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Why Are Women Prisoners Battling California Wildfires for as Little as $1 a Day?

Jaime Lowe and Romarilyn Ralston interviewed by Amy Goodman and Juan González - Democracy Now, October 18, 2011

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, we end today’s show in California, where raging wildfires have killed at least 41 people and scorched more than 200,000 acres—roughly the size of New York City. The fires are now the deadliest in California since record keeping began. At least 100,000 people have been forced to evacuate, with about 75,000 displaced after their homes and businesses were destroyed.

More than 11,000 firefighters are battling the blazes, and a number of them are prisoners, including many women inmates. In this clip from the film The Prison in Twelve Landscapes, an inmate with an all-woman crew describes being sent to fight a raging fire in Marin County.

INMATE FIREFIGHTER: My first day here, when I first got to camp, I got thrown on a fire. We had just got through orientation, and the horn went off. And I got thrown on the bus, and off we went, chasing the smoke. We’re driving up the mountain and seeing dirty burn everywhere. All of a sudden, there’s a 40-foot wall of flame on both sides of me.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s a clip from PBS’s Independent Lens, The Prison in Twelve Landscapes.

To find out more about these firefighters, we’re joined by two guests. In Fullerton, California, Romarilyn Ralston is with us, of California Coalition for Women Prisoners, the L.A. chapter, program coordinator for Project Rebound at Cal State University. Romarilyn experienced 23 years of incarceration. While she was incarcerated, she was a fire camp trainer and a clerk for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

And in Los Angeles, journalist and author Jaime Lowe is with us. Her recent story in The New York Times Magazine is headlined “The Incarcerated Women Who Fight California’s Wildfires.”

Romarilyn, if you could start off by telling us who is on the front lines? People might be surprised to hear that prisoners, among them women prisoners, are fighting California’s wildfires right now.

How Milk with Dignity got a historic agreement

Enrique "Kike" Balcazar interviewed by Owen La Farge - Socialist Worker, October 19, 2011

WHAT WERE the most important victories that came with the signing of the Milk with Dignity agreement Ben & Jerry's?

FOR MANY years, the priority of dairy workers here in Vermont has been to improve working and living conditions on the farms. We had to build our way up to winning this agreement. First, we organized to secure things like drivers licenses for immigrants in Vermont and stopping the collaboration of police with immigration authorities.

In 2014, we started to speak with Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream about how they could behave more responsibility and lead the way in improving working conditions. The workers designed a program called "Milk with Dignity."

The program was created and led by dairy workers in Vermont. It has five essential elements, including a code of conduct that sets out standards that establish respect and dignity for workers in the areas of decent wages, hours of work, health and safety, and dignified housing.

AND ALL of this is included in the agreement that Ben & Jerry's signed?

YES. IN addition to the code of conduct, the program establishes a plan to educate workers when they start so they can learn about their rights and how to defend them.

Another important element of Milk with Dignity is that an independent third party will interview the workers and oversee the execution of the program. Farmworkers will also be able to call a 24/7 hotline to make complaints and to improve communication inside the dairy farms.

WHY DID Ben & Jerry's sign the agreement two years after initially saying that they supported the agreement?

WE ORGANIZED well, and we defined what we wanted clearly, and we knew that Milk with Dignity represented a new day for the workers. So we never stopped organizing, and with the support of students, faith groups, sister organizations, consumers and workers, we pushed Ben & Jerry's to sign the deal.

Ben & Jerry's has taken steps towards social responsibility in areas such as the environment and animal rights. So I believe Ben & Jerry's understood it was time to do right by the workers.

Final Straw: Autonomous Northern California Fire Relief Efforts

By Final Straw - It's Going Down, October 18, 2011

Listen and Download Here

I’d like to share a Final Straw Radio mini-episode, a conversation with Emilio of the currently unofficial Sonoma County IWW, or Industrial Workers of the World. This chapter doesn’t yet have an official charter but they were in the process or organizing one when the fires in Northern California started last week and have used this as a platform for fund-raising and trying to work out solidarity relief in Santa Rosa, the seat of Sonoma County.

For this chat, Emilio and I talk about the weather patterns of northern coastal California, relief efforts by the Red Cross and other NGO’s around shelter and care distribution, what their nascent chapter of the IWW is trying to do and related topics. To find more about their chapter, you can go onto Fedbook and stay tuned in the conversation for their relief phone number, a few material needs you can provide from a distance and ways to get involved if you’re in the area.

‘The People of Puerto Rico are Dying’ Say 50 Nurses Returning from Hurricane-Ravaged Puerto Rico

By Martha Wallner and Kari Jones - Common Dreams, October 18, 2011

WASHINGTON - A large delegation of 50 volunteer registered nurses from across the U.S. returns this week from Puerto Rico after a two-week disaster relief effort in the wake of Hurricane Maria, describing an ineffective federal response that has led to deadly conditions including extreme lack of food, water and medicine; people living in houses infested with black mold; and water-borne illnesses such as leptospirosis that are already claiming lives.

“The people over here in Puerto Rico are dying. We have a healthcare crisis right now,” said National Nurses United (NNU) vice president and Registered Nurse Response Network (RNRN) volunteer Cathy Kennedy, RN. “Nurses have been going out into communities, where all they ask for is water and food. And when you have to make a decision of who’s going to get the food today or the water — we shouldn’t have to do that. The United States is the richest country in the world; Puerto Rico is part of the United States.”

The returning nurses are part of the Registered Nurse Response Network (RNRN), a disaster relief program sponsored by National Nurses United, and are among 300 union members the AFL-CIO organized for the relief mission to Puerto Rico.

For interviews with RNs who have returned from the two-week mission please call: 510-433-2759 or 510-273-2264.

The RN volunteers were shocked at the perilous conditions residents were enduring a full three weeks after Hurricane Maria. From the outskirts of San Juan to isolated mountain towns, they encountered many residents had yet to be assisted by the U.S. government's relief effort. Many were staying in houses that had been destroyed by the hurricane, flooded, roofless, cut off from electricity, food and clean water. Residents often told the nurses they were the first people offering them assistance. In addition to providing medical care, the RNs instructed residents on how to decontaminate their water and remove black mold from their homes. They also visited community radio stations where they provided health tips and water decontamination instructions on the air.

"These communities are at great risk of water borne illness epidemics. They need clean water that is safe to drink," said Erin Carrera, RN UC San Francisco. "It is outrageous that we are leaving our fellow Americans with essentially no aid. Many more will die if we don't step up."

Nurse testimonies include:

“Today our team traveled into the center of island into the mountain towns of Utuado. These towns are so isolated that relief efforts have not made it into these areas. It was due to impassable roads. But the local community cleared most of the roads. People said we were the first relief group to come into the area … They’re struggling to get basics such as food, water and medicine.” — Roxanna Garcia, RN

“We couldn’t believe this is part of the United States. We did home visits in a low-income community with the public health liaisons who identify those in need and help them do basic blood pressure checks, blood sugar checks, refill their meds, etc. They have already had chronic diseases going on and now their environment is full of hazardous materials and sanitation is so poor.” — Hau  Yau, RN

“What our nurses witnessed daily is the harsh reality of a woefully inadequate government response and the brutal, inhumane impact on the Puerto Rican people. The Trump Administration, FEMA, and Congress must act immediately,” said Bonnie Castillo, RN, director of NNU’s RNRN program.

On October 11, National Nurses United sent a letter to all members of Congress pressing them to “take immediate action to prevent a further public health calamity in Puerto Rico”.

“The response to the crisis in Puerto Rico from the U.S. federal government has been unacceptable for the wealthiest country in the world,” wrote NNU RN Co-Presidents Deborah Burger and Jean Ross, citing eyewitness accounts by RNs on the ground, and the ongoing crisis of lack of water, food, and other emergencies faced by the island’s 3.5 million residents.

NNU is calling on the federal government to  supply greater technological and logistics support to Puerto Rico, immediately provide generators for hospitals and other essential infrastructure, install temporary telecommunications connections in remote areas, and deploy boots on the ground to help clear roads and deliver humanitarian aid. NNU has also called on the federal government to grant all Puerto Ricans immediate eligibility for Medicaid to insure that residents there receive the care they need in the midst of this public health crisis.

RNRN has more than 12 years of experience in providing disaster medical aid following global emergencies dating back to Hurricane Katrina and the deadly South Asia tsunami. Most recently, RNRN volunteers worked in a convention center in Houston and other locales in South Texas after Hurricane Harvey.

Puerto Rico's disaster was years in the making

By Brian Sullivan - Socialist Worker, October 18, 2011

ON THE morning of September 29, a 78-year-old retiree named Luis Alberto Ruiz Irizarry, overcome by the despair that has enveloped Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria, tried to hang himself in his Caguas backyard.

His daughter found him hanging from a tree behind their home, but with over 70 percent of cell towers down across the island, she couldn't call an ambulance for help. Neighbors helped her pull his body down and rushed him to the local hospital in their own jeep, while his wife pumped his chest in the back seat.

They were lucky that the hospital was among the half on the island that were still open at the time, but it, too, was teetering on the brink. Running dangerously low on water and fuel for its backup generators, hospitals were strictly rationing the use of essential equipment such as dialysis machines, much less air conditioners.

As a result, in the stiflingly hot weeks since Hurricane Maria made landfall, temperatures in hospitals reached unsafe levels. Doctors and nurses have been warning that unless something changes, disaster is imminent.

How did we get to this point? How could Puerto Rico, a territory of the world's richest country, be so vulnerable to the destruction of Hurricane Maria, and so unequipped to deal with the crisis in the aftermath?

At the root of the current crisis is the debt that has been suffocating the island for years, a debt that has roots in Puerto Rico's history as a disenfranchised colony of the United States.

Agroecology, a way of life, struggle, and resistance against capitalism!

By staff - La Via Campesina, October 17, 2011

Synthesis

Agroecology: a way of life, struggle and resistance against capitalism. Agroecology is the basis for peasant agriculture and food sovereignty. Agroecology continues to be open to debate and dispute; from the perspective of our movements, it is the guarantee, care and protection of our Mother Earth. For that reason, it is transversal in all the spaces of the land, subsoil, territory, water and space.

The cosmovision and epistemology of our peoples tell us that agroecological practices are the center of our ancestors’ production, since they are the coexistence of all living beings. The land does not belong to us; we belong to the land. We are balance and equity, solidarity, integrity, diversity, territorial defense, the ‘buen vivir’, the dialogue between ways of knowing, expressed through the peasant-to-peasant method.

We do not want sustainable development, we want sustainable life. Agroecology gives our identity back to us. Women played a historic role in the evolution of peasant and indigenous agriculture.

Our processes of agroecological training make use of the Latin American Agroecological Institutes (IALA) training centers, through the learning routes that CLOC-LVC has built in the continent. Agroecology is a multidimensional space of social processes, sharing, culture, and art that we can only find in our territories.
All support processes for agroecology should be led by organizations of peasant families, indigenous peoples, farm workers and family farmers, including men and women, with the greatest possible participation of young people.

Agroecology and peasant seeds are mutually dependent, because agroecology is incompatible with genetic engineering, there can be no agroecology with agrochemicals or with the transnational agribusiness corporations.

The theories of Marx and Engels (including the division between the countryside and the city) and indigenous cosmovisions are similar and complementary in agroecological thought and in the unity between culture and the dialogue of ways of knowing. Our agroecological proposal regenerates agroecosystems, including plant, animal and soil biodiversity, as well as indigenous cultures with their diverse ways of producing in harmony with Mother Earth.

Tea Plantation workers in Sri Lanka march for Food Sovereignty!

By staff - La Via Campesina, October 17, 2011

As part of the mobilisations to mark the International Day of Action for Peoples’ Food Sovereignty and against Transnational corporations, plantation communities in Sri Lanka has requested and demanded successive administrations to ensure that they have land rights, which is essential for dignified living. In this regard, Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) and the people of the estates organised a People’s Caravan for Food Sovereignty from 8th to 13th October 2017. The caravan drew attention to a number of issues.

  • Ensuring the rights to own land

It’s been 150 years since tea plantations were established in the country. A few months ago the country celebrated this landmark with great pageantry, however the estate sector workers who have shed blood, sweat and tears to ensure that the tea production goes on, still live like slaves, stuck in squalid rooms of 400 square feet. This practice has to end. These workers must be granted at least a plot of 20 perches, by a deed, so that they can build a house, to farm and to raise a cow.

  • Stop the sale of properties that belong to estates

The government has commenced an initiative to sell the assets of Sri Lanka State Plantation Corporation (SLSPC), Elkaduwa Plantations and Janatha Estates Development Board (JEDB) cheaply and to close down the operations. Those who depended on work provided by these estates will soon lose their livelihoods.

By 1972 -75 the tea yields have dwindled and plantation companies started making losses due to mismanagement. Thus these estates were nationalized; however the export and sale of tea were left at the hands of private entities, which had earlier destroyed the plantations by mismanagement. This, coupled with state mismanagement and the world economic crisis, the estates continued to make losses and they were privatized again between 1992 -94.

Sri Lanka State Plantation Corporation (SLSPC) and Janatha Estates Development Board (JEDB) were left with 39 midland tea estates which yielded little harvest. Instead of taking steps to develop these estates, the administrators had continuously attempted to sell off the assets of these and that process has sped up under this administration. While the tea plantations are making losses, the workers are not responsible for the results of mismanagement by administrators.

Given the current economic trends and the nature of the ‘investors’ we have, it is obvious that they are not interested in developing these estates. They are more interested in converting the estate bungalows to tourist hotels, cutting down trees in the estates, selling the machinery for scrap metal, extracting granite and other mineral resources and the sale of land. After these resources are exhausted they will sell the land.

'The People of Puerto Rico Are Dying': Action Is Needed Now

By Bonnie Castillo - Common Dreams, October 16, 2011

Crowd funding. A Costco Card. The water in a nurse’s own backpack. These are the resources to which volunteer nurses on the ground in Puerto Rico—where 85 percent of the island is still without power and where the official death toll has risen to 48 (with the real toll expected to rise much higher)—have been forced to turn in recent weeks, to keep hurricane victims alive, even for a few additional days.

“The people over here in Puerto Rico are dying. We have a healthcare crisis right now,” said National Nurses United (NNU) vice president and Registered Nurse Response Network (RNRN) volunteer Cathy Kennedy, RN. “Nurses have been going out into communities, where all they ask for is water and food. And when you have to make a decision of who’s going to get the food today or the water—we shouldn’t have to do that. The United States is the richest country in the world; Puerto Rico is part of the United States.”

“There’s no power, there’s no clean water, many hospitals are closed, there’s no access to healthcare,” said Cyndi Evans, RN, also a volunteer with the Registered Nurse Response Network (RNRN)—a disaster relief project of NNU. “One of the nurses did a Go Fund Me page, and her team found a Costco where ATMs had come back online. That team took $3000 worth of goods to communities who hadn’t received any aid at all … I’m furious. [The people of Puerto Rico] are going to die.”

While the Trump administration has declared that the island territory of U.S. citizens “can’t be helped forever,” nurses like Kennedy and Evans are reporting back a horrifying reality: Meaningful federal relief for hurricane-decimated Puerto Rico has not yet arrived at all. Not by a long shot.

Reflections on Houston in a Time of Contradiction

By Samantha Harvey - Earth Island Journal, October 2, 2017

Last October I visited Houston for the first time. I grew up in the Midwest and have spent half my life in New York City — perhaps the least Texan person possible — but aside from a few cultural differences involving cowboy boots and biscuit-heavy restaurant menus, my background turned out to be good preparation. I was neither cowed by Houston’s skyscrapers nor confused by the hospitality of a Southern city’s people, familiar as the unsolicited smiles Midwesterners give complete strangers.

Because of this, perhaps, I found Houston comfortable, utterly pleasant, welcoming, warm, easy, and yet … the downtown streets at night were deserted, wide, silent. And the ten days or so I spent there transpired strangely, feeling at times much longer than ten days, flipping dramatically between blasting air conditioning and sopping gulps of hot humidity, women and men in slick suits with shiny shoes, women and men in drab clothing covered in dust, or seen from afar framed by open flames on pits of scrap metal.

In New York City it’s easy to feel resilient to the woes of the planet; even in the throes of Hurricane Sandy, many of us continued to eat well and sleep well above 42nd Street. But in Houston, the relentlessness of the heat, the stark discrepancy of bright cleanliness with belches of pollution down the road … in Houston, perhaps, I saw in sharper focus the inevitability of a future many are already living. A deepening divide between “insiders” and “outsiders,” the last gasps of an industry that suckles while it strangles. And today, of course, as the shock of Hurricane Harvey transforms into an increasingly familiar monotony of government bureaucracy, plodding clean-up, and despair of lives lost and put on hold, today it is up to all of us — victims and witnesses alike — to name these contradictions and fight for a more equitable future for all.

On ‘Food Sovereignty Day’ La Via Campesina launches publication that calls for a massive change in the current agro-food systems

By staff - La Via Campesina, October 16, 2017

Harare, 16th October 2017: Today, on the International Day of Action for Peoples’ Food Sovereignty and against Transnational corporations, La Via Campesina officially launches its new publication “Struggles of La Vía Campesina for Agrarian Reform and the Defense of life, Land and Territories” that argues for a massive change in the current agro-food system, if we have to overcome the food, climate, poverty, financial, economic and democratic crises facing the planet and its people.

With the aim of strengthening the convergence of struggles, we will demonstrate in this publication that this change must be based on an integral and popular agrarian reform within the framework of Food Sovereignty.

The concepts, strategies and struggles have undergone many changes within La Via Campesina, partly as a result of the current context, but also as a result of collective processes at the grassroots level in territories that are rich in historical, cultural, political and economic diversity. In this respect, it is evident that integral and popular agrarian reform is understood to be a process for the building of Food Sovereignty and dignity for the people.

Working on the basis of this conceptual framework, in which agrarian reform is presented as a defense and a recovery of land for Food Sovereignty, and as a people’s process, this publication will be structured as follows:

Firstly, chapters 2 and 3 present La Via Campesina’s analysis of the global context we are currently facing and the form in which capital is appropriating territories. What developments have led to this unprecedented level of land grabbing, land concentration and eviction of people from their territories? To which actors do we refer when we speak of “capital”? What is the political framework that favours these processes on a global level? What are the consequences for the food and agricultural system? And how is that reflected in our territories?

La Via Campesina’s concept of integral and popular agrarian reform, developed in this context, will be presented in Chapter 4. How has the concept been modified from a vision of land distribution to a territorial vision? What were the most important milestones? Beginning with the question “How, in today’s world, can we achieve a change in the paradigm towards Food Sovereignty and agrarian reform?” we will present, in chapter 5, the strategies of La Via Campesina, which include direct actions and bottom up praxis, alternative communications and research, and political intervention on a national and international level.

While the analysis focuses more on global processes, the interviews held with leaders of La Via Campesina’s member organisations from different continents and regions show the multidimensional mechanisms which specifically affect territories. They also reflect the way in which the diversity of cosmovisions in territories which are so historically, culturally, politically and economically diverse (which can also be seen in their terminology) has enriched and extended La Via Campesina’s construction of visions.

Because the aim of the publication is to summarise these aspects as a whole from the perspective of La Via Campesina’s organisations, it is not possible to enter into each issue in depth. Therefore, at the end of each chapter we provide suggestions for further reading, which will be a useful starting point for acquiring more in depth knowledge of the issues discussed here.

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