Etta Furlow’s struggle for democracy, justice, and socialism / by Rebecca Pera

Etta Furlow, the ‘Queen Mother’ of Minneapolis’ progressive community. | The Etta Furlow Papers / Minnesota Historical Society

For eight decades, Etta Furlow lived a life filled with struggle and achievements, culminating in a long list of accomplishments. She was known in the community as “Queen Mother” for her tireless efforts in fighting for the rights of African Americans, women, and the working class in Minnesota.

She was recognized by the NAACP, St. Paul Urban League, AFL-CIO, and the Minnesota Nurses’s Association for her work in the labor and civil rights movements. This outstanding leader received the Rosa Parks Award on Feb. 27, 1983, in commemoration of Black History Month for her “aggressive articulation of racist and unjust practices on local, state, and national issues.” And in the 1980s, the City of St. Paul, declared “Etta Furlow Day” in her honor.

The Etta Furlow Papers / Minnesota Historical Society

Born in 1910 in Missouri, Furlow moved to Chicago in the 1940s to pursue her studies in nursing. Having received a certificate for massage and physical therapy in 1947, she would become a licensed practical nurse in the state of Illinois in 1959. Upon achieving her diploma, she moved to St. Paul in 1960 with her husband, James Furlow, to work in an integrated hospital. During this period, this groundbreaking African American leader also transitioned into the role of labor organizer, leading the fight to integrate the Minnesota Practical Nurses Association, the predecessor of the Minnesota Licensed Practical Nurses Association (MLPNA).

A fierce advocate for Black women, she used her position as a labor leader to fight against segregation and for respect and unity in the nurses union. As she continued the struggle into her later years, Furrow discussed concerns over the excessive pressure placed on women for waged labor and the increased competition among women in the workplace. “A situation which polarizes rather than unites women is not progress,” she said.

Having worked as a pediatric nurse for many of her professional years, Furlow also held in high esteem “reproductive labor”— the work women do that is life-sustaining: domestic work and raising children, keeping themselves, their families, and others healthy, safe, fed, clean, cared for, and thriving. In other words, the labor leader deeply valued the essential work that capitalism tends not to acknowledge or compensate. “The world depends on women, and women depend on each other,” she stated.

The Etta Furlow Papers / Minnesota Historical Society

Etta and James Furlow were foster parents, and their work at home mirrored the social justice work they did in the community. The couple frequently had nieces and nephews staying with them whom she helped raise. Her home was the after-school gathering spot for children on her block who might not have had anywhere else to go. In her position as Education Chairperson for the Minnesota Licensed Practical Nurses Association, Furlow worked unremittingly to get a child abuse protection law passed in the state. And it was she who organized the first seminar on the subject of child abuse in Minnesota in 1973.

Etta Furlow understood that under capitalism, cooperation, and collectivity are neglected and replaced by individualism, which places a higher importance on material consumption than on health, community, and well-being.

As a foster mother, a community mother, and “Queen Mother,” she valued time for true connections with people over “token stuff,” as she put it. “Toys and trips are no substitute for love. The only thing anybody really needs is food, shelter, warmth, participation, and recognition.”

The Etta Furlow Papers / Minnesota Historical Society

The respected community leader also promoted participation and recognition for seniors of color in her work with the Metropolitan Council’s Minority Issues Advisory Committee and the Metropolitan Council’s Advisory Commission for the Aging. In these roles, she arranged for homebound senior residents to attend the Minnesota state fair and helped to organize a voter registration drive specifically targeting seniors.

Furlow’s rich tapestry of lived experiences led her to storytelling. In the 1980s, she was involved in a storytelling group called Whispers, composed of older women. A play based on her life, entitled Etta, was written and performed at the Guthrie Theater, a center for theater performance, production, and education in Minneapolis. “We all have a story to tell,” the play’s original protagonist explained.

Etta Furlow was a member of the Communist Party USA’s Bill Herron Club in St. Paul until her passing. Party members there have many fond memories of her. They recall how “Queen Mother” would frequently be seen with other party leaders like novelist Meridel Le Sueur reading books and passing out political pamphlets and Marxist literature at the Paul Robeson Bookstore in the Dinkytown neighborhood of Minneapolis. “I strive to get along with folks here on earth,” she concluded.

Rebecca Pera is a retired Twin Cities, Minnesota, teacher.

People’s World, February 28, 2023

Angela Davis talks activism, communism and ‘wokeness’ at UTC MLK Day event / by Carmen Nesbitt

Contributed Photo by Angela Foster/UTC UTC Communications Department Head Felicia McGhee (left) interviews Angela Davis, MLK Day series speaker, Tuesday in the Roland Hayes Auditorium.

Originally posted in Chattanooga Times Free Press on January 24, 2023

Human rights activist Angela Davis spoke Tuesday at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where she discussed her life as a political activist and the future of progressivism.

Davis’ appearance marked the 10th year of the university’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day speaker series and was the first time the event had been held in person since 2020 due to COVID-19.

Every seat in the Roland Hayes Concert Hall was taken. Attendees included community members, UTC staff and students and high schoolers from The Howard School and Chattanooga School for the Arts & Sciences.

UTC’s Communications Department head, Felicia McGhee, interviewed Davis on stage, asking about her past, her views on “wokeness” and her affiliation with the Communist Party.

Davis was born on Jan. 26, 1944, in Birmingham, Alabama. She was an active member in the Communist Party and the Black Panther Party and a prominent figure during the civil rights movement.

She is most famous for her involvement with three inmates, known as the Soledad brothers, who were charged with first-degree murder in connection with the death of a California prison guard in 1970. Davis was charged with aggravated kidnapping and first-degree murder of a judge following an incident connected with the case and went into hiding, landing her on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. She was later acquitted of those charges.

Since, she has authored 10 books and numerous articles and essays. She is the distinguished professor emerita of history of consciousness — an interdisciplinary doctoral program — and of feminist studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. During the past 25 years, she has lectured in all 50 states in the U.S., Africa, Europe, the Caribbean and the former Soviet Union.

“I can’t remember a time when I was not aware that we needed to change our world,” Davis said. “Whenever we as children complained about things that we were not able to do, because Black children weren’t allowed to go to amusement parks, Black children weren’t allowed to go to the museums. Our schools were segregated schools, (they) were broken-down wooden shacks. So, whenever I would complain about that, my mother would always say, ‘This is not the way things are supposed to be, and they will change.'”

She said while the event was to honor Martin Luther King Jr., the fight for Black liberation wasn’t fought alone.

“We never gave up,” she said. “Hundreds of years and Black people still never gave up, then managed to pass down that impulse to fight for freedom from one generation to the next.”

In 1980 and 1984, she unsuccessfully ran for U.S. vice president on a Communist Party ticket.

“When you say the word ‘communism,’ people don’t like that,” McGhee said. “Why do you think that word causes so many connotations?”

“It’s because of the fact that we live in a capitalist society, a society, that is, that values profit more than people,” Davis replied. “Capitalism, by the way, was produced by slavery. That was the first primitive accumulation of capital.”

McGhee asked Davis how she feels when she hears the word “woke.”

“It’s great to wake up, isn’t it?” Davis said. “But we should always be aware that no change that really makes a difference is going to be without its detractors, is going to be without those who want to conserve the old way of doing things.”

She made mention of recent efforts across the nation by conservative groups to ban books and limit discussions of race in public schools.

“And now they want to tell us how Black history is to be taught,” Davis said. “And Black studies emerged out of an effort to be more critical in the way we think about history, the way we think about culture, the way we think about the world. And I believe the majority of the people in this country are on the right track. I really do.”

She encouraged the youth in the audience to never stop questioning.

“I do think it is always important to think critically, to think in ways that question the text that you’re reading, that question the conditions of your life,” Davis said. “I think raising questions is the most important aspect of education.”

She concluded the interview with three pieces of advice:

— Combine patience with urgency.

— Take leadership from young people because young people are closest to the future.

— Be critical and self-critical.

Carmen Nesbitt before joining the Times Free Press spent two years covering education and public health at Flint Beat in Michigan. She is a Michigan native and a graduate of the University of Michigan, where she earned a bachelor’s in English and minored in French. She also earned her master’s in journalism from Wayne State University in Detroit, Mich. Follow her on Twitter at @carmen_nesbitt.

Architects of Medicare Privatization: Congress, Biden and the CMS / by Sandra M. Fox

Photograph Source: Molly Adams – CC BY 2.0

Originally published in Counterpunch, December 30, 2021

It is easy and appropriate to target the private health insurance companies who earn excessive profits from the Medicare Trust Fund through Medicare Advantage plans, especially given the well-documented evidence of overcharging and fraud.

But it is essential that we remember that it has been the U.S. Congress and the Executive Office that promoted the privatization of Medicare, to varying degrees, since it was first signed into law by President Johnson in 1965 and enacted the following year.

In 2017 The Commonwealth Fund published “The Evolution of Private Plans in Medicare,” which detailed the increasing role in healthcare granted to private companies since 1966 through Acts of Congress and the Office of the President.   Privatization was boosted significantly by the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, which–in addition to providing private drug coverage (with non-negotiable prices) through Medicare Part D–provided an alternative payment structure to private health insurers as a way to incentivize and increase their participation in the Medicare program.  And it worked; more health insurance companies decided to enter the Medicare “market” and labeled their plans “Medicare Advantage.”  Almost 50% of Medicare beneficiaries are now enrolled in private plans, compared to those in traditional Medicare.

There are many reasons why seniors and those with disabilities continue to enroll in traditional Medicare.  Traditional Medicare does not have restrictive provider networks and individuals can seek care from any provider in the country who takes Medicare.  Further, prior authorizations are not required, as they are in Medicare Advantage plans.  Delay and denial of care are hallmarks of Medicare Advantage plans–not traditional Medicare–as a way of increasing the profit margin of private companies.  However, delay and denial of treatment also mean worse health outcomes and an increase in premature death.   The Mayo Clinic has stopped accepting patients with Medicare Advantage plans and is encouraging patients to enroll in traditional Medicare instead.

Traditional Medicare has no profit; its administrative overhead is less than 2%, compared to 15% overhead and profit for Medicare Advantage plans.  As a result, traditional Medicare is less costly, while payments to Medicare Advantage plans are draining the Medicare Trust Fund, a fund workers pay into, as they do for Social Security.

Advocates for a national single-payer healthcare system in this country, often referred to as Improved Medicare for All, acknowledge the weaknesses in the current version of traditional Medicare.  While the federal government has allowed for perks to beneficiaries in Medicare Advantage plans, including free gym memberships and some (limited) dental and vision care, these benefits are not available to those choosing traditional Medicare.  Why not?  They are a clever way for private companies to increase enrollment in their plans, in addition to lowering their premiums, made possible through excessive payments received from the Medicare Trust Fund to private insurers.  So far, Congress has not expanded those benefits to beneficiaries in traditional Medicare, thus favoring for-profit companies.

The money is there to improve traditional Medicare and expand it to cover all residents of the United States, as substantiated by the Congressional Budget Office.  But many elected officials on both sides of the aisle will say otherwise and are compensated by private health insurers with handsome campaign contributions.

Meanwhile, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI), under the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), was established as part of the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA).  According to its website,

“the CMS Innovation Center, through its models, initiatives and Congressionally-mandated demonstrations, has accelerated the shift from a health care system that pays for volume to one that pays for value.”

The ACA also allowed CMMI to make changes without Congressional oversight.  And CMMI is determined to reframe privatization as value-based care.

CMMI has been quietly contracting with for-profit companies to engage in “pilot programs” that insert middlemen into traditional Medicare without the beneficiary’s consent and often without their knowledge.  The Trump Administration, which launched the program, contracted with 53 for-profit middlemen called Direct Contracting Entities (DCEs).  The Biden Administration re-branded the program ACO-REACH (Accountable Care Organizations Realizing Equity, Access, and Community Health) and increased the number of corporate participants to 99.

These participants include private health insurance companies as well as private equity/venture capital firms, which can keep up to 40% of Medicare dollars in administrative costs and profits by “managing” patients’ healthcare.  The supposed goal is to lower costs through “value-based care.”  We already know that lowering costs in Medicare Advantage means delaying and denying care by requiring prior authorizations, as well as restricting provider networks.  Furthermore, an excellent analysis by healthcare policy experts Kip Sullivan, J.D. and James G. Khan, M.D., refutes the premise of CMS that Accountable Care Organizations will save money, given evidence of past performance.

The intended goal is the complete privatization of Medicare by 2030, as posted on the CMS website:  “All Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries will be in a care relationship with accountability for quality and total cost of care by 2030.”  Starting January 2023, the number of ACO-REACH programs managing the care of traditional Medicare beneficiaries is slated to increase dramatically, from 99 to over 200.

The appointment of Elizabeth Fowler, Director of CMMI, whose past work in the private healthcare sector as Vice President for Global Health Policy at Johnson & Johnson and as Vice President of insurer Wellpoint (now Anthem), not only poses a huge conflict of interest.  It reflects the intention of many within the federal government to privatize healthcare.  During the Obama administration, Fowler assisted in the development and implementation of the ACA, which created the CMMI, the office she now directs.

Since Congress does not have oversight of CMMI, it will take an Executive Action by the President to eliminate the ACO-REACH program.  President Biden could do this with a stroke of his pen.

Healthcare advocates must recognize that the instruments of privatization are in the government’s hands and that CMMI, CMS, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Members of Congress, and the President of the United States have been complicit for years in the privatization of a beloved public program, Medicare, and must all be held accountable.

What constitutes government accountability in healthcare?

There are those in Congress, as well as some healthcare advocates, who ascribe to a “bad actors” paradigm; i.e., if we can issue new rules, fine, and/or weed out the private companies that engage in Medicare fraud we will be doing our job in protecting the public.  Diane Archer, a long-time healthcare advocate and President of Just Care, writes on 12/21/22 that the current fines are grossly insufficient to de-incentivize corporations from committing fraud.  And she is right.

However, as Archer concedes in a March 2022 interview, private corporations in healthcare are following their profit-driven mission to maximize profits and satisfy their shareholders, not the public, and that an improved system of Medicare for All is the solution.

Don McCanne, M.D., another long-time healthcare advocate, writing for Health Justice Monitor on 12/22/22, comments that CMS’s new proposed regulations for Medicare Advantage programs are “camouflage for perpetuating” a “wealth-creating business model” and calls for the end of privatization in Medicare and Improved Medicare for All.

The majority of Americans favor a “single government program to provide healthcare coverage.”

Even in a county that voted overwhelmingly for former President Trump–rural Dunn County, Wisconsin–a referendum asking “Shall Congress and the President of the United States enact into law the creation of a publicly financed, non-profit, national health insurance program that would fully cover medical care costs for all Americans?” passed.

Whether it’s tax incentives for polluters, with EPA issuing fines for environmental degradation and health risks, or the federal government designing a system for the privatization of Medicare and CMS issuing fines to the profiteers, we need to reckon with our government’s history of working hand in glove with corporate interests, often at odds with the best interests of the people and the planet, and not compromise our own expectations and the demands we make of elected officials.  As McCanne wrote, the proposed regulations are indeed a means of perpetuating the status quo.  We need to get the middlemen out of healthcare, improve traditional Medicare, and expand it to cover everyone.

Sandra M. Fox, LCSW, is a psychiatric social worker who has worked in healthcare in southern West Virginia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for over 40 years, was a co-founder of the Western PA Coalition for Single Payer Healthcare and is on the steering committee of National Single Payer.

    You should thank this Russian Naval Officer that you and your loved ones are alive today / by Jeremy Kuzmarov


    Originally published: CovertAction Magazine on December 15, 2022

    On October 27, 1962, Soviet naval officer Vasily Arkhipov helped prevent the outbreak of World War III and saved humanity from nuclear catastrophe.

    Vasily Arkhipov [Source:]

    A minesweeper during the Pacific War, Arkhipov was the commander of a diesel submarine that had been sent by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to escort merchant ships bound for Cuba, which were equipped with a torpedo boat armed with a nuclear warhead.

    On October 14, 1962, a U.S. spy plane flying over Cuba had revealed that the Soviet Union was building ramps for the installation of missiles with nuclear warheads, in retaliation for the United States deploying missiles with nuclear warheads capable of striking the Soviet Union in Italy, at Gioia del Colle (Apulia in southern Italy), and in Turkey.

    President Kennedy’s imposition of a naval blockade after the spy plane discovery triggered the 13-day Cuban Missile Crisis, during which time the submarine that Arkhipov commanded was being pursued by U.S. destroyers which, using depth charges, were trying to force Arkhipov’s submarine to the surface.

    President Kennedy with the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. [Source:]

    After the Soviet sub’s ventilation system broke down and communication was cut, the captain of the Soviet submarine group, Valentin Grigoryevich Savitsky, was convinced that war had broken out.

    Not wanting to sink without a fight, he decided to launch a nuclear warhead at the aircraft carrier pursuing his sub.

    The political officer, Ivan Semyonovich Maslennikov, agreed with the captain, but on the flagship B-59, Arkhipov’s consent was also needed, and he objected, convincing Savitsky ultimately to do the same.1

    Arkhipov’s persuasion averted a nuclear war, whose consequences would have been horrific. After surfacing, Arkhipov’s sub was fired on by Americans but was able to return to the Soviet Union safely.

    The Soviet B-59 nuclear submarine forced to surface off the coast of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis. [Source:]

    Spooked about how the world had come so close to the nuclear brink, President Kennedy gave a speech at American University in June 1963, five months before his assassination, calling for a “reexamin[ation of the U.S.] attitude towards the Soviet Union” and “Cold War” and for the U.S. and Soviets to work together for a “just and genuine peace” and to “halt the arms race.”

    “Confident and unafraid,” Kennedy concluded,

    we must labor on—not towards a strategy of annihilation but towards a strategy of peace.

    Another Grave Moment of Danger

    Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara was not mincing his words when he said years after the events that “We came very, very close [to nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis,] closer than we knew at the time.”

    Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., characterized the period of the Cuban Missile Crisis as “not only the most dangerous moment of the Cold War [but] the most dangerous moment in human history.”

    That moment of danger unfortunately appears just as sharp today.

    Time magazine reported in late October that Russia’s launching of missile strikes targeting energy plants within Ukraine and civilian infrastructure “triggered fears that hostilities were escalating and inching closer to nuclear war.”

    JFK giving commencement address at American University in June 1963 in which he spoke for a rethinking of the Cold War and need for disarmament. Five months later, he was assassinated. [Source:]

    The U.S. had stoked the fire by a) engaging in provocative military drills testing the handling of thermonuclear bombs; b) delivering bombers to Europe equipped with low-yield tactical nuclear weapons; and c) carrying out acts of international terrorism such as the sinking of the flagship vessel of the Russian Black Sea Fleet called the Moskva that prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to place Russia on high nuclear alert.

    The U.S. was generally the one to provoke a new Cold War with Russia by a) expanding NATO towards Russia’s border; b) imposing economic sanctions on it under fraudulent pretexts; c) and then backing a coup in Ukraine that triggered the conflict in eastern Ukraine which has evolved into a proxy war.2

    In October 2018, the Trump administration pulled the U.S. out of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) agreement, characterized by former U.S. ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman, Jr., as “probably the most successful treaty in the history of arms control.”3

    Carl J. Richard, head of the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) which oversees the nation’s nuclear arsenal, wrote in the U.S. Naval Institute’s monthly magazine subsequently that the U.S. military had to “shift its principal assumption from ‘nuclear employment is not possible’ to ‘nuclear employment is a very real possibility,’” in the face of threats from Russia and China.

    Richard’s successor, Anthony J. Cotton, said just as ominously during his confirmation hearing in September that his job was to prepare the 150,000 men and women under his command to deploy nuclear weapons, and that the president should have flexible nuclear options.


    Both Richard and Cotton appear to be of the opposite character of Arkhipov, whose level-headedness under pressure and commitment to peace between the U.S. and Russia needs to be remembered at this time.

    In a deeply Russophobic climate, Arkhipov should remind us also not to associate Russians with the stereotyped qualities promoted about them in Hollywood films—and in the ravings of Pentagon war planners and politicians who have led us into another grave crisis.

    1.  See Ron Ridenour, The Russian Peace Threat: Pentagon on Alert (New York: Punto Press, 2018), chapter 5.
    2.  See Jeremy Kuzmarov and John Marciano, The Russians are Coming, Again: The First Cold War as Tragedy, the Second as Farce (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2018).
    3. See Scott Ritter, Disarmament in the Time of Perestroika: Arms Control and the End of the Soviet Union (Atlanta: Clarity Press, 2022) on the lost promise of the disarmament treaties of the late Cold War era.

    Jeremy Kuzmarov ( is Managing Editor of CovertAction Magazine and author of The Russians Are Coming, Again, with John Marciano (Monthly Review Press, 2018).

    MR Online, December 28, 2022,

    Brazilian communist leader Ivan Pinheiro honored in Mexico / by IDC

    Ivan Pinheiro, Segretario Generale del PCB

    Ivan Pinheiro, General Secretary of the Brazilian Communist Party from 2005 to 2016, was honored by the Communist Party of Mexico (PCM) with the “David Alfaro Siqueiros Medal for Revolutionary Merit”, as a recognition of his contribution to the communist movement in Brazil and Latin America.

    Pinheiro, a lawyer by profession who stood as a candidate at the 2010 Presidental Elections in Brazil, received the medal during the 7th Congress of the PCM on December 17, 2022. 

    Ivan Pinheiro

    The Communist Party of Mexico (PCM) initiated the “David Alfaro Siqueiros Medal for Revolutionary Merit”, named after the famous communist painter and muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, in honor of exemplary communists in Latin America. Ivan Pinheiro is the first recipient of the Medal. 

    In Defense of Communism (IDC), December 26, 2022,

    Communist Party of Brazil (Partido Comunista do Brasil, PCdoB),

    Communist Party of Mexico (Partido Comunista de México, PCM),

    Charlene Mitchell, a freedom fighter of unimpeachable integrity, passes at 92 / by Herb Boyd

    Charlene Mitchell was nominated by the Communist Party USA as its presidential candidate on July 4, 1968. She was the first Black woman to be nominated for the presidency by any political party. (People’s World Archives)

    Originally published in Amsterdam News, December 22, 2022

    Charlene (Alexander) Mitchell was a serious unwavering champion of the oppressed and marginalized, never flinching in her advocacy for civil and human rights. Many remember her fearless commitment to free Angela Davis and as a member of the U.S Communist Party. Her intrepid fight for justice will now be taken up by those who admired her will and determination. Mitchell died on Dec. 14, at the Amsterdam Nursing Home in New York City, reportedly of natural causes. She was 92.

    Still, for Angela Davis there was much more to Mitchell and her political resolve, and in a statement from Davis we gather some notion of her unimpeachable integrity and grit. “Having known Charlene Mitchell through political victories and defeats, through personal tragedies and triumphs, I can say with confidence that she is the person to whom I am most grateful for showing me a life path.

    “What I have most appreciated over these years is her amazing ability to discover ethical connections between the political and the personal, the global and the local,” Davis continued. “I don’t think I have ever known someone as consistent in her values, as collective in her outlook on life, as firm in her trajectory as a freedom fighter.”

    Born Charlene Alexander on June 8, 1930, in Cincinnati, Ohio, the second child of eight, her parents were Charles Alexander and Naomi Taylor.  Much like her working class activist parents, Charlene by her early teens was a member of anti-racist campaigns. She was 16 and living in Chicago when she joined the Communist Party, USA. During an appearance on “American Masters,” a television program, she recounted how she met her idol Paul Robeson. Her organizing skills were quickly recognized by the Party and she was given leadership responsibilities, even as she raised her son, Steven, who was born in 1951, a year after her marriage to Bill Mitchell.

    One of her most prominent positions was at the helm of the CPUSA branch in Los Angeles, widely known as the Che-Lumumba club, after the renowned revolutionaries, where she helped orchestrate a number of community activities in the areas of housing, police abuse and civil rights. 

    In 1968, she became the first Black woman to run for president of the U.S. on the CP ticket, and at that time stated that she hoped anti-communist sentiments on voting laws “won’t prevent the American public from having a chance to engage with Communist Party USA policies.” In the campaign to free Angela Davis, Charlene was indefatigable, speaking at rallies and forums across the nation. She was equally vocal about other victims of racist and political repression, particularly in the fight to free Joan Little, who in 1975 was eventually acquitted on the charge of murdering a North Carolina prison guard who tried to rape her.  When the Wilmington Ten were wrongly convicted, Charlene was an indispensable leader in their fight for freedom.

    The early ’90s found Charlene just as energetic in causes as ever and elected leader of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. Her fight for justice was extensive and highly regarded internationally, especially in the anti-apartheid struggle. From this participation she later forged a relationship with Nelson Mandela.

    Her reputation on the rampart was soon recognized by New York City’s Social Service Employees Union, Local 371, the progressive welfare workers’ DC 37 of AFSCME, where she was hired as special assistant to Charles Ensley, the union’s president. In 1998, she was among a coterie of activists who endorsed the founding of the Black Radical Congress.

    Though somewhat impaired by a stroke in 2007 that partially paralyzed and impeded her speech, she found ways to lend her spirit to the fight for freedom, justice and the total liberation of the oppressed. She is survived by her son, Steven Mitchell, and her brothers, Deacon Alexander and Mike Wolfson.

    Herb Boyd (born November 1, 1938)[1] is an American journalist, teacher, author, and activist. His articles appear regularly in the New York Amsterdam News. He teaches black studies at the City College of New York and the College of New Rochelle.

    No contract, no coffee: Starbucks baristas strike, demand bargaining / by Mark Gruenberg

    Starbucks baristas on strike in Memphis, Tenn. | via @Un1onBarbie on Twitter

    In Seattle, Starbucks baristas at CEO Howard Schultz’s home store, The Roastery, brought Scabby the Rat to their picket line. Chants and signs from coast to coast—including in crayon on a Baltimore County, Md., car—declared: “No contract, no coffee!”

    At an unidentified Starbucks, Santa had to strike: “Even my elves are in unions!” he said in a film clip. “Shame on you, Mr. Schultz.”

    At the Starbucks store at Ashland Ave. and Irving Park Road on Chicago’s North Side, so many customers honored the picket line that at 11 a.m. on Dec. 16—the first day of a 3-day nationwide forced strike—managers closed the store.

    “Who shut it down? We shut it down!” the exuberant picketers shouted via bullhorn.

    “SHAME ON STARBUCKS” read a big bedsheet banner during what participants called “mega picketing” at three Starbucks St. Louis stores. Minnesota participants, joined by members of the Communist Party club there, thronged to the picket line, despite typical Minnesota December temperatures, even at midday: 5 degrees below zero.

    Scabby the Rat on the picket line at the Starbucks Roastery story in Seattle. | Starbucks Workers United Seattle

    And in Ithaca, N.Y., at a store the giant chain keeps threatening to close—in retaliation for unionizing—workers added a song for their Jewish customers, just before Chanukah began, sung to the children’s tune of Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel:

    “Union, union, union

    A fair contract we say.

    And if we don’t get it,

    We will strike all day.”

    The object of all this activity: To force Starbucks’ bosses back to bargaining with the workers who have unionized at 260-plus of the monster coffee chain’s stores since the grassroots organizing drive—aided by Starbucks Workers United (SWU), a Service Employees affiliate—achieved its first success in Buffalo just over a year ago.

    The three-day forced strike #DoubleDownPicketing on the weekend of Dec. 16-19 was the latest effort by the workers to get the bosses to bargain in good faith, despite CEO Schultz. There were two short sessions in late October.

    In the first, lasting about five minutes, the workers barely began to present proposals when the bosses’ union-buster called a caucus and led management in a walkout. They never came back. The second was even shorter: Bosses refused to talk because hundreds of Starbucks workers nationwide had tuned in via Zoom.

    The weekend action, which SWU described as the longest against the giant coffee chain, showed yet again that Starbucks baristas, like other underpaid and overworked workers—especially in fast food eateries, coffee shops, and bars—have had it up to here with corporate exploitation and greed, and have taken to unionizing and to the streets, in response.

    They join port truckers, retail workers, adjunct professors, museum workers, Amazon workers, and warehouse workers—among others in a mass movement agitating for union recognition, better pay, safer working conditions and respect on the job, in numbers infrequently seen in decades, and certainly not coast to coast. But that’s what happened here.

    They also got wide public support—despite a few “brew your own coffee remarks”—from the Twitterverse.

    St. Louis Starbucks workers on the mega-picket line. | via @CMRJB on Twitter

    “Switching up my routine to support@SBWorkersUnited,” one tweet said. “This #Union brother won’t cross picket lines. #BoycottStarbucks Solidarity is more than just a word, it’s a conscious action that requires commitment. Be an active part of the #StarbucksStrike. Retweet in #Solidarity.”

    “SCABS TRIED TO SLOW US DOWN AND WE CAME BACK STRONGER,” another reported. “#DoubleDownStrike #NoContractNoGiftCards #NoContractNoCoffee #SBWU #UnionStrong.”

    “Those big executives that are sitting up in their offices picking their noses all day are about to find out real fast who actually runs the company,” a third tweeter commented.

    The strikers picked up heavyweight intellectual backing, too, of a sort. A new study from the Harvard Business School of the nation’s 250 largest corporations, listing the 50 best for workers on various quality of life issues—not just pay, but benefits, diversity, and opportunities for advancement—showed Starbucks was second to last in its category, retail. Only McDonald’s was worse.

    “Starbucks earned one of the lowest ratings in the study, placing it in the bottom 50 of the surveyed companies, beneath brands with notably poor reputations for worker treatment including Walmart and Dollar General,” the news story on the study adds. The study didn’t distinguish between unionized and non-unionized firms.

    Starbucks’ exact finish in the multifactor rankings could not be determined, from the confusing way it posted its findings. But another pro-worker group posted the survey anyway, noting in irony the Howard Schultz Foundation—yes, the CEO’s non-profit—financed it. The overall #1? AT&T, which is unionized.

    Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People’s World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People’s World en Washington, D.C. También es editor del servicio de noticias sindicales Press Associates Inc. (PAI).

    People’s World, December 20, 2022,

    Hearing turnout shows wide support for Green New Deal housing legislation in D.C. / by Jamal Rich

    Signs hang from the Meridian Heights apartment building in Northwest Washington on May 18, 2020. While the pandemic-caused economic crisis made the affordability problem in D.C. apparent, the issue of housing goes far beyond short-term COVID impacts. | Caroline Brehman / CQ Roll Call via AP

    WASHINGTON— If a new proposal is enacted, D.C. could become one of the first major cities in the United States to adopt a municipal strategy aimed at creating a sustainable supply of affordable housing.

    In April 2022, Janeese Lewis George, councilmember of Ward 4, introduced two historic legislative bills to the D.C. city council modeled after the Green New Deal in Congress.

    The first bill, the “Green New Deal for Housing Act” aims to solve the affordable housing crisis in D.C., which was influenced in part by housing attorney and former at-large candidate, Will Merrifield who is inspired by the social housing model in European countries.

    The second, the “Green New Deal for a Lead-Free DC” will accelerate lead water service line removal by making D.C.-owned or -leased buildings remove lead pipes by 2028 and privately-owned buildings by 2030 (currently only 20% of lead service lines are projected to be removed by 2030).

    Social housing was the central plank of Merrifield’s campaign for D.C. council at-large in 2020. He noted in an email to supporters back in April, “Although we may have lost at the ballot box, the ideas that we proposed are taking root. I will follow up in the coming weeks with steps that you can take to make sure the bill becomes law and that social housing becomes a reality in Washington, D.C.”

    The local president of the NAACP D.C. branch released a press statement supporting the councilmember’s proposal, saying:

    “Housing justice and environmental justice are civil rights issues. Environmental injustice, housing injustice, and lead exposure have disproportionately severe health impacts on lower-income, Black, and Brown people in the District of Columbia. Not all residents in the District are equally impacted. Race, class, income, housing, healthcare access, and privilege influence the health impacts of environmental toxins. Today, affordable housing, green jobs, and reducing lead exposure are critical to promote healthier communities.”

    The bill, if passed, would create a new Office of Social Housing Development, which will be under the guidance of a council of at least five renters and a director approved by the D.C. council. This office will be responsible for the creation and maintenance of social housing in the city. The bill will also create tenant leadership boards, which will give tenants power to fight for their interests in their buildings.

    The units it develops will be mandated to be 2/3 social housing that is municipally-owned and mixed-income (for families at 30% median income and at 50% median income), while 1/3 will be market-rate to cross-subsidize affordability. The construction will be funded by D.C.’s Housing Production Trust Fund and Green Bank.

    Any surplus rents will go toward deepening affordability and creating more social housing, instead of profit for landlords. This law most closely resembles the social housing approach in Vienna, Austria, where 50-60% of all people live in permanently affordable, rent-stabilized, subsidized housing.

    Sunrise Movement D.C. was present during the original announcement of the historic legislation. “A catastrophic wave of displacement is pushing workers out of D.C.,” the group stated on its Twitter page. “Underlying it all is staggering inequality.” Other groups, including Sierra Club and Empower D.C., also back the housing proposals.

    The legislation was co-introduced by five other councilmembers, including Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1), Brooke Pinto (Ward 2), Charles Allen (Ward 6), Trayon White (Ward 8), and Robert White (Ward 8). Trayon White and Robert White are both running for D.C. Mayor against the incumbent, Muriel Bowser, who has not signaled support for this bill as of yet.

    On Nov. 22, the first hearing of the Green New Deal for Housing Amendment Act of 2022 took place with over 150 witnesses testifying from a variety of tenant, community, and legal organizations, as well as longtime D.C. residents who have been directly affected by housing costs and policy throughout the years.

    If it becomes law, the proposal would make D.C. a leader on affordable housing policy, alongside other locales, like Montgomery County, Md., which recently approved funding for social housing to build new units.

    Representatives from organizations like Sunrise Movement D.C., Green New Deal for D.C. Coalition, D.C. Statehood Green Party, D.C. for Democracy, Beloved Community Incubator, D.C. Jobs With Justice, Metro D.C. Democratic Socialists of America, the Claudia Jones School for Political Education, and a variety of others weighed in at the hearing with support for the bill.

    Native Washingtonian and Claudia Jones School member Luci Murphy said:

    “Separating people from their families, neighbors, and support systems is violence. The dislocation of families in D.C. demonstrates that our society values property rights more than children’s rights, women’s rights, and family’s rights—which are human rights.”

    Other organizers of Claudia Jones School who spoke included Mark Agard and Dante O’Hara, who both noted that the current system of housing in D.C. centers on maximizing developers’ profits at the expense of the city’s working class.

    The hearing lasted for 11 hours and heard from longtime District residents who spoke of poor housing conditions (mold, dilapidated conditions, rodent infestations, flooding, etc.) in conjunction with discussion of a recent HUD report exposing how the D.C. Housing Authority is failing.

    The chairperson of the Committee on Housing and Executive Administration, Anita Bonds (At-Large-D), even admitted that her own daughter could not afford to live in the city. Bonds has historically supported policy on the side of the big developers and real estate speculators in the District.

    Since the year is coming to a close, there are doubts about whether the proposal will make it out of committee on time for a full council vote, but organizers are feeling optimistic for 2023.

    Social housing would be a historic landmark for the residents of D.C., a means of keeping the current residents from being displaced and expanding affordable housing for new people moving into the city.

    Jamal Rich writes from Washington, D.C. where he is active with the Claudia Jones School for Political Education.

    People’s World, November 23, 2022,

    The strike by University of California student workers is entering its third week. What’s at stake? / by Natalia Marques

    Students picket outside of UC San Francisco on November 21 (Photo: Saul Kanowitz)

    Originally published in People’s Dispatch on November 30, 2022

    Over 48,000 student workers are on strike for fair wages, support for parents, job security, and more. On Tuesday, the United Auto Workers, which is organizing the students, announced that the bargaining teams for Academic Researchers and Postdocs had secured tentative agreements.

    On November 14, 48,000 student workers hit the picket line at University of California (UC) campuses across the State, fighting for fair wages, support for parents, job security, and more. They have now entered their third week of strike, the largest of its kind in US history, in a struggle for better working conditions.

    On Tuesday, November 29, UAW announced that the bargaining teams for Academic Researchers (AR) and Postdocs had secured tentative agreements with the UC. 

    The UC workers, organized into United Auto Workers (UAW), have been fighting for a $54,000/year minimum for all graduate workers and a $70,000/year minimum for Postdoctoral student workers, along with a 14% salary increase for Academic Researchers and adjustments depending on cost of living. 

    For Postdocs, the agreement includes a 20-23% increase in salary, by up to $12,000 by October 2023. The union has added that the current lowest paid Postdoc student would see a 57% increase in their salary over the course of five years. 

    The minimum annual pay for full-time workers will reportedly increase from $55,000 to $70,000, or higher. From 2024 to 2027, the agreement includes an annual pay increase of 7.2% for Postdocs on the scale and a 3% annual increase for those above scale.

    Under the terms of the tentative agreement, parental and family leave, paid at 100%, has been increased from four to eight weeks. Childcare subsidies will also be provided starting at $2,500 per year and increase to $2,800 annually.  

    “My son just turned one a couple months ago,” said Chandler, a Postdoc at UC San Francisco. “So as you know, one of the things [the union is] bargaining for is for subsidies for childcare…childcare costs in the Bay Area average around $4,500 a month to send one child to daycare. We also only get maximum eight weeks of parental leave, and then we have to come back to work, and send our kids off. Can we afford that on a Postdoc salary? No, we can’t.”

    For Academic Researchers, the agreement contains provisions for a 29% increase in salary “including both scale and merit increases,” over the duration of the contract. Researchers will also be able to avail eight weeks of fully paid parental and family leave. 

    The tentative agreements also contain provisions for better job security, including extending initial appointments for Postdocs from one to two years and longer appointments for Academic Researchers, and protections against abusive conduct and bullying, as well as protections for workers with disabilities. 

    While ARs and Postdocs will vote to ratify their respective agreements in the coming days, UAW has stressed that they will remain on strike in solidarity with the 36,000 graduate student workers who are still fighting for a fair contract.

    Academic Researchers and Postdocs constitute about 12,000 out of the 48,000 union workers on strike across the UC system.

    “Now the UC can no longer use AR and Postdoc bargaining as an excuse to delay making counter proposals to Academic Student Employees [including graders, teaching assistants, and tutors] and Student Researchers [at both graduate and undergraduate levels] on compensation and other topics. We expect that they will make serious proposals this week,” the union said in a statement. 

    The UAW stated on November 29 that Student Researchers had presented a compensation proposal to the UC system 12 days ago, but had not received a response. 

    “Every UC campus has a food pantry and homeless services,” said Marissa, a worker at UC–Berkeley. “Which is just the university saying, we understand that people aren’t making enough money to be able to feed themselves or afford rent, and they just survive off of the pantry and donated produce.” Her picket-line sign read “I can’t feed 2 kids on $24K.” 

    “Tying compensation directly to housing costs could have overwhelming financial impacts on the University,” wrote UC provost Michael Brown in a letter to UC leaders on November 16. The current endowment of the UC system is $18 billion.

    The UAW argues that student workers are struggling to stay afloat as cost of living skyrockets, particularly rent. California has the country’s second highest average rent, according to the World Population Review, at $1,844 per month. The average asking price for a new unit is $3,000 per month in California. According to, the median rent in Los Angeles is $3,000 per month. Union-conducted surveys found that the majority of UC student workers are rent burdened.

    “I came to the UC because they pride themselves on being a public institution that makes education accessible for all,” said Ria, a first generation college student at UC San Francisco. “But that hasn’t been the case. We make far below the cost of living adjustment here at the UC, and that occurs on every level. Not just as a graduate student, as myself, but even the Postdocs and teaching assistants as well. And we are the backbone of this university, and we deserve a fair wage, and we deserve to live in the city that we work in.”

    “It shouldn’t take generational wealth to afford to go to graduate school,” she continued.

    Tenure-track positions at US universities have shrunk over the past decades, especially for the humanities. Since 2012, the number of jobs available for English professors has fallen every year, by a total of 33%. This leaves many student workers in adjunct positions, with far less job security for far less pay.

    But student workers are fighting against this tide of precarity. Graduate students across the country at some of the top universities in the nation have led strikes and unionization efforts, including Columbia and MIT graduate student workers in only the past two years. By organizing, workers have shifted the popular perception that the working class exists only in fields that don’t require a college degree and that more educated workers have no need to organize along class lines.

    While only 10.3% of US workers are unionized, unions have become increasingly popular, with the highest favorability since 1965 at 70%. If UC workers succeed and win their demands, they will raise the bar for all student workers across the country.

    Natalia Marques is a writer at Peoples Dispatch, an organizer, and a graphic designer based in NYC.

    Secretary of State validates ballot measure to replace CMP, Versant with consumer-owned utility / Evan Popp

    Advocates for a consumer-owned utility speak at a press conference outside the State House in 2021 | Photo via Seth Berry’s Facebook page

    Originally published in the Maine Beacon on December 1, 2022

    A referendum campaign to replace Maine’s unpopular investor-owned utilities, Central Maine Power and Versant, with a nonprofit power company was certified by the Secretary of State’s Office on Wednesday, allowing the measure to appear on the November 2023 ballot. 

    Secretary of State Shenna Bellows announced that the ballot campaign had submitted 69,735 valid signatures, exceeding the 63,067 signatures needed to trigger a referendum. The proposal to replace CMP and Versant will now go to the legislature for consideration. Lawmakers can either enact the bill or, in a more likely scenario, send it to Mainers for a vote next November. 

    “Thanks to the heroic effort of hundreds of volunteers across the state, Maine voters will now have the chance to choose between our two failing, foreign-owned power companies, CMP and Versant, and one owned by Maine people,” said Andrew Blunt, executive director of Our Power, the group spearheading the ballot initiative. 

    As Beacon previously reported, the referendum will ask Mainers if they want to replace CMP and Versant with the Pine Tree Power Company, a consumer-owned utility that would provide power to most municipalities in Maine, except the 97 Maine towns already served by other consumer-owned utilities. The legislature passed a bill in 2021 to put the same question to the voters in November of that year but that measure was vetoed by Gov. Janet Mills, prompting Our Power to launch the referendum effort instead. 

    The idea to replace CMP and Versant — Maine’s two largest utilities — was originally spurred by those utilities’ poor performances. Our Power has pointed out that CMP has the worst customer satisfaction among large and mid-sized utilities in the country and Versant is among the worst rated. In addition, under those utilities, Mainers have endured the most power outages of any state and the second longest period with no power. Despite that, electricity rates in Maine are the sixth highest in the country, and CMP made $40.5 million in profit in the second quarter of 2022.

    “With rates through the roof and a hard winter ahead, Mainers are more ready than ever for a local power company that lowers our bills instead of making wealthy corporations richer,” Blunt said Wednesday. 

    Along with the argument that the Pine Tree Power Company would lower rates — a point that has held true for the consumer-owned utilities that already serve part or all of 97 towns in Maine — advocates say moving away from CMP and Versant and toward public power would boost reliability for customers by allowing for investment of money into improving and updating the grid rather than a focus on profits.

    “After a year of connecting with Maine people and collecting signatures from almost every town in the state, we are proud to offer a brighter future for our state’s electric grid and cheaper power for Maine ratepayers,” John Brautigam, Our Power’s board president, said.

    Wil Thieme of Maine Public Power, a project of the Maine Democratic Socialist of America, which supports the ballot measure campaign, also celebrated the successful validation of the signatures and called on CMP and Versant to respect that verification.

    “Now that the confirmation of signatures is complete, our profiteering utility opponents have just over a week to sue to get signatures thrown out, a move that would undermine the democratic process and silence the voices of Maine voters,” he said. “Fortunately, thanks to the significant margin of excess signatures collected by our wonderful volunteers, the chances of them invalidating enough signatures to boot us from the ballot are slim.”   

    Even if the utilities don’t fight the signature verification, the Our Power campaign will certainly face stiff opposition from CMP — whose leading owners are the governments of Norway and Qatar — and Versant, which is owned by Calgary, Canada. For example, in 2022 alone, Maine Affordable Energy — a group funded by CMP parent company Avangrid that is opposing the consumer-owned utility referendum — spent over $7 million without a referendum even on the ballot. 

    And in an additional effort to target the Our Power campaign, No Blank Checks, a group also funded by Avangrid, is pushing for their own referendum in November 2023 that would bar “a quasi-independent state entity, reporting entity, municipal electric district” and consumer-owned utility or rural electrification cooperative from incurring over $1 billion in debt, unless approved by voters. 

    However, that referendum contains a number of carve-outs, exempting from voter approval debts of the Maine Public Employees Retirement System, the Finance Authority of Maine, the Maine Health and Higher Education Facilities Authority, the Department of Transportation, the Maine Turnpike Authority, municipalities and counties and the Maine Municipal Bond Bank, making it even more clear that the ballot measure is targeted at the Our Power campaign. 

    Leaders of No Blank Checks say they have collected the number of signatures needed to put that referendum on the ballot. However, they have not yet submitted their petitions to the Secretary of State’s Office. 

    Photo: Former legislator Seth Berry and members of Our Power speak at a press conference outside the State House in 2021.

    Evan Popp studied journalism at Ithaca College and interned at the Progressive magazine, ThinkProgress and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. He then worked for the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper before joining Beacon. Evan can be reached at