Nazis and KKK Protest in Atlanta, ‘Free Speech’ Protected by Local Police

Nazis and KKK Protest in Atlanta, 'Free Speech' Protected by Local Police

May 20, 2013

Racist members of the National Socialist Movement, based in Detroit, and the KKK, which has four known offices in Georgia alone, demonstrated in front of the Georgia Capitol this afternoon against immigrant rights, in addition to their standard message of hate and division.

Maybe our parents and grandparents expected this sort of thing, but 50 years after the civil rights movement, we’re still dealing with people set on spreading hatred and division in our society. And make no mistake, their once dormant, nearly dead, movement is rapidly growing everywhere. And that is a threat to anyone who wants peace, freedom, and justice for all Americans, and all people.

While the Nazi/KKK rally could muster only about 25-30 people willing to show their faces in public, a broad and diverse coalition many times that number formed up in the last week and met them with several hours of fierce chanting, drumbeating, yelling, and singing.

The group was met with anti-racist protesters as soon as they began making their way up Martin Luther King Jr Drive (the irony is not lost), toward the capitol, behind a swarm of Capitol Police, Georgia State Patrol Officers, and Atlanta Police. They would hide behind a wall of police protection, many of their protectors black and brown, until the very end.

Even more disturbing than the sight of fully-dressed Nazi’s and Klansmen (and women) in the cradle of the civil rights movement, was the treatment at the hands of local police of the counter-protesters. While anti-racist protesters were allowed to hurl insults and taunts at the racist group, many including harsh language and profanity, one LGBTQ woman was targeted for a sign that read “F*** Off Nazi Scum.” The woman was asked one time to put her sign away, although it was hard to hear anything in the crowd, and without another word, not even a chance to clarify what the officer was saying, a Capitol Police officer forcibly pushed his way into the crowd to grab the sign. The woman stepped back in reaction, at which point the officer reached into the woman’s tank top, grabbed the area between her breasts, violently pulled her into the street and slammed her into the back of a police car, slamming her into it. Immediately after, the woman — despite not fighting back and weighing a mere 110 pounds, if that — was pounced on by officers from multiple departments and hauled away. All the while, police yelled threats at the crowd such as “make my day” to anyone who would dare question their treatment of a friend and ally.

It’s been a while, if I can remember at all, since I witnessed such blatant violence in person, let alone 2 feet in front of me. Sadly, violence like this is rarely seen at the hands of racists or street thugs, or those from whom you might expect it, but at the hands of the police. The state. Paid for by my tax dollars and yours.

Sadly, as I watched the scene unfold, my worst fears about the police, the state, and the awesome power they weild over us, and their harsh, cold willingness to use it, were confirmed beyond any doubt. I wondered what the Nazi’s and KKK must think as all this happened. The cops are there to protect THEIR free speech. But who are the cops facing? Who are the cops taunting and harassing? Who are the cops threatening to arrest for any slight infraction? It was NOT the racists. They had free reign to do as they please, in our home, our city, our streets.

The police made their intentions well known in infamous scenes from the civil rights movement. Most of them happened before I was even born, yet they stick out clearly in my mind. Perhaps the scene today will stir up some sort of reaction from the general public. Probably not though. We’re too busy with our own lives to worry about what’s happening to someone else.

Which is a perfect recipe for disaster — and exactly what the Nazi’s, the KKK, and countless other hate groups thrive on. They want us to be complacent. They want us to think racism is a thing of the past. They don’t want to see us talking to our neighbors, befriending one another, and learning to get along as brothers and sisters sharing once country, one planet. They thrive on division. And, at least in this case, Atlanta-area police are their willing accomplices, regardless of their color.

This was confirmed, once again, as a line of police from many different ethnic backgrounds provided an armed escort line (complete with yellow police tape) to allow the racists to escape to their cars and travel safely back to their hotel for the evening.

What a strange sight it was to see the very people they would attack and very likely (re)enslave if given the chance, protect them from the very people who made it possible for them to stand there in those uniforms, as one, black, white, brown, man, woman, straight, gay, whatever, in the first place. What a strange sight indeed.

My mind still doesn’t know what to make of all this. Was is a win for anti-racists? It sure doesn’t feel like it. We met them on our home turf, stood strong, people from all cultures and backgrounds. We ran them off, making them look like the cowards they always turn out to be. But something still feels very, very wrong. There must be something better than this. Is this the best America can do in 2013?

How can the Nazi’s and the KKK have their free speech protected at all cost (and believe me, the overtime cost to pay for all the police is coming out of YOUR pocket), yet an LGBTQ woman peacefully holding a sign can be savegely attacked by the police — in 2013?

The civil rights movement is far from over. In fact, the hate movement is stronger than it’s been in quite some time. Until we run the last Nazi, the last Klansmen, and the last enforcer of racist state violence from our streets, the civil rights movement may not look the same, but it will definitely be here, and it will remain strong, in our hearts, in our minds, and when necessary, in our streets.

As Workers Fight for a Living Wage, Right Wing Fights for the Wealthy

By now it should come as no surprise that conservatives in America constantly side with big business against the poor and working class. It’s been that way for as long as I can remember. What is surprising, however, is how open they are in their contempt for the less fortunate and their absolute adoration for corporate executives and investment bankers, America’s modern day robber barons.

A perfect example of this is the recent “Fight for 15” and “Fast Food Forward” campaigns that seek a living wage for fast food and retail workers. While so-called progressives have remained largely silent about these campaigns and a push for an increased minimum wage, conservatives have jumped on it with a zeal generally reserved for women’s reproductive organs or denying people affordable healthcare. While listening in on a news/talk station on my way to some appointments earlier this week, I was treated to a double-dose of right-wing vitriol against the working class from retired long-time radio bigot Neal Boortz and Herman Cain, the disgraced presidential hopeful famous for his Sim City-esque “9-9-9” tax proposal and now morning radio host.

Boortz focused on a study that showed if McDonalds doubled pay for all its employees (not just those on the front line, but everyone up to the CEO), it would require a mere 17% increase at the register, costing just pennies more for a trip to the fast food giant. He took issue with this, of course, claiming that an increase for McDonalds would resonate through the economy, resulting in inflation and costing everyone more. This is a common argument against the chi-fight-for-15-20130424minimum wage that has yet to bear fruit. He also claimed the whole campaign is simply an elaborate ploy by unions to unionize more workers (gasp!) and make more money for the “evil” labor unions. Apparently it’s greedy for low-wage workers to join unions to protect their interests and bargain for living wages. At the same time, it’s completely reasonable for the corporations that employ these workers, who actually perform the productive labor, to pay them the bare minimum, hire accountants trained to find loopholes to avoid paying taxes, and pay executives several hundred times what the lowest-paid employees earn. No, there’s nothing greedy about that Mr. Boortz!

Mr. Cain, who made his fortune on the backs of low-paid workers who produced and sold his poor-quality pizzas at Godfathers, chimed in with his traditional brand of backward folk wisdom. Using his father as an example, Cain suggested that rather than “whine” about low wages, workers should simply get three minimum wage jobs to support themselves. They should keep those until they can afford to live on just two, then keep those until they can afford to live on only one (which will probably be never). He said all this, I presume, with a straight face, as though any of it somehow made sense. Never mind that we live in an economy where finding one job is nearly impossible. Workers need to find three of them to support themselves. Apparently Mr Cain works on the assumption that the poor and working classes don’t require sleep or leisure time, not to mention school and family responsibilities, like him and his wealthy buddies.

Normally I would brush such comments off as more hot air from right-wing blowhards, but that’s hard to do these days. It’s hard to do because such talk seems to be coming from every direction and it appears to be the dominant attitude among everyone except those struggling to support themselves and their families on these low wages.

A recent study showed that 80% of Americans live at or near the poverty line. The economy is picking up and slowly adding jobs, which sounds great. Unfortunately, most of those jobs pay well below a living wage, and many of those that have been created are part-time, which means companies providing these jobs are doing just fine, but the people creating their wealth are hurting more and more.

Wal-mart is now well known for not only it’s ridiculously wealthy owners, the Walton family, but for paying its workers near minimum wage and directing them to government programs to help pay for food, healthcare, and other assistance that working people shouldn’t need in the first place. This problem is not limited to Wal-mart, but the voices of the capitalist establishment are quick to defend these companies and lash out at the greedy parasites who depend on these programs to survive. McDonalds has taken a page from Herman Cain’s play book and suggested workers get a second job to help them pay their bills.

We can’t even count on companies to pay minimum wage unless they are forced to. Goodwill Industries, which presents itself as a reputable charity, reportedly pays disabled workers as little as $0.22/hour. And there’s not much mainstream outrage about this because it’s all perfectly legal. Apparently these disabled workers should be thankful just to have a job. Prisoners at state and federal correctional facilities have it even worse. Many are forced to work for pennies an hour at back-breaking jobs that benefit the state and, occasionally, end up making a profit for private corporations. They don’t receive much sympathy because, after all, it’s they’re fault they’re locked up, right?

When it comes to raising the minimum wage, the Democrats traditionally score points for fighting on the side of low-wage workers. However, since the last minimum wage increase, to a measly $7.25/hour ($2.13/hour for tipped employees), the Democrats have remained largely silent. Barack Obama’s most recent proposal pushes for a $9/hour minimum wage. Not much of an increase. The most talked-about proposal from Democrats, the Harkin/Miller bill, only advocates an increase to $10.10/hour. Still nowhere near a living wage, but at least it ties future increases to inflation, which all but guarantees the bill will be dead on arrival in a Republican congress.

Some economists, not known for being the most progressive bunch, recommend a minimum-wage of $10.50/hour, higher than anything that’s been seriously proposed by the politicians. They offer that such an increase would, at most, increase fast-food costs by 2.7%. That would hardly break McDonald’s and Burger King’s bank accounts.

We can’t rely on the government to represent worker’s interests. Ever since the government bailed out the capitalist system in the wake of the Great Depression, American businessmen have been able to rely on the state to come to their aid, but the workers usually get table scraps, if anything. It’s reached the point where businesses can expect to provide the bare minimum for their workers and depend on the government to help give them that little push to protect them from homelessness or starvation.

Whenever companies are required by law to provide better wages or, as we’ve seen with companies cutting full-time workers to part-time hours to escape the Affordable Care Act, benefits for their workers, they cut something somewhere else and count on the government to pick up the slack. That’s why companies like Wal-mart direct their workers to government programs rather than provide decent pay or benefits themselves. And when the businesses bandrreach a point of failing, they can count on the state to come to their aid and bail them out. Even in the face of extreme corruption and mismanagement, corporate American can count on the government to clean up there mess, as we saw with the 2007 Great Recession and Corporate Bailout.

While some politicians and representatives of the state talk a good talk and likely even mean well, workers will never see a meaningful change in our favor as long as the present system, which rewards corruption and greed, persists. That system rewards those who already control all the power and wealth. They have no interest in turning any of that over to us. We can’t depend on the state to improve conditions for us, and we certainly can’t rely on employers to do it.

The only way we’ll ever see a meaningful difference in working conditions and earn a true living wage, real healthcare benefits, safe workplaces, and secure employment and retirement, is through our own effort and our own organization. There’s a long history of labor struggles, from the fight for an 8-hour day, to the fight to eliminate child labor, to the fight for legal union representation, that demonstrates the bosses will only give us what we demand. The government may give us the bare minimum (usually only when we demand that, too), but the bare minimum has proven to be not near enough, especially when more and more people find themselves trying to get by on it.

Until American workers realize we all share the same interests and we are all fighting against a common adversary, we’ll never make any real progress. Until we join together and reassure each other that we have our fellow worker’s backs, regardless what they throw our way, we’ll never make any real gains. If we don’t stand together and fight for what we have built, for what we have produced, and for what we have earned, we will continue to see our fortunes fade, we will continue to live on the edge of poverty, and we will continue to see our corporate masters get fatter and wealthier off our efforts.

In short, until all of us, regardless of industry or the color of our collars, get out in the streets of New York, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Atlanta, Seattle, and every American city, and start fighting alongside those fast food workers who are already there demanding a living wage, we’re doomed to a life of wage slavery and toiling to make someone else rich while we continue to fall farther and farther behind. The “Fight for 15” isn’t just a fight for fast food workers, it’s a fight for us all.

Orange is the New Black is Not the New Oz — It’s the Real Thing

If my Facebook feed is any indication, Orange is the New Black is this summer’s most intriguing and talked-about new show. And as you might expect for a popular new show that broaches complex and controversial topics like life inside a women’s prison, its earned its share of critics. Despite that, having some prison experience under my belt, I can comfortably say that Orange gives us, by far, the most accurate, compassionate, and insightful on-screen peek of life behind bars to date. And given the state, and ever-broadening reach, of the modern Prison-Industrial Complex, it’s right on time.

Orange is the New Black is a pseudo-fictional Netflix series based on a memoir of the same name. It follows Piper Chapman (real-life: Piper Kerman), a well-educated, thirty-something white woman from upper-middle class New England, on her 15-month journey through a Litchfield Federal Correctional Institution, a minimum security federal prison. It’s a fish-out-of-water story, and we get to tag along as Piper struggles to find her way in a place foreign to her, and to most of us for that matter. Her experience may not be representative of the general prison population – an overwhelming majority of Americans serving time are people of color, from underprivileged backgrounds, or both – but her story provides a timely, and much-needed, commentary on life in a modern American prison.

I spent two years in the Georgia Department of Corrections (as well as stays in a various city and county jails), so I can relate to much of what Piper has to endure. While the book paints a slightly more realistic picture of prison life, the show manages to capture the essence and feel of prison, but more importantly, it shows us that these women, hardened criminals and repeat offenders, are more like you and me than most of us would care to admit. These are real women, with real lives on the outside, with real families, hope, dreams, futures, and they face and endless series of struggles, frustrations, disappointments, and isolation without giving up and, sometimes, they even manage to have a little fun.

The prison industry thrives on robbing people of their identities and convincing the public they’re monsters who deserve to live in cages for years, decades, even the rest of their lives. The United States alone incarcerates around 2.5 million people, with 1 in 15 Americans under some form of correctional supervision. The system depends on these human being viewed as abstract, less than human, and never seen unless to frighten us. Orange is the New Black peels below the surface to show us women who, far from being monsters, could be our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, our neighbors, our friends. This is not Oz. This is what prison is really like.

White Privilege Doesn’t End Behind Bars

Some critics of Orange is the New Black (both the book and the film) find it easy to bash Piper because she doesn’t “look like” the typical prisoner. Yes, Piper enters prison an uptight, upper-middle class white woman with a fancy degree from a posh college. She managed to. It’s absolutely true, to use one critics example, that a woman of color likely couldn’t turn such an experience into a best-selling book and a popular television series. However, there aren’t many white middle-class women who could have, either. The book and the series are based on Piper’s experience in prison, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone’s experience in prison is unique, and it’s never easy. Despite where she comes from, Piper’s shares stories about women from a wide range of cultures and backgrounds, not just her own. I think that’s why her story has been successful and found such a receptive audience.

That being said, Piper seems well aware that her white skin put her at an advantage. Prison serves as a twisted, madly exaggerated microcosm of real-world social relations. Race and class play strongly into an individual’s prison experience. In the very first episode, the fact that Piper was given the opportunity to self-surrender (and in the book she spent six, yes six, years on the outside after being sentenced), while the less fortunate stay in jail from the time they’re first arrested, is a shining example of this difference, and just the first of many.

While I come from a lower rung of the socioeconomic ladder, my own experience in prison speaks to the existence of white privilege in correctional institutions. I was assigned comfortable inside jobs in the law library or assisting the Orange_is_the_New_Black_57078counselors and administration, while my less fortunate fellow inmates, many of color or without the benefit of a high school education, were stuck outside swinging a bush-axe or wading hip-deep in raw sewage and swamp water in the south Georgia heat. None of us were paid for our work, which benefited the state handsomely, but there was no doubt a social order to who was assigned certain jobs.

While prison wasn’t easy for me, I was more fortunate than some fellow inmates. While the series glosses over some of these issues, it was impossible not to notice that when I headed to visitation, to the prison commissary, or heard my name during mail call, some of my neighbors sat silently, despondent, vainly hoping to hear their names, a reminder that someone outside remembered.

As Kerman mentions in the book, many inmates with shorter sentences, or whose sentences were winding down, often saw their fortunes dramatically improve. Somehow, the people who had mysteriously forgotten where their loved ones had disappeared to remembered now that they were about to return home. Funny how that happens, we all though. And it happened a lot, and it never went unnoticed.

In Piper’s case, one of the counselors shows a definite preference for her, noting that they’re both “northerners” (a euphemism for “white” I presume). In fact, he appoints her to a prisoners’ advisory council, much to the chagrin of the other inmates, who fought to be elected and for which she did not campaign.

In the council’s first meeting, while the other inmates express concern for quality-of-life issues like more comfortable pillows, a better selection of commissary items, or access to a wider selection of books in the library – issues that very much concern real-life inmates – Piper raises more substantive issues such as re-establishing a GED program, re-opening the outside running track to improve the mental and physical health of the inmates, or legal counseling for inmates.

One critic framed this as the show presuming that “only white women have the wherewithal to understand and contest prison conditions.” I don’t see it that way. These are all issues that I’ve heard fellow inmates discuss and complain about repeatedly. I’m certain they’ve crossed the minds of Piper’s more experienced fellow inmates as well. However, Piper comes into all this from a privileged background. She is no doubt accustomed to feeling empowered and having her opinion taken seriously. To be blunt, it seems Piper is the only inmate on the council, and maybe in the whole prison, naïve enough to believe that the staff gives a damn what the inmates want.

This proves to be exactly the case, as the advisory council is soon revealed as nothing more than a not-so-elaborate ruse. Such schemes, which convey the appearance that the administration cares what the inmates think are common in correctional institutions. They work surprisingly well, at least in keeping prisoner self-organizing to a minimum, especially considering that most of us understood they’re nothing more than a pacifier, more for the benefit of the people monitoring conditions on the outside than anything else.

We’re Not So Different After All

Living face-to-face with women from starkly different backgrounds, Piper quickly (perhaps too quickly to be believable) realizes that she’s no so different from them after all. The show misses a great opportunity to show Piper make some personal growth here. When she tells her mother, who is appalled that her daughter is forced to live among such hardened criminals that she is, in fact, “just like them” it seems not at all genuine. Still, it soon becomes obvious to the viewer, that these women aren’t monsters or violent psychopaths. And while Piper seems under the impression that most of the women are there, like her, because they made “bad choices,” the show suggests otherwise.

It’s rarely just a matter of “bad choices” that land men and women in prison. People or color or those of us born into poor and impoverished communities are rarely presented with “good choices” to begin with. Many of the women at Litchfield aren’t incarcerated for bad choices, but because of bad circumstances. And once we find our way into the corrections system, even after we’re free from prison or parole and probation, we find ourselves in the grips of a revolving door from which few of us ever manage to escape.

Piper’s bunkmate Miss Claudette was brought to America from Haiti as a child, hoping for a life of opportunity, only to find herself trapped in a human trafficking operation where she’s expected to pay for her freedom by working for her new caregivers. She later ends up running that same operation, which eventually lands her at Litchfield.

Another young woman finds her dreams of a successful track and field career and a full scholarship to any school she wants derailed, not simply because of a bad choice, but because she felt compelled to take certain risks to be accepted by her peers (or, as it turns out a guy, which comes across as grossly sexist, but nonetheless authentic).

suzanneMost characteristic of these unforgiving circumstances and the revolving-door back into prison is Taystee, the young woman who works in the prison library. Just weeks after her release, she finds herself back at Litchfield, not because of bad choices, but because she had no real choices to begin with. Not only is she sent out of prison with no job training or skills, and no preparation for life in a hostile environment, she has no place to live and no way to support herself. Add to that an unsympathetic probation/parole officer with unreasonable expectations, the impossibility or finding work with few skills and the added stigma or a criminal record, insurmountable fines and fees that the state deems more important than rent and food (yes, I’ve had them tell me they need to be paid first more than once), and loss or abandonment of friends and family, and our society has created the ideal formula for a cycle of perpetual recidivism.

Meth-mouth, Jailhouse Religion, and Lesbians

Orange is the New Black tries to reach beyond the stock characterizations of most social and racial stereotypes. I’m sure that’s not always easy to do on television. Still, as the show falls into the trap of tired clichés and television tropes in its handling of poor rural white women, it becomes almost unbearable..

Enter Pennsatucky, the leader of Litchfield’s “white trash” clique, all of whom suffer a tragic, and very visible, case of meth-mouth. Piper soon finds herself at odds with Pennsatucky, whose most believable trait is that horrendous nickname. Pennsatucky is deeply religious, which is not rare in jail or prison. Sadly, her “followers” are portrayed as mindless, unthinking zombies whose “religion” is a cartoonish brand of extreme, borderline psychotic, fundamentalist Christianity that would make Pat Robertson blush.

Religion plays an important role in the lives of many incarcerated persons, but it’s almost always a serious matter. Some folks find what we called “jailhouse religion,” forgotten as soon as they stepped back into the free world. Rarely, however, is it as one-dimensional as what we see with Pennsatucky. It borders on offensive when Pennsatucky suggests baptizing a reluctant Piper in a filthy dish sink in the prison kitchen.

I’m not sure the line of reasoning here, but it’s disappointing that the show goes to such lengths to develop interesting and complex characters elsewhere, but presents poor white women as uneducated fundamentalist religious zealots. One can’t help but feel that poor women from Appalachia or religious people are the butt of a joke for the entire second half of the series. Piper’s pompous and incredibly shallow retort “I don’t believe in religion, I believe in science,” failing to accept that the two could ever co-exist, only makes matters worse.

The show earns back a few points for the depth of its only other outwardly (thought not nearly as outspoken) religious character, a Roman Catholic nun serving time for breaking into a military base to protest US war and foreign policy, something that happens more than most people realize. Not only does “the Sister” (based on a real character in the book) drink hooch with the other women and smuggle contraband (sneaking food out of the kitchen qualifies), but her character shares some deep and meaningful moments with the the prison’s only trans-woman, conversations that likely wouldn’t be possible with anyone else.

Orange has already earned high marks for its handling of LGBT issues, and I can’t find much to pick at. This is a women’s prison, so there’s bound to be lesbianism. And it’s also television, so they’re going to squeeze that for everything they can. Unfortunately, at time it feels like every inmates at Litchfield is in, or freshly out of, some sort of lesbian relationship. Yes, it happens, but it doesn’t happen that much.

Litchfield’s sole transgender resident, Sophia, breaks from Hollywood’s traditional treatment of trans-issues, going beyond cosmetic issues, digging into the deeper issues of being a woman living in a man’s body – and the frightening ramifications being forced to go back. We also see what it means for a married man to become outwardly transgender after having a child and how that affects a family, including Sophia’s wife and son. It forces us to deal with the struggles transgender people face everyday, struggles that most “straight” people probably never consider. This is by far one of the show’s shining moments.

In an extraordinary bizarre plot twist, made believable only by the fact that it actually happened, Piper ends up in the same facility as her former lesbian lover and partner in the drug trade, Alex. And while she is now engaged to a man, Piper makes it perfectly clear, much to the discomfort of her family, that this lesbian relationship was not simply a “phase,” but it part of who she is. The show, and Piper herself, go to great lengths to provide an unconventionally complex view of the fluidity of sexual orientation. When Piper’s friend suggests she may be seduced into “turning gay” again while in prison, she fires back with an almost academic speech about Kinsey scales and sexual spectrums that might help open a few closed minds.

The book also shows a solid understanding of the intricacies of lesbianism and several inmates repeatedly stress the difference between “real lesbians” and women who are “gay for the stay,” painting a striking parallel to sexual relations in male institutions (which are commonly sterotyped, but rarely discussed with any sort of serious thought).

CO’s Have Unions, but Who Does the Work Around Here?

The corrections officers (CO’s) and administrative staff at Litchfield are frighteningly realistic. So much so, many of them could be easily switched out with real-world staff I encountered in the Georgia Department of Corrections. There’s illicit prison sex, some of it voluntary, some coerced in exchange for drugs or other contraband, and some forced. This all happens in the real world and it’s all rape, since prisoners in custody aren’t legally able to give consent. Of course, just like in the show, the administration shies away from calling it rape and it’s almost never reported.

Just as disturbing, especially for someone forced to silently endured it for years, is the psychological, emotional, and physical abuse and the arbitrary enforcement of rules that may, or may not, actually be on the books (we never knew since inmates are rarely briefed on rules and almost never on their rights). Many CO’s seem to take a sadistic pleasure in wielding absolute power over inmates. Abuse almost never goes reported, and even when it does, it’s the inmates word against an agent of the state. I’m sure you can guess the outcome of that. Often when inmates are brutally beaten by staff, sometimes in retaliation for organizing a strike or complaining to the wrong person, they are placed in isolation (“the hole”) until they heal, as insurance that the general public won’t see them in that condition. CO’s don’t hesitate threatening to “hide” problem inmates.

Few staff members at Litchfield come away unblemished. While there are a few kind souls who find their way into jobs at corrections facilities, they rarely last, or quickly fall in line with their corrupt and power-stricken cohorts. Orange shows characters in varying stages of this transformation, the ultimate being a deputy warden who embezzles money and the superintendent who will bend or break any rule, using inmates as his personal pawns, in a power grab for her job. It quickly becomes clear who the true criminals are in this scenario, and just like the real world, it’s not always the folks serving sentences imposed by a judge.

Power relationships in prison are about dehumanizing the inmates and keeping them in a state of fear, or at least confusion. This process is nicely summed up in a scene where the superintendent instructs a junior officer on how to address the inmates: “Call them inmate!” he says. “It reminds them they’re not really people…They’re not like you, you’re a woman.” That line may have been written for television, but I guarantee that it, or something very much like it, is been spoken behind the walls of almost every jail and prison in this country.

This is further explored in the way staff treats the death of Trish, an inmate addicted to opiates, who dies from an overdose after taking all the drugs Officer Mendez coaxes her into selling. Not only does the staff willfully fail to look into the clumsily staged “suicide” Mendez sets up after finding her body, but he makes a joke about it later without stopping to think it might be considered inappropriate in “the real world.” Such lack of concern or respect is commonplace because, as 11ORANGEBLACK-articleLargethe show suggests, real world corrections officers don’t see inmates as human. They can’t if they expect to spend any amount of time in that job.

It’s hard to tell the Orange’s take on labor issues, but it’s clear that the CO’s and staff aren’t respected as workers, despite having union representation. Which I always found amusing when confronted with CO’s in real-life, because all the work that gets done in prison is done by the inmates. Orange makes this clear in the very first episode, when one of the characters says “if we don’t do it, it won’t get done.” This made me crack a smile, because there’s so much truth to it. Prisoners do the cooking, serve the food, clean everything, do the laundry, wash the dishes, fix anything that’s broken, cut grass and landscape, even fill out paperwork and teach classes. And at Litchfield, they even drive the CO’s and other inmates around the facility (something I didn’t believe actually happened until I read it in the book).

The show makes it clear that inmates are paid poorly for their work and Piper, assigned to electrical maintenance, seems to get shocked every time she’s near a wire, reflecting the poor safety conditions. The book goes into even more detail, complaining about Unicor, a government-owned company that makes a tidy profit selling products manufactured by prisoners. Unfortunately there’s not much said about what prisoners can do to resist these conditions, although one administrator does comment that the advisory council mentioned earlier is basically a prisoners union. Let’s hope that topic is explored in future episodes, especially considering the increase in self-organization of hunger strikes and work stoppages in prison systems across the country recently.

What Happens Next is Up To Us

When Piper’s finance Larry goes on the radio and reveals information about Piper’s fellow inmates that she insists hurt them, he doesn’t miss a beat responding that, “they’re just criminals.” Sadly, that’s not fiction. It reflects the attitudes of many Americans toward presently and formerly incarcerated persons, with no regard for their stories, what they’ve had to endure, where they’re from, or the fact that they’re only human. It’s easy to forget that we all make mistakes, especially when we have institutions filled with people who made much “worse” mistakes. But as those institutions fill up with more and more people, we find ourselves forced to make a choice.

Who decides which mistakes are worthy of being put in a cage, ripped from our families, robbed of our lives, and stamped forever with the stigma of a convict? I don’t think it’s up to me to make that choice. I don’t think it should be up to anyone. Hopefully shows like Orange is the New Black, that show human beings, not monsters or depraved maniacs, on the inside of those walls, will help people realize that maybe those choices aren’t up to them either.

But more than that, it’s going to take some deep soul-searching as a society, to decide if we’re ready to deal with the consequences of criminalizing huge portions of our neighbors. We’re not going to shut down all the prisons and free all the inmates, even if that were the right thing to do. But there is something we can do. We can write to people to let them know they’re not forgotten. We can visit them. We can fight to make sure that, as long as they’re stuck there, at least they don’t have to be tortured. That they’re treated like we would want to be treated. Like we’d want our children to be treated. Let’s start there, and see where it takes us, because what we’ve got right now, it’s not working. And it’s only going to get worse until we step up and say, “Enough!”

Jeremy Galloway is a writer and activist. He spent two years in prison much like the one Piper was sent to for a non-violent charge. The United States has the highest population of incarcerated people, total and per capita, in the world. The US prison population, counting federal, state, and county jail inmates, currently stands at well over 2 million. That number has ballooned since the war on drugs began and it shows no sign of slowing down. Far from being a deterrent, incarceration creates an endless cycle of repeat offenders and destroys inner-city and poor rural communities, ensuring that future generations will continue the trend. Prison is not only a terrifying and sometimes dangerous, it is ridiculously boring, isolating, and frequently leads to depression and lasting mental illness. There’s a list of places you can get involved to make a difference below, but most importantly, you can help by making sure that the men and women behind bars know they’re not forgotten and that people on the outside care about what happens to them. Contact Jeremy at jeremy.k.galloway@riseup.net

Georgia Justice Project – http://www.gjp.org 
WriteAPrisoner – http://www.writeaprisoner.com 
Prison Book Program – http://www.prisonbookprogram.org 
Books Through Bars – http://www.booksthroughbars.org 
Legal Services for Prisoners with Children – http://www.prisonerswithchildren.org 
Prison Policy Initiative – http://prisonpolicy.org 
Real Cost of Prisons Project – http://www.realcostofprisons.org 
Restorative Justice Online – http://www.restorativejustice.org 
Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity – http://www.facebook.com/PrisonerHungerStrikeSolidarity
Campaign to End Prisons for Profit – http://www.facebook.com/CampaignToEndPrisonsForProfit
Anarchist Black Cross Federation – http://www.abcf.net/

Broad Coalition of Activists Save Free Speech and Workers’ Rights in Georgia

The scene beneath the gold dome of the Georgia Capitol building last night was tense, anxious, rowdy at times, and tinged with fear and danger. From the hallways to the galleries of the House and Senate chambers, the building was packed with a rag-tag crew of lobbyists, legislators, activists, and lots and lots of police and state troopers (well over 40 on the House side alone), all awaiting the outcome of the final day of the 2012 legislative session.

For many progressive Georgians, it was a tired old repeat of the usual losses for women’s rights, the poor and unemployed, workers, and so on. Still, when the clock struck midnight, the south wing of the capitol erupted in cheers and a huge collective sigh of relief. SB469, one of this year’s most controversial pieces of legislation, a bill that would severely limit the rights of Georgians to protest and picket, a bill that would make it even more difficult for struggling Georgia labor unions to collect dues, and a bill that would have criminalized the act of merely planning peaceful civil disobedience, quietly died without ever receiving a vote on the House floor.

That moment marked the culmination of a long, tedious, emotionally trying, and often distressing battle by a broad coalition to defend free speech and workers’ rights in our state. While labor unions were the obvious target of the bill, they were

Christine Frazer speaks at Thursday morning's rally

joined by Occupy Atlanta, several church groups, and even the Tea Party, an odd and unlikely, but ultimately successful coalition.

At a rally Thursday morning, Debbie Dooley, leader of the Georgia Tea Party Patriots, declared that the Georgia State Capitol belongs to the people of Georgia, leading a chant that set the tone for the rest of the day: “We own the dome!” Charles Fleming, president of the Georgia AFL-CIO, several members of the clergy, and Christine Frazer, currently under threat of eviction from her home, which houses four generations of her family, were among the speakers at a rally of over 100 people of all ages, religions, and ethnicities. Rev. Joseph Lowery was slated to speak at the event, but was delayed by health issues. His presence and spirit could still be felt in the air, however. The scene was electrifying and the rally ended with several occupiers and union members of all ages, including your faithful narrator, singing union anthems (“Solidarity Forever!”) and protest songs.

Throughout the day, and into the night, union members, Occupy Atlanta members, and other opponents of SB469 maintained a noticeable presence in the capitol, especially in the House gallery. As the hours ticked by, our numbers increase, the tension heightened, and several coalition members threatened imminent civil disobedience.

Around 7pm, SB469 went back to the rules committee, yet again. There the bill was stripped of all provisions restricting protesting and picketing and language that would have made ‘conspiracy to commit criminal trespass’ an aggravated misdemeanor, or a criminal act at all, was completely removed, leaving a watered down bill with only the portion that would make collecting dues from their members a bigger hassle for certain labor unions. Many of the bill’s opponents saw this as some sort of last-minute trick or diversion, standing by in stunned disbelief that the committee would totally strip the bill of its teeth. Still, tensions remained high throughout the building and, with only hours left in the session, rumors as to what may happen with the bill and who was pissed about the latest changes (apparently the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the bill’s sponsor Sen. Don Balfour were fairly livid) were rampant.

As time drew on, bystanders kept a near-constant eye on the clocks. “55 minutes left.” “30 minutes left.” “8 minutes left.” When the clock struck midnight, House Speaker David Ralston allowed votes on more legislation, much to our distress. Many presumed this would simply go down as another chapter in Georgia’s forever ethically challenged lawmaking process – a ‘good old boy’ system for the 21st century. However, a few minutes past midnight, Mr. Ralston banged the 2012 legislative session to and end. Before his gavel even struck the desk, cheers erupted from all over. Many on our side could be heard saying, “Well that’s all the damage they can do to us this year!” And it’s true. They certainly did some damage, but at least SB469 is dead, so no matter what damage they did, or continue to do, at least we can still assemble to speak against it. For now.

The anti-SB469 coalition jumped up and down, hugged, cheered, patted each other on the back, smiled, laughed, let out a HUGE sigh of relief, and for the first time in days, breathed. The battle was over. And against all odds, we won. We actually won!!

As we left the building, a group of Occupiers gathered outside the Mitchell St. entrance, dancing, cheering, singing, and celebrating. This presented a stark contrast to the legislators and lobbyists filing, almost fleeing, from the building,

Attendees sing and chant union slogans after the rally

rushing to their cars to go home, crawl into their beds, and resume their boring, mundane lives tomorrow. Not us, however. We earned our right to celebrate. This was no small feat for us. This was a major victory for Occupy Atlanta, for the Unions, and for all freedom-loving Georgians. Maybe those people walking out of the building thought we were crazy. We probably are. But who’s really out of their minds? After all, freedom and liberty are something we should cherish and celebrate, not just something we insert into speeches to get people to vote for us, all the while sponsoring legislation to dismantle it at every turn.

Ultimately, while SB469 was quietly laid to rest, several anti-woman, anti-worker, and anti-poor bills did survive the final days of the legislative session and are en route to Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk, where he eagerly waits to sign them into law, no doubt. Among them:

  • SB954, the so-called “fetal pain” bill, anti-abortion legislation which severely restricts a woman’s right to have an abortion after 20-weeks, giving Georgia some of the most strict abortion regulations in the nation. Supporters claim it will ‘save’ about 1,000 fetuses each year, but opponents see it as yet another blow in the Republican war against women. In fact, the Senate and House Democratic women each led separate walkouts and chants of “Women will remember in November” after the subsequents votes. Rest assured ladies, it’s not only women who will remember.
  • New measures to require drug testing of applicants for TANF benefits. Applicants would likely have to pay for drug testing fees out of their own pockets, which is asking quite a lot of someone who already needs financial assistance. Similar legislation has been under attack in Florida and is considered to be unconstitutional. Furthermore, less than 2% of applicants tested in Florida tested positive for drug use, proving the measures to be extremely costly with little or no payoff, especially considering TANF is paid for by Federal Block Grants, not state funds.
  • HB347, which reduces unemployment benefits for workers facing an already harsh labor market. The law would drop unemployment benefits from the current 26 weeks to a sliding scale of 14 to 20 weeks. It also increases the tax for unemployment insurance. Unfortunately, the state legislators deemed it necessary to correct their own mismanagement of federal unemployment funds on the backs of those who can least afford it, poor and unemployed Georgians.

So, while SB469 was a resounding, and refreshing, win for Georgia progressives, protesters, and workers, our work is far from over. In fact, it’s just started. This is perhaps the first major legislative victory for Occupy Atlanta, and certainly the biggest for Georgia labor unions in quite some time. But this is just the beginning. We have kicked off the American Spring or, if you will, the Atlanta Spring, with a stunning come-from-behind victory. Let us not put down our guard yet. There is still work to be done, and let us not be fooled – we are no more free today than we were yesterday. If anything, we are less free. Certainly our wives, sisters, and daughters are.

We must keep fighting this battle until every man, women, and child is guaranteed the freedom, the justice, the peace, and the equality we all deserve. Let us not rest until we are all safe from these tyrants’ rule. We own the dome, and let us make sure that they never forget that!

 

Occupy Movement Find New Life in ‘American Spring’

The Occupy Wall Street movement, and the various related Occupations in other cities across the United States and even the world, burst onto the scene suddenly and with very little warning in the fall of last year. For many would-be organizers, and those hoping to achieve positive social and political changes through the Occupy movement, the rapid influx of people from all walks of life, all of them with different ideas, tactics, demands, and goals was almost, if not completely, overwhelming and uncontrollable. This, unfortunately, resulted in a seemingly endless wave of negative media attention.

Almost immediately, the movement met strong resistance from the cities and states who managed the property the Occupiers had claimed as their own, belonging to the 99%. Throughout October, November, and even into early December of last year, it seems the public was met with a near constant barrage of daily evictions of Occupy encampments, some of which many of us, even those actively involved in the movement, were unaware even existed (Occupy Anchorage?)! Amazingly, some occupations have lasted to this day, but the vast majority were evicted and scattered about, some reorganizing, others seemingly dormant or completely dissolved.

For many in the mainstream media and the public, these evictions seems to mark a permanent end of the Occupy movement. As far as the media was concerned, the death knell had been rung and, it was nice and exciting while it lasted, but Occupy was dead. Time to move on to the next story and create a stir there. In fact, many of the people with who I spoke, a good number of them progressives or radicals themselves, were utterly astonished when I mentioned that I’d been working on this or that project with Occupy Atlanta earlier this year.

Rumors of Occupy’s death, it would seem, have been greatly exaggerated. While most occupations throughout the country lost their semi-permanent encampments, the winter of 2011-2012 brought with it some much needed downtime for regrouping and organizing – organizing which was never really possible at the onset of the movement, seeing how it picked up steam so quickly, leaving little time for organizers to stop and consider not only what would come next, but what exactly they were doing and trying to accomplish at any given time.

So, in retrospect, it may well be that removing the Occupiers from their encampments in parks and plazas throughout the country was perhaps one of the worst tactics those trying to end the movement could have pursued. Rather than quell the Occupy movement, being forced to adapt to new conditions seems to have given it new life.

In fact, those evictions forced Occupy to seek out new strategies and tactics, many of which have proved much more effective and valuable to the cause of positive social change than simply camping out in a park and demanding financial, political, and social reforms. Those evictions provided the impetus for Occupy Wall Street and its sister movements across this country and the world, to pursue and force those financial, political, and social reforms themselves. And with the onset of what’s being called the American Spring (in response to last year’s Arab Spring) there are no signs of this movement stopping, or even slowing down, any time in the near future.

Here in Atlanta, where winter weather strangely never really set in this season, Occupy Atlanta started their American Spring offensive a bit early. Valentine’s Day marked a re-birth of sorts, and gave Occupy Atlanta a much-needed energy boost. On February 13th, twelve Occupiers and union members, paper hearts reading ‘Where is the love AT&T?” draped from their necks, staged a sit-in at the AT&T building in Midtown Atlanta to protest the layoff of 740 union jobs. Of course they were quickly arrested, and were almost as quickly released from custody after being charged with criminal trespass (the Atlanta Journal-Constitution perhaps went just a smidge overboard, calling the incident an ‘invasion’ of the AT&T building). This event, along with a rally on the steps of that same building, attended by 150-200 people the next day, marked the beginning of the ‘Occupy AT&T’ encampment, which, despite a heavy (taxpayer funded) police presence, is still going strong today. The AT&T occupation has even become the primary meeting place for Occupy Atlanta General Assemblies.

One of the most successful tactics used by Occupy Atlanta, which predates even the AT&T occupation, has been occupying foreclosed (or soon-to-be foreclosed) homes, forcing banks to re-negotiate terms with homeowners. This tactic was used successfully to save the home of Iraq War veteran Brigitte Walker, in December of 2011, bringing national attention to Occupy Atlanta.

This tactic was also used to save the Higher Ground Empowerment Center, a church in the impoverished west Atlanta neighborhood of Vine City. In fact, Higher Ground has become a semi-permanent staging area for Occupy Atlanta actions and the group has since become deeply involved in various activities and organizations in the Vine City community. Occupy Atlanta is actively staging home occupations in Atlanta and Decatur and continues to seek economic justice for homeowners who feel they have been victims of predatory lending by banks. Many of these same banks, by the way, were recipients of ‘bailout’ funds in the wake of the housing crisis and economic downturn in recent years. Unfortunately, these banks which benefited from our collective kindness seem completely unwilling to extend the same consideration to customers who have fallen on hard times themselves.

Occupy Atlanta has also recently found itself actively involved in political battles under the ‘Gold Dome’ of the Georgia Legislature, as well. The group has allied itself with several other groups to fight legislation it sees as targeting women, the financially disadvantaged, undocumented students and residents of Georgia, and especially legislation targeting protesters and labor unions. In particular, Occupy Atlanta has led a loud and relentless charge against SB469, a bill hand-crafted by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) which seems geared directly toward actions like the AT&T occupation.

On St. Patrick’s Day, Occupy Atlanta, along with over 40 other groups, including the Teamsters, Communication Workers of America, and several other unions, joined forces with about 2,000 protesters in a massive rally against SB469 and other controversial legislation on the steps of the state capitol. The following Monday, dozens of angry citizens, Occupiers, and union members (a much higher than normal turnout) showed up to a House committee hearing on SB469, with several groups, including the Georgia Tea Party, an unlikely ally if ever there was one, speaking against the bill. No one spoke in favor of SB469, which had sailed through the Georgia Senate less than two weeks earlier.

For now, it seems, these efforts have succeeded in at least stalling SB469 (although some of the other legislation has moved forward), but no one in the group seems to have been fooled into thinking this is a victory just yet. In fact, it seems like most members of Occupy Atlanta are well aware that this is just the beginning of a battle that will continue, not just through this election year, but most likely for many years to come.

Considering what Occupy Atlanta and sister movements throughout the country and the world have accomplished already, with a lack of any real organization and numerous political forces stacked against them, members of this movement have every reason to be hopeful that the American Spring, which brings with it a more organized Occupy movement and support from allied groups who seemed wary to join in when Occupy unexpectedly sprung to life last year, will be a time for positive social, political, and cultural change. In fact, for many of those involved, it will likely be the first time they have seen any meaningful changes in our society and culture during their lifetime.

The American Spring will be an exciting time for new growth and, no matter whether you are aligned with Occupy or not, it seems inevitable that everyone in the country will, in some way or another, find their lives touched by the wave of change sweeping across the country, this season, and for many more to come. Occupy Atlanta, and the Occupy movement in general, have proved that not only is another world possible, but that another world, and a better way of life, is almost certainly inevitable.

“We Are Georgia” Rally Takes on Anti-Georgia Legislation

When: Saturday March 17th 11:00a.m.
Where: Georgia State Capitol
Who: You…and everyone you know!
Why:

For the past few weeks now, several groups have been ramping up efforts to fight SB469 and a slew of other legislation that would decimate the rights of Georgia’s 99%. The conservative leadership in Georgia’s legislature forced several pieces of legislation through the House and Senate at breakneck speed, often with little or no chance for debate from those who might offer a modicum of opposition. Of course, Democrats haven’t been much better. The committee members charged with voting on SB469 either didn’t show up or voted in favor of the bill, against the will of many of their constituents. This proves again that this is not about Republicans versus Democrats or conservatives versus liberals, but rather it’s truly a battle of the 99% against the corporate power brokers of the wealthiest 1% and their bought-and-paid-for cronies in every level of government.

In an effort to push back against SB469, and other anti-Georgia legislation, more than 40 groups have rallied together for a mass rally and protest at the State Capitol building on Saturday March 17th at 11:00a.m. Supporters are calling this not the end of their fight against these draconian measures, but rather just the beginning. Despite the fact that the Legislature is only in session for a couple more weeks, these groups, headed up by labor unions and Occupy Atlanta, are ramping up for a real fight against injustice and bringing together Georgians from all walks of life to help protect us from corporations who seek to drain us, not only of every last dollar in our wallets, but also of any rights we have left that would allow us to fight back against their efforts to control every facet of our lives.

This legislation, if we allow it to become law, will set the state of Georgia back decades, maybe even further than that. Imagine what life was like for some of our parents and grandparents in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s. Segregation. Jim Crow. The Great Depression. Lynchings. Some conservatives in our legislature want to turn back the clock and create a Georgia that looks just like that once again. Will you allow that to happen?

Don Balfour’s gem of a piece of legislation, SB469 makes not the act of civil disobedience a crime, but rather simply planning civil disobedience would become an aggravated misdemeanor, punishable by fines and a year in jail, under this bill. This would be the only case in the entire Georgia Code where conspiracy to commit a crime (criminal trespass) would be more serious than the crime itself. This is clearly a reaction to the effective picketing and protests acted out by the Occupy movement and our friends in the labor unions. It is completely reasonable to say that, had these laws been on the books when Martin Luther King, Jr. was alive, a peaceful civil rights movement would have been impossible. In fact, had that been the case, we might still be drinking from separate water fountains, using separate restrooms, and eating in separate restaurants. Segregation would likely still be the law of the land in Georgia, and sadly, there are several conservative lawmakers in our state who probably wouldn’t have an issue with that whatsoever.

This bill is an obvious response to the “Occupy AT&T” encampment that has posted up outside AT&T headquarters in Midtown Atlanta in response to proposed layoffs. In fact, it seems to be hand-crafted by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, a notoriously pro-business/anti-worker organization, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which crafts legislation to favor corporations and CEO’s that is implemented on the backs of America’s poor and working-class men and women.

There’s still more to this bill, however. It would also limit certain forms of protest that are the result of labor disputes, would make it illegal to protest outside the personal residence of corporate thugs because it may disrupt their right to “quiet enjoyment” of their home. Never mind that these same people are slashing jobs and forcing Georgians out of their homes and into the streets, we wouldn’t want them to be disturbed or, heaven forbid, let their family, friends, and neighbors know that they destroy people’s lives for a living.

On top of all that, this law would make it even more difficult for labor unions to collect voluntary dues from workers who benefit from union contracts and negotiations. It would require union members to approve, in writing, each year to have union dues automatically deducted from their paychecks. There’s no logical reason for a regulation like this, other than being just another slap-in-the-face to working men and women in labor unions. Members can already decide at any time to stop contributing dues, so this new rule will simply create more paperwork for union members and the poor, already overburdened souls in HR who will have to organize that effort.

Here’s a summary of just some of the other pending legislation which, if it makes it to the governor’s desk, will doom us all to be second-class citizens and serfs, serving mega-corporations like AT&T, Chase Bank, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Coke. Not a pleasant thought…

  • SB292: Requires drug tests for needy Georgians who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds, even grandparents and great-grandparents who take custody. In Florida, where less than 2% of applicants tested positive, this law has already cost more money than it has saved, and it’s estimated to cost at least $161,000 to implement in Georgia, with little hope of actually saving one cent.
  • SB438: Bans state employee health insurance plans from offering coverage for abortion services, even in cases of rape or incest. Republican leaders in the Georgia Senate pushed this bill to a vote without allowing any debate or amendments. Not one women was allowed to speak out against this bill, prompting Sen. Nan Orrock and a contingent of Senate women to lock arms and mark silently out of the Senate chambers.
  • SB460: Would exempte religiously-affiliated businesses from providing birth control and contraceptive coverage for women based on the employer’s religious belief, not the employee’s. This even covers contraceptive medication that a woman needs for medical reasons other than contraception, such as hormone control therapy or poly-cystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which up to 58% of women require.
  • SB312: Requires needy Georgians who apply for food stamps and other assistance to participate in “personal growth” activities in order to receive benefits. This means that mothers with children over the age of six will be required to take classes or training, but the legislation does not make clear how these programs will be paid for. Will these men and women, who are already struggling financially, be required to pay for the classes themselves, or will the state, which is already strapped for funds to cover basic services, pay for them? Nobody knows where the money to fund this program will come from.
  • SB447: Would slash unemployment benefits from a current level of 26 weeks to a sliding scale of 12 to 20 weeks, creating a system that provides less for its unemployed residents than any other state. Next year 330,000 Georgia families who lost their jobs through no fault of their own would lose between $260 and $1,820 in already low unemployment insurance benefits. Most families live paycheck to paycheck, and now wait two or three weeks to receive the first unemployment check. SB 447 would also impose a “waiting week” on desperate families.
  • HB954: Would force pregnant women to carry a fetus with fatal defects, which will likely not survive until birth, to term on the remote chance that it may live.
  • SB458: Forbids undocumented and non-citizen students from attending public colleges and universities, even if they have lived in Georgia for most of their lives. Even if these students, who are currently charged out-of-state tuition, can pay for school out of their own pockets, these legislators seek to deny them an education and then turn around and demean immigrants for taking ‘our’ low-wage jobs or being unemployed and uneducated.

It’s clear that Georgia legislators are waging a war against Georgia’s poor, working men and women, our undocumented friends and neighbors, on women, and on anyone who would stand and speak up when our rights are stolen away by out-of-control corporations and the politicians who do their dirty work. The battle lines have clearly been drawn. When it comes time to fight for our freedom, for justice, and for what’s right, which side will you be on?

We are working men and women. We are your mothers, your daughters, sisters, and brothers. We are students. We are immigrants. We are the unemployed. We are the 99%. We are Georgia.

We stand together. Will you stand with us?

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