Category: CIVIL LIBERTIES

When Domestic Workers Rose Up in Atlanta

More than 100 years ago, black domestic workers in Georgia organized for better pay. Now they’re getting out the vote for Stacey Abrams.

All across Atlanta, hundreds of domestic workers have been knocking on doors for Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for Georgia governor, hoping to turn her into first black woman in that role.

These domestic workers, mostly black women affiliated with Care in Action, the political arm of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, are using new technologies, like a smartphone app to identify the homes of voters of color.

But they’re also carrying on an 140-year-old tradition of domestic workers fighting for economic empowerment. Despite their marginalized positions and the many obstacles in their way, they insist on making their voices heard.

In July 1881, washerwomen in Atlanta, toiling outside in the hot summer as they lugged buckets of well water and scrubbed their white patrons’ laundry, finally had enough. They decided to go on strike to demand increased wages and respect for their work.

They and a few male allies mobilized supporters by going door to door in black neighborhoods, despite threats of being arrested for “disorderly conduct.” The women held meetings in churches, hundreds packing the pews. They formed the Washing Society, a cross between a labor union and a mutual aid organization, with subsidiaries in the city’s five wards.

And in the beginning of the Jim Crow era, domestic work was more than a system of labor. It also symbolized an ordering of society by race in which black people were always considered subservient.

When the strike broke out in July, the women faced a chorus of boos and laughs from employers, city officials, businessmen and reporters from the The Atlanta Constitution newspaper. The women were called “Washing Amazons.”

But the nickname soon proved to be apt. “I tell you, this strike is a big thing,” the police chief admitted after the first week when it was clear that there was no end in sight. Unlike other domestic workers, who labored in isolation in their employers’ homes, the laundresses shared work sites and were thus able to build solidarity.

In Southern cities, black domestic workers, including maids, nurses, cooks and laundresses, performed the most intimate and the most undesirable jobs for white families. They were paid substandard wages, expected to work long hours and were subjected to insults and sometimes even physical assaults.

READ MORE: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/05/opinion/atlanta-domestic-workers-vote-stacey-abrams.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage

Companies and brands often attempt to avoid taking strong public positions out of fear of alienating customers, but Nike is running straight into the political fray.

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Four days before a new NFL season gets underway, Nike is throwing its weight behind one of the most polarizing figures in football, and America: former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Kaepernick will be one of the faces of Nike’s 30th anniversary commemoration of its iconic “Just Do It” slogan. The campaign will also feature athletes such as Serena Williams, NFL wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., and Shaquem Griffin, a rookie linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks whose left hand was amputated when he was a child.

Kaepernick tweeted out a photo from the campaign on Monday. Over a black-and-white picture of his face, a caption reads, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

In backing Kaepernick, whom the company has sponsored since 2011, Nike is making a high-stakes gamble that its customers support his protest, or at least that enough of them do. The company is also betting its brand can withstand criticism from conservative corners, including the White House.

Kaepernick has not played in the NFL since the 2016 season. That year, he began kneeling during the national anthem to raise awareness about police brutality against African-Americans and other racial injustices. Dozens of other players also began joining Kaepernick, and he has grown into a symbol of dividing lines over race in America.

In 2017, he filed a grievance against the NFL, alleging the league conspired to keep him out because of his protests. An arbiter last week denied the NFL’s request to throw out the grievance, allowing the case to proceed to a trial.

The protests have divided the league, often pitting a conservative white owner base against the NFL’s mostly African-American players.

The owners voted in May to approve rules that would have required players to stand on the sideline during the anthem or or remain in the locker room. Teams would be fined if players did not stand during the anthem, and the rules allowed individual teams to set their own policies.

Those rules are on hold while the league and the players’ association negotiate.

Nike’s public support of Kaepernick also risks drawing the anger of President Donald Trump.

Trump and his allies have repeatedly seized on the issue. At a rally in Alabama last year, Trump said team owners should “get that son of a bitch off the field” if a player knelt in protest of injustice during the anthem. Vice President Mike Pence walked out of an Indianapolis Colts game after some players knelt.

“This is a very winning, strong issue for me,” Trump told Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones last year, according to a sworn deposition Jones gave in connection with Kaepernick’s lawsuit.

Nike declined to comment on whether it expected Trump to criticize the company or how it would respond if he did.

The company also drew fire from Fox Sports Radio host Clay Travis, who called the Kaepernick campaign “pathetic,” and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who tweeted, “I guess @Nike will now focus on making knee pads for NFL.”

But many users voiced support for the brand’s decision and mocked people who claimed to be destroying their Nike products in protest, suggesting they should donate them to charity instead.

Williams said she was “especially proud to be a part of the Nike family today.”

Outspoken sports journalist Jemele Hill argued that people shouldn’t be surprised by Nike’s decision based on its history.

“Nike became Nike because it was built on the idea of rebellion,” she wrote. “This is the same company that dealt w/ the NBA banning Air Jordans. They made [Michael] Jordan the face of the company at a time when black men were considered to be a huge risk as pitch men. They aren’t new to this.”

How Trump Betrays ‘Forgotten’ Americans

Screen Shot 2018-09-03 at 7.45.29 AMFrom the Supreme Court to labor organizing rules, the president undermines workers’ greatest champions.

Donald Trump promotes himself as a friend of “forgotten” workers, but in ways large and small his administration has undermined what has traditionally been the biggest champion of workers: labor unions.

Most recently, he used his authority as president to deliver a harsh Labor Day message to the 2.1 million people who work for him, canceling pay raises for the civilian employees of the federal government. In May, he issued three executive orders to weaken federal employees’ unions by, among other things, limiting the subjects they can bargain over. (On Aug. 25, a judge ruled that this move violated federal law.) In March 2017, Mr. Trump signed a law repealing an executive order signed by President Obama that sought to keep the federal government from awarding contracts to companies that violate laws protecting workers’ right to unionize, as well as wage and job safety laws.

Since taking office, Mr. Trump has installed a conservative majority on the National Labor Relations Board that has moved quickly to make it harder for unions to organize. Last December, the board overturned a rule, beloved by unions, that made it easier to organize smaller units of workers in big factories and stores. In another board decision, his appointees made it tougher for workers at fast-food restaurants and other franchised operations to unionize, although that “joint employer” ruling was vacated when a labor board member later recused himself because of a conflict of interest. The board is also looking to slow down unionization elections, a move that unions oppose because it would give corporations more time to pressure workers to vote against unionizing.

Mr. Trump’s first nominee to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, was the deciding vote in a case that delivered this year’s biggest blow to workers. In Janus v. AFSCME, the court’s conservative majority, in a 5-to-4 vote, ruled in June that government employees can’t be required to pay any fees to the unions that bargain for them. By allowing many government workers to become “free riders,” that ruling is expected to chop revenues to many public employee unions by one-tenth to one-third.

READ MORE: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/03/opinion/trump-labor-unions-greenhouse.html

Jay-Z on ‘Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story’ and Activism

In the six-part docu-series “Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story,” the filmmakers Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason recount the teenager’s life and his deadly encounter with George Zimmerman in a gated townhouse community outside Orlando. Through interviews with key players, including Mr. Martin’s family and Don West, a defense lawyer for Mr. Zimmerman, the directors zero in on what they see as a flawed criminal justice system. They also make an argument that the divisive case (in which Mr. Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter) galvanized both the Black Lives Matter movement and white nationalists.

The documentary makes a case for viewing Trayvon Martin’s death and the Zimmerman verdict as a turning point that galvanized progressive political activists and white supremacists alike. Did it help spark your own desire to be more publicly outspoken about politics?

I wouldn’t use that as the catalyst. So many things have been going on and the whole climate in America has changed again. I mean, obviously, I think it was the pendulum swinging back from Obama being president. I feel like it was festering and I think the Obama administration just brought those frustrations to another place where people can spread the propaganda of hate.

Also, on the flip side, we’re looking at people who, in areas like Middle America, were not really taken care of. You know? They vote for Democrats because their parents voted Democrat and America was a different place at that time. The middle class was allowed to thrive and there was steel in Indiana and the car jobs in Detroit and all these places where these factories were to provide a way for you to start somewhere in low income, get middle class and then maybe end up with the house of your dreams. This was the American dream and it was real. Then that America changed and no one addressed that.

The filmmakers and Mr. Martin’s parents hope “Rest in Power,” which debuts Monday on the Paramount Network and BET, moves Mr. Martin beyond the realm of symbolism and demonstrates the costs of ignoring these issues. “I hope people walk away knowing who Trayvon Martin really was,” Sybrina Fulton, Mr. Martin’s mother, said.

“I want people to walk away having a clear view of what this country is about right now, and not what they thought it is,” she added.

The docu-series was first announced in early 2017 as part of a production partnership between Jay-Z and The Weinstein Company. But the Weinstein Company and Harvey Weinstein have been scrubbed from the credits of “Rest in Power” since the publication of sexual assault and harassment allegations against Mr. Weinstein in The New York Times and The New Yorker last year. (The company did not have editorial input on the series, according to Paramount, which said it “owns and financed the project” in full. Ms. Fulton and Tracy Martin, Trayvon’s father, have said that the Weinstein Company owes them money for the rights to their book, which served as source material for the documentary.)

SOURCE: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/29/arts/jay-z-interview-rest-in-power-the-trayvon-martin-story

Why People With Disabilities Want Bans On Plastic Straws To Be More Flexible

It was a hot day at the zoo when Jordan Carlson’s son, who has motor-planning delays, got thirsty. “We went to the snack bar and found out they had a ‘no straw’ policy,” Carlson says. “It was a hot day and he couldn’t drink.”

Their only option was to leave the park and look for a business that sold drinks with a straw. Without one, her son can’t drink beverages. At home they use reusable straws and she tries to keep some on hand when they leave the house, but “I’m human and sometimes I forget,” Carlson explains. People with disabilities have to be much more conscious of what businesses and communities offer, Carlson says.

On social media, many people are ecstatic about the crush of cities and businesses pledging to ban plastic straws once and for all. Ever since a video showing a sea turtle with a straw stuck up its nose went viral, campaigns like #StopSucking for a strawless ocean have gained considerable traction. Seattle this month implemented a citywide ban on plastic straws, Starbucks announced on Monday that it will phase out the use of plastic straws by 2020, and many other municipalities and businesses are likely to follow suit. As one Twitter user posted, “My waiter asked ‘Now, do we want straws OR do we want to save the turtles?’ and honestly we all deserve that environmental guilt trip.”But for many people with disabilities, going without plastic straws isn’t a question of how much they care about dolphins or sea turtles; it can be a matter of life or death.

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There are many alternatives to plastic straws — paper, biodegradable plastics and even reusable straws made from metal or silicone. But paper straws and similar biodegradable options often fall apart too quickly or are easy for people with limited jaw control to bite through. Silicone straws are often not flexible — one of the most important features for people with mobility challenges. Reusable straws need to be washed, which not all people with disabilities can do easily. And metal straws, which conduct heat and cold in addition to being hard and inflexible, can pose a safety risk.

“Disabled people have to find ways to navigate through the world because they know it was not made for us,” says Lei Wiley-Mydske, an autism activist who has autism herself. “If someone says, ‘This does not work for me,’ it’s because they’ve tried everything else.”

“Also, what if you decide on the spur of the moment to go have a drink with friends after work but forgot your reusable straw that day?” adds Lawrence Carter-Long, communications director for the national Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund. “[That] doesn’t leave a lot of room for spontaneity — something nondisabled folks get to largely take for granted.”

On social media, many people have responded to claims that people with disabilities need plastic straws by asking what people did before plastic straws were invented. “They aspirated liquid in their lungs, developed pneumonia and died,” says Shaun Bickley, co-chair of the Seattle Commission for People with DisAbilities, a volunteer organization that’s supposed to advise the city council or agencies on disabilities issues.

How much plastic straw and stirrer pollution is out there? Scientific estimates vary. One report suggests they make up more than 7 percent of the plastics found in the U.S. by piece. By comparison, the same report found plastic bottle caps alone accounted for nearly 17 percent. But straws make up a much smaller percentage of pollution by weight.

Environmentalists have latched onto a figure stating that Americans use over 500 million plastic straws every day — a number that was derived from phone calls made by a 9-year-old boy in 2011. Despite its frequent repetition, there’s uncertainty over the accuracy of that figure.

In a post detailing how the plastic straw became the cause du jour for those who love the oceans, Dune Ives, executive director for the Lonely Whale Foundation, wrote, “We found plastic water bottles too endemic, plastic bags already somewhat politicized, and no viable alternative for the plastic cup in ALL markets.” So they chose plastic straws, a “playful” alternative and a “‘gateway plastic’ to the larger and more serious plastic pollution conversation.”

Most of the plastic in the ocean does come from land, says Darby Hoover, senior resource specialist for the Natural Resources Defense Council. She notes that because plastic breaks up into smaller and smaller particles, it can be hard to tell what it used to be in some cases.

“Straws are maybe not the biggest source of either plastic pollution or disposable plastic we consume, but they’re in there,” Hoover says.

And for many people who want to consume less plastic, she saysstraws are low-hanging fruit.

Yet in general Hoover says that she’s wary of outright bans on things. “I personally think we as a country use way too many disposable water bottles. That said, there are times when I’m caught somewhere, don’t have a reusable bottle, and want the option to have water and not a sugary drink.”

“They key is breaking habits,” Hoover says. “Is something a habit because you truly need it or because you got used to doing it that way?”

Carter-Long says he’s sympathetic to environmental concerns about plastic pollution, but any public policy aiming to reduce the use of straws needs to make accommodations for people who might need them. Ideally, he says, “each restaurant owner [would] follow their own conscience, maybe keep a stockpile of plastic straws in their store rooms for people to use who need them.”

A spokesman for Seattle Public Utilities confirmed to NPR that the city’s new plastic straw ban does include a waiver allowing restaurants to give disposable, flexible plastic straws to customers who need them for physical or medical reasons. But Carter-Long and Bickley say there doesn’t seem to be widespread awareness of the exemption.Bickley says he asked over a dozen Seattle chain restaurants – including McDonald’s and Chipotle – “if they had plastic straws available for people with allergies or need, and they told me no.”

And just because an exemption is written into law doesn’t mean businesses will comply, even if they know about it. “So many businesses try to get around already ignoring things with ADA [the Americans With Disabilities Act] until someone says, ‘I need a ramp or wider hallway or ramp in bathroom or Braille menu,’ ” says Jordan Carlson. “Sometimes you need to bring a lawsuit just to have your voice heard.”

Although Bickley serves on a commission that is supposed to advise Seattle’s city agencies on disability issues, he says no one consulted the group before passing the plastic straw ban.

Dianne Laurine, who lives in Seattle, has cerebral palsy, is quadriplegic and has no use of her extremities. “She is old enough to remember a time before plastic and everybody just used rubber straws,” Laurine’s caretaker, Bill Reeves, says on her behalf, since she has a severe speech impediment.

“They ended up being disgusting, hard to clean. The advent of plastic in the 1950s changed her life,” Reeves says.

When asked what it felt like when the straw ban went into effect without consulting those with disabilities, Laurine audibly repeated one word, “Awful. Awful. Awful.”

“You’re putting this burden on disabled people to come up with a solution. You’re not asking companies that manufacture straws to come up with a version that works for us,” autism activist Wiley-Mydske says. “You won’t even take the bus instead of driving your car somewhere,” she says, adding, “How many of you are willing to die for the environment?”