1000S GATHER iN GEORGIA TO PROTEST SCHOOL Of ThE AMERICAS
School of the Americas (SOA) Watch is an independent organization that for the past 22 years has struggled to close the uS Army School of the Americas through vigils and fasts, demonstrations and nonviolent protest, as well as media and legislative work.
From November 16-18 thousands attended the SOA Watch in Columbus, Georgia, the largest annual anti-militarization gathering in North America. on Saturday November 17, thousands assembled at the gates of the School of the Americas, now named the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC). The day finished at the Convention Center in downtown Columbus, Georgia, where hundreds enjoyed workshops, live music, and strategy sessions.
The morning gathering at the gates of the military school at Fort Benning consisted of musicians such as Emma’s Revolution and Rebel Diaz. International speakers included Francia Marquez, Martin Almada, and Ismael Moreno.
Francia Marquez, a leader from the Afro-Colombian gold-mining community of La Toma in southwestern Colombia, talked about how her community has struggled against political, economic and armed forces looking to control their hands and resources.
Martin Almada, a Paraguayan educator, talked about his experience as a political prisoner under the regime of Alfredo Stroessner. His wife died of a heart attack after being forced to hear through a telephone her husband’s cries as he was tortured.
Ismael Moreno (known in Honduras as Father Melo), a Jesuit priest, radio host and contributor to envio magazine, had his radio station occupied by the military following the SOA led military coup and he began receiving death threats.
The SOA Watch convergence closed on Sunday with a funeral procession to commemorate the victims of U.S. militarism. For more information, contact Hendrik Voss, 202-234-3440, hvoss-AT-soaw.org
WALMART WORKERS WALK
This Black Friday, Walmart workers and their allies stood up to a corporate Goliath. In over a hundred cities, workers and their supporters held actions to highlight the dire working conditions in Walmart’s retail division. The Black Friday action was a culmination of a series of retail walkouts, which in turn had followed a series of labor struggles at company distribution centers.
No company more embodies the yawning gap between the powerful and the powerless in America, with six Walton children in control of net wealth greater than the aggregate wealth of the bottom 30 percent of American society. An army of employees are paid poverty wages, with many forced onto public assistance. The company notoriously holds workers below forty hours in order to forestall benefits. And erratic scheduling makes juggling a second or third job to make ends meet near impossible.
To the American labor movement, Walmart has been an impenetrable fortress. Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart), which is co-ordinating the current round of struggle, is union-backed but is not yet an official union body. OUR Walmart has focused on both the retail division as well as organization in the company’s supply chain. In a November 22nd editorial in Jacobin, Micah Uetricht writes:
“This is why OUR Walmart has coordinated its retail organizing efforts with other organizing workers in the company’s supply chain — in gargantuan warehouses in California, New Jersey, and suburban Chicago. These are the pipelines through which astounding quantities of imported goods pass through the hands of a workforce composed almost solely of temp workers (or “permatemps,” as many workers toil for years without ever becoming full-time) earning at or near minimum wage for physically demanding work.”
The momentum generated thus far is by no means a guarantee of victory. Walmart has crushed every effort to unionize, and the number of workers actively involved in the current campaign is undeniably small. However, the concrete victories gained in several of the warehouse show downs, most notably in Elwood, Illinois is reason for sober optimism. To turn again to Uetricht: “Simply, labor has no choice but to organize Walmart. Leaving the company union-free would continue to cede the setting of national and global labor standards to the whims of a particularly rapacious representative of international capital.”
On the heels of the Black Friday action, fast food workers in new York City staged a walkout on Thursday, November 29th. Backed by New York Communities for Change, the workers are fighting for union recognition and a hefty raise to fifteen dollars an hour. The 50,000 NYC workers employed in the fast food sector are paid poverty wages in an industry that is almost entirely immune to unionization.
The struggle to organize Walmart and the precarious fast food sector is just beginning. The heroism of the workers involved is underscored by the context in which they are operating. Unionization rates are at an historic low, with rates in the private sector hovering around a bleak seven percent. It will take courage, initiative, and organized solidarity to bring an end to American labor’s long winter. The workers at Walmart and their brothers and sisters in NYC’s fast food industry have thrown down the gauntlet; let’s hope that they win, and that their victory proves to be contagious.
— Michael Fiorentino
MONITORING WOMEN AND CHILDREN IN U.S. PRISONS
The relationship between women living in poverty and women being incarcerated is indisputable. There are currently over 950,000 women in criminal justice custody in the united States with thousands of those living under other forms of social control such as parole or probation. Since 1980, the number of women entering prisons in the United States has risen almost 400 percent, double the rate of men. Nearly a quarter of these women are mentally ill, with untold numbers infected with AIDS. Forty percent held no jobs prior to imprisonment; two-thirds of them are women of color, and 60 percent of them are mothers of an estimated 1.3 million minor children. The average age of the women in prison is 29 and 58 percent haven’t finished high school. Without any fanfare, the “war on drugs” in this country has become a war on women, and it has clearly contributed to the explosion in the women’s prison population.
WIN would like to share the voices of some of these women.
From New Jersey: “We are forced to sleep on the floor in the middle of winter with bad backs and aching bodies, cold air still blowing from the vents no matter what the temperature was outside. At two o’clock in the morning they wake you up and tell you to clear the room. They go through your personal belongings and then put them in the trash...”
From Texas: “The guard sprayed me with pepper spray because I wouldn’t take my clothes off in front of five male guards. They carried me to a cell, laid me down on a steel bed and took my clothes off. They left me there in that cell with that pepper spray in my face and nothing to wash my face with. I didn’t give them any reason to do that, I just didn’t want to take my clothes off.”
From Arizona: “The only thing you get in isolation is a peanut butter sandwich in the morning, a cheese sandwich in the afternoon, and for supper, another peanut butter sandwich. If you want a drink here, you have to drink toilet water…"
These past years have been full of thousands of calls and complaints of an increasingly disturbing nature from prisoners and their families throughout the United States. The proportion of those complaints coming from women has risen, with women describing conditions of confinement in which abuse is the norm and which, in some cases, should be considered torture. They suffer from sexual abuse by staff, with one woman saying, “I am tired of being gynecologically examined every time I’m searched.” Another prisoner put it, “It was not part of my sentence to . . . perform oral sex with officers.” Women have reported the inappropriate use of restraints on pregnant and sick prisoners, including one woman whose baby was coming at the same time the guard who had shackled her legs was on a break somewhere else in the hospital.
Other abuses include medical “care,” which is often so callous that it is life-threatening. There have received reports about a woman who died of pancreatic disease that went undiagnosed, about a mentally ill woman who was confined naked in a filthy cell where she ingested her own bodily waste, about a woman who suffered burns over 54 percent of her body and gradually lost mobility when she was denied the special bandages which would keep her skin from tightening.
Combine all of this with the lack of treatment for substance abuse, lack of counseling services, concerns about the inappropriate use of psychotropic medications, inappropriate use of restraints, and you have an increasingly clear picture of what life is like for women in prison. Add the use of prison labor and the picture of the prison system continues to unfold. If you call to find out about New Jersey tourism, you are likely to talk to a female prisoner – one who is working for 23 cents per hour with no vacations, no union, no way to address working conditions.
Each and every one of the practices that the girls and women have testified to is in violation of dozens of international treaties and covenants. These practices violate the United Nations Convention Against Torture, the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, UN Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child and a dozen other international and regional laws and standards.
All of us need to be clear about the connectedness between slavery and the criminal justice system, between U.S. domestic policies towards people of color, and U.S. international policies towards countries of color. We need to develop an international sisterhood of concern and say that “not in my name” will these atrocities be committed any longer. We must remind ourselves that the Department of Corrections is more than just a set of institutions – it is also a state of mind.
— Bonnie Kerness
Bonnie Kerness works with the Americans Friends Service Committee on behalf of prisoners and communicates directly with prisoners in this capacity.
MASSACHUSETTS NUKE PROTESTERS REFUSE TO PAY
Six women were found guilty of misdemeanor trespass in Brattleboro, Vermont on November 27 and 28 for nonviolent civil disobedience at the Ver-mont Yankee nuclear power plant, located in Vernon, Vermont. They were each fined $350 and are refusing to pay the fine in protest.
The women who faced charges are Hattie Nestel of Athol, Massachusetts; Paki Wieland, Nancy First, and Frances Crowe of Northampton, Massachusetts; Betsy Corner of Colrain, Massachusetts; and Ellen Graves of West Springfield, Massachusetts.
Vermont Yankee Power is three miles from the Massachusetts border and a stone’s throw from New Hampshire. It is owned by Entergy Corporation of Louisiana.
The hundreds of tons of nuclear waste at Vermont Yankee is the most toxic material on earth. The waste is so dangerous that it must be guarded 24 hours a day for the next 1 million years, according to the federal government. The electricity from Vermont Yankee is not needed, according to the state of Vermont.
At Vermont Yankee, a major accident or act of sabotage would kill thousands and leave the surrounding region uninhabitable. Such a disaster is so likely that no insurance company will insure the facility; taxpayers would pay the costs of a meltdown.
On march 22, 2012 in Brattleboro, 137 people were arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience to close Vermont Yankee. About 1,500 people marched nearly three miles from downtown Brattleboro to Entergy’s office, where they cheered in support of the people who were arrested.
Protests preceded the permanent shutdown of Shoreham, Yankee Atomic, millstone I, Rancho Seco, Maine Yankee and at least a dozen other nuclear power plants. An article in the June 2007 issue of the Journal of American History did not hesitate to give protesters credit for the decline of the nuclear power industry: “The protesters lost their battle [when Diablo Canyon opened in 1984], but in a sense they won the larger war, for nuclear plant construction ended across the country in 1986.”
In time, the Vermont Yankee protesters may prove to be successful as well.
A version of this article originally appeared on ValleyPost.org.
— Eesha Williams
ANTIMILITARISM SOUTH KOREAN STYLE
South Korea is a heavily militarized country and the protracted conflict with north Korea serves a permanent reminder of this militarization. As a direct consequence of the conflict with north Korea and its Cold War legacy, South Korea has around 70 US military bases in its territory. South Korean non-violent activists are now actively opposing the construction of a new naval base on Jeju Island.
US Forces have been stationed in South Korea since 1950. Historically, their main role was to deter any possible threat posed by North Korea. However, the USA’s Global Posture Review changed the role of US Forces in Korea from a sta- tionary army on the Korean peninsula into a regional hub for rapid deployment and capable of preemptive strikes. The land Partnership Plan of 2002, agreed to by both South Korea and the U.S., has reorganized forces into fewer but bigger bases and training areas. Bases previous clustered on the Demarcation line have been closed, but the expansion of bases further south increases the capacity to send highly trained troops to other Asian theaters, with the Jeju base playing a crucial role in it.
Resistance to military bases has a long history in South Korea, with a wide variety of groups struggling against these bases. World Without War, an organization that works closely with War Resisters International, sees itself as taking the nonviolent direct action side of the resistance.
In October and November a month-long march against the Jeju base took place on the mainland. The march covered most of the country and ended with a huge rally at the Seoul Square on November 3rd. Meanwhile, daily protests are held for 13 hours a day in Gangjeong village on Jeju Island. Throughout the five years of resistance against the construction of the base, villagers have remained steadfast in their opposition to militarism. This is one of the best examples of the importance of continuous resistance. As Arundhati Roy argued “weekend demonstrations don’t stop wars”.
This is an excerpt from a much longer report, available in full in The Broken Rifle at www.wri-irg.org/node/20519
— Javier Gárate