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Cop City RICO indictment casts protesters as organized criminals

By Jocelyn James - Prism, September 20, 2023

The First Amendment’s fundamental principle is ensuring everyone’s right to be heard. However, the recent application of RICO against the Atlanta Cop City protesters could spell disastrous consequences for any U.S. citizen looking to exercise this unalienable right.

On Aug. 29, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr filed a sweeping, 109-page indictment targeting 61 activists opposed to the construction of a multi-million dollar police training facility for the Atlanta Police Department (APD). The facility would come at the cost of approximately 85 acres of environmentally significant forestland, known as both the South River Forest and the Weelaunee Forest. It is also the historical location of the Old Atlanta City Prison Farm.

The filing went largely unannounced and inconspicuous until Sept. 5, when the Atlanta Community Press Collective broke the news of the indictment on X, formerly known as Twitter. Critics have since viewed the indictment as a massive escalation in an ongoing police retaliation campaign to criminalize public dissent and discourage protesters. 

In a public statement, Center for Popular Democracy Action Executive Directors Analilia Mejia and DaMareo Cooper said: “Make no mistake: these are political prosecutions in the name of getting more cops on the street to further persecute our communities. We see right through these attacks and refuse to be silenced or intimidated.”

Progressive Groups Unveil 'Rural New Deal' to 'Reverse Decades of Economic Decline'

By Jessica Corbett - Common Dreams, September 13, 2023

"A Rural New Deal is urgently needed to build and rebuild local economies across rural America, reverse 40 years of wealth and corporate concentration, restore degraded lands, reclaim land and ownership opportunities for those whose land was taken by force or deceit, and ensure that communities and the nation can and do meet the basic needs of its people."

That's the opening line of a report released Tuesday by Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) and the Rural Urban Bridge Initiative (RUBI), which recognizes that "for too long, we've neglected, dismissed and underinvested" in rural U.S. communities, and offers "a broad policy blueprint to help steer progressive priorities" in such regions.

"Addressing the problems and concerns of rural America, isn't just the right thing to do, it is essential for the health of our nation. Progressives have ignored rural for too long," said PDA executive director Alan Minsky in a statement. "The Rural New Deal will change that."

A Rural New Deal

By Anthony Flaccavento, Alan Minsky, and Dave Alba - Progressive Democrats of AMerica and Rural Urban Bridge Institute, September 12, 2023

A Rural New Deal is urgently needed to build and rebuild local economies across rural America, reverse forty years of wealth and corporate concentration, restore degraded lands, reclaim land and ownership opportunities for those whose land was taken by force or deceit, and ensure that communities and the nation can and do meet the basic needs of its people. This document proposes ten pillars essential to a Rural New Deal, each with a modest amount of detail about specific policies in order to understand what implementation of the pillar might look like.

At the heart of a RND is the recognition that rural places are fundamentally different from urban and suburban areas, not only culturally and politically, but physically. They are “rural” because they are expansive and land-based. This does not mean that all efforts to rebuild rural economies and communities should revolve around farming or other land-based sectors. However, it does mean that land-based (also including rivers, lakes and oceans) enterprises must still play a central role in rural development, even as internet access, virtual work and the tech sector grow in importance.

While rural and urban places are fundamentally different, they are also deeply intertwined. Many farmers, fishers, foresters and other rural businesses have come to rely on urban markets and in some cases, capital to sustain them. On the other hand, towns and cities need healthy, functioning rural communities for their food, fiber, energy and clean water, indeed for their very survival. Yet for too long, we’ve neglected, dismissed and underinvested in the people that provide these essential goods along with critical ecological services. This has caused great harm to rural communities and it has undermined our collective health and resilience as a nation. Rebuilding and renewing supportive social and economic connections across rural and urban lines, empowering rural people and communities, moving away from extractive relationships of the past, is the course we must chart together.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

The Struggle to Stop Cop City—By Any Means Necessary

By Micah Herskind and Kamau Franklin - The Forge, September 7, 2023

A history of Stop Cop City and the struggle to defend the Atlanta Forest. A must read for anyone interested in getting the whole story and understanding the strategic thinking informing some of the most important organizing in the country or understanding the stakes of the 61 indictments against protesters involved in the movement.

Cop cars on fire. Occupations of the Weelaunee Forest. Weeks of action. Volunteers with clipboards, collecting referendum petition signatures in the summer heat. Weekly canvassing. Town halls and open mic sessions. Direct action and civil disobedience. Record-breaking numbers of people showing up for public comment (on three separate occasions!). Regular food distributions and mutual aid. Surveillance cameras smashed. Music festivals in the forest. Comrade care clinics. Protests outside the homes of politicians and CEOs. Trivia night fundraisers at local restaurants. Shareholder divestment campaigns. Wheatpasting, movement art, and diss track competitions. Children marching in the streets. Political education and community journalism. Jail support crews sitting vigil for people whose freedom was purchased by bail fund organizers. Bank ATMs vandalized. Corporate pressure campaigns. Marches, demonstrations, and solidarity actions across the globe. Construction equipment burned.

These are all scenes—by no means the full story—from the movement to Stop Cop City: a decentralized, autonomous movement that has worked since the spring of 2021 to stop the destruction of the Weelaunee Forest and the creation of a more than $90 million urban warfare training center, backed by a coalition of public and private Atlanta elites, in a majority Black working class community. 

They are also all activities that the state is aggressively seeking to criminalize, most recently with a sprawling indictment filed days ago that charged 61 people with domestic terrorism and RICO (“racketeer influenced and corrupt organization”). The indictment is a blatant attempt to intimidate local organizers and movements across the country who are challenging the violence of policing, and to influence public opinion against the popular community-based struggle to stop construction of the facility.

The Stop Cop City movement has made Atlanta an epicenter of abolitionist organizing, weaving together movements for racial, economic, and environmental justice. The movement has no single unifying political framework; it includes abolitionists, anarchists, communists, liberals, libertarians, environmentalists, voting and civil rights activists, Indigenous and anti-settler colonialism organizers, and many more who may not identify with a particular political philosophy but who all choose trees over cops, transparency over backroom deals, and community resources over a burgeoning police state.

The movement’s decentralization and diversity of tactics has been one of its greatest strengths, building an astonishing breadth and depth of local, national, and international support. While comprising many different streams of action and thought, each has fed into the movement’s broader strategy: call it starving the beast, a war of attrition, or even just throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks, the ethos of the movement is that community members must engage on all fronts to make Cop City as untenable, toxic, and challenging as possible for those working to build it. That we must stop Cop City by any means necessary.

Grassroots Organizing in Red States Is at the Heart of Abolitionist Struggle

By Meghan Krausch - Truthout, September 5, 2023

In Republican-controlled regions across the country, people are engaged in abolitionist organizing: Even though conditions vary, people are organizing for freedom virtually everywhere. This is nothing new. The South, for example, has been a site for abolitionist organizing for centuries, and it continues to be one, despite the attacks on long-settled civil rights being organized by Republican supermajorities in statehouses.

Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson is the first Black woman to codirect the Highlander Research and Education Center, a century-old nexus for abolitionist and labor organizing in Tennessee and beyond. She is also a cofounder of the Movement for Black Lives. Woodard Henderson says that if abolitionists really believe the most impacted and marginalized people are at the heart of the struggle, then red states and counties must be centered in organizing efforts instead of treated as lost causes. She notes that the South in particular is often ceded by national organizations — which, among other problems, makes it hard for organizations working in the region to secure funding from philanthropic foundations.

The sense of these places being lost causes is not only offensive, it’s deeply untrue. In fact, decarceral groups in red states and counties are seeing success even amid what many organizers see as the current fascist turn. For example, Florida Prisoner Solidarity, an abolitionist collective based in Gainesville that has members inside and outside of prison across the state, won a campaign earlier this year to make phone calls from the jail in Alachua County free and unlimited (down from a cost of $.21 per minute).

These efforts do not generally achieve the same visibility as those in blue states and so-called liberal areas — but this doesn’t make them less critical to abolitionist struggle. “Don’t give up on us,” asks aurelius francisco, co-executive director of The Foundation for Liberating Minds in Oklahoma City. “We’ve always resisted … and we’ll continue to do so.”

Organizers in red states and counties are bringing abolitionist struggle to the communities, in the process highlighting how their strategies seek to draw in people who might not normally see themselves as allied to “liberal” causes. This is a lesson that can be valuable to organizers throughout the country who are seeking new ways of growing solidarity.

New Texas law strikes down rights for immigrant workers

By Alexandra Martinez - Prism, August 7, 2023

Workers and allies protested July 14 outside Houston’s City Hall, denouncing what they are calling “la ley que mata,” or “the law that kills.” HB 2127, which eliminates critical labor and housing protections for workers, takes effect September 1. 

Gov. Greg Abbott signed HB 2127—also known by critics as the “Death Star” bill—last month, leading workers to call on President Joe Biden to intervene to prevent more workers’ deaths. The bill nullifies municipal laws and regulations, specifically taking aim at progressive ordinances that improve worker protections, including regulations related to overtime pay, rest breaks, and water breaks—changes that will directly impact Texas’ immigrant workers. More broadly, the law also has the potential to bar cities from creating regulations related to agriculture, business and commerce, finance, insurance, labor, natural resources, occupations, and property. In short, as reported by the Texas Tribune, “the Legislature decided there was too much Democracy afoot in Texas, so it did something about it.”

Houston and San Antonio have sued the state to block the law, arguing that HB 2127 violates the state’s constitutions and prohibits cities from self-governing. According to a survey by the University of Texas/Texas Real Politics Project, nearly half of those surveyed said the state government mostly ignores the needs of Texas residents. Nearly 60% opposed exactly what HB 2127 does, which is “reduce the power of cities and counties to pass laws or regulations in areas where state and local governments have traditionally shared authority.” 

During a press conference on July 14, dozens of neon yellow construction hats lined the steps of Houston’s City Hall, representing the workers who experienced heat-related injuries on the job. On July 1, construction worker Felipe Pascual collapsed due to extreme heat at a job site in Fort Bend County and later died from hyperthermia. As of late June, at least 13 people have died from heat-related illness in Texas alone.

Biden Admin Issues New Protections for Outdoor Workers Amid Deadly Heat Wave

By Zane McNeill - Truthout, August 1, 2023

The Biden Administration has announced new protections to keep outdoor workers safe from extreme heat, and instructed the Department of Labor to issue a heat hazard alert and increase enforcement of heat-safety violations.

“Millions of Americans are currently experiencing the effects of extreme heat, which is growing in intensity, frequency, and duration due to the climate crisis,” the administration said in a factsheet. “Today’s announcements build on numerous actions that the Biden-Harris Administration has taken to bolster heat response and resilience nationwide.”

Experts have stated that July was likely the hottest month in 120,000 years, prompting United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres to warn that “the era of global boiling has arrived.” In the United States, a summer heat wave in the South has lasted three months and affected more than 55 million people, killing at least a dozen people.

An average of 702 heat-related deaths occur in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Because of the climate crisis, heatwaves have become more frequent and intense.

Texan Activists Thirst for a National Heat Standard to Protect Outdoor Workers

By Colleen DeGuzman - KFF Health News, July 28, 2023

WASHINGTON — Construction workers, airport baggage handlers, letter carriers, and other outdoor workers — many of whom traveled to Washington, D.C., from Texas — gathered at the steps of the Capitol on Tuesday. They were joined by labor organizers and lawmakers for what was billed as “a vigil and thirst strike” to protest a law Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recently signed, which, as a downstream consequence, eliminates mandated water breaks for construction workers.

The Republican governor signed House Bill 2127 — known as the Texas Regulatory Consistency Act but dubbed the “Death Star” by critics — the same month the state saw at least 13 heat-related deaths amid a scorching heat wave that’s on track to break records.

The measure, heavily backed by business and building sectors, was designed to replace “the regulatory patchwork” of county and municipal rules across the state “with a single set of predictable, consistent regulations,” according to a fact sheet circulated by its supporters. That means cities would no longer have the authority to enforce local ordinances related to agriculture, natural resources, finance, and labor; and local protections against extreme heat, such as water break requirements, would be rolled back.

The group of about three dozen people stood in the early-afternoon sun and held signs that read “Working Shouldn’t Be a Death Sentence,” “Water Breaks = Basic Right,” and “People Over Profits,” sweating and squinting. In the nation’s capital, the heat index had already reached 91 degrees. But protesters were focused on the plight of employees working in their even-hotter home state, where the thermostat had been reaching triple digits.

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