No, It Is Totally Acceptable to Confront Politicians

The entire point of organizing and direct action is to confront people and power, disrupting their everyday lives-or their paths of least resistance-to make sure to hold those people accountable and to reclaim power of those who normally feel powerless. So, when there is consistent criticism of an immigration activist who followed Senator Sinema into the bathroom of ASU, I am fascinated to ask what organizing and disrupting state power means to those who are voicing that criticism?

Is it not an act of violence and dismissiveness when Sinema, using her position as a Senator of the United States Congress, dramatically girl-bossed her rejection of raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour? A provision that would have lifted millions in this country out of poverty.

It is not violence, worthy of a faceoff in the bathroom, on an airport, in a airplane, when Sinema rejected an infrastructuredeal agreed upon in August, demanding a smaller bill from $3.5 trillion to $1 trillion, erasing the potential for universal childcare, free community college, and investing in cleaner energies that would combat a disastrous climate crisis?

Then if it is, what does it matter if Sinema is asked some questions about her vote, in the only places that constituents can get to her? She hasn’t had a town hall in three years! So what if they get her at a university-where she ran away from them into a bathroom stall. So what if they catch her at the gate of an airport? Is she doing any outreach herself?

But it’s inappropriate!

So is delaying a bill that has the potential to help people.

But you wouldn’t want to be accosted in the bathroom!

 Goodness I hope not. That would mean I’m a terrible politician that would deny her constituents the means to be uplifted out of poverty, comprehension immigration reform, and cleaner infrastructure. And I’m not Kyrsten Sinema, who is doing just that.

But you need to be polite! This distracts from your goal of getting the bill passed!

This is exactly what activists should be doing. Disrupting a person’s path of least resistance. If those students and activists did nothing, then she would have easily gone back to Arizona and spent the entire time fundraising and thinking it was ok. This is putting her shady habits into the spotlight. Why the hell are activists blocking traffic? Or occupying spaces? It’s so those in power don’t ignore them. Which politicians have a surprising habit of doing.

Sinema should be prepared for more questions in inconvenient places. So should Manchin too, while we’re at it, because it seems a little too spot on the nose that he is lecturing about fiscal responsibility atop his yacht.

You can’t respectability politics your way out of this one.

(By Nichole Smith)

(Photo Credit: NY Post / Twitter)

Instacart Workers Are Going on Strike: Fighting Against the Precarious Gig Economy

Instacart is facing a nationwide strike, happening October 16th.

Its workers will log off the grocery delivery app until the company agrees to a series of demands, the priority being higher pay. Instacart became a vital source during the pandemic, while customers and people in general limited their going out in the face of COVID-19, increasing the demand for food delivery services, grocery shopping applications, and online shopping. But with the conveniences of such types of services, comes the ultimate issue in these quick shopping trips: the workers are usually underpaid, overworked, and given virtually no benefits.

That comes with a whole slew of problems when it comes to workers in the gig economy. Yes, the job is flexible, where you can make your own hours or choose your own customers, but the pay and the work equal to what amounts to poverty wages, with some employees complaining (via New York City) that they are unable to access bathrooms and often cannot see or access the tips that customers add to orders. This has prompted legislative changes, including provisions to put the hourly wages of the gig workers (averaged at $7.90/hour) on par with the state’s minimum wage provisions. I have had conversations with Instacart workers before. They are a vital part of the grocery industry but are not given the stability of a good wage and health benefits. One worker complained that they take the job because of the high tips on the app, which can be reduced any time as the customer sees fit. There is no promise of the original tip available to them.

Most notoriously, in California, gig companies like Uber counteracted bills which entitled drivers to benefits and better pay with Prop 22, allowing gig workers to be exempt from the requirement. In August Prop 22 was found to be unconstitutional.

These issues continue to amass as more people look for easier ways to access goods and services, mostly through gig companies (like Uber Eats, Instacart, Lyft, and Shipt), and the precariousness within the economy itself increases. Workers are at very high risk of injury as well and are not able to access any healthcare benefits and workers’ compensation.

Considering the failures of the company to help the workers, or the legislation going to slow to help in anyway, workers have been on their own, to strike for better working conditions. In June, Uber and Lyft drivers participated in a day long strike to demand the right to organize, DoorDash workers protested outside the CEO’s house in California to demand better pay, tip transparency and PPE.

Notwithstanding the massive labor uprising happening in all sectors of the industry, the gig economy is ready for workers to organize and demand better wages and working conditions. On October 16th, customers can join the strike by deleting their Instacart app to demand the company take care of its workers. Because we have nothing to lose but our chains.

(By Nichole Smith)

(Photo Credit: Vice / Michael Loccisano / Getty Images)

No, Actually, This is Exactly Who We Are

Tuesday, a 21-year-old white man went on a killing spree, murdering 8 people in Georgia. His targets were mostly Asian American women, working in massage parlors across Cherokee County and in Atlanta.

He was arrested, alive. He was called a kid. He had had a bad day and was mentally ill with a sexual addiction. Apparently, the Captain decided to buy a shirt a year ago telling everyone that COVID came from “Chy-na”. 

Funny how, for men who have committed violent acts can use the mentally ill excuse. If we were really using violence as an indicator of mental illness and trauma women would have burned this entire country to the ground centuries ago. 

There must be something else to this story. 

Maybe the deaths of these women were a culmination of nearly two centuries of anti-Asian racism, policies that were designed to bar them from citizenship and deported them when they finished laboring out in the west. 

Maybe it was the continuing fetishization of Asian women, because it is not lost on me that massage parlors and happy endings are still somehow a joke that is acceptable to be shared. Maybe it’s the over-sexualization of Asian bodies, while simultaneously infantilizing them, fantasizing of raping Asian women, and seeing them as nothing more than objectified pieces for white male pleasure. 

Maybe it was the coronavirus, and an entire year of the president calling COVID-19 the China Virus, The China Flu, disparaging Chinese citizens as dirty, diseased, disgusting. 

I wonder, why the English virus hasn’t caught on (because of the COVID variant, and not the bubonic plague, or syphilis, or the many diseases that the English brought to America and wiped-out indigenous populations with) the same way all those amazing slogans above caught on. 

So, when I hear politicians or White Americans tell us this isn’t who we are…I’d like to remind them that this is exactly who we are. We spent a year blaming a group of people for “creating” a virus, when viruses do not have a race, an ethnicity, a nationality. We spent the Second World War interning Japanese Americans because of anti-Japanese racism; we’ve denied citizenship to Chinese because of anti-Chinese sentiment when they built the west; and we continue to other Asian Americans into the model minority to create tensions between other groups of people in this country. 

This is exactly who we are. This is how white supremacy works. The next shooter will still be a white man, and will be called a boy, and we’ll told he was mentally ill and just “snapped”. We’re not going to do much better until we reckon with our history. 

By Nichole Smith

(Photo Credit: AlJazeera)

University Administrators Promised Their Students Would be Safe: They Lied.

I work at a university, and it’s been a rollercoaster of emotions for students. As COVID-19 cases are rising across the country and multiple universities, professors are having to contend with the fallout, the students are suffering, both emotionally, physically, and financially. And administration, which has promised to keep students safe, to get them testing and a way back to college life, has failed.

It didn’t have to be like this. 

Firstly, students were promised a clear path back to the university campus—that included aggressive testing, aggressive social distancing measures, and mask mandates. The reality, however, seems to massively different than the expectation. “The first six weeks of the semester has taught colleges an important lesson: ‘It’s not simply testing—it’s testing, testing, testing,’ says Terry Hartle of the American Council on Education, a national group of college presidents, ‘but it’s an expensive undertaking.’” And the expensiveness of the tests—of more than $100 per test—is showing how difficult it is for universities to do the rapid testing that is required to keep faculty and students safe. “Of colleges with in-person classes and more than 5,000 undergraduates, only 25% are conducting mass screening or random ‘surveillance’ testing of students. Only 6% are routinely testing all of their students. Most, instead are relying on only diagnostic testing of symptomatic students, which many experts say comes too late to control outbreaks and understates the true number of cases.”

All this has contributed to universities becoming hotspots and contributing to the large increase in coronavirus cases across the country—up to a 55% nationally increase among adults by August and early September, when colleges opened for the Fall semester. In-person classes have contributed to about a 3,000 increase in cases a day in the United States. 

But testing is not the only issue at hand when it comes to the university desperately trying to maintain a safe environment for workers and students. It didn’t have to be that students were made to come back to campus to do in-person classes, or hybrid classes, or even a cacophony of one class online, one class in person, one hybrid, that would make it mandatory to be on campus to begin with. 

All classes should have been online. 

Unfortunately, that would require universities to do something that no university, structured by a corporatist model, would have to do—cut tuition. And I don’t mean a paltry cut to tuition, that would mean administration acknowledging that the model currently makes it impossible to maintain the level of safety and health for their students than they originally thought. That means university presidents taking substantiated salary cuts and other higher administration cutting their salaries as well, so that the faculty are kept safe from lay-offs and austerity measures and tuition reimbursements can be issued. 

The consequences cannot be overstated: universities are closing doors for two weeks to stop the spread of COVID, leaving students in the dark about their futures on campus. Others are staying closed and refusing to offer tuition refunds to students should they have to leave. Students already had to sue for refunds after universities refused refunds in the Spring semester, after closing and leaving students in out on their own.  

Yet others, at the complete detriment to the student body, are trying to open once again. “Just days after classes resumed, Wisconsin recorded its highest number of coronavirus hospitalizations yet. This left many puzzled by the return to in-person instruction when the situation in the area was only worsening. Moreover, continued the decision to stay open conflicts with the county leadership’s request for the university to move online. The university’s choice demonstrates behavior that contradicts both public health and politics, with a heavy focus on its consumers, the students.” 

And students that do test positive for the coronavirus are experiencing an ever-worsening lack of support from the university. Isolation in a specific dorm, no contact with anyone, and half-hazard meals prepared that cost students thousands of dollars extra in their tuition. One student that tested positive and was quarantined experienced isolation and a lack of care, “Besides my test at campus health, every one of my interactions was held over the phone. Students in quarantine were given one bag meal a day, which mostly consisted of snack foods, but we also had three bottles of water and one hot meal.” 

All the testing, the contact tracing, the quarantines, and isolation make it clear that online learning was the optimal solution for students this semester. But because online learning wouldn’t have been a justifiable learning apparatus for students that costs tens of thousands of dollars each year, or the extra money that it costs for students to live and eat on campus as well. We have to acknowledge the corporate model of university life—increasing profit margins, increasing costs—has not and will not work during an epidemic. It’s time to prioritize the health of the students and faculty, move the students to online learning. 

And cut tuition rates. 

I Mourn for the 3,000 Lives Lost, and the 500,000 Iraqis that Died with Them

Everyone has a 9/11 story. 

Each person has a 9/11 story. A story of what they were doing that day. What they felt, what they saw. I have a 9/11 story, you do too. That’s been what is solidified in our grief and collectivized our trauma.

My mother was on day four of her first year of teaching. The schools surrounding the city had been called with bomb threats and they evacuated; bridges were blocked so full of traffic that she had to leave her car to walk to my father on the other side. They hugged and managed to make it home, while my sister and I were picked up early from school (I thought my sister had a doctor’s appointment—we both go home on doctor appointments). We ate dinner that night with smoke from the towers visible as far down as Central Jersey (at least, I think that’s what it was). I didn’t think she was going to make it home. My grandmother thought it was the end of the world.

Everyone has a story. And each year we mourn the loss of 3,000 people. 

Now I am older and have grown in a world that has faced the consequences of that attack. The battles and the endless war against an invisible terrorist that has only a menacing brown face. The WMDs that never seem to be where they were supposed to be. I learned of the increase of islamophobia and hatred for others that was excused because it was our grief. I, as a white child, did not have to lose my innocence to learn this lesson. 

The violence done for the sake of retribution when it was just hateful people with more of a “reason” to mobilize violence. The Patriot Act and the constant surveillance of black and brown people that was passed under the guise of freedom—of safety. Of law and order. The violent legacy passed from Bush to Obama to Trump, all for them to continue unabashed and unashamed. Airstrikes that kill mothers and fathers and radicalize young orphans. If you only see the murderous rampage of a country that has taken away so much, wouldn’t you hate that country too? 

I know of the half a million Iraqis that died (at least—because there could be more, we just don’t know about them) because elites weaponized our grief, spiraling it into a patriotism that justified a rich man’s war for oil. Of a military’s need for more resources and profit. Of a country’s need to destabilize the Middle East and expand its imperialistic thirst for blood. There is still more of that blood on our hands, we just won’t acknowledge it. Which country is the enemy today? Do you know? I don’t. 

Everyone has a 9/11 story. But we got to heal, and many will never get that chance, caught in the crosshairs of a resource war. 

We mourn the 3,000 souls lost. Now we must mourn 500,000 more. 

(Photo Credit: PRI / Reuters / Deanna Dent)

GWU Had Enough Money for Disney, GWU Had Enough Money for Swain: Why Doesn’t GWU Have Enough Money for its Workers and Students?

The George Washington University has boasted an endowment of nearly $1.7 billion. During the COVID-19 crisis that university has access to a $300 million line of credit. The university had attempted to hire Ms. Heather Swain—a notorious rape apologist who helped to cover the abuses Larry Nassar committed during her time at Michigan State University—but apparently now GW doesn’t have enough money to keep its faculty and staff; it doesn’t have enough money to help its most vulnerable students.

While the pandemic has raised issues with how students will be attending university—as well as how the university will be footing the bill and handling budget issues—the George Washington University stands alone in its cuts—cuts that will amount to layoffs, pay cuts, and a reduction in financial aid for students. In the middle of a pandemic, the university is taking money from students who need it most, and health insurance from their employees. 

How can LeBlanc justify the cuts? How can the GW administration call layoffs, pay cuts, and hiring freezers a more practical decision for the budget issues instead of looking into other methods of finding the money?

During his career, GWU President Thomas LeBlanc has made some questionable money decisions. These include spending half a million dollars on his inauguration in 2017, contracting the Disney Institute to administer campus climate surveys at a whopping $300,000 and extending that contract without further discussing the cost to the university community. LeBlanc further created an impression, if not a culture, of institutional nepotism by hiring eight people with ties to his former institution in Miami. 

The hiring freeze came just as LeBlanc announced the hiring of former VP of Communications at Michigan State University Heather Swain, who helped the university cover up its handling of Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse of athletes. The lack of transparency and poor vetting procedures almost had a known rape apologist once again in a position of power, once again having students at their mercy. Whether or not LeBlanc knew is immaterial; he and the administration cared so poorly for the vetting process and protection of their students that Swain almost secured a job at the university. A half-hearted apology followed by erasure of any announcement that the university had any contact with Swain merely added fuel to the fire. 

LeBlanc is no stranger to shaking the confidence of faculty, staff and students alike. 

Let us not forget his racially charged language in February, when, in a discussion about fossil fuel divestment, “LeBlanc attempted to make a point about the impracticality of majority rule by describing a hypothetical scenario where all students votes to ‘shoot all black people here’”. His apologies were meaningless when in the same breath, students faced attacks by police  when attempting to hold him accountable for his racist comments and demand the university divest from fossil fuel. 

And now the faculty and staff are facing more of this president’s cruelty. The response to the pandemic has included mass layoffs (nearly 70 staff positions in career services, facilities, and the Continuous Improvement and Business Advisory Services office), salary cuts (of $27 million in cuts to faculty compensation), and a suspension of retirement benefits. 

Students are fairing no better in the university’s budget issues. The 10% reduction in tuition for those students who did not return to campus included a recalculation of the students’ aid packages. The changes to the financial aid has made the tuition cost to some students—notably students from marginalized backgrounds—“insurmountable”. The outcry prompted another newly-hired-during-a-hiring-freeze VP—Jay Goff—to address the tuition cut and financial aid issues that students have been facing. 

As an alumna of this university, I am deeply concerned with the handling of the budgetary proposals by the administration. As a student, faculty and staff supported me so that I was successful during my university career. How can the administration, how can LeBlanc, demand excellence of that same faculty and staff while they fear lay-offs, salary cuts, and who knows what else? How can they effectively teach at a prestigious university while their livelihoods are in danger? How can they support students when they proposed a different way, only to be ignored by a man that has mismanaged and bloated those at the top? 

For our White Nation, Cannon already received justice

I come back into social media to find the story of a young boy that was brutally murdered. His murderer found after a manhunt, his mother calling and actively seeking for the death penalty. The silence from all of you on the deaths of children murdered by police—children who are black, brown, who have mental illness and learning disabilities—highlights your hypocrisy and desire to return to “normal”. Where you don’t have to confront the country’s racist past and present. Where you get to take comfort in your own privilege because your privilege benefits you personally. 

Where you don’t have to come to terms with your “guilt” or your own culpability in this nation’s white supremacist values. 

I watch as posts are made about a boy who was killed too early, by people who made no commentary about Mike Brown, or Trayvon Martin, or the children of Brittney Gilliam who were pulled from their vehicle in Aurora, CO because the police “mistook” her car for being stolen. Who have remained silent on George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain—a boy who played his violin for cats at his local animal shelter; for the lynching of Tamirat “Amani” Kildea in Morristown, NJ. So, my fellow white people, here is what I have to say to you:

You are taking the murder of a young white child by a black man as a call to disrupt the movement for black lives. You are actively working in tandem with white supremacy in equating no justice being done when, for a white nation, our definition of justice has most definitely been done. 

Breonna Taylor

Was the perpetrator arrested? Yes.

Is he currently awaiting trial? Yes. 

Will he face a jury where he may well face the death penalty for his crimes? Yes. 

I’m curious, then, what more is it you’re asking for? 

Aiyana Stanley-Jones

Are you asking for justice for the murders of black children too? Where were you when Tamir Rice was killed for having a toy gun? Where are your hashtags for the punishment of the officers that killed Aiyana Stanley Jones? Your anger over the Kameron Prescott, who was killed by police on December 23, 2017? The black and brown boys and girls who have been murdered with no accountability from the boys in blue? 

For Breonna Taylor has not received her “justice”. Elijah McClain remains the butt of jokes for police officers in Aurora. Gilliam got an apology and the promise of “age-appropriate therapy” for her children held at gunpoint by police officers. On hot asphalt, face-down. George Floyd’s death stopped being a crying call for change after some buildings burned to the ground. Not to mention, his killers got to post bail. Sessoms will not be given that luxury. 

You had better think, very carefully, about how you want to be remembered for decades to come. When the progress for civil rights does win, and we look back on this time as a reflection on how we could have done better. Do you want to be those who have actively worked against a movement that focused on valuing the black people as deserving of justice? 

Elijah McClain

Because right now, you are the villains of this story. Your moderate response to racism and white supremacy is your calling card, where the valuation of property over black people is paramount. Where you want to support the movement, but “All Lives Matter”, not just Black Lives Matter. Your All Lives Matter sure sounds like White Lives Matter Most. 

(Photo Credit 1: BBC) (Photo Credit 2: Mother Jones) (Photo Credit 3: The Cut)

In New Jersey, it’s a fight between the DOE and teachers: Teachers Are Poised to Win!

Several weeks ago, my sister and I had a rather uncomfortable conversation with our mother about her return to school in the September. Leading up to it, the state had been adamant that students be in the classrooms learning—even in the middle of a pandemic. Jersey City and other schools seemed poised to bring my mother and other teachers back into overcrowded and severely underfunded buildings with no safety protocol and no clean water. So, we had the conversation

I should not have to have a conversation about what we should do, as her daughters, if my mother got sick. Does she want to be resuscitated or put on life support if she is deteriorating? How long does she want to be on a ventilator if her lungs get that bad? Has she got her will in order? She didn’t sign anything from the school district, did she?

We had this conversation because we knew that social distancing cannot take place in a school where my mother teaches nearly thirty students a day. Kids would not have been required to wear masks, but mother would have had to. They needed to be six feet apart. Can rooms handle thirty kids separated by six feet? Or what about if the classroom was split, and fifteen students attended in the early morning and fifteen attended in the afternoon? Teachers would still be interacting with 30 students, possibly spreading COVID to students from the first half of the day to the other. 

The absurdity of the school district for going through hoops to try and open cannot be ignored. Parents in poverty who cannot afford to keep their children home because they have work will be forced to risk their children’s health while parents in the increasingly gentrified city can. The demand to bring students back is only a demand to return their parents to exploitative work without policies in place that would have helped those families to begin with. New Jersey is the fifth wealthiest state in the country. In certain neighborhoods of Jersey City alone (Liberty Park), the median income level for residents is $139,750; 2.54x times the national median. We could have funneled the wealth of our state into funds that New Jerseyans could have used to stay home with their children: universal basic income, cancelling rents and mortgages, and funding mutual aid programs for those in need; we could have thoroughly cleaned and updated old school buildings and taken over electrical grids to give people power and free internet access. I bet, we could even have created a model of universal healthcare so that residents didn’t fear going to the doctor if they exhibited the symptoms of COVID, or the hospital if it were too severe. Instead, we did the bare minimum and are angered when people want to demand that they have to go back to work—and then blamed everything on the people who were getting an extra six hundred dollars from unemployment, even if they were laid off. And we’ve asked the business in the state to foot the bill, as philanthropic. I wonder how much tax write-offs they’ll get. 

I heard Bon Jovi opened a third Soul Kitchen in the state. Well, Bon Jovi wouldn’t have had to open a third soup kitchen if we taxed Bon Jovi relative to his income and spent that money on creating policies that address food insecurity. 

I watched as Senator Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat that helped shape Christie’s tax breaks during his administration while demonizing teachers for asking too much from the state, being hailed as a hero of New Jersey Public Schools during the pandemic. Was this the same man? Yes. But his collective amnesia is striking given everything he did to make sure the schools didn’t have what they needed to face this crisis. What a hero. 

I, as I’m sure many children of teachers are doing right now, am watching in horror as the fears of the faculty and students are consistently being ignored for the rush to return to school. The push to have in person classes, the desire to go back to normal. And this is not just the great state of New Jersey, which has worked hard in being one of the very few states to limit the amount of exposure to COVID on their citizens (though our rate of transmission is on the rise yet again). This is everywhere: from New York City, to Los Angeles and Chicago. 

And while city council’s and politicians demand schools reopen, teachers won’t go down without a fight. 

The most militant organizing is coming from the teachers and their unions over the safe return to the classroom. In New York, teachers brought coffins and a guillotine to the NYC DOE in protest to the city’s reopening plan. Educators and parents were appalled by De Blasio’s insistence that it was safe the open the country’s biggest school system amid the pandemic. 

In Chicago, Mayor Lightfoot and the Chicago Public Schools announced the decision to begin the school year with fully-remote learning, with the tentative goal to get students, “back to class, at least part-time by November.” The decision was, maybe not so coincidentally, came as the possibility of a possible strike vote from the Chicago Teachers Union began and as COVID-19 cases in Chicago trended upwards. 

These trends of teachers’ organizing is not an anomaly, it has created a storm. What I have been arguing with my mother is the fact that she—and her fellow teachers—have power in the union and the decision to keep her students and herself safe. Educators have always understood that the withholding of their labor can create positive changes in their lives and the lives of their students. Now their turning their power on making sure children in low income areas remain safe and healthy, with no risk of getting sick:

In New York City, parents, students, and teachers will be marching from their union headquarters down to the Department of Education. In Los Angeles, activists are organizing a car caravan, first outside the LA Chamber of Commerce and then around the Los Angeles Unified School District building. “We’re kicking it off at the LA Chamber because even during Covid, this is a time when a lot of corporations and Wall Street are making record-breaking profits,” explained Sylvana Uribe, a spokesperson for Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, a progressive group participating in the protest. In Philadelphia and Baltimore, teacher unions are calling on Comcast to improve the quality of its service and make it more affordable for families. In Phoenix, activists are planning to demonstrate outside their state capitol building, where educators can write letters to their elected officials about how they feel going back to school or, if they want, write their imagined obituaries.

Immediately after the stirrings from teachers unions across the country, the superintendent in Jersey City voted on August 6, 2020, to move to remote learning for the month of September; I am relieved that my mother will not have to face her potential mortality for her job. And I wonder if it is because we’ve woken a giant in red that the superintendent even backed down. 

Teachers and their unions are waking up and ruffling their feathers, ready for a fight. And this is a fight that educators are poised to win. After all, it is between life and death; why should students and educators die for Trump and DeVos? 

(Photo Credit 1: NY Post / Dan Herrick) (Photo Credit 2: Al Jazeera)

The Police State Has Come Home to Roost

As the massive uprisings have shocked a (white) nation, centering the injustices and abuses that black people face at the hands of the police, a disturbing trend is emerging from the Trump administration: bringing in federal agents to literally kidnap protestors off the streets and “arrest” them for protesting. 

Later announced as Operation LeGend, these squads of Gestapo militarized jocks have eschewed whatever Constitutional Oath they were probably sworn to take, have tear gassed peaceful protestors, Moms, Dads, and an army Vet who came to the streets of Portland to call them out on their hypocrisy—and are making their way to Albuquerque, Kansas City, and Chicago. The (mostly white) American people are shocked by the fascist tactics of Trump and his last desperate re-election bid as a tough on crimes president. 

Where is the crime? I don’t rightfully know, honestly. Is destroying federal property and taking down racist monuments violence in the face of the constant murder of black and brown people? Is setting fire to police stations violence when those same police have beaten and tortured those protestors? Is destroying buildings violence when it was the ancestors of those black people, laboring as less-than-human and enslaved, that built those buildings to begin with? 

“Crime” aside, these tactics are not new, and they should not be surprising. Activists, organizers, black and brown communities have been raising this alarm for years. This is not simply the symptom of a Trump candidacy in a spiral as he desperately attempts to hold on to the last shred of power in the final months of a cataclysmic re-election campaign. This is not simply his desire to reallocate attention and energies away from the rising cases of Covid-19 and the preventable deaths that are on his hands (will he care? No. Probably not, but it might hurt his bottom line once he leaves office). This is not merely his want to push the story away from the millions of people laid off, unable to access unemployment benefits in a spiraling economic downturn the likes of which none of us have lived through. 

And this did not start with Trump. 

We are reckoning with the consequences of allowing Trump free reign of a terrorist organization that has been steadily developed and trained, militarized and weaponized during the Clinton, Bush, and Obama Administration. Yes, a bipartisan expansion of the police state that has diverted funds away from our education, our public transportation, our healthcare and so much more into the hands of the Pentagon and weapons contracts and military equipment. 

We’ve perfected a machine that a monster like Trump will use with absolute glee.  

For years, we’ve watched ICE and DHS officials sweep men, women and children into immigrant detention centers, deny them their rights and deport them back to countries they might not have lived in for decades; Trump’s deportation policies are a continuation of the Obama Administration’s own. We’ve listened to stories of constant monitoring of our Muslim brothers and sisters post-9/11 by the FBI and CIA, with the blessings of Democratic and Republican Representatives-the Patriot Act is supported in Congress with little blowback while it increases constant military surveillance of ourselves, our neighbors, and black and brown communities.

During the Obama Administration, police in military garb clashed with Indigenous protestors at Standing Rock, who were fighting against the contamination of their water source, resulting in indigenous people being pelted with tear-gas, rubber bullets, arbitrary arrests and trumped up charges. All protestors faced the same violence that Portland is facing now. Nearly four years later. 

We’ve watched the budget for our Defense Department balloon into a money guzzling force of chaos, and little remorse for whatever constitutional barometers it was meant to hold. Whatever the Pentagon couldn’t use anymore was bankrolled into the police; we’ve decked out our men and women in uniforms with tanks, machine guns, and weapons like long range acoustic devices that is capable of causing hearing loss. 

And if people weren’t affected by the violence faced at the hands of poor communities, of black communities, of undocumented communities, they didn’t care. What use was there? The police were still there to protect them! 

We were white! 

As more federal agents are deployed around the country, as more Moms and Dads speak out—and this is not negating the black mothers who have always been there, at the front of the protests—as veterans come out of retirement to put their bodies on the line, we must come to the conclusion that the full force of our ignorance, our purposeful blinders will lead the police to turn on us. 

To put it simply, it has come home to roost. Are we prepared to meet it? 

(Photo Credit 1: AP / WUSA9) (Photo Credit 2: Reveal)

In New Jersey, Incarcerated Pregnant Women’s Lives Don’t Matter

In New Jersey, a liberal government is grappling with its own sense of cruelty against incarcerated women. A suit filed in the US District Court for New Jersey claims that officers shackled the ankle of a 30-year-old woman identified as Jane Doe to her hospital bed while she was in labor. She was forced to wear the shackles even while she experienced painful contractions, kept her from turning on her side or moving at all to relieve the pain and—when nurses questioned the need for the shackles—officers refused to remove them and remained in the room even while doctors performed invasive medical procedures. She continued to be restrained while recovering from an emergency C-section and was also not allowed to walk the hallways as part of the healing process. 

The use of shackles during childbirth was banned in the state as far back as 2017. Yet, as Jane Doe was sent to jail on a probation violation in 2018 after relapsing, she was shackled during childbirth, and afterwards. 

The process of shackling, not only de-humanizing, takes a mental toll on women. In a 2017 report from the American Psychological Association, “Women subjected to restraint during childbirth report severe mental distress, depression, anguish, and trauma.” Women who are incarcerated tend to already have suffered more childhood traumas and shackling them during childbirth is likely to make conditions such as PTSD worse. 

New Jersey, in the wake of Christie, has worked to make progressive reform to address the growing number of women who are incarcerated, including the issues related to shackling pregnant women while receiving medical care, but these bills fall short on the issues that are created from the process of criminalization to begin with. Jane Doe would not have had to file a lawsuit to allege an illegal shackling had she not been arrested to begin with. She, along with many New Jersey women, are part of a vicious cycle of recidivism where they will constantly be in contact with the criminal justice system. 95 percent of people incarcerated in state prison will be released, but 76.6 percent of them will be rearrested within five years. And in New Jersey, it will cost more to keep these people in prison that it would to give them the help that they need, whether it be financial help, drug rehabilitation, mental health access, etc. (each person in incarceration costs the state $60,000 a year). 

Even the bills proposed by the state, while valiant in their efforts to address the crisis, only do so much as to alleviate the symptoms that are caused by incarceration. Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle of Bergen County, proposed legislation to prohibit the use of restraints on pregnant incarcerated people during labor and immediately after childbirth, only in cases where the woman (who is in active labor, mind you), presents a substantial flight risk or some other “extraordinary medical or security circumstance dictates that restraints are needed to ensure the safety and security of the prisoner, the employees of the facility or medical facility, other prisoners, or the public”. Again, the extenuating circumstances are loopholes so that women, in active and painful labor, are still restrained during labor. I wonder at what point we’re going to acknowledge that women will not attempt to flee when they can barely stand. 

Other bills have attempted to show that same compassion to incarcerated women, the fastest growing population in the criminal justice system, while reminding those women that they still are prisoners and are only given crumbs at the benevolence of the state at large. 

The Dignity for Incarcerated Primary Caretaker Parents Act, would ensure all incarcerated women in New Jersey receive free feminine hygiene products, expressly ban shackling and eliminate solitary confinement for expectant mothers. The bill would expand visiting hours and free phone calls for incarcerated mothers and would create a pilot program allowing overnight visits for mother who are able to meet certain requirements so that they can bond with their newborns.

While we should applause some compassion for incarcerated women, and incarcerated mothers, we need to keep fighting for a day where we meet a pregnant woman who has relapsed with compassion and public health solutions and not arrest or jail. 

The Black Lives Matter Movement has brought to the surface a longstanding dehumanization of people at the hands of the criminal justice system; those officers didn’t care that Jane Doe was in active labor or recovering from a C-section. To the police, Jane Doe was another inmate that deserved to be handcuffed because she was outside of the prison walls, just like any other officer would do to an “inmate”. 

Defunding the police means defunding the prisons means abolishing the prisons that house these women. $60,000 per incarcerated persons can correspond trauma informed therapists and love and safety. 

Can we reimagine what $60,000 per incarcerated individual in the state of New Jersey (there are 39,000 people in various correctional facilities in the state alone)? Can we think about the various ways we can help those people instead of locking them up and subjecting them to a life of imprisonment and dehumanization? Can we literally comprehend how much help $2,340,000,000 (more than $2 billion!) can buy us? Can we imagine a day where there will be no more Jane Does? Where the lives of incarcerated pregnant women matter? 

(Image Credit 1: The Guardian / Molly Crabapple) (Photo Credit: Facebook / Stop Shackling Pregnant Women) (Image Credit 2: Prison Policy Initiative)