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Exposing ALEC’s Corporate Sausage Factory in Dallas

6:39 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

 

A cowboy hands out bottled water to protesters.

Protesting in the Texas summer is thirsty work.

DALLAS — We’d gathered at Eddie Deen’s Ranch to interrupt the American Legislative Exchange Council at dinner. I was wearing a pink cowboy hat, temporarily inducted into the CODEPINK Posse, an effort organized by the local branch of the well-known national rabble rousers for peace. About 30 of us stood along the sidewalk outside the Ranch, watched by a half-dozen police officers looking bored, a chatty police detective and a pair of startled horses held by two men dressed as cowboys. Overhead, an airplane circled, towing a warning about corporate corruption.

Powerful people in suits laughed at us and snapped smartphone photos as they disembarked from the chartered buses they rode to the Western-themed restaurant. It was July 31 and ALEC was in town for its 41st meeting. After the first of several days of corporate backroom deals at the Hilton Anatole, ALEC’s members wanted to pretend they were cowboys while they ate.

The buses kept coming and out poured some of the world’s most powerful: corporate executives, rich investors, state legislators and their families. Though they’d normally disdain public transportation — when they aren’t orchestrating cuts against it in the name of austerity — I imagined the atmosphere on the bus was jovial, as if the “1%” was on a field trip.

CODEPINK are no strangers to using humor to fight evil. Duded up in pink Western-wear, with faux handcuffs and a “RUN ALEC OUT OF TEXAS” banner, they were aiming for laughter. As the suits’ humor peaked, CODEPINK Dallas — mostly older women — began chanting, “WE MAY BE FUNNY, BUT YOU ARE CORRUPT!”

Speaking out is thirsty, thankless work in the Texas heat. After two hours, a Ranch worker dressed as a cowboy brought us all bottled water.

ALEC: Where the corporate sausage is made

For over 40 years, ALEC has had a corrupting influence on state politics. Its corporate sponsors and rich private investors write legislation, then their hand-picked, loyal legislators introduce those bills into law. The mainstream media rarely connects the dots, even when covering ALEC-related laws. And while many have heard of Stand Your Ground and its contribution to the death of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his killer, George Zimmerman, few are aware of ALEC’s sponsorship of that law in multiple states.

In the summer of 2011, the Center for Media and Democracy unveiled ALECexposed.org, bringing ALEC widespread negative attention for the first time in its four-decade-long history. The site features over 800 model bills and dozens of corporate sponsors. The agenda revealed was startling in its breadth: to name just a few of its policies, ALEC seeks privatization of education and policing, aides the Koch brothers in undermining laws that support renewable energy, and attacks the rights of unions and the retired.

 

On July 30, Jim Hightower, a former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture and publisher of the popular newsletter The Hightower Lowdown, was on hand at the Community Brewery after a noon rally at the Hilton Anatole was attended by hundreds of activists, retirees and union members in honor of ALEC’s 41st national conference. After a rousing speech to encourage the crowd, he told this reporter, “The only way we’re going to take power back for ordinary working people to become a self-governing people again is to confront the corporate interests and to expose them.”

As much as protesters wanted to reach ALEC with their objections, another purpose of the week’s events was to expose the Dallas public to ALEC’s existence among them.

“Most people never heard of ALEC,” he continued. “This big rally we had at the Anatole hotel today, that showed to a lot of people maybe just driving by that there’s something out there called ALEC. [...] If people see it, they will be disgusted by what’s happened. This is the most visible, the most ostentatious merger of corporate power with right-wing legislative power and they meet in secret. [...] If you want to see where the sausage is made, we were at that factory today.”

I spoke with Connor Gibson, a Greenpeace researcher who studies ALEC and similar groups, about how a newcomer to the movement can begin to unravel this complex network of corporate corruption. “The most important thing to do is learn about ALEC [. ...] It’s actually a really complicated organization. It’s state politicians, it’s corporate lawyers and lobbyists and it’s ALEC’s staff. They convene and have a weird governance and the more people understand that, the more people know what to look out for.”

He continued:

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Exposing Breitbart’s Lies at ALEC 41

11:16 am in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Banner: ALEC Parasitic Corporate Mafia

CODEPINK Dallas confronted ALEC at their dinner party — and Breitbart.com lied about what happened.

DALLAS — In his recent article “Code Pink Stages Mini Protest at ALEC National Conference,” Breitbart.com’s California correspondent Jon Fleischman fabricates an encounter with an activist, erases a full day of anti-corporate protest, and makes a major source of corporate corruption in American state politics seem like a benign force for social good — all in just 250 words.

ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council, which has helped corporations and rich private investors pass conservative legislation for over 40 years. The legislation is written by the corporations, then passed by conservative state legislators selected and groomed by the group. The group has faced increasing criticism and protest in recent years, especially since the 2011 publication of the Center for Media and Democracy’s ALECexposed.org, a site with hundreds of these model bills and a partial membership list of the organization. Several corporate members have dropped out of the group under this pressure.

Among other policies, ALEC lobbies for the privatization of education and police and undermines laws that encourage the use of renewable energy. It also crafted the Stand Your Ground legislation that may have contributed to the death of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his killer, George Zimmerman.

Fleischman describes seeing a small group of protesters led by CODEPINK Dallas outside the cowboy-themed restaurant Eddie Deen’s Ranch, where ALEC held a kick-off dinner on the first night of its 41st national conference. Since the article features a photo of the group from inside the restaurant’s property, it’s clear that Fleischman was present on the night of July 30, 2014. But the rest departs significantly from reality.

“Big surprise!”

“This article is full of errors. Big surprise!” CODEPINK Dallas’ Danna Miller Pyke said when MintPress News first brought the article to her attention — a sentiment shared by many news consumers in reference to the accuracy of Breitbart’s many published works. Many people first became aware of the site’s late founder, Andrew Breitbart, from his distribution of the dishonestly edited undercover videos that destroyed the community advocacy network ACORN in 2009. Others may remember Breitbart’s infamous rape-themed Occupy rants from the days before his death in 2012. His site’s reputation for honesty hasn’t improved since then.

But digging deeper into how and why the site carries these lies can instruct us how the right-wing spin machine works to minimize those who oppose it. Though Fleischman once told the Los Angeles Times that reporting on his homepage, Flash Report, was “fair and biased,” his handling of the CODEPINK protesters has been both biased and unfair.

In his article on the ALEC protest at Eddie Deen’s Ranch, Fleischman recounts an encounter he allegedly had with an anonymous protester:

While elected officials dined on tri-tip and chicken, some taking photos on a cow brought in for the occasion, the protesters were screaming “corporate whores” and holding up signs that said, ‘Democracy not Corporatocracy’ and ‘Round Up Alec and Run ‘Em Out Of Town.’

When I approached one of the Code Pink members to see if they had a comment for Breitbart News Network, the response was screamed at me, ‘Breitbart is part of the corporate machine! You suck!’ She then went back to screaming at the top of her lungs towards the steady stream of conference attendees headed into the BBQ joint.

This encounter never happened. A MintPress reporter was present for the entire protest at Eddie Deen’s Ranch. Organized by CODEPINK Dallas, they called it “The Showdown at the Ranch.” Dressed in pink Western wear and carrying banners and toy handcuffs, the idea was to show ALEC members that they were a criminal influence corrupting American politics — and to show the people of Dallas, too. An airplane circled downtown that evening, trailing a banner warning residents against the presence of ALEC in their midst.

While MintPress remembers a man matching Fleischman’s description taking photographs of the group on a smartphone, at no point did he or any other individual approach the group and identify themselves as a representative of Breitbart.com or any other conservative news outlet. To verify our recollections, MintPress spoke with two additional members of CODEPINK Dallas — Kit Jones and Leslie Harris — as well as Roy “Train Wreck” Sudduth, an independent videographer who recorded the entire protest.

After checking his footage, Sudduth confirmed, “My review didn’t show a conversation. I remember the photos being taken.”

Pyke added, “I don’t believe that happened, either. We would have noticed.”

Pyke reinforced the notion that while Fleischman spoke only with an ALEC member and not a member of CODEPINK Dallas, “He purports to know our complaints without talking with us about them.”

Further, the group was approachable — CODEPINK Dallas members held conversations of varying lengths with members of the ALEC delegation. Fleischman’s own photo shows a man in a dark suit conversing with the group — a man who identified himself as a Republican state lawmaker. He had a conversation lasting about 15 minutes with a member of CODEPINK before exchanging contact information with her.

Fleischman also erases a busy day of active free speech when he describes the Showdown group as “thus far … the only protester presence.” Protests had actually kicked off earlier that day when hundreds of activists, including many union members, rallied at the Hilton Anatole (ALEC’s home for the week) in an event called “Don’t Mess With Texas, ALEC.” After the rally, a similar sized group listened to the “Stand Up to ALEC” panel discussion at the nearby Community Brewery, featuring guests such as Jim Hightower, Connor Gibson of Greenpeace and Shahid Buttar from the Bill of Rights Defense Committee. Even though he’d missed these events, a social media search or some old-fashioned journalistic fact-checking would have set him straight.

More spinning than grousing

At Deen's Ranch, men in suits grin as they photograph CODEPINK with their smartphones.

Many ALEC members stopped to photograph the group, but few tried to communicate.

Worse than lying about his attempt to speak with activists is how Fleischman turns ALEC into a benign, even beneficial influence on American politics. The spin begins from the very first sentence:

This week the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a national organization made up of conservative state legislators from around the country, is holding its annual convention in Dallas, Texas.

To hear Fleischman describe it, ALEC is the same as any other political caucus where legislators meet to discuss the future of public policy. But a key difference is that ALEC’s legislators are picked by the organization’s other members — corporations and private investors — for their willingness to introduce ALEC’s selected legislation.

Some of these conferences have drawn massive protest crowds from the ideological left, grousing about ALEC’s pro-market bent, and objecting to active participation in the group by large corporate sponsors.

Now Fleischman tries to mention corporate involvement in passing, as if it were only peripheral. In fact, late last year the Guardian revealed that these legislators are expected to swear a loyalty oath to the organization, which includes the Koch brothers among its sponsors. ALEC’s lack of transparency has also been criticized; reporters like Truthout’s Candice Bernd are routinely refused access to the conferences despite meeting the group’s stated media guidelines. And far from “grousing” about a “pro-market bent,” diverse groups from constitutional rights pundits to the Alliance for Retired Americans have made specific and clear objections to the way its policy of profits-over-people is written into law nationwide.

State Senator Joel Anderson, who is Chairman for ALEC in California, reacted to the protesters by saying, ‘Hey, this is a free country. We’re here to discuss policies to foster economic prosperity for everyone in America, even those folks yelling at us.’

Kit Jones from CODEPINK Dallas calls Anderson’s statement “total bullshit.”

“They’re not working for us, they’re not working for economic prosperity for everyone. They’re working for economic prosperity for themselves: the corporations and their lackeys, their hired guns, which would be the legislators,” Jones explained.

As an example, Jones highlighted Missouri’s ALEC-inspired “Right to Farm” amendment that pits large-scale corporate agriculture against small farmers and the environment. As of this writing, the hotly contested bill passed by less than half a percent of voters and may be subject to recount.

A nonpartisan movement

Fleischman’s article attempts to place ALEC and the protests against it within the traditional partisan political narrative. He depicts sensible, logical conservatives enjoying a bit of R&R while a pocket of the activist left loudly and senselessly rails against them.

MintPress asked Shahid Buttar, executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, about whether fighting ALEC’s influence was about the right versus the left or a larger issue of democracy. Buttar stressed the threat to democracy was larger than that posed by ALEC alone, but went on to say, “My real interest is in building a voice for ‘We The People’ to force the institutions to respect our rights. And you’re absolutely right, anyone should care about these issues.”

On some issues, like surveillance, he said the Libertarian and Tea Party Republicans are “more activated.”

“The anti-ALEC crowd was all Democrats,” he said, “but quite frankly, that crowd can’t get anything done. It never has. The best they can do is get into office elected officials that then betray them at every opportunity.”

“Without a movement to ensure the accountability of the electoral gains, without a movement to force the conversation about the needs of ‘We The People’ beyond what the policy sphere is currently addressing, without the movement to force change, there won’t be any,” Buttar concluded.

Originally posted on MintPress News

5,000 Texans March for Gaza

9:39 am in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

 

Originally published at MintPress News

But we do not have much time. The revolutionary spirit is already worldwide. If the anger of the peoples of the world at the injustice of things is to be channeled into a revolution of love and creativity, we must begin now to work, urgently, with all people, to shape a new world.

On Aug. 2, Sheikh Islam Mossaad ended his speech at the Texas Stands With Gaza rally by quoting these words of Martin Luther King, Jr. The quotation was preceded by a passionate speech invoking the spirit of dead Palestinian children and calling on the living youth of the world to take up their struggle.

It set the tone for a historic moment — the largest rally for Gaza in the Lone Star State since the beginning of Israel’s military offensive dubbed Operation Protective Edge, and likely the largest pro-Palestine rally ever in the state. A crowd of thousands grew through the speeches and swelled further as it turned from a rally on the state capitol grounds to a march down Congress, the central artery running through downtown Austin, to City Hall. People came off the sidewalks to stand against Israel’s war crimes, to stand with an oppressed people, until the peaceful march stretched to five blocks long and included at least 5,000 Gaza supporters.

After smaller rallies in their respective cities, Texas Stands With Gaza brought together activists and organizations from Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, under a diverse umbrella ranging from interfaith groups to Iraq Veterans Against the War. Chartered buses brought hundreds from around the state. Unseasonably mild weather kept temperatures only in the 80s, a boon since the many pallets of water provided by organizers ran out under the thirst of unexpected throngs.

A woman in a hijab, carrying a Palestinian flag, approaches the Texas Capitol on a partly cloudy day.

Unseasonably mild weather greeted throngs of Gaza supporters on August 2.

A revolutionary spirit was apparent in almost every moment of the event that followed Mossaad’s opening speech. This crowd stood not just against the human rights’ violations of the current Israeli offensive, which has left about 2,000 civilians dead, destroyed over 10,000 civilian homes, and injured over 6,000, but for the rights of Palestinians to live peacefully and not under terror or siege. Before he spoke, Dr. Snehal Shingavi, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin and a perennial activist for social justice, led the crowd of thousands in a chant of “Resistance is justified when Gaza is occupied!

“‘Never again’ means never again for anyone”

In her speech, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb related the plight of Gaza to other social justice struggles:

I grew up in the civil rights movement and my rabbis, the rabbis of my youth, they were getting arrested, they were going to jail because they could not stand segregation in the United States. An evil institution which is still so much the reason we cannot see what is happening in Gaza, because we are still such a racist society [...] so how can we see what is happening in Gaza without struggling for justice here at home?

Gottlieb told the crowd that the first word she learned in Arabic as a young woman in Israel was “nakba.” “Nakba,” which means disaster, is not limited to a single day, she explained, it is an ongoing destruction of Palestinian life and Palestinian culture through ethnic cleansing since Israel colonized historic Palestine in 1948.

According to Gottlieb, the Jewish Federation of Greater Austin told their members not to counter-protest for fear of drawing too much attention to the rally. But like Gottlieb, other Jews had followed their sense of outrage to Israel’s brutal assault and injustice throughout the march.

A revolutionary spirit had led Naomi (she asked that MintPress News use only her first name) to push her own boundaries by attending her first rally for Palestine. When we found her, she wore a look of deep and almost overwhelming emotion. Naomi, who describes herself as openly queer, laughed as she told MintPress she’d been out of the closet to her Jewish friends about everything except her support for Gaza.

She’d been inspired to come by the example of Ernest Rosenthal, a 95-year-old Holocaust survivor who demonstrated for Gaza in Los Angeles.

“I felt ashamed that he’s 95 and being active and all I was doing was sitting around, talking about it on Facebook,” Naomi said.

Anonymous masked actvists, a man with a Palestinian flag, and others stand for Gaza.

A crowd of thousands grew as religious leaders spoke out against human rights violations in Gaza.

After deciding to attend the rally, “I made the sign ‘I am Jewish and I stand with Gaza’ because I think it’s important to say that publicly — to show that it’s not about Jews versus Palestinians. It’s not a tribal conflict, it’s a political one.”

What she hadn’t expected was how much attention her simple poster board sign would draw:

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VIDEO: #FastFoodGlobal Rally in Austin, Texas

7:13 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

 

Protester outside Popeyes Kitchen: Austin, TX On Strike For $15/hr & A Union, #FastFoodGlobal

Austin, Texas joined #FastFoodGlobal, an international day of action.

A handful of fast food workers walked off their jobs in Austin, Texas yesterday, the closest thing our city had to a true May Day celebration in the streets. It happened as part of a global one-day strike led by the Fight For 15 movement. Dozens of workers and allies gathered outside a Popeye’s Kitchen on the east side of town, along a strip of fast food restaurants that cluster near the intersection of Martin Luther King, JR Boulevard and Airport Boulevard. This strip of strip mall purgatory could be any arterial street in America, reeking of fry grease and automotive exhaust.

After a member of the local clergy led us in prayer, we heard from several workers. The star of the show was Alonzo Simms. If the press release I got handed hadn’t told me he was 47-years old, I’d never have known — he had more energy than me, despite being older by over a decade. He told us about working sometimes seven days a week at $8.25/hour, with no raises in sight. He’s raising two kids on that salary and struggling to make ends meet, while the CEOs of fast food chains make sometimes as much as thousands of dollars per hour.

After his story he led the crowd into one fast food restaurant after another. Neither the protesters nor the media (with multiple local TV stations putting in an appearance) were phased by the complaints of the store managers, who made obligatory declarations that we had to leave or shut off our cameras. In each restaurant we chanted before Simms spoke directly to the workers. Some were supportive, others indifferent or mildly hostile. In the middle of a school day, these were not the teenagers that supposedly make up the bulk of fast food workers, but people from a range of ages and races.

Other than the brave efforts of local anti-deportation activists, this was some of the boldest action I’ve seen in Austin since last summer’s pro-choice protests at the Capitol. We’re a long way from Seattle, where $15/hour may become reality. One construction worker objected that he handles specialized equipment and still doesn’t make that much — a sign that to many, these protests seem like fantasy, rather than a movement with the potential to elevate us all.

But these workers seem determined, and if the movement grows — if we strike for more than a day – it’ll be days like this that got us there.

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A Conversation with John Jack Anderson, Occupy Photojournalist (UPDATE)

7:58 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

State Troopers roughly arrest a mn in a santa suit, surrounded by chalk

From the book: “Occupy Austin participant, James Peterson, dresses as Santa Claus, hands out chalk to children and encourages them to use it after an event at the Texas Capitol on December 21, 2012. Peterson also wrote with chalk and as he and others were leaving, DPS troopers arrested him along with Corey Williams.”

UPDATE: John Anderson will join us on the FDL Book Salon on March 30!

More: See John Anderson’s recent collaboration with the Austin Chronicle’s Michael King: “Fun And Games With Stratfor 

John Jack Anderson has decades of experience as a photojournalist. As part of the Austin Chronicle team, he conducted a long study of Occupy Austin from its first beginnings till the point when its activity waned two years later. He continues to be a fixture at local protests, and during the height of Occupy was our embedded reporter — someone activists trusted enough to tip off about direct actions and civil disobedience before they happened, even in those paranoid days of police infiltration and provocation.

John Anderson with a camera in hand, as a State Trooper leaves the frame at right

John Anderson, photojournalist at work (Police photo obtained through open records request)

Though the Chronicle published a continuous photo gallery, Jack Anderson has just collected the best of his coverage into a pair of photo books: In Search Of A Revolution, and the shorter Occupy Austin: The Encampment Months. Both are available as vivid, full-color printed editions, but Revolution is also available as an inexpensive iBook and .pdf.

Anderson has a sharp eye and caught many funny, chaotic and even tragic moments. The books contain both large events like marches and arrest, but also general assemblies, tent city life, and play. Revolution also documents his photos of the undercover Austin Police Department officers who infiltrated the movement — a special glossary in the back shows where to find each known officer in each photo in the book.

Of course I’m partial to the book in part because it contains so many great photos of my friends, myself, and all that we accomplished from the moment that first tent went up on the steps of Austin City Hall right through all the months we continued gathering and acting despite eviction. But anyone interested in the life of social justice movements and the use of public spaces should get a copy.

Though Anderson is an unapologetic supporter of Occupy’s goals, he stood at just a step removed from the rest of us citizen (gonzo) journalists in the camps with our tweets and streams. His loving outsider’s view of this uprising should not be missed. From occupiers raised in chants and song to the faces of police as they swing a baton or fist, there will be much that lingers in your memory here.

I sat down with Jack recently to talk about his experiences at Occupy and the new books.

Kit O’Connell, Firedoglake: Tell me a little of your background before Occupy.

John Anderson: I started getting into activist photography when I lived in Washington, D.C., as a photo student. There’s always a protest, march, rally or something in D.C. It made for easy assignments. My first photograph that was published in 1986 when Reagan bombed Libya. I went down to the White House and it got published in the paper and I got hooked on that.

The intentions of the Occupy movement really got my attention. It was something I’d been waiting for, for years. It was trying to get at some of the root causes — capitalism — of the structural issues in our society. Instead of chasing environmental issues over here, and education issues over there, Citizens United — instead of all those separate issues, Occupy wanted to bring them all together to strike at the root, which to me was too much corporate power in our government and the resulting inequality.

I wanted to go to Occupy Wall Street but just couldn’t manage it, but then of course the movement spread and came here to Austin and I thought ‘great!’ Now I can document Occupy without having to go to New York. At the same time, the Chronicle started putting together photo galleries for the website and we realized an ongoing encampment at City Hall would certainly be worthy of a photo gallery. At that point we were ambitiously hoping to update it every day, but you were having general assemblies every day and marches every night, and everything else in between.

I loved the energy, the 24/7 aspect of it. If I were downtown and between assignments I could just go down to City Hall and hang out. You can’t compare that to anything else, at least that I’ve covered. It started as an assignment and then became a labor of love. No one at the Chronicle expected it to go on for years!

Balloons labelled LULZ attached to a banner: Today's Strategic Forecast 100% Chance of LULZ

From the book: “Members of Occupy Austin float signs outside the windows of the private global intelligence company Stratfor to protest their involvement with the infiltration of Occupy Austin on March 5, 2012. Recently hacked Stratfor emails revealed the Texas Department of Safety had infiltrated Occupy Austin and shared information with Strafor that was gathered while undercover.”

FDL: Do you have any favorite moments from documenting Occupy?

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A Conversation with Scott Crow, Part 2: Mutual Aid

7:05 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Previously: Part 1, Occupy & Activism

Banner on Occupy Sandy relief site: "Occupy Sandy, Mutual Aid Not Charity" with Circle A

Radical activist networks are powerful sources of mutual aid during disasters. But what comes after?

One reason I wanted to chat with Scott Crow was his experience with Common Ground Collective in New Orleans. In recent years, we’ve seen similar collectives spring out of the activist networks formed by Occupy Wall Street — projects like Occupy Sandy. Late last year, alongside key Common Ground Collective organizer Lisa Fithian and many others, I organized Austin Common Ground Relief to respond to a record-breaking flood on Halloween. As the group’s dispatcher, I relied on the networks and skills formed during Occupy Austin.

Kit O’Connell, Firedoglake: You mentioned projects that appear during lulls. I see Occupy Sandy, or the Common Ground Relief work we did here recently and all that ties into what you were doing at Common Ground Collective. 

Scott Crow: Right.

FDL: Mutual aid is good for its own sake, but how do we connect that politically? We don’t want to turn anyone off. We don’t want to politicize our aid but our aid is political. How do we make that connection? What happens next after an Occupy Sandy?

SC: I think it only is what it is. You can only ‘politicize’ it as much as you can. I think what’s really important is the culture we create internally within our political movements and social movements and also the way we engage outwardly with other people — though it’s more permeable than that. We’re not trying to convert people to anarchy or to communism or whatever it is — although communists did try to convert people just like religious wingnuts. Really what we do is you just make it make sense to people.

FDL: Sure!

SC: When you go to help someone and you name it mutual aid, people see that in real life and real time. Unfortunately, that’s the only way to do it. There is no conversion.

“It’s the idea of attraction, not the idea of conversion.” That actually comes out of Alcoholics Anonymous, I didn’t make that up. The aid work is something which just emerges sort of by accident out of all these projects. Like at Common Ground Collective in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, we were able to pull from the alternative globalization movement: street medics, indy media, and Food Not Bombs and all these things which had been going on.

FDL: These were networks built through activism that then were pulled in for aid.

SC: We didn’t consciously say, ‘Hey, we’re going to do this for aid!’ Now we’re starting to see that this has become a newer model, another point of intersection against the crisis of capitalism.

Make it as political as possible without drawing fake lines: like “we’re anarchist and you’re not.” Or, “this is radical and you’re not.” And also just being honest about who we are. I don’t want to convert anyone.

FDL: But you’re honest about where you’re coming from.

SC: Absolutely! I told people I was an anarchist from the beginning in New Orleans. And these are people, in some communities, who had hardly ever seen white people. I’m literally serious about that. They’d say “I’ve barely seen white people except on TV. You’re an anarchist, what is that? And why are you here?”

Now they’ll tell you, “The anarchists came. No one else showed up, but the anarchists came.” I’m sure your experience with Austin Common Ground was maybe not as extreme, but similar.

FDL: Sure, I had some people who took me aside who were like “I get what you guys are doing here.” We didn’t avoid talking about our politics, people knew we were organizers but it was never about that, obviously. It was about “here’s a meal.”

SC: Right.

FDL: During some of the later events in December, people told me, “We will remember you and what you did.”

SC: It’s also about connecting things. So when you’re gutting somebody’s house, you can come in like a service organization and say, “Yeah, we’re going to gut your house. Then we’re going to go on to do something else.” That’s the charity model. But if you come in with the solidarity model, it’s like, “We’re doing this because we want you to get back on your feet, because we want you to build your own community power the way you see fit.” It’s a different way to approach it.

FDL: We’ve been able to pass the work off to the new Onion Creek Park Neighborhood Alliance, which we helped them form. 

SC: That’s what I’m talking about! These things happen all the time, and I don’t care if we name them as anarchy or not. It’s not a brand. There’s no gain in it. It’s just a point of reference, at least to me.

FDL: I feel the same way about Occupy. Some people want to fly that banner and it’s really powerful to them, and other people don’t want anything to do with it. At the end of the day, I don’t care as long as they’re doing something.

SC: Right, right.

In Part 3: Technology and intersectionality.

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A Conversation with Scott Crow, Part 1: Occupy & Activism

8:15 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Scott Crow in jeans and a button shirt sits in a chair at the left of a long table, against an alley wall.

Scott Crow talks with Firedoglake’s Kit O’Connell about activism and anarchy.

Scott Crow is a co-founder of the Common Ground Collective which provided grassroots solidarity and mutual aid after Hurricane Katrina. An anarchist activist, author and public speaker, he travels regularly to share his views. The second edition of his book about Common Ground, Black Flags and Windmills is due out soon. It’s one of multiple book-length projects in the works.

Both Scott & I call Austin home, so I invited him out for coffee and conversation on a recent break from an unusually chilly Central Texas winter.

Kit O’Connell, Firedoglake: There’s always been activism happening but the last few years it seems there’s been more activity, more people in the streets, more stuff happening. Do you agree?

Scott Crow: Yeah, but what happens is there are times of rupture, where things kind of jump off. And then times of lulls, in-between times. Look at it like a sine wave where it rises and falls. So the twenty plus years I’ve been doing activism, I’ve been engaged with community organizing, I’ve been engaged in national struggles, international struggles, I’ve seen a lot of ruptures and falls. When I came back in really seriously was in the alternative globalization movement, the post-Seattle stuff. When that kicked off it was huge huge huge. We could get 10,000 people to a demonstration internationally with the summit hopping that was going on.

After September 11 it sort of died down. But then the wars kicked off. And I don’t mean the War On the Poor or the War On Women, but the international wars. And in that you saw another rupture where thousands of people were in the streets.

And then it kind of leveled off and then we were struck with some pretty serious disasters. One was the man made and natural disaster of Hurricane Katrina. That actually drew a lot of people to it, which was another form of a rupture. Because then people came to the Gulf Coast by the hundreds of thousands, literally,

Then there was a lull, but then we come to the next disaster which was the economic collapse of 2008. All of these things have been brewing since the millennium as capitalism’s been in crisis and then finally Occupy comes. And it’s just a natural progression of all this. So that was just the latest rupture to happen.

It’s always interesting to watch — the way I actually look at it is like an ocean, like waves coming to the shore. Is this too long?

FDL: No, No! Go on!

SC: So like the waves are out here and there’s the lulls and highs and then they just finally crash into the shore. All the waves aren’t coming at the same time but they are definitely crashing on that shore. Then they kind of recede back.

Then what I like to see is what happen in the lulls, in between the ruptures right — what comes out of it? So when the rupture happens there’s thousands — I just want to be clear I’m not saying ‘the Rapture!’

FDL: *Laughter*

SC: The tensions are the highest and when the people are the most. We saw in the Occupy movements, it was incredibly beautiful, internationally but definitely in the states, all across the country. But then it starts to recede and we see who’s left and what projects come out of it. Because that helps build for the next level.

I think that what came out of Occupy and the Occupy movements was a really beautiful rupture because you’d already seen the largest influence of anarchy and anarchist ideas in the modern times since the time of Emma Goldman and the IWW and people back then. We’re in an anarchist renaissance. So when people came into Occupy, they came in with these horizontal organizing ideas, the ideas of participatory democracy, the ideas of direct action, without even thinking about it.

And that’s forty years of organizing for a lot of people in the United States but for me that’s twenty years of organizing — not that I was a part of all of it, but seeing it come to fruition –

FDL: You and all your allies.

SC: Absolutely. I’m not taking credit for it in any way!

In Part 2: Disaster relief and the meaning of mutual aid.
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Free Speech, Capitalist Dynasties

7:27 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Did you hear? Some rich filth on TV said he believes God hates fags.

V for Vendetta-style caped Guy Fawkes & a police photographer

The beginning of a new movement or the last gasp of unmediated free speech?

Now, TV personalities can spend even more days analyzing other TV personalities. Do they hate gays, black people, you? What color is Santa? All the usual, powerful swine are out for the right of other swine to say whatever they want on a profitable television program.

Conservatives like to believe that “freedom of speech” means “freedom from consequences” for intolerance. Meanwhile, actual violations of freedom of speech — like climate change activists being charged with a “terrorism hoax” – go unanswered by either the right or the left.

While this spectacle involves the right-wing puppets, both parties — the whole political spectrum, as far as Mainstream America is concerned — are intimately invested in this redefinition of free speech.

Free speech isn’t what happens in the streets, it’s corporate money at elections and pretty pictures on commercial television.

When Occupy drew thousands nationwide, it was Democratic mayors — and Obama’s Feds — that came down hardest on the movement. When thousands gathered at the Texas Capitol this past summer but before Wendy Davis’ much-lauded filibuster, Democratic party officials put the loudest, most influential grassroots organizers on a list of dangerous agitators that they passed around to rally organizers from multiple groups. One of them told me I shouldn’t lead crowds in chanting or disruptive behavior because it would “look crazy.” Not to worry, she told me, we’d vote them out in 2014.

Street posters of Snowden (labelled Patriot) & Rick Perry (labelled Dog Shit)

Speech without permits is terrorism.

On the night of the final vote while a hundred Texas State Troopers beat and dragged us for sitting in front of the Senate doors, the Texas Democrats led a march away from the Capitol so they could have a fund raiser in a park before their permit ran out. Whatever happens next November, the legislature won’t even meet till 2015 and at least 20,000 women won’t have access to safe abortion next year.

Free speech isn’t what happens on the Internet. We jail our whistle blowers and hacktivist heroes while the NSA stalks and catalogs us.

Free speech is freedom to create commercially profitable spectacle. The media disappearing yet again up its own asshole.

Homeless people — perhaps as many as half of whom are queer — are freezing to death in the richest part of the country. LGBTQ folk are being jailed and tortured in Greece and Russia but we applaud a few gay athletes.

Free speech is voting for a turkey while prisoners languish in solitary, poor people starve and our atmosphere burns.

But don’t look away for a minute. You might miss a heartfelt apology, before we all comb our folksy beards and shoot a few more ducks through the magic of mirror neurons.

The Mexicans and the Million Mask March had the right of it by surrounding the mainstream media bullshit factories and demanding to be heard by so-called journalists. They just didn’t go far enough.

Give it time. The disenfranchisement is there, we’re just waiting on enough anger.

People of America, put on your masks. Lift up your voices. And pick up your paintbrush, your smart phone, your chalk and your wheat paste and use them to smash the state.

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What Flood? 2 weeks of disaster relief in Austin, Texas (#ATXFloods)

7:30 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Collapsed house after Austin Halloween Flood

A condemned houses in the aftermath of the Austin, Texas Halloween 2013 flood.

In the early hours of Halloween 2013, Austin, Texas suffered from a record-breaking flood. Some 1,100 homes were affected by the floods with hundreds of those seriously. Flood response was dangerously delayed by a faulty flood gauge and improper human monitoring of the rapidly rising Onion Creek. Because of the city’s seemingly laissez-faire attitude toward the residents of the floodplain, many remained asleep as water began to pour into their homes:

Onion Creek was transformed into a raging river last Thursday. The Halloween flood set a new record for high water levels in the creek. More than 1,000 homes were damaged and five people died.

At a town hall meeting in the Dove Springs area Tuesday night homeowners had a lot of questions, and one comment caused concern.

‘We relied too much, me, on technology and gauges that were not working properly,’ said Police Chief Art Acevedo.

Flood survivor Norma Jeanne Maloney took to Facebook to tell how she and her partner Dawna Fisher were awakened by rising waters:

Dawna Fisher woke me up to tell me we had a problem. Half asleep I said ‘Say again, what kind of problem?’ ‘We have some water outside and it looks pretty high.’ I went to our front window to see a raging body of water about 3 feet high. I said ‘We need to wake up the kids we are in serious trouble.’ I woke up Ruby and she woke up Texie. I went back into our bedroom where the water had already begun to seep up into our floors, I heard my cat Pickup howling, yes cats howl, under the bed. I managed to grab him and while he clawed me to pieces ( and he has never ever hurt anyone ) I said to him, go right ahead pal, I’m not letting you go. Texie and I shoved him in a bag and zipped it up. …

We all had gathered in the living room wondering if anyone on earth knew what was happening and how we were going to get out. We saw someone trying to escape in their car, it flipped on its side and was washed away. I heard voices and saw a boat in the street and my immediate response was to open the front door to swim to the boat to get help for my family. Do not try this at home, it lets more water in. We began flicking our porch light on and off and were seen. A beautiful tall firefighter walked through the raging water and made it to our window and asked how many lives we had in our home including pets …

He said he would be back. We waited and watched the water continue to rise, our belongings beginning to float about the house. My daughter Ruby asked me if we were going to die. That was the hardest part. Of course not I said, wondering if I just lied to my child and if we were all going to perish. I said guys, I know this isn’t really your thing, but can we pray? Without hesitation we all grabbed hands in a circle and asked that we be spared, at this point the water was past our waists. … The firefighter came back, we heard our neighbors screaming and we said go back for them, they are elderly and need your help. Our neighbors (we know now) were screaming go get them, they have babies! On his last trip to our window they finally managed to get the boat near our living room window against the current and said they were ready to load us. These brave men loaded our family and our animals in the tiny craft and we were transported less than a half mile north up our street where it was completely dry.

As is so often the case in these disasters, city organizations and big nonprofits poured into the neighborhood to offer assistance and ask for cash donations in the immediate aftermath, but it didn’t last. The Red Cross turned up to serve thousands of hot dogs before halting meals a week after the floods. A city-operated shelter opened for a mere 2 weeks. And while the Austin city government offered buyouts to over a hundred of the worst damaged homes, residents are expected to wait months to receive that money:

Travis County District Attorney Released From Jail This Morning

6:31 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Portrait of Rosemary Lehmberg

Rosemary Lehmberg was released from jail this morning.

Travis County is home to Austin, Texas and well over a million residents. The county’s district attorney, Rosemary Lehmberg was released from jail about 1am this morning after serving half of a 45-day sentence for driving under the influence of alcohol.

From the Austin American Statesman: 

Lehmberg, who was sentenced April 19, served half of her jail term under a law that gives two days credit for every day served for good behavior. Travis county jail records no longer showed Lehmberg booked by 3 a.m. Thursday.

Predictably, in this Republican-led state there have been calls for her resignation from the right, even satirical bumper stickers that lampoon her behavior on the night of her arrest. Looking deeper, the situation is far more complex.

First, while the office of Travis County District Attorney is elected, if Lehmberg resigns than Republican Governor Rick Perry will appoint her interim replacement. But more so, many reports suggest that Lehmberg is suffering from an illness — alcoholism — which may benefit from treatment rather than further punishment.

Sources write that Lehmberg had a known drinking problem, and a Point Austin editorial in the Austin Chronicle argued for compassion and treatment over judgment:

Ours is a culture (including a cop culture) rampant with binge drinking – and it too often has deadly consequences – but if everyone who received a first-offense DWI also lost his job, the drinking wouldn’t stop, and the unemployment rolls would be staggering as well.

[O]ne can only wonder what might have happened to Bob Bullock or Ann Richards (or a host of other officials) had the Internet been available to chronicle and repost their every bibulous indiscretion. Anonymous trolls would be demanding their immediate ejections from office, and editorial writers (hardly squeaky clean themselves) would be anonymously chiming in. Yet we have long known that alcoholism is a treatable disease, and that reflexively treating alcoholics as criminals only fills our prisons without addressing the underlying problems.

Though the kind of reckless behavior Lehmberg engaged in is never acceptable, KVUE suggests that grief exacerbated her behavior:

Sources confirmed Lehmberg was distraught the night before her arrest on April 12th after attending the funeral of a dear friend and employee.

Investigator Lorraine Kerlick died in a motorcycle accident April 7th. Friends say Lehmberg appeared extremely emotional and depressed at the funeral.

As of now, Lehmberg intends to complete her term as well as seek treatment:

Lehmberg, who was released before 3 a.m. Thursday, also thanked the Travis County jail staff for their ‘professionalism and dedication’ in a statement issued shortly after 5 a.m.

‘In the coming days, Rosemary will be making arrangements to seek professional treatment and better understand her behavior,’ the statement said. ‘She will also meet with members of her staff with whom she been communicating throughout the last 3 weeks.’

Jason Stanford, in a sharply worded Statesman opinion argues the situation is representative of overall corruption in the Texas legal system:

But just because she’s a drunken mess of political entitlement doesn’t mean Lehmberg doesn’t have a role to play when she gets out of jail. The Travis County district attorney heads the Public Integrity Unit, which by law has jurisdiction over corruption in state government. Unless the Obama-appointed U.S. attorney decides to make a federal case out of something, the only one who can prosecute any of these Banana Republicans in elected state office is Lehmberg.

And if she resigns, Rick Perry gets to appoint her successor, explaining why local Democrats want her to stay on the job.

But should she? Making corruption charges stick is hard enough with one’s credibility intact. Ronnie Earle found this out when he tried to prosecute Kay Bailey Hutchison. It’s hard to imagine Lehmberg withstanding the political backlash that comes with trying to hold powerful public officials accountable. It says a lot about Texas ethics when the only check on political corruption is currently sitting in jail after pleading guilty to drunken driving.

Ken Anderson, District Attorney before Lehmberg and now a state district judge is facing charges of corruption. Ross Ramsey of The Texas Tribune argues that state officials are no longer untouchable:

Texas DA’s used to be indestructible. The political potshots at long-serving former prosecutors like Dallas County’s Henry Wade, Harris County’s Johnny B. Holmes Jr. and Travis County’s Ronnie Earle were part of their jobs. But each left on his own.

Times have changed. In the 1980s, crime was the major issue in many local and state elections. In the early 1990s, the people who won those elections went on an epic prison- and jail-building spree.

Voters are worried about other things now. Wrongful convictions and prosecutions have shaken public faith in the criminal justice system.

And, it turns out, in the people at the top.

Update: The Austin-area coordinator of the Texas Department of Public Safety resigned today after a DUI arrest.