6 billion donation in pursuit of every breathless right-wing fantasy you can name. It is considered to be the largest single donation by an individual in U.S. political history, and nothing can be done about it, because thems is the rules.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: It’s all about the money. Why? Because money writes the rules.
We sometimes allow ourselves to forget that foundational axiom as we seek our various truths or get caught up in the paper chase of advocacy and legislation. We lose the forest for the trees, and now the goddamn forest is raining cash down on so much that we would devote our lives to defeating … or put more specifically, the forest is raining cash down on politicians who suddenly find themselves devoted to esoteric tax breaks for hedge fund, real estate and private equity managers, to the point that massive bills turn on giving those politicians whatever they want. It’s a hostage crisis, and it has gotten worse by order of magnitude over the years.
Why is it so hard to pass effective climate legislation? Ask the fossil fuel-driven donors. Why is health care so gruesomely expensive? Ask the insurance and Big Pharma donors. Why are police and prisons still endorsed as the go-to solutions for our problems? Ask the so-called “Law and Order” donors (among many other influential players). Almost 400 million guns loose on the land and schools turned into slaughterhouses? Ask the NRA and other gun “rights” donors. How did the Supreme Court become so severely tilted to the right? Ask the Federalist Society donors (and the Democrats, who watched that exercise in court-packing unfold over the years with an Alfred E. Neuman look on their faces).
Why can’t we fix the problem of money in politics? Ask the politicians receiving all the money. It’s a sealed loop, a legalized perfection of frictionless graft, with no way inside unless you have a check in hand, at which point you are part of the problem.
The problem is not new, of course. Corporations have enjoyed the same 14th Amendment rights as people since the Supreme Court’s Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific Railroad decision in 1886. The campaign finance rights of these corporate people were codified in later Supreme Court cases like Buckley v. Valeo in 1976. This created a whole new category of super-people, the real “donor class,” corporations with the same rights as individuals but with about eleventy billion times more power to expand those rights by dint of their deep pockets.
And in 2010, whatever remained of the bottom finally fell out with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, which opened the floodgates for unlimited donations of untraceable money, and all in the name of corporate “free speech.” Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy made a promise his ass simply could not keep: “We now conclude that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption…. The appearance of influence or access, furthermore, will not cause the electorate to lose faith in our democracy.”
Sometimes, when I visualize Kennedy writing those words, I imagine him as a fuzzy little bunny hoppity-hopping through a flower-strewn meadow, little pink nose thrilling with the scents of springtime, little pink eyes bright and alight with all the pure innocence and good things in the world … just before the wolf right behind him bites him in half and devours whatever falls out onto the green and dewy grass. Either he was just that bunny-innocent, or he was deliberately bullshitting us. We’ve wound up in the same place no matter which was true.
If British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain can be rightly said to be Adolf Hitler’s 20th century champion chump, then Anthony Kennedy gets the nod for top money-power chump of the 21st century to date. If you think everything has gotten worse since 2010, you’re not wrong, and Citizens United squats in the middle of the phenomenon like a poison toad.
Which brings us to the newest star in this constellation of corruption and raw power.
“An elderly, ultra-secretive Chicago businessman has given the largest known donation to a political advocacy group in U.S. history — worth $1.6 billion — and the recipient is one of the prime architects of conservatives’ efforts to reshape the American judicial system, including the Supreme Court,” reports The Lever. “Through a series of opaque transactions over the past two years, Barre Seid, a 90-year-old manufacturing magnate, gave the massive sum to a nonprofit run by Leonard Leo, who co-chairs the conservative legal group the Federalist Society.”
The fellow at the happy end of this transaction, Leo, is a titanic part of the reason Roe v. Wade has fallen to dust, and why privacy and marriage equality (for openers) may be next.It’s a sealed loop, a legalized perfection of frictionless graft, with no way inside unless you have a check in hand, at which point you are part of the problem.
Seid (pronounced “said”) made his vast fortune catering to the analog end of the digital revolution – you may have one of his power strips in your home right now, or the servers in your office may be swaddled in one of his server farm cooling systems – but he is largely unknown outside a tight-knit group of far-right activists who emerged from the University of Chicago. Among the university organizations he has supported are the trickle-down prophets at the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics and the climate-denying Heartland Institute, which have both enjoyed Seid’s secretive multi-million-dollar largesse over the years.
This is one of those problems whose solution is both easy and altogether impossible: Get the money out of politics! Right, good, of course, and while you’re at it, grab that bunny out of the wolf’s jaws. “Even if you set aside the monkeyshines from Mar-A-Lago, and the ratfcking,” storms Esquire blogger Charlie Pierce. “And the voter suppression. And the gerrymandering — Even if you eliminated all of those, our elections still would be a farce because of how money power has been allowed to drown the process.”
Everything – and I mean everything – just got harder because of the thermonuclear money bomb Barre Seid slipped into the formidable financial arsenal already enjoyed by Leonard Leo and his Federalist Society cronies. That organization just finished turning the Supreme Court into a right-wing playground without Seid’s gigantic payout.
Now, Leo and his allies can play on a much broader field. All those shabby Trump-picked Senate candidates Mitch McConnell recently lamented can expect some much-needed stuffing in their campaign coffers ere long. It is all of a piece, financed now beyond the dreams of avarice, and only 76 days to the midterms.
All of a sudden, and with everything else piling up like a million-car crash in the icy fog of the Tri-State Tollway, the vicious reality of campaign finance laws have forced themselves to the top of the priorities list once again. There is no fixing anything until this is fixed. Now go get that bunny.
Federal Jury Finds 2 Men Guilty of Plot to Kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
A federal jury found two men guilty of plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2020 over protections that the Democrat had implemented in response to the pandemic, dealing a blow to the far right extremists for whom prosecutors said kidnapping Whitmer was only the first step in their plan to set off a civil war.
The two men, Adam Fox and Barry Croft Jr., were reportedly leaders of the plot and were also found guilty of plotting to obtain a weapon of mass destruction. Through meetings in Ohio and drills in “shoot houses” in Wisconsin and Michigan, the men made plans to capture Whitmer at her vacation home and then detonate a bridge to throw off the police response to the kidnapping.
“You can’t just strap on an AR-15 and body armor and snatch the governor,” federal prosecutor Nils Kessler said, during closing arguments for the case. According to prosecutors, Fox told members of the group to “just grab the bitch” so that they could put her on “trial.”
Kessler added that the group’s goal went far beyond simple frustration with Whitmer. Their “ultimate goal,” Kessler said, was to “set off a second American civil war, a second American Revolution, something that they call the boogaloo. And they wanted to do it for a long time before they settled on Gov. Whitmer.”
The verdict brings an end to one of the most high profile domestic terrorist plots to come to court in recent history. It was the government’s second try at prosecuting the men; in April, a jury failed to reach a verdict on Fox and Croft, while acquitting two other men who had been charged in the plot. In the course of building a case against the men, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) implanted agents into the Michigan group, while two men in the plot pled guilty and aided prosecutors.
“Today’s verdicts prove that violence and threats have no place in our politics and those who seek to divide us will be held accountable. They will not succeed,” said Whitmer in a statement, in response to the verdict. “But we must also take a hard look at the status of our politics. Plots against public officials and threats to the FBI are a disturbing extension of radicalized domestic terrorism that festers in our nation, threatening the very foundation of our republic.”
Prosecutors said in their case that Fox and Croft had been upset about protections placed by the governor in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Far right Michigan residents were indeed upset when the pandemic set in and waged armed demonstrations near the state legislature to protest the COVID protocols. At one of those protests, demonstrators had a doll meant to be Whitmer hanging from a noose.
Rage over the life-saving measures was widespread among the right early in the pandemic, and some have suggested that a tweet by then-President Donald Trump to “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” and his other attempts to stoke anger over pandemic protections may have helped to fuel the plot. Trump recently said that the kidnapping plot was a “fake deal.”
Newsom Vetoes Bill That Would Have Established Supervised Injection Sites
California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has vetoed a bill that would have allowed three major cities in the state to open supervised drug injection sites, which have been shown to decrease the number of overdoses in places that have implemented them.
Newsom vetoed Senate Bill 57 just hours before it would have automatically become law. In a statement, Newsom called for the state Department of Health and Human Services, working alongside city and county officials, to review other practices for preventing overdoses, particularly those related to the opioid crisis. He also recognized that it was “possible that these sites would help improve the safety and health of our urban areas,” but disagreed with the bill’s substance, stating that, “without a strong plan, [drug injection sites] could work against this purpose.”
Democratic colleagues in the state legislature are criticizing Newsom’s decision to veto the bill.
“California lost a huge opportunity to address one of our most deadly problems: The dramatic escalation in drug overdose deaths,” wrote state Sen. Scott Weiner, a Democrat from San Francisco. “By rejecting a proven and extensively studied strategy to save lives and get people into treatment, this veto sends a powerful negative message that California is not committed to harm reduction.”
Some have also accused Newsom of acting out of self-interest rather than in the best interests of California residents. The governor may be thinking of a future run for president, some believe, and he may have vetoed the legislation over fears that its passage could have been used against him.
“Governor Newsom would rather run for president in 2024 than save lives in our state,” said Brandon Weaver, who works in the communications office of the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development. “People will literally die because of this rejection of a strategy that’s proven to save lives as people continue to OD on our streets.”
“We are incredibly disappointed and heartbroken that Governor Newsom has put his own political ambitions ahead of saving thousands of lives and vetoed this critical legislation,” said Jeannette Zanipatin, California State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
“We don’t need additional processes. What we need is action. Without action, people are going to die,” Zanipatin added.
The issue is a serious one for the entire country, as the U.S. recorded more than 100,000 drug overdose deaths last year. In California, more than 10,000 residents died of a drug overdose from March 2021 to March 2022.
Several cities in recent years have considered similar proposals to what Senate Bill 57 would have allowed. Conservative pundits and politicians, however, are vehemently opposed to supervised drug injection sites, believing they encourage drug use and bring crime to nearby areas. And, as demonstrated by Newsom’s vote, many liberals are also not supportive of these proven public health measures.
Such concerns, however, are not based in reality. A study of drug injection centers in Alberta, Canada, contradicted a government report that wrongly said crime had gone up because of them, and a 2014 review of 75 different studies found there was no increase in drug use due to cities instituting injection sites.
Such sites do an amazing job at preventing deaths. New York City, for example, opened the nation’s first sanctioned supervised injection facility last year, and of 5,849 injections, staff there were able to treat 123 potentially fatal overdoses, resulting in zero deaths overall.
Beyond injection sites providing a safe means for those afflicted with addiction to use drugs in a supervised manner, such centers also provide a way for those who utilize them to find pathways to treatment.
“Moral or ideological objections to supervised consumption fall apart when we acknowledge the implications for people’s actual lives,” wrote journalist Travis Lupick for Truthout. “At a supervised injection site, users have better control over what they put into their bodies. They have autonomy, and are treated with respect.”