Communist-led coalition sweeps local body elections in the southern Indian State of Kerala

Posted Dec 22, 2020 by Peoples Dispatch

The communist-led coalition in the State of Kerala in India has swept the local body polls that were held between December 8 and 14. In the results that were announced on Wednesday, December 16, the Left Democratic Front (LDF) led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which is in power in the State, achieved a substantial lead in rural and urban areas overcoming a negative campaign by the media and opportunistic alliances among its adversaries. Observers have attributed the victory to the effective community-based strategy to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the focus on development and welfare schemes.

Of the 1,199 local government bodies in the State, the LDF either won a majority or is the leading political block in the 670. The LDF is followed by the United Democratic Front, led by the centrist Indian National Congress (INC), which leads or has a majority in 471 local bodies. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, was only able to secure a victory or is leading in 25 local bodies, which is only marginally better than its performance in the previous local election in 2015.

The LDF made significant gains in several key local bodies. For instance, LDF gained 51 seats in the municipal corporation of the State’s capital, Thiruvananthapuram, winning a majority. It also emerged as the largest political block in the municipal corporation of Kochi, the State’s financial and trading hub, breaking UDF’s decade-long dominance in the city.

There has been some marginal but noticeable rise of the BJP, especially in urban and semi-urban local bodies. It maintained its control over the Palakkad municipality, which it had gained in the previous election in 2015. The right-wing party also gained an outright majority in the municipality of Pandalam. Nonetheless, Kerala has remained one of the few States which continues to resist the rise of the right-wing BJP.

The electoral victory for LDF is a huge morale boost for left and progressive forces in the State. Elections for the State government will be held in a few months. Over the past four decades, the rule at the State level has alternated between the LDF and the UDF. The LDF came back to power in 2016, with senior communist leader Pinarayi Vijayan becoming the chief minister.

Since 2016, Kerala has dealt with two massive incidents of flooding, an outbreak of the Nipah virus and the COVID-19 outbreak. The approach of the government has won great praise in the country and abroad. The highlight of this disaster management strategy has been a community-centered approach. In the case of COVID-19, Kerala was the first to record a case in India but managed to keep the number of cases very low in the first wave. Later, as the number of cases rose due to multiple rounds of of migration, a very strong contact tracing strategy and community involvement ensured that the death rate was very low. This is despite the fact that the proportion of elderly people in the State is higher than the all-India figures.

The Left Front government under Pinarayi Vijayan suffered a setback in the 2019 parliamentary elections when it lost in all but one constituency. Ahead of this round of local body elections, there was a sustained offensive on the government on all fronts, with the media especially playing a huge role in targeting the left. However, the performance of the government in dealing with the pandemic, as well as the emphasis placed on welfare schemes is believed to have ensured continued support for the left. The left front government in the State has also been in the forefront of upholding both secularism and federal values at a time when these have been under attack by the Bharatiya Janata Party which is in power in the center.

The voracious reader, by Pedro de la Hoz

December 2, 2020

From Granma English

“We do not tell the people: believe. We say: read,” a statement not made casually, but rather a public expression of a very deep conviction, spoken by Fidel on April 9, 1961 during a television appearance that ended the sixth cycle of the People’s University, Education and Revolution.

The National Literacy Campaign was underway across the country. A few days later, the mercenary Bay of Pigs invasion, organized and financed by the United States took place and was defeated in less than 72 hours. The aggression did not interrupt the enormous pedagogical effort. With a vast audience listening, recorded was Fidel’s message that summarized in good measure the core of the cultural and educational policy of the new times: “The Revolution tells the people: learn to read and write, study, get information, meditate, observe, think. Why? Because this is the path of truth…” Comandante en Jefe said, at the time.

He himself had found truths and nurtured his spirit in books and reading. As the leader of an unprecedented process of transformation in a country permanently besieged by the United States, he was obliged to confront and assimilate enormous amounts of information on a daily basis.

In 1985, he explained to the Brazilian journalist Joelmir Beting:

Every day I spend an hour and a half reading international cables, from almost all agencies. If I read that a new innovative and very useful drug or medical device has been discovered in some country, I send for quick information.

But his reading horizons went far beyond the boundaries of immediacy and practical requirements. In introducing the first edition of An Encounter with Fidel, by Italian communicator Gianni Miná, Gabriel García Márquez, a close friend of the Comandante, wrote: “Perhaps the aspect of Fidel Castro’s personality that does not fit the image created by his adversaries is that of being a voracious reader. No one can explain how he finds time for reading, or what method he uses to read so much, so quickly, although he insists that he has none in particular. In his cars, beginning with the prehistoric Oldsmobile and the successive Soviet Zil models to the current Mercedes, there has always been a light so he can read at night. Many times, he has taken a book with him in the early morning and the next morning he’s commenting on it.” This real image was corroborated by Fidel himself in a confession:

I suffer when I review a list of titles of all kinds and regret not having my whole life to read and study.

History, politics, biographies, science and economics were among his literary interests. In the first place, the work of José Martí, his paradigm. Another of his great friends, Brazilian Frei Betto, said that when he traveled to Cuba, he used to give Fidel books on cosmology and astrophysics. But he also read fiction and even remembered diving into the pages of María, the novel by Colombian Jorge Isaacs, and Werther, by German Goethe.

As is well known, after the Moncada assault and the trial in which he became the accuser, he was imprisoned on the Isle of Pines. Reading was his productive occupation during this time. He asked for books and shared readings with his companions.

In one of his epistolary exchanges with relatives and friends written in the Model Prison, he wrote:

I crave a book, Cecilia Valdés, by Cirilo Villaverde. Years ago I did not pay any attention to it and today I am anxious to read it. I have lived happy days, enraptured, forgetting everything, practically transferred to the last century, in the pages of such a formidable history as Cuba’s.

The German thinker and revolutionary Federico Engels left testimony of how he “learned more about bourgeois society and capitalism by reading Balzac’s novels than I did with the group of professional historians, chroniclers and statesmen of his time.” Karl Marx understood England’s leap to the stage of industrial capitalism after immersing himself in the novels of Charles Dickens, Charlotte Bronté and a writer who should be rediscovered, Elizabeth Gaskell, author of Mary Barton.

Fidel’s revealing re-encounter with a major work of 19th century Cuban literature allowed him a fuller appreciation of our colonial past and the conflict between slave owners and slaves that led to the course of events that followed: abolition, the wars of independence and the birth of the republic, frustrated by imperial interference.

“I want to confirm this time, via someone so superbly portrayed that era, some living aspects of the Cuban mentality,” wrote Fidel when rereading Cecilia Valdés. He thus confirmed the great interest he had in unraveling the tangled subjectivity involved in the forging and evolution of our identity.

Reading as a source of knowledge and intellectual pleasure. This is how Fidel understood it and wanted this habit to be active patrimony of the spiritual life of his compatriots. In times of new technologies, of digital platforms, of transition from the Gutenberg galaxy to cyberspace, we must foster this irreplaceable passion.

In one of his frequent visits to the International Book Fair of Havana, a multitudinous cultural festival he encouraged, someone asked him if he thought the printed word would go out of style:

No, I think the last thing that will remain will be the book. Make sure, if it doesn’t die, that The Iliad and Odyssey are still read.

‘Manifesto for the Future’ from the International Week of Struggle Against Imperialism

From the Anti Imperialist Week

Imperialism is putting our communities, our environment, and our planet at risk with actions of war, environmental destruction, and attacks on our rights. As people’s movements and organizations, we come together to stand up against imperialism and all the ways it manifests in our countries, in our territories, and our bodies.

This 2020 we will mobilize in the International Week of Anti-Imperialist Struggle to unite our resistance and hope to fight for our future.

We Are Grass. We Grow on Everything: The Forty-Ninth Newsletter (2020), by Vijay Prashad

From the Tricontinental

December 3, 2020

Dear friends,

Greetings from the desk of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.

Farmers and agricultural workers from northern India marched along various national highways toward India’s capital of New Delhi as part of the general strike on 26 November. They carried placards with slogans against the anti-farmer, pro-corporate laws that were passed by India’s Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament) in September, and then pushed through the Rajya Sabha (upper house) with only a voice vote. The striking agricultural workers and farmers carried flags that indicated their affiliation with a range of organisations, from the communist movement to a broad front of farmers’ organisations. They marched against the privatisation of agriculture, which they argue undermines India’s food sovereignty and erodes their ability to remain agriculturalists.

Roughly two-thirds of India’s workforce derives its income from agriculture, which contributes to roughly 18% of India’s gross domestic product (GDP). The three anti-farmer bills passed in September undermine the minimum support price buying schemes of the government, put 85% of the farmers who own less than 2 hectares of land at the mercy of bargaining with monopoly wholesalers, and will lead to the destruction of a system that has till now maintained agricultural production despite erratic prices for food produce. One hundred and fifty farmer organisations came together for their march on New Delhi. They pledge to stay in the city indefinitely.Aswath (India), Lenin met India, 2020

Aswath (India), Lenin met India, 2020

Around 250 million people across India joined the general strike on 26 November, making it the largest strike in world history. If those who struck formed a country, it would be the fifth largest in the world after China, India, the United States, and Indonesia. Industrial belts across India – from Telangana to Uttar Pradesh – came to a halt, as workers in the ports from the Jawaharlal Nehru Port (Maharashtra) to the Paradip Port (Odisha) stopped work. Coal, iron ore, and steel workers put down their tools, while trains and buses stood idle. Informal sector workers joined in, and so did health care workers and bank employees. They struck in opposition to labour laws that extend the working day to twelve hours and strike down labour protections for 70% of the workforce. Tapan Sen, the general secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, said, ‘The strike today is only a beginning. Much more intense struggles will follow’.

The pandemic has deepened the crisis of the Indian working class and peasantry, including the richer farmers. Despite the dangers of the pandemic, out of a great sense of desperation, workers and peasants gathered in public spaces to tell the government that they had lost confidence in them. The film actor Deep Sidhu joined the protest, where he told a police officer, ‘Ye inquilab hai. This is a revolution. If you take away farmers’ land, then what do they have left? Only debt’.Nehal Ahmed (India), Cold Nights, High Spirits. Farmers from Punjab who have joined the movement against the farm laws passed by the Modi government. Delhi-Haryana border at Singhu, India, November 2020.

Nehal Ahmed (India), Cold Nights, High Spirits. Farmers from Punjab who have joined the movement against the farm laws passed by the Modi government. Delhi-Haryana border at Singhu, India, November 2020.

Along the rim of New Delhi, the government positioned police forces, barricaded the highways, and prepared for a full-scale confrontation. As the long columns of farmers and agricultural workers approached the barricades and appealed to their brethren who had set aside the clothes of farmers and put on police uniforms, the authorities fired tear gas and water cannons at the farmers and agricultural workers.Dharampal Seel, a senior Kisan Sabha leader from Punjab, uses his Red Flag to push a tear gas canister, 27 November 2020.

Dharampal Seel, a senior Kisan Sabha leader from Punjab, uses his Red Flag to push a tear gas canister, 27 November 2020.

The day of the general strike of farmers and workers, 26 November, is also Constitution Day in India, which marks a great feat of political sovereignty. Article 19 of the Indian Constitution (1950) quite clearly gives Indian citizens the right to ‘freedom of speech and expression’ (1.a), the right to ‘assembly peaceably and without arms’ (1.b), the right to ‘form associations or unions’ (1.c), and the right ‘to move freely throughout the territory of India’ (1.d). In case these articles of the Constitution had been forgotten, the Indian Supreme Court reminded the police in a 2012 court case (Ramlila Maidan Incident vs. Home Secretary) that ‘Citizens have a fundamental right to assembly and peaceful protest, which cannot be taken away by an arbitrary executive or legislative action’. The police barricades, the use of tear gas, and the use of water cannons – infused with the Israeli invention of yeast and baking powder to induce a gagging reflex – violate the letter of the Constitution, something that the farmers yelled to the police forces at each of these confrontations. Despite the cold in northern India, the police soaked the farmers with water and tear gas.

But this did not stop them, as brave young people jumped on the water cannon trucks and turned off the water, farmers drove their tractors to dismantle the barricades, and the working class and the peasantry fought back against the class war imposed on them by the government. The twelve-point charter of demands put forward by the trade unions is sincere, having captured the sentiments of the people. The demands include the reversal of the anti-worker, anti-farmer laws pushed by the government in September, the reversal of the privatisation of major government enterprises, and immediate relief for the population, which is suffering from economic hardship provoked by the coronavirus recession and years of neoliberal policies. These are simple demands, humane and true; only the hardest hearts turn away from them, responding instead with water cannons and tear gas.Amrita Sher-Gil (India), Resting, 1939

Amrita Sher-Gil (India), Resting, 1939

These demands for immediate relief, for social protections for workers, and for agricultural subsidies appeal to workers and peasants around the world. It is demands such as these that provoked the recent protests in Guatemala and that led to the general strike on 26 November in Greece.

We are now entering a period in this pandemic when more unrest is possible as more people in countries with bourgeois governments get increasingly fed up with the atrocious behaviour of their elites. Report after report shows us that the social divides are getting more and more extreme, a trend that began long before the pandemic but has grown wider and deeper as a consequence of it. It is only natural for farmers and agricultural workers to be agitated. A new report from the Land Inequality Initiative shows that only 1% of the world’s farms operate more than 70% of the world’s farmland, meaning that massive corporate farms dominate the corporate food system and endanger the survival of the 2.5 billion people who rely upon agriculture for their livelihood. Land inequality, when it considers landlessness and land value, is highest in Latin America, South Asia, and parts of Africa (with notable exceptions such as China and Vietnam, which have the ‘lowest levels of inequality’).

A young man, Avtar Singh Sandhu (1950-1988), read Maxim Gorky’s Mother (1906) in the early 1970s in Punjab, from where many of the farmers and agricultural workers travelled to the barricades around New Delhi. He was very moved by the relationship between Nilovna, a working-class woman, and her son, Pavel, or Pasha. Pasha finds his feet in the socialist movement, brings revolutionary books home, and, slowly, both mother and son are radicalised. When Nilovna asks him about the idea of solidarity, Pasha says, ‘The world is ours! The world is for the workers! For us, there is no nation, no race. For us, there are only comrades and foes’. This idea of solidarity and socialism, Pasha says, ‘warms us like the sun; it is the second sun in the heaven of justice, and this heaven resides in the worker’s heart’. Together, Nilovna and Pasha become revolutionaries. Bertolt Brecht retold this story in his play Mother (1932).

Avtar Singh Sandhu was so inspired by the novel and the play that he took the name ‘Pash’ as his takhallus, his pen name. Pash became one of the most revolutionary poets of his time, murdered in 1988 by terrorists. I am grass is among the poems he left behind:

Bam fek do chahe vishwavidyalaya par
Banaa do hostel ko malbe kaa dher
Suhaagaa firaa do bhale hi hamari jhopriyon par
Mujhe kya karoge?
Main to ghaas hun, har chiz par ugg aauungaa.

If you wish, throw your bomb at the university.
Reduce its hostel to a heap of rubble.
Throw your white phosphorus on our slums.
What will you do to me?
I am grass. I grow on everything.

That’s what the farmers and the workers in India say to their elites, and that is what working people say to elites in their own countries, elites whose concern – even in the pandemic – is to protect their power, their property, and their privileges. But we are grass. We grow on everything.

In the next week, Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research will host two events with The People’s Forum. On 4 December, cultural workers from Venezuela, South Africa, and China/Canada will discuss art making for people’s struggles in times of CoronaShock. The discussion will highlight the Anti-Imperialist Poster Exhibition; the last of the four exhibitions launched today on the concept of the hybrid war includes artwork from 37 artists from 18 countries across the world. You can RSVP here.

On 8 December, the feminisms working group of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research will discuss the recently launched study, CoronaShock and Patriarchy, and the gendered impact of the pandemic. You can RSVP here.



The police reform that wasn’t, by John Teufel

After George Floyd was killed, New York City only pretended to change policing.

From City & State New York

Wednesday, Nov. 25, marks six months from the day Minneapolis police officers killed George Floyd. Floyd’s dying cry of “I can’t breathe,” caught on video as his neck was crushed against the pavement by Officer Derek Chauvin, lit the nation on fire.

In New York City, residents of all races demanded action from our elected officials. For a city that thought of itself as enlightened and progressive, despite a long history of police brutality and racism, it felt like the time for change had come.

Six months later, that change has not come. Even the lowest-hanging fruit of police reform gathers dust in the City Council legislative drafting office. For six months, politicians have engaged in a carefully calculated effort to seem diligent, passing empty, symbolic bills and issuing insincere press statements. In the meantime, the NYPD became even more defiant, its officers empowered by the realization that no matter what they did, no matter who they hurt, the system protected them. They are, it now seems, too big, and perhaps too dangerous, to reform.

The city’s biggest feint toward change was the supposed “billion-dollar budget cut.” On June 30, the City Council voted to reduce the NYPD’s budget by $1 billion – or so the headlines read. In a statement, a group of Council members, including Council Speaker Corey Johnson, called the cuts an “unprecedented reduction… show(ing) our commitment towards moving away from the failed policing policies of the past.” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio claimed the cuts “answer the concerns of the moment.”

The cuts were a cheap mirage, a knock-off hologram of reform. The endlessly touted $1 billion figure was derived not from cuts to current NYPD funding, but from the entirely theoretical planned future budget. Right off the bat, compared to current funding, the figure gets reduced to $420 million.

And even that $420 million is phony. Much of the budget cuts depended on shifting spending on programs such as school safety officers from the NYPD to other city agencies. Here’s how big a con this was: mere days after the vote, de Blasio confirmed that no, those funds would not be shifted for the foreseeable future.

For those who follow city politics, another “cut,” setting a new cap on NYPD overtime, was immediately comical. Normal people believe a “cap” means a hard stop, an amount that cannot be breached, like the cap on your water bottle that keeps all the water inside. But the NYPD’s overtime cap is less of a cap and more of a polite suggestion. Sure enough, the overtime cap is set to be blown by $400 million, thus wiping out the spending cuts to policing almost entirely.

Other reforms have been equally illusory. The NYPD touted the June disbanding of anti-crime units, made up of plainclothes officers who didn’t respond to 911 calls but rather massed in “crime hot spots” and developed a reputation for harassing, stopping, and frisking disproportionately black people, as a “seismic shift.” By September, anti-crime units were back on the street, performing the same duties, but in uniform. Plainclothes officers have continued to make the sort of aggressive arrests that had bystanders wondering if they just saw a kidnapping.

The most shameless behavior from the mayor involved the so-called “chokehold ban.” When de Blasio signed the bill into law in July, he called it a “powerful day… and it’s a moment when you can feel change coming.” But chokeholds have been banned by the NYPD since the 1990s. This new bill made a chokehold by a cop a misdemeanor crime, if performed during an arrest, and with a carveout for an officer using “self-defense.” It’s difficult to imagine a weaker bill, and one more prone to the same enforcement problems as the old chokehold ban.

 The NYPD erupted over this mild reform. The PBA called it “insane.” To the Chief of Detectives, it was “dangerous.” Threats of a “blue flu” – a mass sick-call in lieu of an illegal strike – hovered in the air. The City Council caved, and fast. The weak chokehold bill was significantly weakened by the City Council in August – in diaphragm compression cases, like the one that killed Floyd, now injury has to result for a crime to have occurred, and the District Attorney has the added burden of showing an officer acted “recklessly.” (To those non-cops who are curious, yes, it is still highly illegal for you to choke anyone, injury resulting or not.) De Blasio didn’t say whether this, too, was a “powerful day.”

The city’s refusal to act has been particularly galling because it is occurring as the NYPD doubles down on violence. In protest after protest, the NYPD has acted like an unaccountable mob. Even without the impetus of a nationwide protest movement and an engaged populace, one would expect the city to hold officers accountable for at least the most egregious incidents. But hours of video evidence of shocking misconduct have been insufficient to move our politicians. In the last six months, not a single NYPD officer has been fired. In fact, a review of published records shows that only one officer has been fired for misconduct in the last six years: Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who choked Eric Garner. The only reported discipline imposed has been temporary suspensions and transfers, and any further discipline will not come for years. The NYPD acts unaccountable because it is.

There is no indication that this pattern of inaction will change. Advocates, including the Campaign for an Elected Civilian Review Board, of which I am a member, are pushing for disciplinary authority to be removed from the Police Commissioner, who regularly and routinely ignores punishment recommendations from the Civilian Complaint Review Board. This – a far cry from defunding – targeting only so-called “bad cops,” should be uncontroversial. And yet, the mayor has opposed even this reform, telling NY1 that he “respects the notion of the police commissioner making the final decision”.

Both de Blasio and Johnson have supported the next big fake reform: a “disciplinary matrix” for police misconduct, which contains a long list of “mitigating factors,” with penalties that can be rejected or modified by the police commissioner. The matrix is custom-tailored for political support: it binds nobody, creates no new rules, has NYPD buy-in, and is nearly entirely symbolic. Expect to hear about it a lot in 2021.

Any urgency that once existed has dissipated – the City Council and mayor appear to believe that they have withstood and outlasted the Black Lives Matter movement.

Here in New York, the change some of us thought possible in the wake of George Floyd’s terrible death never arrived. City Council members and the mayor have performed a calculated ruse to defy their constituents – to seem like they are on the right side of history, while taking every action to support the status quo. It is shameful.

John Teufelis an attorney, writer, and former investigator of police misconduct who currently sits on the Legislation Committee of the Campaign for an Elected Civilian Review Board.

Dear Mr. Bezos, the Days of Amazon’s Impunity Are Over; statement from the Progressive International

401 parliamentarians and public officials from 34 countries pledge to #MakeAmazonPay.

From the Progressive International

“We stand ready to act in our respective legislatures to support the movement that is growing around the world to make Amazon pay.”

“We stand ready to act in our respective legislatures to support the movement that is growing around the world to make Amazon pay.”

Mr. Bezos,

We, elected representatives, legislators, and public officials from around the world, hereby put you on notice that Amazon’s days of impunity are over. Last Friday, 27 November, workers, activists, and citizens around the world joined forces to demand justice from Amazon. Today, we pledge to stand with this movement in every congress, parliament, and statehouse where we work.

In short, we write to you now with a single commitment: to Make Amazon Pay.

The world knows that Amazon can afford to pay its workers, its environmental cost and its taxes. And yet – time and again – you have dodged and dismissed your debts to workers, societies, and the planet.

Your great wealth is based on the skills of your workers and the care they receive from their friends, family and communities. These are the very people who risked their health and that of their loved ones to supply goods to consumers and make you enormous profits. But while your personal wealth has risen by around US $13 million per hour in 2020, these workers enter dangerous working conditions, enjoy little or no increase in their pay, and face retaliation for their efforts to defend themselves and organize their colleagues.

We pledge again, alongside your workers, to Make Amazon Pay.

Your company’s rise to dominance has come with extraordinary costs to our environment. While you have personally acknowledged the climate emergency among the defining challenges of our era, Amazon’s carbon footprint is greater than two-thirds of the world’s countries. Your plan for emissions reduction is both insufficient to stay within the environmental boundaries of our planet and difficult to trust given Amazon’s record of broken promises on sustainability and financial contributions to climate change denial.

We pledge again, on behalf of our planet, to Make Amazon Pay.

Finally, you have undermined our democracies and their capacity to respond to collective challenges. Your monopolistic practices have squeezed small businesses, your web services have disrespected data rights, and you have contributed a pittance in return. For example, in 2017 and 2018, Amazon paid zero US federal corporation tax. Through your global tax dodging, you damage the public provision of health, education, housing, social security and infrastructure.

We pledge again, for our constituents, to Make Amazon Pay.

We urge you to act decisively to change your policies and priorities to do right by your workers, their communities, and our planet. We stand ready to act in our respective legislatures to support the movement that is growing around the world to Make Amazon Pay.

Yours sincerely,

Find the list of all 401 legislators from 34 countries here.

[Editorial] The Elections Have Passed, and the US Working Class Lost Ground, by Tom Whitney

The recent election campaign pitted one capitalist-oriented political party against another. But class conflict continued throughout, and working people did not fare well.

The election period was show-time for U.S. racial antagonisms. The candidates of each party showed various reactions to racism.  Working-class voters filling the ranks of each one showed that they too were far from united in responding to racism. Divided, the working class is weakened.

The police killing of George Floyd occurred in late May. Soon crowds of white and Black people were protesting together in little towns and big cities of the United States and even worldwide. This unprecedented display of Black-white unity might have been a golden moment. Justice-minded candidates for office, Black and white, might have raised their voices against the racism permeating the U.S. experience.

It was not to be. Democrats joined Republicans in focusing on public safety. They slandered the protesters as rioters. The police in many cities arrested and/or injured disproportionate numbers of Black and Latinx protesters; extrajudicial killings mounted, right-wing militias materialized, and federal security forces intervened.

The slogan “defund the police” made the rounds, prompting conservatives of both parties to interpret that demand as a call to get rid of or weaken the police. They inveighed against risk to property and lives.  For many Republicans, the issue was respect for authority.   President Trump denounced Black Lives Matter protesters as “symbols of hate.”

Responsibility for dealing with objectionable police behavior lies with governmental bodies hiring the police. In choosing office-holders, voters share that responsibility. But governmental accountability for the police killings was never an issue put before the voters. Many Democratic candidates, Joe Biden among them, denounced racism in general terms. Biden met with George Floyd’s family.

Disunity in the working class represents a gift to the capitalists. Vast numbers of white voters, many belonging to the so-called “white working class,” backed the racist candidate for president:  58% of whites voted for Trump, as did 55% of white women. Latinxs and African Americans turned out in droves. Counter-balancing racists in both parties, they secured the election for Joe Biden.

The New Deal in the 1930s was a case-study in showing off working-class unity as essential in moving toward social reforms. Presently the working class is splintered and, now at least, prospects for the proposed Green New Deal are unfavorable.

The working class took one more big hit during the election campaign; Republicans labeled their opponents as socialists. For their pains they gained support from some immigrants from left-leaning Latin American countries. 

Vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris laughed on being acquainted with the charge. Biden felt obliged to deny speaking “one single syllable” in favor of socialism. Other Democrats followed the lead of the Republicans, and with serious consequences.

Centrist Democrats blamed the defeat of Democratic congresspersons on their embrace of policies associated with Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Likewise, Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader of the House of Representatives, regarded his party’s victories there as a “mandate against socialism.”

Red-scare, implemented through demagoguery and lying, thus took its toll. It reached its apogee in the mid-twentieth century and never entirely disappeared. Intimidation produced by false fears of this nature has discouraged agitation and organization, and governmental action, on behalf of disadvantaged Americans.

Finally: during the election period, the working class and its allies lost political space for debate that might have enabled them to agitate, maybe successfully, for political and social reform. Distractions moved in.  The mix included both jostling over various cultural, social and even religious questions and attention bestowed upon showman Donald Trump, mediated by the corporate media.

The issues themselves – abortion, the role of religious fundamentalism, immigration, disappearing jobs, changing industrial patterns, the snobbery of elites, and wealth inequalities – were not new. Even so, their high visibility in an unsettled time generated rancor and resentment disruptive enough to muddle the electoral process. Whether by accident or design is unclear.  

Leaders of governments adapt their strategic thinking to accommodate their own economic and political imperatives. Presently they face the quandary, some say, of having to preserve the capitalist system while also saving the environment and securing justice for everyone. Intent on preserving power and privileges, they do not act.  Meanwhile, the working class, potentially motivated to act, is put on hold.

[Labor Voices] Loosening the Chains through Unity, by Brendan T. Burke

December 2, 2020

“Workers of the world, Unite!” That message of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels appearing in the Communist Manifesto in 1848 could not be more relevant at the present time to workers in Maine and the nation. Workers are re-discovering that by joining a union and uniting on the basis of working-class struggle, they can achieve far more against the capitalist ruling class than they can as individuals.

By engaging in collective action such as forming a union local, workers are taking that important first step toward class consciousness. Realizing that they are of the working class, and that fellow workers share this awareness, they join in common struggle. Together they can build their capacity to take back control of some of the value they created with their own labor and sweat that was lost to their bosses. This stolen part of the value is back on the bargaining table.

In other words, and at a basic level, they can obtain a wage or salary increase, increased benefits, or better working conditions. As well, union members together can build a united bulwark as protection from unfair labor practices. It allows workers to push back against the power structure of unfettered capitalism; even though it alone cannot topple it.

In September, nearly sixty workers representing nearly two-thirds of the one-hundred-person staff of the Portland Museum of Art filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board. For them, this is a first step towards being recognized by Local 2110, of the UAW-affiliated Technical, Office and Professional Union, which is based in New York.  Local 2110 represents the interests of a diverse group of workers employed by colleges and universities and by the ACLU, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, book publishing houses, the Village Voice newspaper, and more.

This coming together of a diverse group of workers who don’t look like typical blue-collar unionists is a sign of a changing working class and a sign too of expanding class consciousness among working people. In a country where the capitalists exploit pre-existing class-based and economic divisions to divide the working class, unions represent an important safety device for narrowing divisions and achieving unity.  

Collective bargaining is the tool unions use to rise to the level of their bosses and negotiate legally-binding contracts. It gives workers the ability to arbitrate disputes that would normally keep the two sides apart and, in doing so, it can right some wrongs. Unions gain the power to address wrongs committed by the owners through a formal grievance process that comes into play when owners step on workers’ rights guaranteed by a collective bargaining agreement. It’s a process that unions can use to elevate worker-power to the level of power enjoyed by owners and bosses – the bourgeoisie – and even higher, when they score a victory.

Where can working-class power lead? Visionaries of the workers’ movement speak of possibilities. They are the heirs, for example, of Marxist theorist Anton Pannekoek, who in 1908, in his The Labor Movement and Socialism, observed that, “The object of the labor movement is to increase the strength of the proletariat to the point at which it can conquer the organized force of the bourgeoisie and thus establish its own supremacy.” (1)

Now, however, what’s important is to support our fellow brothers and sisters in the unions. They provide us with much-needed models of working people who are asserting their desires and rights. We must support union shops, buy products that are union made, and rely on services that are “union strong” -a term referring to efforts aimed at bringing working people together in support of their fellow laborers.

We can show our own class consciousness by supporting union workers, even in small ways. This is important now because union membership rates have been decreasing for five decades. Formerly, nearly one third ofworkers were unionized. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that union membership in the country fell last year to 10.3% of all workers – a 0.2% reduction in one year. Even so, labor unions still provide a better standard of living for those American workers who belong to one.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Among full-time wage and salary workers, the median weekly income of union members was $1,095 in 2019. For those who were not union members, the figure was $892. In addition to coverage by a collective bargaining agreement, these earnings differences reflect a variety of influences, including variations in the distributions of union members and nonunion employees by occupation, industry, age, firm size, or geographic region.” (2)

But the working-class movement is about more than labor unions. They’ve been a vehicle for moving the working class closer toward a socialist society; Lenin regarded the trade union as a “school of communism.” Working people, in the process of forming unions, have long realized that unity and solidarity within the labor movement can translate into political power. And with that power, the dream of socialism seems not so impossible.

Any new political structure, however, will take on a form quite different from the old one, which was the state the union worker had been pushing back against. There would be a transition. Vladimir Lenin, who led the 1917 Russian Revolution against the exploitative feudalist system, used his book What Is to Be Done? (1902) to trace the evolution of a revolutionary and centralized political party – a revolutionary vanguard – as it moved from its origins in the labor movement to a central role in the creation of a socialist state. He observed specifically that:

“The workers’ organization must in the first place be a trade union organization; secondly, it must be as broad as possible; and thirdly, it must be as public as conditions will allow. [Gradually] all distinctions as between workers and intellectuals, not to speak of distinctions of trade and profession, in both categories, must be effaced.” (3)

In other words, distinctions that trade unions had utilized for organizational purposes would be erased as the workers’ movement pressed on toward formation of a fully socialist society. From the beginning, the labor union was a vitally important school of sorts for gaining class consciousness. It evened out distinctions among workers and, unifying them, gave them a leg up against exploiters and the owning class. Eventually, the revolutionary party erases all distinctions and differences between participants. They are no longer intellectuals or professionals, but are now revolutionaries.

We, therefore, take note of the potential power that the American workers, politically active and aware, derive from their labor unions. We insist on the direct relevance of Marx and Engels to our struggles now, which is expressed in their message that, “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” We have “nothing to lose but our chains,” they add, and indeed the trade union allows us to break that first link.


  3. Lenin, What Is To Be Done. (1902),

Brendan Burke is a fifteen year-member of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 714 based in Portland, Maine. He is a union officer, serving as financial secretary.

US Plot Relying on Extradition Targets Peace in Colombia, by Tom Whitney

December 1, 2020

For 50 years Colombian governments and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) fought a civil war; 200,000 lives were lost. After four years of negotiations, the two sides signed a peace agreement that took effect in November 2016.  

Now the agreement is in trouble, mainly at the hands of rightwing extremists led by former president Alvaro Uribe and represented now by President Iván Duque. They opposed the negotiations, the agreement itself, and now they block implementation.

The U.S. government posted an envoy to the peace negotiations and sent the Secretary of State to one the signings of an agreement. Seemingly, it supported the peace process,

Now it does not. Colombia’s El Espectador newspaper on November 8 published Edinson Bolaños’s report that outlines a U.S. plot aimed at immobilizing FARC leaders.  His information came from 24,000 recordings of wiretapped telephone calls occurring in 2017. 

In most of the conversations Marlon Marín speaks with two U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents posing as representatives of Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel. They talked about 10 tons of cocaine that agents of Marín, posing as FARC members, eventually sold to the cartel for $5 million. The Office of the Attorney General supplied the cocaine, the DEA the money.

According to Bolaños, the conversations introduced names or faked voices to identify accomplices. One was Jesús Santrich, spokesperson for the FARC peace negotiators in Havana. Another was Iván Márquez, who headed the FARC’s negotiating team and is Marlon Marín’s uncle. Over 1,300 recordings of talk on Iván Márquez’s telephone apparently disappeared.

Other names, or voices, cropping up included those of General Oscar Naranjo, former vice president and government peace negotiator; Gustavo Petro, 2018 presidential candidate for the left-leaningHumane Colombia coalition; and Piedad Córdoba, outspoken former Liberal Party senator.

Police agents arrested Santrich on April 9, 2018. Charged with conspiracy to export cocaine to the United States, Santrich faced extradition and trial before the U.S. District Court – Southern District of New York. Colombian authorities also arrested Marlon Marín and quickly flew him to the United States to testify against Santrich.  Iván Márquez went into hiding and wasn’t arrested. The press circulated as information material taken from the recordings provided by the Office of the Attorney General.  

The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), created by the peace agreement, enters the story.  It was a new court charged with deciding on pardon or punishment for guerrillas who may have committed crimes while they were rebels – but only then. The JEP had accepted Santrich into its program. If he had trafficked in drugs after the civil war, the JEP had no jurisdiction over him.

To make a determination, the JEP sought to examine the audio recordings. It only received 12 of them of the thousands that existed. It did receive a video, publicized by the press, that showed Santrich talking with Marlon Marin. There was no audio. The JEP never saw documentation a grand jury indictment in New York.

Santrich spent 13 months in prison; while there he carried out a 41-day hunger strike. Unable to establish the time-frame of any drug-dealing, the JEP ordered Santrich’s release on May 19, 2019. He was immediately rearrested, but Colombia’s Supreme Court, with jurisdiction over persons serving in Congress, released him on May 31. He was a member, courtesy of the peace agreement.

Attorney General Martínez resigned. The Supreme Court announced plans to prosecute Santrich on the drug-trafficking charge.

On August 31, 2019, Santrich, Iván Márquez, and other former FARC insurgents returned to armed conflict. Almost a year later, the DEA and State Department announced rewards for information leading to the convictions of Santrich and Márquez – up to $10 million for each. 

No peace now

Presently, implementation of the agreement is floundering. Exceptions are the JEP and political participation for FARC members; there’s now a FARC political party. Agrarian reform, prioritized by the FARC negotiators, is moribund. Food-producing crops were to have substituted for coca production, but aerial fumigation with glyphosate has returned, The peace agreement provided for the former guerrillas’ safety. But 242 former combatants plus 1,055social and community activists have been killed.

For the FARC, the essence of the peace agreement was that the former combatants would re-enter civil society as citizens with rights, and that the FARC’s struggle for progressive change would move from insurgency to civilian life. Neither would happen without the JEP, which was, therefore, central to the entire agreement. Conversely, damage to the JEP threatens the agreement itself.  

Prosecution of a Santrich, a FARC leader, as a common criminal, for drug-dealing, would jeopardize his lower-ranking comrades and suggest that the JEP is irrelevant. As it is, the JEP is the Achilles heel of the agreement, as demonstrated by Santrich’s arrest, threatened extradition, and removal from JEP jurisdiction.

The U.S. government opposes the JEP. U.S Ambassador Kevin Whitaker in April 2019 insisted that if the JEP protected former guerrillas from extradition, Colombia would lose U. S. military assistance.  

It would have been difficult for U.S. government hardliners to accept the peace agreement, or to ease up on the FARC. They’ve engaged with the insurgency off and on, in one way or another, since 1964. Pretexts evolved from anti-communism to drug war to narco-terrorism.

From 2000 on, the interventionists dedicated themselves to carrying out out U.S. Plan Colombia with its bases, personnel on the ground, generous funding, new equipment, and presumed gratification on the part of Colombian colleagues. They realize too that the FARC has staunchly opposed U.S. domination of their region and U. S. designs on Colombia’s natural resources. For them to have given up on prospect of the FARC’s military defeat seems unlikely.

General John Kelly, former head of the U.S. military’s Southern Command, surely qualifies as a hardliner. Amid the peace negotiations, he observed that, “[T]he FARC claims the Colombian military has failed to defeat them [but] The truth is that the Colombian military has crippled the FARC, enabling the government of Colombia to begin charting the path to peace.” (Miami Herald, op-ed)  Kelly dismisses FARC ideas on peace.

Extradition weaponized

The government of President Uribe in 2008  arrested 14 paramilitary leaders and extradited them to the United States for prosecution exclusively on drug-trafficking charges. As a result of this maneuver, there would be no trials in Colombia during which the paramilitaries’ dealings with politicians might come to light.

Extradited to the United States in late 2004, FARC leader Simon Trinidad specialized in negotiations and political education. He is serving a 60-year sentence, in isolation, at the supermax federal prison in Colorado. Trinidad escaped conviction on narco-trafficking charges, but went to prison on a charge of conspiring to capture three U.S. drug-war contractors, after FARC gunfire brought their plane down. (1)

His case is a useful entry point for agitating against U.S. imperialism. The argument might focus on U.S. military intervention in Colombia as emblematic of U.S. interventions globally. Then, to introduce the Colombia situation, it would point to the extradition and torture of Simon Trinidad. Interest having been provoked, discussion would proceed.

Piedad Cordoba visited the imprisoned Simon Trinidad. Few others have been allowed to do so. Cordoba commented recently on Simon Trinidad, the Santrich case, and U.S. military intervention. 

Referring to “the recently exposed collusion between the North American DEA agency and the Colombian attorney general,” Cordoba points out that, “War in the 21st century in our country has been sustained with North American assistance.”

And, “the United States owes something to the Havana agreement. The first item would be the repatriation of Commander Simon Trinidad, who has been accepted into the JEP, but who also must be recognized as a victim of the genocide of the Patriotic Union. (2) There must be some form of presidential pardon that exists and would remain valid …This was shown in the case of Puerto Rican patriot [Oscar] López Rivera. A pardon for Simon Trinidad would be excellent news for peace and reconciliation …”

She called for “re-evaluation of [U.S.] military assistance in view of the ongoing crisis of serious violations of human rights by Colombia’s military.”  In any case, “With the intervention persisting and present situation unchanged, we are fated to be a country at war.”  


  1. Here’s more on Simon Trinidad:
  2. For information on the Patriotic Union, see:

CBP Drones Conducted Flyovers Near Homes of Indigenous Pipeline Activists, Flight Records Show, by Yessenia Funes and Drhuv Mehrotra

From gizmodo, 9/18/2020

Tom Goldtooth awoke on Feb. 21 expecting a pretty regular day ahead. And by all accounts, his day was normal. He was on the road by 11 a.m. to catch a flight. But unbeknownst to him, around the same time as he left, U.S. Customs and Border Protection was watching his home in Beltrami County, Minnesota, from 20,000 feet in the air. A CBP Reaper drone operated silently for more than an hour, making five-mile-wide circles around the home of Goldtooth, who is the executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network.

When asked about this activity, CBP said in an email that “it does not patrol pipeline routes.” On the date a drone was above Goldtooth’s home, the agency claims it was either conducting a missing person search or conducting “border security,” which CBP defined as “a flight that has a direct nexus to the border,” whatever that means. The town Goldtooth lives in is roughly 90 miles from the border.

“That’s where my house is,” 66-year-old Goldtooth said, noting that few other people live in the remote area.

But our analysis of drone flights in Minnesota this year, sourced from Tampa-based flight tracking company RadarBox, suggests that CBP is surveilling multiple Indigenous advocates in the region who have fought against pipelines, including the proposed expansion of Enbridge’s Line 3.

No one knows for sure what CBP is up to in these parts, and the agency offers very little information to the public.While the U.S. government’s violent suppression of protesters in places like Portland, Oregon, and surveilance of individuals’ social media feeds have drawn the most scrutiny, these drones are yet another powerful tool the government can use to chill free speech.Experts still don’t fully know what technology these drones are outfitted with, which means we can’t know for sure what data they’re gathering beyond video.

“IEN works under the assumption that we’re being watched either by government or industry or both,” Goldtooth said. “In principle, this isn’t surprising. However, it’s disturbing that they are using these multimillion-dollar military drones to circle my home. I’m a peaceful person. I follow our spiritual ways, and there’s no reason for [CBP] to be looking in my windows.”

In doing so, it could also be infringing on the sovereign rights of Indigenous tribal nations and their members. Previous presidents have infringed on civil liberties and promoted oil and gas development, but President Donald Trump has put those gears into overdrive. In recent years, states have also passed more draconian anti-protest laws designed to protect fossil fuel interests. The potential aerial surveillance could signal even further escalation at a time when the fossil fuel industry is struggling in the face of calls for climate action and the pandemic-induced drop in demand.

Over the summer, controversial projects such as the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines have suffered major defeats in court. Enbridge’s Line 3—which would run from Canada’s oil sands to a terminal in Wisconsin—is likely one of the next high-profile targets. The project involves abandoning old pipe and leaving it in the ground while installing an entirely new, larger pipeline that can carry more oil as part of a so-called replacement. The construction is complete in Canada and Wisconsin, but developer Enbridge still needs 27 permits and approvals, mostly from tribes and state agencies in Minnesota, where opposition is heavy. Goldtooth and other Native and non-Native groups have been fighting Enbridge tar sands pipeline developments since 2007 with sister organizations like Honor the Earth taking lead on Line 3. Entire tribal nations, including the Red Lake Band of Chippewa in northern Minnesota, have voted to not renew easements for the project and even to have the pipes removed.

Advocates are worried the old pipeline could contaminate the soil and water as it ages, and their worries are based on more than just fear. The project’s environmental impact statement from the Minnesota Department of Commercesays as much, noting that “some potentially significant effects are associated with abandoning the existing Line 3,” including “soil and water contamination.” Activists also want to see an end to new fossil fuel infrastructure. The land can’t handle an oil spill, and the climate can’t take any more carbon emissions.

These water protectors should be able to voice their concerns freely without fear of retaliation from a private company or, worse, the government. More importantly, tribal nations should be able to assert their sovereign right to reject infrastructure they don’t want running through their lands. You would think tribal sovereignty would protect them from federal interference, but that’s just not the case. The federal government doesn’t treat tribal nations like independent entities, and CBP is no exception.

The red line shows the drone route over the region on Feb. 21, the day it flew over Goldtooth’s house. The existing portion of Line 3 is in black, and the proposed replacement route is in yellow. Earther is withholding the exact location of Goldtooth’s house to respect his privacy.

“The Border Patrol has been behaving badly since its creation in 1924,” Deborah Kang, an associate history professor at the University of Texas, Dallas, said.

CBP’s first agents in the 1920s were often white supremacists coming from other agencies with a history of brutality. More recently, agency employees have faced corruption accusations.The drone program is only the latest instance of the bad behavior Kang mentioned. CBP launched its first drone test flight over the southern border in 2004. By 2005, the first Predator drone was soaring above the U.S.-Mexico border. Not even a year later, that same drone crashed—a sign of the technical and safety issues the program was suffering.

Since then, the drone program has faced internal and external scrutiny. The Department of Homeland Security has flagged that the program costs more than it’s worth, and the hundreds of millions of dollars the program requires a year become especially questionable to taxpayerswhen looking at privacy concerns. While the program launched under the banner of immigration enforcement, it’s evolved to do a lot more in recent years. That’s become especially clear in light of the Black Lives Matter movement that’s exploded since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The agency flew one of its drones over the citywide protests back in May and has since deployed officers to Portland, Oregon, in response to protests there.

“I have several concerns, and my foremost concern is the lack of information,” Kang said. “We actually know very little about these drone flights. We often don’t know who ordered the drone to surveil for non-immigration-related situations. We don’t know what kind of technology gets loaded onto each drone flight. We don’t know what kinds of data exactly those drones are picking up. We aren’t certain about where that data goes.”

The agency’s purview includes the U.S.-Canadian border, which the new Line 3 pipeline would cross. Nearly two out of every three people in America live within the 100-mile zone the CBP largely operates in, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. And if CBP partners with another law enforcement department, it’s no longer subject to even this 100-mile radius.

“It is often misunderstood that our operations are limited to a certain distance from the border,” CBP said in an email. “AMO operates aircraft and vessels under 6 USC § 211(f)(3)(C), which authorizes the agency to conduct aviation and maritime operations in support of federal, state, local, tribal, and international law enforcement agencies without any geographic limitation for such operations.”

The red line shows the drone route over the region on May 19. The existing portion of Line 3 is in black, and the proposed replacement route is in yellow. Graphic: Jim Cooke 1 / 2
The red line shows the drone route over the region on May 20. The existing portion of Line 3 is in black, and the proposed replacement route is in yellow. Graphic: Jim Cooke 2/ 2

While it remains unclear what exactly the drone was doing above Goldtooth’s home in February, that flight is not the only evidence we found that CBP is monitoring activity at the pipeline. On May 19 and 20, a drone registered as CBP104 flew from Grand Forks, Minnesota, to patrol a specific area over the pipeline that activists we spoke to claimed houses Enbridge’s construction equipment. The drone took the same flight path on both days.

“That area is the easement for Line 3. That’s the route they want to use,” Dallas Goldtooth, Tom’s son and an anti-pipeline organizer with IEN, said. “The easement is the swath of land they have the right to build within. It’s at the very least 100 yards across that they can do construction in that space.”

Construction hasn’t yet begun here, according to Dallas, but pre-construction activity has. Enbridge has begun to move in pipes and other equipment in preparation for construction.

Earlier in the year, a drone registered as CBP216 flew directly to a private residence that activists say is owned by an advocacy organization involved in the pipeline’s opposition. The drone lingered briefly above the home before turning around and flying back to Grand Forks Air Force base, cutting through tribal lands at the Red Lake Reservation. In total, Earther observed five flights that occurred between February and June 2020 wherein a CBP drone appeared to surveil an area with an obvious connection to the pipeline or to anti-pipeline activity.

Joe Plumer, legal counsel with Red Lake Nation, said the nation has no agreement with CBP to allow this drone activity over sovereign tribal lands. He is personally concerned whether this signals a growing criminalization of Indigenous activists. Plumer said a resolution “to condemn this action might be necessary,” as is a meeting with CBP and other state agencies.

“Steps should be taken to ensure that surveillance of the Red Lake Nation and its citizens is not conducted without the knowledge of the Red Lake tribal government,” Plumer said.

Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and White Earth Nation did not return Earther’s requests for comment.

CBP has a history of using drones to surveil protesters, and the drones over Tom’s home are reminiscent of what happened in 2016 at Standing Rock. There, Indigenous leaders and allies came together to try to stop the Dakota Access pipeline from cutting through lands that are sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The federal and local governments responded with an overtly militarized response, including the use of rubber bullets and tear gas. An investigation from the Intercept also uncovered that CBP provided a video feed to the county and state law enforcement through the agency’s drone program.We Mapped Where Customs and Border Protection Drones Are Flying in the U.S. and Beyond

In 2011, Rodney Brossart, a cattle rancher from Lakota, North Dakota was accused of stealing six…Read more

Many pipeline opponents across the country—and those now protesting in Minnesota—spent time at Standing Rock in 2016. Tara Houska, a tribal attorney and founder of Giniw Collective, which is resisting Line 3, spent six months at Standing Rock to stand in solidarity with fellow Indigenous people there. Now, she’s on the frontlines to stop Line 3, where she’s working to protect her homelands as a member of the Couchiching First Nation in Ontario, Canada. Her people consider the wild rice they tend in the region sacred. Line 3 threatens their sacred grains, should it spill or leak. That’s, in part, why Houska started the Giniw Collective, a resistance camp,in the first place. The goal isn’t just to stop the pipeline, but also to teach and learn from one another about food sovereignty and sustainable food practices.

“It’s a place meant to be a safe and welcoming space for anyone who wishes to learn more about engaging in the Line 3 resistance, specifically in land defense and cultural revitalization,” Houska said.

Line 3 hasn’t received as much international attention as Standing Rock did, yet local law enforcement has appeared to track opposition to the project. According to Houska, she’s suspected organizers have been dealing with some form of surveillance since 2018, when they first began their efforts to stop the project. She has spotted drones flying over their resistance camp in Minnesota, where anywhere from 10 to 90 activists may be gathering at a time. She remembers one instance in particular last summer where law enforcement officers pulled over a camp member and pulled out a list the officers claimed included the names of Line 3 protesters.

“[The camp member was] pretty shocked by that, the fact that they had a list of names and were specifically targeting and pulling us over because of that,” Houska said.

It’s unclear whether CBP was behind the drones Houska has seen, but the CPB flights Earther has tracked may beon behalf of a local law enforcement agency that requested the help, according to Victor Manjarrez, associate director of the Center for Law and Human Behavior at the University of Texas at El Paso and a retired chief with CBP.Earther reached out to seven local sheriff’s departments, including Hubbard and Beltrami Counties, which have been actively preparing for Standing Rock-level protests. None claims to know anything about the drones.

The Intercept documented local law enforcement and emergency managers’ efforts to prepare for Line 3 opposition through presentations and meetings in 2017 and 2018. Law enforcement has denied requesting drone surveillance, leaving us with the question of who made the call for CBP to take these flights: the federal government or local agencies? What is clear is that this activity seems to target activists specifically.

Beyond the privacy and ethical concerns around the surveillance, many legal advocates, including with the ACLU, worry that CBP may be infringing on the rights of the sovereign tribal nations whose lands it’s crossing over. After all, there’s so little we know about these devices and what technologies they’re capable of. As for how legal it is, Manjarrez said CBP is free to do as it pleases. As someone who used to work in the agency, he believes it’s within CBP’s legal rights to do this. He said CBP has the legal authority to fly these drones anywhere on the continental U.S., per U.S. Code Title 6 and annual appropriations language. When asked whether national security is more important than human right to privacy, Manjarrez paused.Advertisement

“That is the fine line that you try to do. It’s a struggle. It really is,” he said.

He added that it’s possible to see both sides of the issue, given that privacy and national security are both urgent issues. Regardless of this debate, however, CBP is able to keep the details of its flights and activities secret simply by invoking national security concerns.

Efforts to defend land and water from devastating infrastructure projects come with a cost. In northern Minnesota, it appears to be targeted surveillance. Across the U.S., it’s increasingly becoming arrests and prison sentences. Elsewhere, it’s death: 2019 marked a record number of environmentalists killed around the globe.

This is the risk advocates are willing to take in an effort to stop these companies from furthering the mass extinction unfolding in the face of the climate crisis. It is, essentially, a fight for life. The question now is which side the government will be on.

“It might be unsettling to know that private security is working with state and federal authorities to attempt to suppress the rights of citizens,” Houska said. “However, the cause that we are advocating for is far greater than any personal risk. We’re talking about the rights of future generations to live and the continuation of human life and of many other lives on this planet. We’re talking about having an inhabitable environment.”