Category Archives: Politics

Civic Salvos: Washington State Hunger Strike Goes National

by Miriam Xiomara Padilla and Su Docekal
Seattle, WA

An unprecedented hunger strike by 750 of the 1,200 detainees in Tacoma’s Northwest Detention Center started during breakfast on March 7. The strikers’ demands for an end to deportations and inhumane conditions in the privately-owned prison has made national headlines and drawn broad community support. On March 17 the strike spread to the Joe Corley Detention Center in Conroe, Texas. Both jails are run by the GEO Group, Inc., this country’s second largest for-profit prison corporation.

protestersThe Tacoma hunger strike was inspired by a dozen undocumented Washington State residents and supporters who locked themselves together at the entrance of the detention center on Feb. 24. The #Not1More activists sat down in front of a bus to block it from transporting detainees to the airport to be deported, a strategy modeled on similar recent actions by undocumented protesters in Chicago, Phoenix and Atlanta.

Daily demonstrations have been held at the Tacoma facility since the strike began and on Tuesday, March 11 over 200 people rallied in solidarity with the hunger strikers and their families. They chanted and made lots of noise to let those inside know that they had support outside.

AT A MARCH 19 PRESS CONFERENCE in front of the Tacoma detention center, Maru Mora Villalpando of #Not1More began by saying, “Obama can stop the deportations, but he has chosen not to.” She introduced several family members of the hunger strikers, who explained that their husbands andt were taking this action to expose the abuses in the detention center and to stop the deportations.

One of the strike leaders, Jose Moreno, who had just been released, spoke on behalf of those inside, saying that mistreatment by officials, as well as poor food and medical care are among the abuses the strikers are protesting.

Sandy Restrepo, an attorney with La Colectiva Legal del Pueblo, has been visiting the strikers regularly and reported that 13 detainees remain on hunger strike. Ramon Mendoza Pascual and Jesus Gaspar Navarro are in medical isolation, while the remaining 11 are in general population.

THE GEO GROUP, which reaps enormous profits from its prisons and detention centers, has a long history of unjust treatment. In 2008 at its Reeves County Detention Center in Texas, Jesus Manuel Galindo died at 32 after suffering an epileptic seizure in solitary confinement. Galindo was thrown into “the hole” after he complained about his medical care.

The GEO Group is also politically active in promoting laws that will keep its for-profit prisons full. The corporation took part in the task force of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which pushed bills for “truth-in-sentencing” that reduce paroles and “three strikes” legislation that increases life sentences.

ACROSS THE COUNTRY undocumented immigrants, especially women, youth and detainees, are putting their bodies on the line to demand an end to endless deportations. It is a dramatic change from the go-slow “comprehensive immigration reform” (CIR) strategy promoted by immigration reform organizations closely tied to the Democratic Party.

The Dignity Campaign, which is endorsed by dozens of grassroots organizations, including the Freedom Socialist Party, called the CIR strategy a “deal with the devil” in a March 2014 statement:

“The CIR trade-off — giving up immigrants’ civil and labor rights to get legalization — has always been an unworkable strategy for immigration reform. The CIR bills serve the interests of employers. Whether they’re looking for farm workers, construction workers or high tech workers, the corporate objective is to ensure that wages go down as workers compete for insecure jobs.

While CIR languished in Congress, community and labor activists, mostly young, have refused to wait or compromise, and instead have organized on the ground to win rights and equality.

The hunger strikers in Washington and Texas provide stirring leadership for this new wave of militant activism. At the March 19 press conference, strikers Pascual and Navarro sent encouraging taped messages to the hunger strikers in Conroe, Texas. “We’re not doing anything wrong, we’re demanding our rights. You should keep going forward, and not yield,” said Navarro, followed by Pascual who added, “Don’t be afraid, we must keep going, so that we are heard and so that we can be free.”

How you can help

SIGN the online petition to support the hunger strikers at the Northwest Detention Center.
SEND donations to La Colectiva Legal del Pueblo so that they can help detainees and their families communicate with each other. Mail checks to 645 SW 153rd Street, Suite C3 Burien, WA 98166. Email: info@colectivalegal.org.
PARTICIPATE in the National Day of Action against deportations being planned across the country for April 5th. There will be a rally at the Tacoma detention center that day from noon to 5:00pm. Anyone interested in carpooling from Seattle, please contact the Freedom Socialist Party at FSPseattle@mindspring.com. Learn more about the national campaign at notonemoredeportation.com.
JOIN the #Not1More protests in front of the Northwest Detention Center that take place every day from noon to 5:00pm leading up to the April 5 rally.

Late breaking news: On Monday, March 24th 70 detainees in Tacoma rejoined the hunger strike.

Miriam Xiomara Padilla is a high school student and a leader in the Campaign to Free Nestora Salgado in Seattle. Su Docekal is an immigrant rights activist and Organizer for the Seattle branch of the Freedom Socialist Party.

Civic Salvos

by Young Han

The national discussion on wealth disparity and social mobility has taken center-stage in recent months.  In line with the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” address (http://www.npr.org/2014/01/04/259646707/fifty-years-later-did-the-u-s-win-the-war-on-poverty), as well as the success of avowedly progressive-to-radical political candidates in recent years (http://www.governing.com/topics/politics/gov-video-mayor-inauguration-speeches.html), mainstream publications such as the New York Times have begun to report on the problem of escalating inequality with increasing gusto.  Some of the more thought-provoking (if not fear-engendering) findings of this reporting, at least to a Seattleite such as myself, have come out of the city of San Francisco.  Even with its storied progressive history and reputation for inclusiveness, the city has undergone the same economic changes affecting the rest of the country, if it has not led them.  And, from the steady stream of recent reports, it appears that even the identity of the city may be on the line.

 

San Francisco, perhaps more than any other city in the US, represents what the new information economy may look like.  The city, much like Seattle, has a highly educated population and a substantial proportion of its workers in the technical or managerial professions.  Companies like Adobe, Twitter, and Wells Fargo call it home, while others such as Apple and Google are headquartered nearby. When business or political elites talk about the economic future of America, particularly in discussions about “free” trade or international competition, this is what they envision to be the ideal outcome.  As the logic of globalization leads industrial production (and traditional working-class jobs) out of the country, workers will move into engineering, biotech and finance jobs—well paying, intellectually-satisfying and hierarchical flat.  This is, fundamentally, the idea of comparative advantage.

 

San Francisco shows that it doesn’t exactly work that way.  The narrative found in both official statistics and media reports is less one of a New Economy lifting all boats than that of growing conflict and displacement (http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/1/7/classes-clash-assanfranciscansblametechforrisingrents.html).  Sound familiar?  While the latest boom for technology companies, to use one stark example, has given the city an enviably low unemployment rate, filled its public coffers, and created tens of thousands of jobs paying over $100,000 per year, it has also led to median monthly rents of over $3,400, a triple-digit increase in the rate of evictions, and pages of anecdotes regarding unprecedented levels of status consumption (http://www.npr.org/2013/12/03/247531636/as-rent-soars-longtime-san-francisco-tenants-fight-to-stay).  It is now possible, for instance, to pay $8 for two slices of toast and $2,400 a year to hobnob in a private nightclub.  Together, these facts have led many to ask how people employed in traditional middle-class occupations, entrepreneurs without venture financing, activists, and artists can still manage to relate to the new San Francisco, much less call it home.

 

More recently, anxieties related to the dramatic changes have led to no small degree of ugliness.  Protests against private buses provided by Silicon Valley employers to ferry high-tech workers from their homes in San Francisco have served as a lighting rod for frustration, however misdirected.  For many, these buses represent a further enclosure of public services into private hands.  The buses represent both a failure to invest in transportation accessible to all, but also, given their use of congested public bus stops without remuneration, a kind of noblesse oblige.  A few activists have taken to blockading the buses and sometimes even vandalizing them.  The class war, however, has certainly not been one-sided.  Rants by notable members of the tech community, in particular, have recently lit up the blogosphere.  One equated people in the “lower part of society” with animals and suggested they ought to know their place when they strayed outside their own poor or working-class neighborhoods (http://valleywag.gawker.com/happy-holidays-startup-ceo-complains-sf-is-full-of-hum-1481067192).

 

As a Seattleite, these developments concern me as the dynamics in play in San Francisco exist here, as well as across the country.  Within the city of Seattle, increased demand for housing by those with the means to pay premium rents have raised the median price of a studio, over the past two years, by between $306 and $434 in its core neighborhoods (http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2021673014_rentincreasesxml.html).  At the same time, workers who provide essential services, such as healthcare support and custodial services, typically earn less $15 an hour (http://livingwage.mit.edu/places/5303363000).  This is 20% less than the minimum wage in 1968 (http://www.epi.org/publication/lagging-minimum-wage-reason-americans-wages/) had it been indexed for productivity and inflation.  It is certainly not a rate of pay conducive to either saving money, paying for more education, or getting new skills.  As a city that prides itself on its progressive politics and a commitment to inclusion, we must ask whether we too may become a place that primarily edifies the well-to-do, one whose service-sector attendants live physically outside its boundaries or marginally inside it.

Ultimately, this question is about values, but more importantly, it is a question about policy.  It is less productive to blame specific companies, sectors, or individuals for responding to incentives than criticizing the perverse political and economic context that created them. The success of companies that hire employees with technical skills has brought great benefits and it is absolutely essential for well-diversified economy.  After all, after deindustrialization and massive structural changes in the economy, Seattle doesn’t look like St. Louis or Detroit.  We are in a position of relative strength.  At the same time, the economic dynamics that have transformed San Francisco, and threaten to do the same here in Seattle, are not natural or inevitable outcomes.  Policies regarding taxation, money, and who controls knowledge and culture have redistributed political and economic power upward.  We need to understand this and ask if this is what we want.

Young Han is a Columbia City resident interested in economic history and the economics of technological change as well as an advocate for cooperative development, and expanding economic democracy