Category Archives: Take Action

Remarks on the #Boston4Gaza Rally

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What matters is the predictable consequences of our actions that are undertaken, not the intent, not even the abstract validity of slogans.  That’s not what matters to the victims.”  –Noam Chomsky

This evening I attended a protest in Boston against the current Israeli onslaught in Gaza. The protest in many ways was very heartening, but also presented some significant problems if we are going to hold our government accountable for Israeli violence and occupation.  I wish to make clear that my criticisms are not meant to be merely academic or tactical footnotes, especially in this time of great crisis when moral outrage is more than justified.  Instead, I believe that the pro-Palestinian movement in the US needs to make some major adjustments if it is to have maximal effect in saving the people of Gaza now and ending the occupation of Palestine in the long-term.

First, I should note that this protest clearly had a very positive effect overall.  Local news covered it quite fairly and the “die-in” that happened at the end was portrayed very sympathetically, at least in the news I saw.  To read the names of Palestinian victims in Gaza was a powerful statement that, from local news coverage, seems to have reached its goal of humanizing what is a far-too-often vilified population.

The anger and moral outrage demonstrated tonight was clearly appropriate given that one can only conclude that Israel is purposely punishing the civilian population of Gaza in what can only be seen as a sadistic act.  I felt this outrage as I have listened to the courageous reporting of Sharif Abdel Kouddous on Democracy Now: one day Israel is shelling a hospital, then killing children on a beach, and then attacking another hospital, and all throughout bombing homes, all part of “terrorist infrastructure.”  I frankly dislike protests, because they tend to oversimplify and sloganize complex issues.  But in this case I felt the only decent thing to do was to bear witness to the suffering that our government labels as tragic, but proceeds to excuse and enable.  And so I joined the march.

 

While I definitely have no regrets about doing so, I was very concerned about some of the chants that were used, because they reflect a way of thinking about the Israel-Palestine conflict that has the potential to alienate the public.  Whether we in the social justice movement recognize it or not, the way we are perceived has a direct impact on how effective we will be in protecting the victims of Gaza, and Palestine more broadly.

One particular chant that was worrisome was “Palestine will be free, from the Jordan to the Sea.” The first thing a supporter of Israel’s actions in Gaza will say is “These people want to wipe Israel off the map!”  At the end of the march, one of the rabbis from an odd, rather orthodox sect had a bullhorn and talked about how the State of Israel needed to be peacefully abolished, for which he gained cheers.  Only the pro-Palestinian protesters heard what was being said, but this movement will erase any public sympathy it has if this is the message it puts forth.

The second problematic chant was the repeated call for “Intifada!”  While this is a general term for an uprising, put on the hat of a supporter of Israel’s actions.  They will think “What Intifada are they talking about?  The second one that included suicide bombings of Israeli civilians?”  Anti-Arab racism is so permeated in our culture that Arab and suicide bomber are considered close to synonymous.  However justified our moral indignation is, we need to be wise and not feed into a stereotype.

I think we could gain some lessons from our own civil rights movement.  The heroes of sit-ins at white lunch counters and the Freedom Riders sought to achieve victory by bringing the injustice of their oppressors out into the open.  Not only was it a courageous act of moral strength, but a brilliant tactic as it made it very clear to the public who was the victim and who the oppressor.  If the movement for Palestinian rights is to make maximal progress, it must provide the public with the same clarity.

For example, tonight there was a small, but vocal contingent of counter-demonstrators with signs like “Boston Strong Against Hamas Terror” and “Hamas Tunnel Rats.”  On Boston Common police formed a line between them and the pro-Palestinian protesters.  When most of the pro-Palestinian contingent was still listening to people speak, I decided to sit down facing the pro-Israel group with my sign, which read: “Bombing homes and hospitals and killing children does not give anyone security.  Tell our government to truly support a two-state settlement.” One of them kept saying to me, quite sincerely, that I should join them because I was just misguided. I assume he was referring to the part of my poster that referred to supporting a two-state solution. Not that I expect right-wing supporters of Israeli militarism to be overly rational, but I could not help but think that if this person could think I was reasonable (even if “misguided”), an average person on the street would probably agree with me.  What if the Pro-Palestinians all had signs supporting the two-state solution? (Unfortunately, mine was the only one I saw.)  “Hamas Tunnel Rats” and “Free Gaza from Hamas” would look even more ridiculous.  As it was, I imagine the average person saw both sides as extremes in a shouting match.

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Far more important than my personal experience, tomorrow, Wednesday at 5:30 at Park Street in Boston there is a vigil adopting the following statement of principles:

  • End the violence on both sides. Negotiated ceasefire now!
  • All lives are equally precious and worthy of respect, Palestinian and Israeli.
  • It’s not possible to understand the current violence in a vacuum and without considering the complex narratives of both Palestinians and Israelis.
  • There is no military solution.
  • More than ever we need a comprehensive diplomatic solution; ending the Occupation is part of that solution.
  • Palestinians and Israelis both have a right to security and to a viable homeland.

If the same right wing Israelis show up with their signs, it should be very clear to the public who is being reasonable and who is not.

When international law and opinion are so clearly on the side of both Palestinians and Israelis having their own states, the movement for justice in Palestine is not doing any service to the occupied if it cannot join this consensus.  If it chooses to focus only on ending the occupation without accepting the reality of Israel, its ability to sway public opinion will be limited and easily play into the hands of right-wing militarists.

This is all very easy for me to say from far away while Gaza’s civilian population is a shooting gallery.  However, as we continue to protest, we must remember that it is not only incumbent upon us to express moral outrage, but to also communicate to the American public that we have a clear way out.  This fight for Gaza in the court of public opinion is one we can win.  When this latest round of carnage ends, our work will continue and more than ever we will need to show that we are on the side of justice for all.

Disturbing Report on World’s Food Going to Waste (and a good project addressing global hunger)

Via Democracy Now, I came across a truly horrid finding by a British organization, Institution of Mechanical Engineers.  In a new report, they find that half, yes half, of the world’s food may not actually be consumed.  This is truly unbelievable that the problem in the US is we have too many overweight kids, while people throughout the world (and for that matter in some poor parts of the US) people are malnourished.  According to UNICEF(see the bottom right bullet of page 1), malnutrition contributes to the deaths of 2.6 million children under 5 every year.  Somehow this is all tolerable.

Peter Singer, the famous ethics philosopher, has a very good project underway, based on his book The Life You Can Save to encourage people to give part of their incomes to organizations working to end extreme poverty.  One reason I trust that it is a good project is that I emailed them once asking why the UN World Food Programme was not on their list of good organizations to give to.  I received a reply (not sure if it was actually from Peter Singer) stating that they think the World Food Programme doesn’t actually help build infrastructure to help poor people be self-sustaining, but instead gives food as emergency aid, acting as more of a band-aid.  Below is the table showing how much they recommend people to give based on their income.  Their site also has a list of organizations they suggest give to.

Income Bracket
(or, if you are not currently receiving an income, what you spend each year)
Donation
Less than 105 000 USD At least 1% of your income, getting closer to 5% as your income approaches 105 000 USD
105 001 USD – 148 000 USD 5%
148 001 USD – 383 000 USD 5% of the first 148 000 USD and 10% of the remainder
383 001 USD – 600 000 USD 5% of the first 148 000 USD, 10% of the next 235 000 USD and 15% of the remainder
600 001 USD – 1 900 000 USD 5% of the first 148 000 USD, 10% of the next 235 000 USD, 15% of the next 217 000 USD and 20% of the remainder
1 900 001 USD – 10 700 000 USD 5% of the first 148 000 USD, 10% of the next 235 000 USD, 15% of the next 217 000 USD, 20% of the next 1 300 000 USD and 25% of the remainder
Over 10 700 000 USD 5% of the first 148 000 USD, 10% of the next 235 000 USD, 15% of the next 217 000 USD, 20% of the next 1 300 000 USD, 25% of the next 8 800 000 USD and 33.33% of the remainder

Support Wal-Mart Workers

An organization of Wal-Mart workers called “OUR Walmart” is staging a number of walkouts on Black Friday and are otherwise trying to get Wal-Mart to adopt fairer labor practices.  The group has an online petition, which is pasted below, that can be signed at their website.  The video at the bottom is Democracy Now’s report on this group.

I think it is important to keep in mind that these type of workers face losing their jobs and the only way that can be avoided, or that Wal-Mart will adopt fair labor practices, is if the workers receive public support.

We, the hourly Associates, are the life-blood of Walmart. Our company is stronger because of the values we embrace – a strong work ethic, compassion for one another and honesty. Yet we are not treated with the respect we deserve. The fundamental desire to be shown respect is what led us to join together as OUR Walmart – an organization of Walmart Associates, by Walmart Associates, for Walmart Associates. We are one Organization United for Respect at Walmart.

  • One of Sam Walton’s rules for building a successful business was, “Listen to everyone in your company and figure out ways to get them talking.” We are following that winning philosophy. However, too many of us do not have a true voice at our stores. Our concerns about providing the highest quality customer care and about making our jobs, quality jobs are ignored. Walmart should listen to OUR Walmart, celebrate our initiative, and follow our recommendations.
  • We are the foundation of the quality service and value Walmart provides its customers. Walmart should honor the hard work and humanity of Associates by living up to Mr. Sam’s promise of “respect for the individual.”
  • Associates who assert their freedom of association frequently face retribution from the company. Walmart should allow Associates to freely join OUR Walmart without fear of negative company action.
  • Associates who have tried to utilize Walmart’s Open Door have found that their issues are not resolved and confidentiality is not respected. Walmart should ensure confidentiality in the Open Door and provide in writing resolution to issues that are brought up and always allow associates to bring a co-worker as a witness.
  • Walmart publicly claims that pay for full-time Associates averages more than $13 per hour in some communities, when in truth most of us work for less than $10 per hour and are only scheduled for part-time hours, making it difficult to support our families. Walmart should follow through on its public statements and pay at least $13 per hour and expand the percentage of full-time workers.
  • Our schedules are often irregular and inflexible making it difficult to care for our families. Walmart should make scheduling more predictable and dependable.
  • Too many of us are unable to access Walmart’s health care because it is too expensive or we lack the hours to qualify. Walmart should expand health care coverage and continue to work to expand coverage when health reform goes into effect, rather than taking advantage of loopholes in the law to deny coverage.
  • Too often Associates are faced with retaliation when speaking out about issues at work. Walmart should honor our constitutional right to freedom of speech and adhere to company policies that support dialogue and resolution.
  • Walmart’s management often chooses to enforce written policies only when it is in their own interest, leaving Associates guessing proper protocol. Walmart should do more to ensure managers are properly trained on how to evenly and equitably enforce Walmart’s written policies at all times and to provide all Associates with a policy manual.
  • Too many of us have been denied equal treatment. Walmart should adopt affirmative policies that secure full access to opportunity and equal treatment to all Associates regardless of gender identity, race, disability, sexual orientation, or age.
  • We know our company has an impact around the globe in terms of its standards and practices. Walmart should require that suppliers and stores around the globe operate with the highest standards and ensure that workers’ freedom to associate is respected.
  • Far too many of us have to rely on government assistance for our basic needs. Walmart should provide wages and benefits that ensure that no Associate has to rely on government assistance.

We envision a future in which our company treats us, the Associates of Walmart, with respect. We envision a world where we succeed in our careers, our company succeeds in business, our customers receive great service and value, and Walmart and Associates share all of these goals. And finally, we close with one more rule from Mr. Sam: “Share your profits with all your Associates, and treat them as partners.”

DEMOCRACY NOW ON OUR WALMART: