F-Word: An Exception to The Rule in Rio

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On the Assassination of Marielle Franco.

What happened in Rio De Janeiro March 14 wasn’t unusual.

A Black lesbian leftist, child of the favelas, was gunned down in public, probably by an agent of the state.

Favela families die daily. Crammed together in poorly constructed homes, on streets with scarce investment. If the poverty doesn’t get you, violence or depression might. From the favelas on Rio’s mountainsides, you can actually see Rio’s multi-million dollar beach fronts. Poverty and depression and violence claim favela people all the time. And, increasingly, so do cops.

In 2017, police killed over 1,000 people just in Rio. The poorer you are, the more danger you’re in. In the last few years, the Brazilian establishment’s been making lots of choices to invest in real estate, the Olympics, corporate tax breaks -- but not education, healthcare, public service. To deal with unrest, the current government’s invested in repression; costly drones, Israeli military police trainers, the military itself. Now soldiers patrol the streets.

Black people are killed with impunity. LGBT people? More LGBT people are murdered per year in Brazil than anyplace else on earth.

(Source: Time Magazine)

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F-Word: Time for Farm to Table Fairness​


That was the headline on a New York Times editorial recently, endorsing a state bill to do away with the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers. The editorial followed a long feature, for which the paper interviewed more than 60 servers, whose stories revealed just how vulnerable their reliance on tips makes them to harassment and sexual violence.

Seven states have already done away with the outlandishly low, federal $2.13 sub-minimum for tipped workers. The Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) which has been gathering data on this for years, reports that those states have half the rates of sexual harassment as those with the two-tier system.

Now New York, DC, and Michigan are considering similar legislation. In an email, ROC executive director, Saru Jayaraman thanked the #metoo movement for giving the campaign extra ‘oomph’ and visibility.

Jayaraman was one of the activists invited to the #TimesUp Golden Globes earlier this year. She has the support of Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin among others.  If you haven’t seen our piece on the Grace and Frankie stars campaigning with ROC in Michigan this summer, you should check it out.


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The International Women's Strike Calls for Systems Change!

On March 8 2018, poor, working, disabled and chronically ill, trans, indigenous, Black, immigrant, refugee, Muslim, sex workers, women of color, are just some of the many women who will convene to call for systemic and culture change. They will strike for an end to the neocolonial and neoliberal police state. Because solidarity is our weapon, we stand with them.

In 2018, we not only recognize and celebrate the victories and accomplishments of women across the globe, we demand action. The International Women’s Strike is a recent addition to the Women’s Day movement, and its platform builds on the long history of women’s demonstrations demanding economic, racial, and gender justice. We take a look at that history and where it has brought us.

Special thanks to the International Women’s Strike for their contributions to this piece. For more information go to womensstrike.org.

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West Virginia Workers And the Taste of Solidarity

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There’s a phrase I remember from interviewing West Virginia miners wives. “When the whistle blows, everybody goes.”  In an accident down the mine, anyone’s loved one could have been hurt, and so everyone turned out to show their support.

Today our tragedies are more discreet. Neoliberalism has done its best to privatize our problems.

Education, employment, wages, housing, health, these are things the private sector likes to negotiate with us in private. Our rights, our privileges, where we live, our access to stuff is often a matter of how well we are able to negotiate with bosses and banks and cable companies and school administrators.

Another way of looking at our much celebrated individualism is as aloneness. Our lot in life is our own; our troubles -- our own fault.  

When West Virginia teachers declared victory with a 5 percent raise and returned to their classrooms March 7th, they modeled something different. Their organizing and their thirteen-day strike not only forced the state legislature to raise their meager pay, but also to back off a slate of neoliberal proposals including a proposal for charter schools, and an anti-seniority bill, preventing payroll deduction of union dues.

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F-Word: Smear's The Thing

From Donald Trump Jr. to the Republican Congress, conservatives waited no time at all to start calling the survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School fake.

The fake-victim story spread fast and furiously because it’s familiar. Alex Jones, who runs the mad website, Infowars -- where Donald Trump appeared as a candidate -- said the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre was rigged to benefit gun-snatchers. After a gunman killed 58 people in Las Vegas last year,  scores of videos turned up on Youtube claiming the victims were hacks.



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F-Word: #IraqToo

It’s been just about a year since working women of all kinds gathered in DC to oppose a woman-abusing, worker-exploiting, Trump-supported nominee to head the US Department of Labor. As I heard journalist Sarah Jaffe put it recently, that successful mobilization against chain-restaurant titan and wife-abuser Andrew Puzder, should in many ways be seen as the start of this stage of the #MeToo movement.

Since then, who can keep track of all the abusers and all the abuse? Who can keep track and who can explain so much violence, so much forcing our will on one another, and so much terrorizing against people we claim to recognize as sisters, friends, family members, employees.  How do we let it happen, and why is it so rare that we make it stop?  And what makes us accept the terribly bad bargain of silence, the going-on-as-normal?

And then I try to remember that we don’t always go along. Sometimes we speak up, as women did against proposed Labor Secretary Puzder in 2017, and as we did, as a world, fifteen years ago, on February 15th 2003.


I remember standing in a huge crowd near the United Nations, part of a worldwide uprising of tens of millions of people in sixty countries, all saying no to waging war on Iraq.

On that cold day, a very bundled-up Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “We are members of one family, God’s Family, the human family. How can we say we want to drop bombs on our sisters and brothers and on our children?”

We said we couldn’t, we didn’t want to, and then we let it happen, anyway, and that was 15 years ago this month.

Today, according to the Costs of War Project US troops and drones and bombs are forcing themselves on people in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia. US special forces are in a total of 76 countries and the terrifying US-led "war on terror” has involved 39% of the countries on the planet.

I believe the sick calculus by which we permit terrorism and abuse of our power in Iraq is the same sick calculus by which some of us believe we can get away with forcing our will on others nearer to us.

Which leaves me here in another cold February, trying to imagine what my next minute would be like if I actually lived on a planet of people who believed they were related to one another. What would that look like, feel like, breathe like? And what would we be doing with all the time we wouldn’t have to be spending wondering and imagining and fending-off and being, or not-being silent?



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F-Word: Dr. King and the Ram

Super Bowl 2018 drew the smallest audience of any national championship game since 2009 but that didn’t quell the ruckus stoked by one of the mid-game ads. Listen carefully and there it was: Dr. Martin Luther King, pitching for trucks by RAM.

What next, muttered the critics: Rosa Parks shilling for Uber? James Baldwin hawking the Firestone next time?

What really got my goat - no pun intended -  was fact that sermon in question was all about the dangers of hucksterism, extreme materialism and greed, and those - ahem- huckster leaders who use their power to drive people into desperation, and distract them from what’s really going on, in no small part by  selling people things they don’t need and can’t afford.

Delivered fifty years ago to the day, Dr. King talked about people “taken by advertisers”.

Today it’s even more true than it was then.  The money media’s obsessing over the stock market this week, but the real market’s what really demands attention.

There, household debt stands at a record high: just under $13 TRILLION. And the one area of consumer debt that really stands out are auto loans.  The New York Fed estimates that 23 million consumers hold subprime auto loans, which are based on super low credit scores.

Like subprime mortgages, subprime auto loans aren’t made by traditional banks or credit unions, but by auto finance companies such as car dealers, reports the Fed, which is to say, hucksters. And one-fifth of those, or 20 percent are in default today.

Read that King speech in full - (Drum Major it's called) look it up. Don’t be taken in by advertisers, don’t compete yourself into greed and hate, and bankruptcy, he says. In other words, probably, don’t buy that RAM.  But his bigger point is about extreme materialism, just one of the triple evils King was calling out in his final year. There’s something spiritually wrong, he said, with an economy that prizes things over people, and spends hand over fist on wars and ads when families can’t afford a car.

Whatever’s happening on Wall Street, Main Street’s in trouble. The same sort of trouble we saw just before the 2008 financial crash. In fact, family debt’s is up — $280 billion above its peak in the third quarter of that dangerous year. I suspect that that, not the Super Bowl fracas, is what we need to be paying attention to today.

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Excerpt: Preserving the Family Album: Deborah Willis and Hank Willis Thomas



Deborah Willis is a photographer, a prolific one. She's published upwards of 20 books of her work and is viewed as a kind of icon in her field covering everything from the history of black photography to the Obamas. At a time when photography and the arts in general were largely dominated by white males, Willis emerged as something of a phenom. And if you already find out that you know her work you'll understand why in a moment. She's a recipient of the MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowships and chair of the Department of Photography and Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. And the talent in that family doesn't end with her.

Her son Hank Willis Thomas is a renowned artist in his own right, working in photography, video and installations with a similar focus on identity history and popular culture. His work's been exhibited around the world too, including the Guggenheim Bilbao, the National Gallery of Art in DC, and the Museum of Modern Art right here in New York City.

Deborah: I like to read the family album. I loved to look at the way that the women were dressed. I love the inscriptions. So I think the family album is really a central way for us to know about our memories and to tell stories. Later on I realized that in the larger society, no one actually looked at black families as a central way of knowing, a sense of being, or a sense of existence.

Hank: In 1968, during the Memphis Sanitation Workers March, a photographer, African-American photographer named Ernest Wither, photographed dozens of protesters holding signs that read, "I am a man." And I always reflected on that image with curiosity because there was a statement of collectivity when people were fighting segregation. After integration, it seemed to be a boastful statement and saying, "I'm the man." And I felt that there was progress in being able to be an individual, but also things that are lost when we don't see the benefits of collective struggle.


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Who Needs DeNeuve When We Have Judge Aquilina?

Dang, Patriarchy’s pathetic sometime. And no, I'm not talking about the shriveled specter of former Spartacus star, Kirk Douglas the Golden Globe ceremony. (Although that did explain why so many billionaires are spending mad money on anti-aging research.) No, I'm talking about the age old routine of laying on a catfight. The bread and circus distraction white male capital uses to fend off feminist threats.  

It’s routine stuff. In the months since the Harvey Weinstein allegations broke, a steady drip of anti-accuser women have come forth to say not me too but me-not.  Women like Catherine DeNeuve, Donna Karan, Brigitte Bardot. I don’t happen to give a fig what Brigitte Bardot thinks about anything - she’s pro Le Pen, probably pro Nazi too. But it’s long past time we got wise to this stuff.  Votes for women? Voila, a  National Association of American women Opposed Women’s Suffrage. Anita Hill? An itty bitty group was made up by the Right to come out in favor of Clarence Thomas.

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Making counter-power out of madness

By Laura Flanders for TNI's State of Power 2018


For those contemplating counter-power, the ten-year anniversary of the global financial crisis, or Great Recession, is perhaps even more immediately significant than the uprisings of ’68.

In the US, the decade since 2008 has not seen the emergence of the sort of counter-power represented by Syriza or Podemos. Resistance movements haven’t morphed into political parties and won national power, not yet. But we did see millions of US citizens vote for self-described socialist, Bernie Sanders, and from his campaign has emerged a campaigning organization that talks about socialism, called Our Revolution.

All this is at least in part because we have seen a decade of mass consciousness-raising about capitalism, courtesy of the 2008 crisis and sustained by phenomena like Occupy Wall Street, Strike Debt (and before that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank protests, which centred on a critique of global capitalism). Not just economic problems, but economic systems, long a taboo in the US, are up for debate. It’s hard to overstate how important this is, in a country that only 50 years ago was raised on red-baiting.

In 2016, 51% of US citizens between the ages of 18 and 29 told Harvard University researchers that they opposed capitalism. Only 42% expressed support. In October 2017, pollsters found that 44% of US millennials would pick a socialist rather than a capitalist country in which to live.

In November 2017, tickets to ‘Capitalism: A Debate’ sold out in a day and speakers from socialist Jacobin and libertarian Reason magazines had to move to a larger venue. The event sold out once again, this time in eight hours.


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