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Prisoners on the Move – How You Can Help

iwoc1By db, Twin Cities Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) – a union for the incarcerated fighting for prison abolition

Prisoners are on the move – it has been so inspiring to work with and advance those struggles as a member of IWOC, here in MN and nationally. This article I will briefly cover the roots of this struggle, and the recent struggles nationally and in Minnesota.

Where Mass Incarceration Comes From

Mass incarceration is literally a continuation of slavery. The 13th Amendment passed after the Civil War outlaws slavery but legalizes it for those “convicted of a crime”. This provision was used in the 1880-90s and again in the 1980-90s to squash black and working organizing. This includes the Attica Uprising in 1971 that for a minute gave a face and voice to those behind bars.

People in prison are literally slaves – forced to work for free or pennies on the dollar, thrown into abusive overcrowded conditions with no recourse. Disgusting food, complete lack of real health or human supports, and little to no meaningful opportunities to improve themselves. Nor have conditions improved. The conditions that drove that Attica and many other rebellions remain in place today, with stronger locks.  iwoc2

2018 National Prison Strike

But prisoners have not been idle. As awareness has grown in so too has grown a genuine prisoner-led mass movement, breaking through a media blackout and into the public consciousness via mass action. Most notably the massive Georgia Prison Strike in 2010. The National Prison Strike in 2016 bottom-lined by Free Alabama Movement. And the most recently Aug 21 – Sept 9 National Prison Strike, bottom-lined by Jailhouse Lawyers Speak. IWOC members on the inside have been core leaders and participants in the last two strikes, and IWOC nationally has been a core outside support system in partnerships with many others. Learn more  incarceratedworkers.org/campaigns/prison-strike-2018 or donate at fundly.com/2018-prisoner-strike.iwoc3

While there is much more reflection to be done it’s clear mass action by prisoners is succeeding in changing the narrative on prison slavery and inhuman conditions. As long as the work continues to grow inside and out mass reduction of the prison system becomes not only imaginable but quite likely. However, as with historical slavery however the character of post-slavery is a crucial question and much more struggle will be required – driven by statewide bottom-up organizing.

Minnesota Prison Updates

Minnesota prisoners choose not to participate in the National Strike, but have been putting in work: co-creating a campaign to end technical violations of parole this summer, and speaking out against the horrific ongoing lockdown at Stillwater Prison.iwoc4

A technical violation of parole is when someone is sent back to prison while still on supervision for something that is not a crime. The extent of parole officer discretion is so great that you have over 3,000 people, 35% or more of annual Minnesota prison admissions sent back for things like being late to an appointment, losing a job or housing, or testing positive for alcohol or marijuana. This needs to end immediately, the money return to frontline communities. Support this campaign tinyurl.com/getinvolvedmn or hear stories from ex-prisoners at tinyurl.com/violationspodcast.

There has also been an active struggle against the brutal lockdown at Stillwater Prison, initiated due to the killing of an officer by a lone prisoner on July 18th. As of this writing 1,600 men have been locked in their cells for 67th days. IWOC members inside were able to get information to the media regarding this human rights disaster where people were left to rot in cells with one change of clothes, hardly any food, and two showers over a three week period. This pressure has resulted in a ‘modified’ lockdown but prisoners are still uniformly in cells for 21 hours a day, denied yard, cafeteria, programming, and more. Hear a prisoner sharing an update at: tinyurl.com/insidelockdown iwoc5

Worse, the DOC is using the lockdown to close down scare beneficial program and guards are intentionally provoking prisoners in an attempt to generate even more money for ‘security measures’. It needs to be understood that in Minnesota prisons guards are the victimizers, not the victims, and that no real change is possible without prisoners voices at the table.

Help out, contact: tc.iwoc@gmail.com, facebook/tciwoc, or incarceratedworkers.org.

Twin Cities IWOC Press Release 7.30.18

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 7.30.18

Contact: tc.iwoc@gmail.com, Twin Cities IWOC – 612-405-0347

Want to Stop Violence in Minnesota Prisons? Free Our People

On July 18, the first prison guard in Minnesota’s history was killed, on top of recent violence in Oak Park Heights and Stillwater prisons. Yet all the DOC does is ask for more money on top of their 1.2 billion dollar budget. We need a new approach to change in Minnesota’s prisons. Stop putting money into a violent institution that is not correcting anyone. Free our people, and reinvest savings into reentry and rehabilitation.

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Stillwater Prison where the Guard was killed on July 18

For those of us who have been incarcerated or in regular contact with Minnesota’s prisons, recent violence is not a surprise – it’s an inevitability due to the behavior of the prisons system itself.

  • Minnesota’s prisons have gotten progressively worse. Lip service to rehabilitation has little application to daily realities, while harsher parole practices, sentencing, and increased criminalization of our communities have manufactured an overcrowding crisis. And our people are dying. Between 2000-2013, 280 people incarcerated in Minnesota prisons were killed – 75% of them due to medical neglect. Yet we spend $41,366 per incarcerated person each year.
  • Many prison guards in Minnesota are racist and abusive. The day before the killing at Stillwater, a prisoner reported that the man killed was telling everyone that “guards can do whatever we want to you and you can’t do anything about it”. Last year the Twin Cities Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee released a podcast just scratching the surface of guard abuse in Minnesota’s prisons.
  • It is well documented, including by the MN DOC, that increased community connection reduces recidivism. Yet the MN DOC regularly prevents mail delivery, makes visiting miserable, and represses prisoner and community attempts to build bridges with each other. Results are predictable: 48% of people released on parole end up back in prison, a shocking 88% of them for minor “technical violations” of parole, not new crimes.
  • Even DOC employees are saying low staffing in overcrowded conditions are creating extreme dangers for prisoners and staff, while a rash of quitting has followed the recent killing.

(Support this fight or connect Saturday August 25th, 1-3pm in North Minneapolis – flier and facebook).  

There’s an easy solution to these violent conditions – free our people. Instead of putting yet more money into prisons we should immediately release all people in prison for crimeless “technical violations” of parole and nonviolent crimes, at least 40% of the population. Savings should fund successful reentry and rehabilitation programs. The parole system must be changed to ensure everyone has the opportunity to earn a life worth living. (Learn more about this fight on Saturday August 25th, 1-3pm in North Minneapolis – flier and facebook).  

Nor can conditions be improved without prisoners having real power and community connections. Prisoners should be allowed to form their own unions and represent themselves. Community groups and family members should be welcomed. Visiting hours should be expanded, while mail censorship must end.

This August 21st – September 9th, prisoners around the country are going on strike against inhuman conditions confirmed by prisoners’ legal status as slaves under the 13th amendment to the US Constitution. Will Minnesota’s prisons join other systems in regular deadly violence between slaves and their cagers? Or will we treat humans like human beings, stop senseless incarceration, and use savings for rehabilitation and community? We say slavery must end – free our people!

tciwoclogoThe Twin Cities Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) is a committee of the Industrial Workers of the World, a revolutionary union open to prisoners. Locally we’re organizing to free our people: starting by ending incarceration for technical violations of parole, demanding an immediate release of those in on such violations, and the reinvestment of that money into those directly impacted by the prison system. More at tc.iwoc@gmail.com, facebook.com/tciwoc, or soundcloud.com/user-41909583/.

nationwideprisonstrike

 

Minnesota IWW History: July & August

By: x356985

Every month is a good month to be an IWW in Minnesota. Don’t ask me though – if I had to pick my least favorite months to walk picket lines, or be outside on the union grind, July and August are probably those months. I’m one of those people to make the most of our snow, ice, and biting cold while offering no apologies. Sadly though, the struggle doesn’t take a break for my climatological preferences and the bosses don’t seem to care that I’d rather picket in an old red snowmobile suit as opposed to a bathing suit.

IWW history in Minnesota is rich and deep, and with this piece, I hope to kick off a series chronicling a small selection of the union’s activities during its first few decades of existence. I’ll be particularly focused on those happenings – the workers, the industries, the places involved – that have been lost in the historical record and with which a Twin Cities IWW might not be familiar. For this issue, we’ll be looking at Minnesota IWW history in the hot, humid months of July and August.

July 8, 1905 – In Chicago, the IWW’s founding convention adjourned on this July date. Most know the storywordpressimage1 of Lucy Parsons’ powerful speeches, or Bill Haywood calling the “Continental Congress of the Working Class” to order by pounding some random planks of wood on the speaking stand. However, most don’t know about the “January Conference of Industrial Unionist” – the group of 20 plus workers who gathered in January 1905 to adopt the manifesto calling for the formal founding of the IWW later that year. There were two Minneapolis railroad workers who joined the likes of Mother Jones at this clandestine (not really) January conference – Fred Henion, an engineer residing in what’s now the Logan Park neighborhood of Northeast Minneapolis; and William Bradley, a steamfitter boarding in a building near where De La Salle high school sits on Nicollet Island. A third railroad worker – William Walsh, was invited to attend but had to bow out due to poor health. Walsh was a switchman who lived near Cedar Field Park in what’s now the Phillips neighborhood.[1]

July 10, 1905 – Daniel De Leon delivers a speech entitled “The Preamble of the IWW” at Minneapolis’ Union Temple in the immediate wake of the founding convention. The building referred to as Union Temple stood at 26-28 Washington Ave. S., adjacent to the city’s Bridge Square, near the intersection of Washington and Nicollet. The text of the speech is provided here: http://www.marxists.org/archive/deleon/works/1905/050710.htm. De Leon’s ideas and place within the union would become controversial in the lead-up to and fall-out from the IWW’s Second Convention in 1906.

August 22, 1905 – Charles Sherman, the first and only president of the IWW, delivered a speech on industrialism on this date at the A.O.U.W. Hall that stood at the intersection of modern-day Central and University Aves. About 150 people are said to have listened to Sherman’s speech, and it’s noted in the Minneapolis Tribune that this is Sherman’s second visit to the Mill City since the union’s founding. It’s also mentioned that Sherman planned to return to Minneapolis within a month’s time when an “active campaign will be made among the labor organizations of the city to interest them in a combination of the unions of the country”.[2] This visit by Sherman would go down as Minneapolis’ first IWW meeting.[3] Sherman too would stir up trouble within the organization with his dubious methods and difficult personality – he’d eventually be forced out the “real” IWW. That’s a story for another time.

July, 1907 – We see the first recorded visit by an organzier acting on behalf of the broader international union during this month. The General Executive Board (GEB) instructed organizer Lillian M. Forberg to “proceed at once to Minneapolis, to take up work in that city”.[4] Little is known about Forberg, but she received much praise for her previous work in Kansas and according to the minutes of the union’s Founding Convention, she was affiliated with the “Industrial Workers’ Club” of Chicago. Upon Forberg’s arrival there were four chartered IWW locals between the Twin Cities, a “mixed industries” local each in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and two “industrial” unions in Minneapolis – one in transportation/rail and the other referred to as the Scandinavian branch. There were also locals chartered in Hibbing, Keewatin, and Bovey amongst mine workers on Minnesota’s Mesabi Range. Duluth had a mixed local organized by July 1907 as well.

Forberg’s organizing focus seems to have been in two industries – laundry workers and workers in rail, the latter of which already boasted a sizeable IWW presence here. By the time, Forberg had arrived back in Chicago in August of 1907, a laundry workers industrial union had been organized in St. Paul and Secretary Johnson of that city’s mixed local heaped praise upon Forberg and stated that “great credit should be given her for opening up so successfully in that reactionary city”.[5] Forberg’s final report to the GEB said that “conditions there promise a healthy growth for the IWW in the twin cities [sic] in the near future”.[6]

August, 1907 – The first reported mass job action by IWWs happened during this time.august1907 Industrial Union 552 of Hibbing voted strike “in sympathy with” the thousands of mine workers striking in association with the Western Federation of Miners organizing campaign in Northern Minnesota ore ranges. There’s no mention of how many IWWs struck or who exactly was involved, but we do know that a Swedish worker named August Brodin was secretary of the Hibbing local around this time, and that the action was taken to “protect the members from being called scabs.”[7] It’s interesting to note that Vincent St. John was in Minnesota at this time helping to organize the striking miners, though not on behalf of the IWW.

July 15, 1909 – Charles Axelson submitted a report that IWWs are “working and agitating with great success. Members are taken in at our meetings in bunches of 20 and 40…” in Minneapolis. He praises the Industrial Worker as an effective recruitment tool in their organizing efforts.[8]

I’ll be sharing more about Axelson in the future, as he’s the local Wobbly most engaged in growing the IWW’s ranks during its infancy. Axelson was a noted Swedish organizer in the Twin Cities and outstate area – he also acted as a local delegate at several conventions and would serve as one of the first GEB members from the Twin Cities. And of course, his activities and efforts have been largely ignored by historians.

July, 1911 – A Free Speech Fight kicked off in Duluth. According to the report in Solidarity, “After politely ordering the IWW off the streets, Duluth authorities have decided to “wink the other eye”.” An excerpt from the Duluth News Tribune is included where the Socialist party members disavow the IWW and claim to have “no strife with the city regarding free speech and a movement of this kind should not be confounded with our party”. [9] The union became famous for its Free Speech Fights around the country, but most don’t know anything about the Duluth fight, or the one waged in Minneapolis in 1912. That too is a story for another time.

August, 1911 – Minneapolis Local 64 and its secretary, Walter Nef, placed an order for “4,000 stickers, and good big batches of the following leaflets: Two Kinds of Unionism, Union Scabs, War – Why? How? When?”. The editor of the IWW newspaper Solidarity said “We look for more sub orders from Minneapolis.august1911 Wherever Sec’y Neff goes there is renewed activity. He raised the bundle order for the past three issues from 40 to 100 copies a week; and paid in advance. Neff also raises hell with capitalism”. [10] Nef was at the center of several pivotal moments in the union’s early history – his name would become synonymous with the creation of the “job delegate” system, a variation of which endures to this day. This system was the building block of the IWW Agricultural Workers Organization (AWO). Nef was also involved in the dynamic struggles of Local 8 on the Philadelphia waterfront – he’d eventually be jailed in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary as part of the mass arrest, conviction, and incarceration of IWWs under the Espionage Act of 1917 and its viler, amended sibling called the Sedition Act of 1918.

July, 1912 – A dockworkers strike hits the Twin Ports of Duluth and Superior. According to the Duluth News Tribune, “Men employed on the flour, cement and general merchandise docks here walked out yesterday. All day and last evening crowds of the men gathered in groups around the docks and listened to talks from the more bold of their brothers, and to discuss their grievances.” “An organizer from the I.W.W. association of Duluth addressed the men last night” and “a general strike was called at the Great Northern docks and only about 100 men, members of the steady, or contract gang, were on hand to transfer the merchandise.”[1] The News Tribune piece then quotes an unnamed Duluth labor “official” as saying that “Agitators have caused this mix, and if we can secure their expulsion from the city, I am sure that the men will return to work.” A subsequent newspaper article would articulate the workers’ demands: “35 cents an hour for general merchandise. 40 cents an hour for handling cement, steel rails and plates. No time off for change of shifts. No discrimination against Superior and Duluth Dock Workers’ union after strike is settled. Quit work at 10 o’clock p.m., after that hour, time and a half.”[2] The article also states that strike committee was elected that included “Sam Hoyt, Tom Camon, Herman Burgner, Julius Lucas, Mike Zoks, James Moka, Lewis Masman, Pete Use. These men represent the different nationalities employed as “dock wallopers.”” News of 1912 strike and the IWW’s involvement would reach well beyond the Twin Ports, though again, very little has been written about this struggle. However, that pattern would change with a strike in August of 1913, when IWWs would again bring the ports to standstill.

August 11, 1912 – Elizabeth Gurley Flynn spoke at two Minneapolis events on this date. elizabethgurleyflynnOne event was held on public park land near 38th and Minnehaha, and the second in Dania Hall, which stood in Cedar-Riverside on the lot next to today’s Nomad World Pub. Gurley Flynn spoke of the IWW strike in Lawrence, MA and made appeals on behalf of Joseph Ettor and Arturo Giovannitti, who had been jailed due to their participation in the strike. A local newspaper reported that the first meeting was well attended “despite the fact that the Park Board refused the use of public parks.”[3] The revolutionary songs sung by local IWWs were a big hit with the crowds.aug111912 Attendees were packed tight at the Dania Hall event “despite the hot weather.” By the summer of 1912, Gurley Flynn had already spent quite a bit of time in Minnesota, where she had met her first husband back in 1907/1908. The great IWW organizer would crisscross the state in later years, most notably in the fateful (and incredibly hot/humid) summer of 1916.

July, 1913 – This month would be a busy one for the union in Minneapolis. Eight workers at the Eureka Restaurant – then located in a building that stood at 209 Nicollet – struck against a reduction in wages. One report said: “The waitresses were receiving $8 a week and their aprons were laundered free, which was valued at 50 cents. The manager’s wife, who works as a cashier in the restaurant, told one of the girls that she wanted to talk to them about a proposition of having their wages cut 50 cents a week. The girls got the impression somehow that the wages were to be cut to $7 a week. One girl was a member of the IWW and reported the matter to that organization. Just before the noon hour, members of the IWW filled the restaurant and ordered ice cream. Soon after noon one girl stepped up to the manager’s wife, presented a paper and asked if she would meet their demands. She requested them to wait until she could send for her husband, who was out at the time. This they refused to do and walked out. Members of the IWW then congregated in front of the restaurant and forcibly prevented customers from entering the place. In the afternoon, the manager called the girls and offered them $8 a week with one day off each week, and requested them to join the union. The girls accepted these terms and returned to work that evening.”[4] This was one of the first IWW strikes ever carried out in Minneapolis – certainly the first involving ice cream and a march on the boss.

iwwagitationamongststreetcarsIWW agitation amongst street car workers had started in 1912, and gathered considerable momentum by the summer of 1913. One July 1913 report stated that “The street car organization of the Twin Cities is making such rapid headway that the traction management is at its wits ends to stem the rising tide of organization. Their spotters are everywhere and are no inconsiderable item of expense.” theirspottersareeverywhere“W.B. Carper, who has worked for the company for over 11 years, was spotted by a barn-foreman and taken to task for his attendance [at an organizing meeting]. He refused to give a promise that he would not attend such meetings and avoid the I.W.W. organizers. He was fired on the spot. This is as fair a sample of American freedom as obtains elsewhere in other employments. Freedom. Ye gods!!!!”[5] The workers would charter the Street Car Employees Industrial Union 263 – and their organization would lay the framework for the massive Twin Cities street car strike of 1917.

July 31/August, 1913 – Almost 450 workers at the Allouez dock in Superior stage a wildcat strike after two ore trains collided, killing several people. Sympathy strikes by workers on the docks in Duluth would all but bring the shipment of ore to a halt in the region. Strike meetings were held throughout Duluth and Superior by IWW workers and organizers, the likes of which included Ed Doree, James Cannon, and Frank Little. july31aug1913Historians have devoted a little time to this massive work stoppage, but as it happens, most of that time is given to the tale of Frank Little’s beating, kidnapping, and subsequent rescue by union members. Many of the strike’s unmistakably IWW-esque nuances have been overlooked, such as the fact that the meetings featured speakers in many different languages, and the workers elected a strike committee that represented all nationalities employed on the docks. The representatives were: “Archie Verhane, Willie Laurala, Emil Hill, Ero Litho, Fred Carlson, Ben Middag, Jim Hobson, and Tony Bunkowski.”[6] The strikers’ demands were interesting too: “Permission to elect one man on each shift whose duties will be to supervise the switching of cars on each dock and to give the proper signals for transmission of trains; ore pockets between must be closed when not in use; workers shall have the right to force the discharge of foremen checkers whom they have reason to believe are objectionable.” That last one should be the demand in any strike worth its salt! Since information on this strike is fairly accessible and I’m limited in my space here, I’ll leave it to you intrepid Wobblies to find out more on your own.

Speaking of limited space, the editor of The Organizer is telling me I must cut out my rambling and finish things up. And to think that I was about to tackle the summer of 1916, which would probably go down as one of the union’s busiest and most famous in the annals of Minnesota IWW history. It would also go down as one of the hottest summers in our state’s history – no joke. I will promise to give 1916 its due in the near future, whether that’s in a later issue of The Organizer or on the blog.

Thanks for following along thus far – hopefully you IWWs found something of interest. Drop a line to editor at tctheorganizer@iww.org and let them know if you’d like to see more about a particular piece of Minnesota IWW history, or want to learn more about the specific people and places involved. For the works!

[1] Duluth News Tribune, July 28, 1912.

[2] Ibid, July 30, 1912.

[3] New Times, August 17, 1912. Image of Dania Hall, circa 1906, from the City of Minneapolis http://www.minneapolismn.gov/hpc/landmarks/WCMS1P-139683. Image of Gurley Flynn in MN, circa 1916, from the Industrial Workers of the World Surveillance Photographic Collection, Minnesota Discovery Center http://ironrange.cdmhost.com/cdm/singleitem/collection/p4002coll1/id/1395/rec/11.

[4] Fourteenth Biennial Report of the Dept. of Labor and Industries of the State of MN, 1913-1914.

[5] Industrial Worker July 17, 1913. Manifesto image taken from Solidarity, June 28, 1913. Streetcar worker cartoon taken from New Times, July 20, 1912.

[6] Duluth News Tribune, August 2, 1913. Image of telegram taken from Industrial Worker, August 14, 1913.

[1] Image taken from the Jean Spielman Papers in the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) archives. Bradley and Henion’s signatures are visible in the upper right hand corner.

[2] Minneapolis Tribune, August 23, 1905.

[3] Minneapolis Journal, August 25, 1905.

[4] Industrial Union Bulletin, July 6, 1907.

[5] Ibid, July 20, 1907.

[6] Ibid, August 17, 1907.

[7] Ibid, August 31 and December 21, 1907. Image of Hibbing mine workers, circa 1901, from the MNHS collections http://collections.mnhs.org/cms/display.php?irn=10818937.

[8] Industrial Worker, July 15, 1909.

[9] Solidarity, July 22, 1911.

[10] Ibid, August 12, 1911. Nef image taken from the book “A Wobbly Life: IWW Organizer E.F. Doree”, by Ellen Doree Rosen.

Will People Fight to Live in North Minneapolis? A Draft Vision to Stop Gentrification through Community Power

 

By db

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Gentrification is an urgent issue of community defense, locally, nationally, and globally. U of MN based researchers call it “the shrinking city,” a process by which  working people – particularly people of color – have fewer places to live. It is part of a broader set of struggles in our racist, violent society about people making money off of pain in places like North Minneapolis: including police brutality, prisons, schools, and more. This article is written by IWW and GDC member db, a newer white resident in North Minneapolis, with the hope of inspiring thought, debate, and faith in the possibility of a different world.

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Time Is Ticking – Northside, and Minneapolis, is Gentrifying

Sometimes a few words hit you so hard it leaves bruises. A few months ago I asked the most optimistic brother I know, a realtor who focuses exclusively on North Minneapolis, how long the window will remain open for black and poor folks to buy houses in North Minneapolis. He said “maybe five years.” Point being, he thinks everything in North Minneapolis will be bought and sold to middle class white people with families planning on staying – in 5 years. This is a new pattern of change from speculators to settlers, and he knows because he is selling houses right now, doing his damndest to try to get black folks and others to access housing programs. If this expert’s opinion is correct, if we do nothing, the current neighborhood and its people will soon be gone.

I don’t see how the community can generate the cash flow in that timeframe, or ever, to own it. Shifting the future therefore requires shifting our power on the ground. But if any neighborhood is up to it, it’s this one. No one should sleep on North Minneapolis. Because there is no question that North Minneapolis is gentrifying. Rising rent and discriminatory rental practices are pushing out black, brown, and working class renters. Property value is going up and money is pouring in – not to or for current residents, but for a coming middle class white majority. Homelessness and desperation are on the rise. Fifty percent of the Metro’s people of color now live in the suburbs, destroying hard fought social networks and bonds and moving people farther from employment and public infrastructure.  

Two key things – first, pushing out of existing residents, and second, spending money on those to be brought in, not those that are here – make gentrification different from neighborhood improvement. Improvement is welcome. Getting the boot is not. Gentrification is planned economic violence as part of a capitalist  economic system, which prioritizes money over human well-being.

How is this happening? Consider the rapid increase in Minneapolis rents over the last 6 years, or the 14% rent increase in 1 month last summer 2016 – the highest in the nation that month.  According to Rent Jungle, a consumer website, rents have gone up 60-80% in the last six years. This is landlord greed, pure and simple,  taking advantage of the reurbanization of cities taking place across the country. I’d be curious if there is clear research on the causes of this but I think causes include depletion of rural economies, the urban migration caused by college becoming a bread and butter necessity, real-estate-ization of the economy, preparation for white fortress during climate change, and the general rejection of suburban life by young people (if someone researched this I’d love to see their conclusions!).

 

Average Mpls Rent All Bedrooms 1 Beds 2 Beds
Jan 1, 2011 $1,042 $875 $1,107
May 1, 2017 $1,651 $1,432 $2,040
Percent Increase 58.45% 63.66% 84.28%

 

Gentrification impacts everyone, but blacks are hardest hit. The Star Tribune reports that  in 2000, a white renter with median income could afford to live in 50 percent of the rentals in every part of Minneapolis. This is no longer possible in many neighborhoods. For Latinos the affordable area shrank to a small area in South Minneapolis, while for blacks there is no affordable area left.

“If you’re African-American, there’s not a single neighborhood in the city where the median renter can afford the median rent,” says Ed Goetz a researcher at the U of M. “The city has disappeared for African-Americans in terms of affordability”.

Shifting power means fighting for where people still are, and that means North Minneapolis – while people are still here.  

 

How and Where Gentrification Shows Up

When I moved to North Minneapolis to work in a school, I was surprised to notice a sprinkling of longtime white southsiders living there, pushed out due to rising rents or inability to afford a home there. Now North Minneapolis is a candidate for the city’s “hottest housing market”. Young white homeowners are appearing all over, as North Minneapolis is the last affordable place in Minneapolis to buy a home. The City is pushing this process by offering $20,000 for prospective homeowners to buy vacant lots to build houses and $75,000 for developers to do the same – a good lure for middle to upper class people but insufficient money for most working class people to capitalize on.

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Nor is there any doubt that gentrification is happening. According to a recent study using “three accepted indexes of gentrification, the researchers found it most prevalent since 2000 in South Minneapolis along the Blue Line; parts of Northeast; Willard-Hay and Harrison in north Minneapolis, and Hamline/Midway and Frogtown in St. Paul”. See their full research report here. The trends will intensify even without new development to attract a different clientele and that development is already on its way. Townhomes are coming on Olsen Highway, a new Light Rail Stop on Penn are rapidly changing the landscape.

On Penn Ave alone there is a string of new construction including a brewery, ‘creative office space’ and ‘artspace apartments’, Thor Headquarters and a Target sub-headquarters with retail space, a clinic and theater expansion – funded by MN’s biggest corporations, a coop grocery, a ‘medical office project’ and another, nonprofit grocery store.

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This is what intentional gentrification sounds like: “The urban nature of these sites doesn’t scare us away,” says David Wellington, director of acquisitions and development for Wellington Management, a key player in the abovementioned properties. Their slow, consistent investments for more than a decade have proved “very profitable” on the Hiawatha corridor over South Minneapolis. Wellington says his company “takes a long-term view of real estate and is not banking on a quick payoff from the projects”.

 

Five or ten years, after all, is not long to wait for real estate a few miles from downtown at bargain bin prices. Developers like Wellington Management are intentionally poised to profit from the way that the 2008 Foreclosure Crisis drove these property values down and directly targeted and ravaged the black community, halving the total wealth of black people in this country. So too did the Tornado have its ‘uses’ for some. Not to mention the coming Upper Harbor Terminal developed, transforming an abandoned industrial park by the river to what appears to be becoming a uniquely North Side show venue for white folks, developed in part by First Avenue. Worse is the City Council’s disgusting misuse of its  “Green Zone” – a policy designed to repair the history of racist pollution being used to intentionally displace the Northside residents for richer folks that want their environment clean and river access open.

Without a serious shift, a new Northside will feature hipster hip hop shows with black artists, black bouncers, tabled for by white immigrant rights or environmental groups while excluding working class black, native, or immigrant residents – unless they already own their homes!

 

Tools for Change

Seeing these changes drove me to learn what could be done and to think about my context. The learning was both daunting and encouraging. It is clear that the time to act is now, and that we must point out the massive amounts of money being made off both poverty and displacement. However, in many ways, the tools we need to stop gentrification are at hand. The history we need is all around us, though we all have more to learn, and I hope to learn more from those Northside warriors and others who have made the present as livable as it now is – and I thank them for the tools they have created.   pasted image 0-5

Hope to stop gentrification over North? Use these tools to shift power, redirect funding for neighborhood uses, and build stronger, more connected neighborhoods.

  1. Tenant Unions – when renters and their neighbors get together to stop rents from increasing, fight evictions, discrimination, and poor housing conditions. Tenant unions work with the broader community to plan and enforce the development of neighborhood housing, ensure affordability, community ownership and assemble a force capable of fighting to win. Tenant unions can arise from a specific fight like Defend Glendale Townhomes, or from a broader strategy like in Inquilinxs Unidxs Por Justicia.

  2. Community Land Trusts – put lands under community control, and creates a permanent stabilization of property values by preventing resale at no more than 25% of the increase of property values. This is a powerful legal framework to permanently stop runaway property increases. In Minneapolis there are incentives for new homeowners to buy houses through the City of Lakes Community Land Trust. Conceivably anyone can add their property to the Trust, though this requires sacrificing personal wealth to stabilize the community. City of Lakes Community Land Trust has a great program, though given their mission and values there is a worrisomely low awareness and participation of this program by people of color.
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  3. Community Benefits Agreements – are an important way to provide neighborhood accountability to development. Specifically, community members organize to demand that development meets its needs around a specific construction or creates a blanket standard for development in their area. Demands for developers might include hiring locally, paying living wages, and having products/services be needed and affordable to residents.

  4. Rent Control – a policy or community mechanism by which there are legal or community limits on how much rent can increase. This is the long term solution to greedy landlords and annual rent increases.

  5. Community Financial Institutions – revolving funds, credit unions, ethnic saving practices, and so on. These funnel credit to existing residents, particularly those otherwise excluded, like the new Association for Black Economic Power, currently creating a black credit union on the Northside.

 

Current Fights Against Gentrification in Minneapolis

Gentrification is not happening in Minneapolis without a fight. There are also at least two inspiring ongoing fights against gentrification right now in other parts of Minneapolis – Defend Glendale Townhomes in SE Minneapolis where East African and other residents are fighting to keep living in affordable public housing, and Inquillos Unidos Por Juticia, a latinx renters organization which is currently fighting individual slumlords and that may soon be fighting for citywide rent control.pasted image 0-8

Recent fights against gentrification in Minneapolis include the Firehouse Collective in North a consciousness raising and community development project, a mixed outcome at the Seward Friendship Store where a community benefits agreement was signed, and at Lowry Grove in Northeast, a failed fight that represents in many ways the total loss of the Northeast neighborhood to gentrification. One of the key reflections from the struggle in Northeast was the importance of having faith in our capacity to fight and make change – “We had ideas. There was so many people, with so many ideas, but none of us ever thought we could actually do it. We didn’t think it was possible.”

 

Gentrification Can Be Stopped – Strategies for Discussion

Is stopping gentrification over North possible? I know some students who studied gentrification on the Northside this last Spring, and some of us thought it was, but it requires that a fight begins now and embrace both realist tactics and grand visions for the possible. While the actual process is up to those who fight here are some principles and questions I’ve gathered from past struggles, which I think are worth debating as we strategize our collective futures.

  1. The Northside has all the power it needs to control its own destiny if organizers tap into its diverse capacities and often stigmatized strengths – doing so requires a critical mass of people from different backgrounds and affiliation committed to self determination and fighting by any means necessary.
  2. It isn’t possible to stop money coming in or to stop city giveaways – but it is possible through mass action to significantly alter what it is used for, who has access to it, and the conditions of its use, including engaging people who have or are considering moving here. For most people gentrification and community improvement are opposites.

  3. The powers that be want gentrification, and their preference will not change unless forced – it means lots of money for those who run the city and an expanded tax base for government. Change requires struggle, breaking the rules of their game, and forcing them to change, not because they want to but because we have made it better to them to give us what we want then not to. Shutting down meetings, creating bad publicity for politicians, occupying construction sites, boycotting businesses, and more – this is called “direct action”.

  4. Direct action can become the mainstream approach – if bottom-up organizing is done to build a critical mass around this approach and model effective action – empowering young people and our neighbors to believe change is possible and include them in creating that vision.

  5. We should trust in our own power, rather than in politicians, nonprofits, or leaders who seek to control the process for their own benefit. Want to know who someone is? Find out if they are funded, and by who. Failing to organize on an independent basis will doom this project from the beginning, and create loses when we should have won, relearned in most dramatic fashion in the recent Dakota Access Pipeline struggle at Standing Rock.
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  6. Gentrification is connected to all other major struggles for justice in North Minneapolis and this fight is more effective when those links are made clear – with reparations as a natural connection point. Right now all the systems designed to ‘help’ working class Northside residents, particularly people of color are actually waging an expensive war on our community. Consider, for example, the ways in which money is being used to destroy the community via gentrification, police, prisons, schools, and more. Connecting the dots between these struggles allows us to see our struggles as connected and we should seek to grow a mass organization capable of educating people on the connections, including pushing visionary solutions like reparations to provide concrete means to solve interrelated issues like gentrification, jobs, prisons, police, schools, and more. Stopping gentrification means reimagining the world, let’s encourage this process.

 

Two realities stare each other in the face – will North Minneapolis, and the city as a whole, be a place working class people, particularly people of color, can live, or will they be displaced?

Will the people have power or be separated from each other – into ‘peaceful protesters vs outside agitators outsiders, gang members, or white anarchists’?

Is the neighborhood for the decolonizing forces of justice and self-determination or the colonizing forces of profit and displacement?

Will people take the necessary steps – law be bent, or damned when necessary – as in the insurrectionary protest traditions of the Dakota Uprising, 34 Teamsters Strike, Farmers Foreclosure Auctions, Anti-Racist Action, and more, creating an actually nice MN?

Will we fight for our right to the city or be displaced to the suburbs? If victory is not possible should we demand that resources go to the rapidly changing suburbs now?

The future is up to us.

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Comments, questions, and critique welcome – db@riseup.net.  

Some Useful Places to Start Reading:

Gentrification Accelerates in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Star Tribune

“North Minneapolis is Posted for New Growth”

“Is Gentrification Happening Here?”, North News

“Minneapolis Will Pay You To Build a House on the North Side”, City Pages

A Pictoral History of NYC Renter Struggles, LibCom 

In Wake of $15 and Sick Days, Organize for More!

by Patrick O’Donoghue

 

This last weekend has seen two major new workplace laws for Twin Cities workers.

First, on Friday June 30th, Minneapolis became the first city in the Midwest to pass a $15/hour minimum wage. The wage increase to $15/hour will be staggered over several years, starting with businesses of 100 employees or more (including many franchises) to pay $10/hr on January 1st, the first of six pay increases ending in $15/hr by July 1, 2022. Small businesses have their own staggered schedule that reaches $15/hr on July 1, 2024.

Meanwhile, on Saturday July 1, new paid sick leave mandates came into effect in Minneapolis and Saint Paul requiring businesses with over 24 employees to provide paid sick days, which will accrue at a rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked, up to 48 hours per year. The sick days carry over from on year to the next, but have a cap of 80 accrued hours. The sick days can be used to care for oneself or a family member, or to deal with domestic abuse and stalking. For businesses with under 24 employees, the new sick days do not come into effect until January 1st.

These two laws represent significant gains for workers. Low wage workers will now be entitled to a larger share of the value our labor creates, and higher paid workers will find themselves in a stronger position fighting for raises with a higher minimum wage. Workers across the cities will now be able to take care of themselves and their loved ones instead of working while sick. This will limit situations where food service workers endanger their customers by being forces to work while ill, as was one of the main grievances in the IWW’s campaign at Jimmy Johns. Just as crucially, workers being allowed to use sick days to deal with domestic abuse and stalking gives breathing room for survivors of abuse, which will especially benefit women and LGBTQ workers. Of particular importance, as well, is not only how these laws immediately benefit workers, but how we workers can build stronger organization on the job, in the new playing field these laws create.

The Fight So Far

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Supporters of 15Now march in Minneapolis

The new laws come after years of struggles to pressure legislators, by organizations like 15Now, Socialist Alternative, and many of the local AFL-CIO unions.  Opponents at city hall and the state legislature tried at various times to keep the minimum wage off the ballot, to postpone the issue until a consensus was reached with Saint Paul or the suburbs to raise their wages together, and, as the bill grew close to passing, to pre-empt it at the state level with legislation that would ban local governments raising their minimum wage. Ultimately, though, these efforts were defeated, and the bill passed, with only Councilman Blong Yang voting against the higher wage. The paid sick leave bill also survived a repeal attempt.

Across the country, 15Now’s legislative push has been accompanied by Fight for 15, a movement of unions, mostly Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and workers centers such as Centro de Trabajadores Unidas en Lucha (CTUL) demanding a $15/hr wage at fast food chains and recognition of a fast food worker’s union. While the IWW is not officially part of Fight for 15, the $15 wage demand has been part of our organizing from warehouse workers to fast food campaigns. While 15Now has been pressuring cities to set new minimum wages, the goal of Fight for 15 has been to win those same gains in franchises across multiple cities, through collective bargaining. At the same time, Fight for 15 and other shop floor campaigns aim not only to win wage increases, but also to build a union presence that could push for more gains in the future.

The victory of 15Now does not mean that the struggle in the workplace is done. Now, more than ever, it’s important to organize and fight on the job, both to enforce the new labor laws, and to push beyond them for bigger gains.

Pushing for More On the Shop Floor 

One of the main problems with relying on labor law, is that enforcement is slow even when workers do have the resources to file a grievance, and the penalty is often only a slap on the wrist. For example, in 2011 during the IWW campaign at MikLin Enterprises’ Jimmy Johns franchise, six pro-union workers were fired for blowing the whistle on the public health threat posed by sick workers making sandwiches because they did not have sick days. The six workers took their case to the National Labor Relations Board, but it took five years for the Board to rule the firings illegal and order Jimmy Johns offer them their jobs back in 2016- a decision that was then reversed this last weekend.

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Jimmy Johns workers with the IWW were fired for distributing these flyers

Even when the case was initially won, the workers had moved on to other jobs- and the victory was then, later, taken back. Now, all that Jimmy Johns has to do is put a sign in their stores explaining that they harassed a worker, and promise not to do it again.

The NLRB’s enforcement is slow and weak enough that for Jimmy Johns and other businesses, breaking labor law and retaliating against workers is worth it. Stories like this are typical when workers go through the NLRB- and even more commonly, labor law violations aren’t challenged by workers in court at all. The Saint Paul sick leave law has a “private right of action” that entitles workers to their attorney fees if they sue their employer for retaliating against them for using their earned sick time. The Minneapolis law, however, lacks this protection, discouraging workers from going to court.

Meanwhile, some companies intend to obey the letter but not the spirit of the new sick day laws. The three Cub Foods Supervalu stores in St Paul already allow a week of paid sick leave after a year on the job- a concession that grocery workers fought for in their contracts through the United Food and Commercial Workers. When the sick day law was passed, the chain planned to simply call this vacation “sick leave”, and not give any additional sick days. In effect, they planned to respond to workers earning sick days by cutting their existing paid time off. UFCW Local 1189 objected immediately. Supervalu has since changed their policy, keeping the vacation time and adding the sick time on top of it. The UFCW is meeting with grocers around the city about implementing the new sick days. The union was able to act promptly to stop Supervalu from skirting the new labor laws. UFCW showed us all an important fact- City Hall can legislate, but workers and our unions have to be the real source of power over our jobs.

To enforce the new labor laws, we need more than the slow courts to dole out light fines on bosses that violate our rights.  In shops with legal protections, and even in shops with a negotiated union contract, enforcement through action on the shop floor is the most immediate and effective way for workers to protect our interests. For example, the IWW’s presence at UPS in the Twin Cities has included package handlers enforcing the Teamster contract and labor law through actions like phone zaps, marches on the boss, and “blowing the whistle” with literal whistles when contract violations were spotted. Actions like these stopped illegal firings, settled Unfair Labor Practices, and won workers their holiday bonuses provided in the contract. As we Wobblies say, “Direct action gets the goods”.

The new labor laws don’t just win gains for workers that need to be enforced. Just as importantly, they shift the playing field for workers to push for even higher wages and better conditions. The Brookings Institute, writing about the “ripple effects” of a minimum wage increase, notes that although nationwide just 2.6% of workers are paid minimum wage, a full 29.4% of workers are paid equal to or less than 150% of minimum wage in their state- between $9.50 and $14.25 in Minnesota. The Institute predicts that as the minimum wage is pushed up, it will also push up the wages of these “near minimum” waged workers, as jobs that paid above minimum wage before the increase raise their wages to stay above the minimum- a worker currently making $14.00/hr when the minimum is $9.50, will expect to still make above minimum wage when the minimum wage is $15/hr. Studies of wage increases from 1972 to 2012 show this ‘ripple effect’ raising wages in lowest-earning 20% of workers, with the greatest gains in lowest-earning 5%. With a minimum wage increase from $9.50 to $15/hr over the next 7 years, the pressure in on for employers to raise wages. For workers, this gives us an opportunity to make the demand for higher wages for all lower-paid workers, and to demand similar wage raises for middle-waged workers in the same companies. For example, when IWW and Teamster warehouse workers at UPS began demanding a $15/hr starting wage for package handlers making $10.25/hr, they combined this demand with a $5 pay increase across the board, in order to unite higher paid workers with the low paid package handlers. The successes and setbacks of that drive are lessons that workplace organizers can learn in the coming years.

The new paid sick leave law gives workers an opportunity to organize not only around enforcement of the law and protection of existing paid time off, but also around other grievances that low wage workers face. The paid sick leave, in addition to being a benefit for workers, is potentially a tool for shop floor action. One of the tactics of workplace struggle is the sickout- the use of sick days to withdraw our labor and slow or shut down production. This can be effective when workers are banned from going on strike, or do not want to commit to a full strike. This lower-risk form of ‘strike’ can win significant gains, such as when the Detroit Public School teachers staged rolling sick outs in protest of plans to withhold wages from school district employees due to the threat of bankruptcy. These ended with the pay restored and the unelected emergency manager stepping down.

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Rick Snyder’s austerity plans made these teachers very sick.

Sick out strategies have been risky for workers without paid sick days, as even one sick-out action will result in loss of pay and can easily result in firings. Under the new law, however, workers across the Twin Cities have access to paid sick days, allowing workers to use the sick out strategy as part of workplace disputes with less risk to their finances and job security. This is especially true in Saint Paul, where if an employer retaliates against employees for using sick days, they must foot the legal bill of any successful lawsuit that results. Many thousands of low paid workers now have the ability to withdraw our labor with much less risk to ourselves, tilting the balance of power on the shop floor a little more towards us- if we organize and use it.

The legislation in Minneapolis and Saint Paul have made concrete gains for workers. But, our power as workers doesn’t come from City Hall, whatever concessions City Hall gives to workers’ movements. It comes our organization, in our workplaces, our neighborhoods, and in the streets. Every day, bosses are going to be trying to find ways to repeal, work around, and take-back the new minimum wage and sick leave. If we want to keep, enforce, and push beyond the bills, we need power on the job.

If you’re interested in organizing at your workplace, and accessing the Industrial Workers of the World’s networks of organizers, trainings, and experienced unionists, contact the Twin Cities IWW at tcgmbbst@gmail.com .

Good Earth Workers Union Goes Public

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contacts: Ben Bourgoin (320) 291-7197 , Zach Ewald (612) 597-8944

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On May 3rd, 2017 workers at the Good Earth Food Co-op went public to management as members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). IWW members met with the General Manager and handed her a letter with signatures in support of the Good Earth Workers Union (GEWU). Workers presented their demands which include:

1.) Voluntary Recognition of the Good Earth Workers Union
2.) Automatic Owner Membership for Workers after 90 day probationary period
3.) Distribution of the Industrial Worker at the store
4.) Boycott Driscoll’s Campaign
At press time, the General Manager has voluntarily recognized the union, allowing the distribution of the Industrial Worker, and exploring the other demands with the union. Kitchen worker Zach Ewald celebrated, saying: “Hit up the Co-op and support this awesome place! It’s one of the few food cooperatives that hasn’t engaged in union-busting.”

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About half of the GEWU was able to get in one place for this shot!

This announcement comes after three years organizing below the radar and several shop floor actions.

In the Summer of 2013, the Workers Committee formed as an organizing body and safe space for rank-and- file workers to discuss work related issues and find ways to resolve them. One of our first actions was against a Bra Policy that would require all female identifying individuals to wear bras while at work. This policy was reversed after circulating a petition and applying pressure to upper management.
In the Summer of 2014, workers slapped “Know Your Rights” posters on the GMs door and in the Breakroom after workers were told they could not talk about their wages. This action helped educate workers on their rights in the workplace while also introducing them to direct action.

In July of 2015, workers demanded the removal of an abusive department manager and backed it by threatening a picket. The manager was removed.
In the Fall of of 2015, Produce Workers refused to handle Driscoll’s Berries to honor the Boycott of Driscoll’s and Sakuma Bro’s. This led the Good Earth Food Co-op to publicly honor the boycott for over a year until FUJ called it off. Good Earth was the only grocery store in MN to honor the boycott.
In the Fall of 2015, Member’s Committee was organized to address deteriorating buying standards and support the organizing efforts of The Worker’s Committee.
In the Winter of 2016, a Worker/Buyer Delegation met with the Board of Directors demanding the removal of a General Manager. This demand was backed by a large number of workers willing to strike if he wasn’t removed. This manager was removed.
In November of 2016, Deli Workers organized a worker-managed kitchen model and have been running it democratically without a manager ever since.

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Solidarity from the worker-run kitchen!

Jeff, a lead cashier, said “It’s been nice to see some of the hard work everyone has put into the union start paying off at the Co-op. We’ve had some great accomplishments and some big hurdles to overcome. I think us organizing at the Co-op has brought more people together and we are ready to tackle other issues that might come our way.”

“Workers have a stronger voice and more power on the shopfloor since we started organizing” said Sydnee, a cashier of five years.
Alex, a worker in the produce department, adds “Working class solidarity is where it’s at. While we’re a small shop, the tactics we employ are unprecedented in St. Cloud. I had no exposure to organizing before I started working at the co-op about a year ago. There will be a lot of struggles to be fought over the coming months and years, and working at the Good Earth has helped me find the comrades I will be fighting with.”

“The worker-run kitchen has given, not just myself, but all of my comrades in the deli and bakery a new found sense of importance.”, said Maddie, “Because we are now more democratic and horizontally run, we are all able to explore our passions and put our individual strengths to use without fear of overreaching. The worker-run kitchen has taught me a great deal about trusting myself and my ideas as well, and I’m very appreciative of that.”

“This has been my first experience in a collective ran workplace.”, added Eric. “It is tremendously rewarding to have the entire kitchen recognized as equals for our hard work and contributions to success and growth. The high level of morale, paired with freedom of creativity, has allowed our kitchen to flourish like never before. I am ecstatic to be part of such a beautiful team.”

The Good Earth Workers Union is a campaign of the Central Minnesota IWW. The Industrial Workers of the World is a revolutionary labor union founded over a century ago for all working people.

 

 

Educators Take on Trump, Sexism, and Anybody Else Who Threatens the School System: SJEM Organizers Talk Back!

by John O’Reilly 

One of the Twin Cities IWW’s most exciting areas of work is the Social Justice Education Committee (SJEM). Since 2012, SJEM has been organizing workers in K12 education across the metro for justice at work and in the community. C.M., an elementary school teaching fellow, says of SJEM: “We bring together education workers to give them tools to organize their schools to disrupt the oppressive status quo. We know that no matter what kind of policies are enacted at a district level, oppressive, hierarchical structures that are built into our school systems will need to be resisted from the grassroots.” By building a democratic organization across the education system in the Twin Cities, SJEM organizers hope to empower people who work inside the education system to stand up for themselves and their students. They work to “band together against white supremacy, the commodification of children and staff, and other oppression taking place in schools,” C.M. adds.

While the public education system is already represented by mainstream teachers’ unions, SJEM organizers see that there’s much more room for an organizing approach inside schools. C.M. notes that “with the rise of charter schools, organizing within each school is essential to avoid massive attacks on workers’ rights and school funding as more and more schools operate outside of the unionized world.” The prevailing model of unionism in the education sector, and in most of the country, is sometimes called “service unionism,” where unions offer themselves as a product for members, instead of members themselves directly taking action at their schools and in the community. C.M. sees the limitation of service unionism as a limitation to the ability of educators to change the system they work in. “We cannot really transform schools without building power and using creative action way outside of what the union bureaucracy allows for,” she says.

Another SJEM organizer, Moira, also works in elementary education, and says that the division within unions in the school district is a challenge that SJEM hopes to take on. “The current model of school unions is too divided to give education workers true power,” she says.  “Engineers, education assistance, cafeteria workers, and licensed educators all have their own separate unions.” Echoing a slogan that has long been a rallying cry for the IWW, she says that workers need to organize industrially, all across the school system among different kinds of work, “in order to create schools that are socially and racially just.”

One of the most important impacts of the Trump regime so far has been its threatening attitude towards immigrants and refugees. Educators in the Twin Cities have seen this in their schools and are organizing against it, but it can be difficult. Moira says that an atmosphere of fear has already been created at her school, and that staff are nervous to talk too openly about Trump. SJEM is doing work to fight these fear. C.M. tells a story of what’s happened since the election at her school:

 

 “The thing that has come up so far is that students are scared. My Somali students and students of color came in crying the day after the election and are worried that people ‘want them out.’ I assured them that I would do whatever I could to protect them and to keep our school a safe place, and a key part of actually acting on that promise will mean organizing with other teachers to create plans for what to do if our students or families come under attack.”

 

SJEM is currently working on developing organizing pledges for education workers to push their schools to commit to protecting undocumented students. The school system is a central part of our society and education is a right guaranteed to everyone in our community. SJEM members won’t let Trumpism take that away from their students. “Organizing ourselves to prepare for direct action, rather than trusting systems which are designed to work against us, will be critical to protecting our students,” adds C.M.

Women workers play an important role in the education system, a field dominated by female labor. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 75% of teachers in the K12 field are women. Traditionally, the high proportion of women in education has been one of the reasons why teachers and related education occupations have been underpaid and undervalued in our society: the same patriarchal values that permeate our society have real effects in the economy. The powerful have dismissed education as “women’s work,” and have dismissed “women’s work” as unimportant. The rise of teachers unions in the Twin Cities and around the country have gone a long way to fight these double standards. In fact, the first teachers strike in the United States was the 1946 AFT strike in St. Paul.

Still, despite decades of educator unionism, double-standards and bias remain for women in the workplace. Administrators can use sexist tropes to dismiss women in education. “Male bosses don’t take me seriously,” says C.M., “It is hard to maintain credibility when higher-ranking men come in and paint you as the ‘dreamer’ and themselves as the ‘thinker.’” Additionally, she points out that the lack of men in the field becomes a problem for students as well. “Young boys benefit from being represented on staff,” C.M. points out, but often don’t see role models for themselves at school because the amount of work, both paid and unpaid, that goes into education discourages men from entering the field.

SJEM has been pushing away at these and other problems across the metro area, and won’t be stopping any time soon. They see schools as an institution to protect and also one to transform: Asked why she’s working with SJEM to make things better at her school, C.M. has passion and a vision:

“I want my students to be treated as children, not products. I want to empower students to follow their interests and learn to be a part of a supportive and democratic community, not to sort my students into different classes for the benefit of the ruling class. Schools shouldn’t be a holding place for students, they should be a place to offer knowledge and growth that nurture humanity and the whole child. I am organizing because I think the only way to create schools that are actually good for people is to have them be designed by the people who work and learn in them.”

 

With Trump in power and his Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, taking aim at the public education system, the brave organizers of SJEM and those like them are standing up for their students and their schools.

 

One Class, One Struggle! Undocumented and Documented Workers Unite on May Day.

By Patrick O’Donoghue

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Fellow workers in the General Defense Committee stand against the far right

 

A Day of Resistance! 

Today is May Day, or as we in the labor movement call it, International Worker’s Day- a day of celebration and resistance for working class people. It is a day not only of looking forward to the future, but also remembering the lessons of the past. May Day commemorates the struggle of the Haymarket Martyrs, a group of labor organizers, most of them immigrants, executed in Chicago for their work in the Eight Hour Day movement. The Eight Hour Day was the first time that workers around the world joined together in one campaign, supporting each other’s strikes and protests around a single demand- reduce the work day to eight hours, without a cut in pay. The movement faced violence and arrests from governments, but eventually won in country after country. The eight hour day became the basic work day for workers across the countries where the movement fought, with victories across Europe, North and South America, Australia, Iran, Japan, and elsewhere. Over a century ago, workers realized the power we have when we refuse to be divided by borders, industry, or race.

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Lucy Gonzales Parsons, whose husband Albert was one of the Haymarket Martyrs, said “My conception of the strike of the future is not to strike and go out and starve, but to strike and remain in and take possession of the necessary property of production.”

This May Day is also the Day Without Immigrants. It is the latest in a wave of of day strike by immigrant workers- not only to protest wages and work conditions, but also to protest the Trump’s plans to increase deportations. Under the Trump’s ramping up of the Obama administration’s already record-breaking deportations, ICE has increasingly targeted previously protected DREAMers and other undocumented people not otherwise criminalized by the state. ICE raids are becoming more regular even in “Sanctuary Cities”, and more of our neighbors, coworkers, family, and friends are being captured, torn from their homes, forced through over-crowded detention centers and courts without due process.

In the Twin Cities, many of the actions today are organized by CTUL, the workers center for low wage workers of color, especially immigrant workers. Even more of the walk outs and sick outs are “wildcat” actions organized on the shop floor between undocumented workers, without needing the go-ahead from a union or organizer.

By striking, these undocumented workers are showing how important they are to making the world run. How many restaurants are shut down today because the back end staff didn’t come in? How many landscapers and construction companies who rely on day laborerers are not making money today? How many farm fields aren’t being worked? Every day, undocumented immigrant workers do some of the toughest jobs in America, and the country starts to grind to a halt without immigrant workers. Deportations crackdowns have already left millions of dollars of produce to rot in the fields in Alabama, Georgia, and California as farmers dependent on exploiting undocumented workers can’t find Americans to work for as low as $10,000-$12,000 a year. The four industries with the most undocumented workforce- agriculture, cleaning and maintenance, construction, and food preparation and service- are all expecting labor shortages if Trump’s deportation plan is carried out. American companies and bosses need our immigrant fellow workers- but the administration and parts of the press try to tell workers who are citizens that undocumented workers are hurting American working standards. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Hard Times and Scapegoats

Those of us born here in the US might hear from our coworkers, “Why should we care about the immigrants out protesting today? They’re taking our jobs! They’re taking our welfare! They’re bad hombres!”. Sadly, this idea that immigrants are taking our jobs and tax dollars is common around America, fed by a media machine headed up by Fox News, Breitbart, and right-wing talk radio. This media machine has built up as part of a long-term strategy for the Right and corporate America to drum up public support for rolling back social programs, public spending, and labor rights, as laid out in the famous Powell Memorandum that instructed industrial lobbyists on how to organize politically to push back against workers’ movements. The push against immigrants, as well as the Right’s rhetoric about the “inner city” and those of us who live there, reflects the Southern Strategy, an intentional decision by the Right in America to use racial anxiety against people of color to enlist white voters. This is done by implying or repeating, over and over, that immigrants and people of color are criminals, do not work, and are taking public benefits without contributing. The fact is that undocumented workers not only contribute over $10.6 billion in local and state taxes and $15 billion in social security annually, but are also ineligible for public assistance including welfare, SNAP, and Medicaid. On the whole, undocumented workers are not among the most exploited at work, but also subsidize a tax pool for benefits that they are not able to apply for. Still, US-born workers are expected to believe that undocumented workers are the cause of low wages and high unemployment- not decades of attacks on worker power and unions through mechanization and outsourcing. This narrative is pushed for one reason- to get workers with citizenship to act as attack dogs against workers without citizenship. Buying into it gets workers nowhere.

Race to the Bottom, or Struggle From Below?

When Trump says, “Make America Great Again”, he is calling voters to remember a time when America was different in two very different ways. First, at the peak of what many conservative Americans remember as the time the country was “great” in the 1950s and 1960s, segregation was still law in most of the South and unofficially practiced, like it is today, in most of the country. Women’s liberation had not yet picked up steam, and LGBT rights were considered a fringe issue at best. Without a doubt, anxiety over the changing status of people of color, women, and queer people is one of the emotions driving Trump’s presidency, especially in the wealthier voting bloc that gave him the bulk of his support.

Still, among working class Americans, especially white workers in the Rust Belt and Appalachia, the phrase also brings to mind the higher standard of living working class people enjoyed at the high water mark of unionization and social democracy in the US.

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Unionization has fallen from almost a third of American workers to just over a tenth, not only from direct union busting, but also from the loss of jobs in former union strongholds like mining and manufacturing. With these blue collar union jobs gone, wages have stagnated since the 1970s. Meanwhile, productivity has steadily climbed. Profits have skyrocketed as more of that productivity goes to our bosses instead of to our paychecks. As a result, inequality in the US has reached levels not seen since the Great Depression. Infant mortality, substance abuse, and depression are all increasing, and life expectancy is falling. Workers are expected to either accept our place in low wage service work, or to “increase our human capital” by taking on enormous student debt for a chance at a career.

Still, it’s not blue collar jobs like auto manufacturing, mining, and longshore workers we really miss; it’s the workers’ power we built on those jobs. These were only good jobs because they were unionized. Before the unions, these jobs were considered low skill, and were almost always low wage. They were usually held by workers with the minimum education, or by recent immigrants. In fact, a lot of the arguments used against unionizing fast food, service, or janitorial workers today would have sounded familiar to factory workers before the unions!

The loss of these jobs has nothing to do with immigrants, and everything to do with a corporate strategy to bust the power of unions. In the US and in Europe, since crisis of the 1970s when manufacturing and mining workers pushed against the stagnation of wages and inflation, business looking to keep profitability have adopted a dual strategy for gutting the power of labor- replacing high waged workers with machines, and moving production to places where labor is kept cheap by poverty and repression.

The mechanization of jobs has been most stark to workers like coal miners, who Trump promises to “put back to work” even as experts say it is impossible. Even before the rise of cheaper natural gas, solar, and wind put the final nail into coal’s coffin, the bulk of coal jobs were lost decades earlier as the industry switched from large shifts of underground miners, to environmentally devastating mountaintop removal mining with bulldozers, back hoes, and drag lines. Since 1983, West Virginia and Kentucky alone have lost around half of their former 79,000 coal jobs, despite production holding almost steady at 245 million short tons in 1983 and 250 million in 2011. The same trend has happened in granite quarrying here in Minnesota. Quarrying jobs in the area around Saint Cloud have declined by about a third since 1990 even as production expanded, while in the Iron Range what mining is left after the closure of pits for cheaper ore elsewhere, is done with more heavy equipment and fewer workers.

The second method for breaking American unions has been outsourcing unionized jobs to countries where wages are lower and unions are more easily repressed. For example, the Ford Plant in Saint Paul shut down in 2011, resulting in over 2,000 layoffs, even though it was one of Ford’s most productive and efficient plants. Its closure was part of Ford’s strategy, called “The Way Forward”, which outlines how Ford will weaken the United Auto Workers by moving production to Spain, Mexico, China, and other countries where labor is cheaper, and attacking the unions there to keep that labor cheap. Between 1979 and today, manufacturing employment nationwide fell from around 19.6 million jobs to 12.6 million, with 5 million jobs lost since the signing of NAFTA. Trade deals like NAFTA allow companies to move to where low wages are enforced by violence against union organizers. Some companies don’t even need to move operations overseas- they can “outsource” jobs to prison labor where prisoners can be made to work for pennies an hour, and the prison system ramps up harsher penalties and more prison time to keep cheap prison labor available. The violence of mass incarceration here and union busting overseas busts unions here and leaves everyone working more for less.

When politicians promise to make manufacturing jobs “come back”, they’re not offering us the same deal that assembly line workers in the 60s or 70s might have had. Instead, these jobs are mostly coming back as non-union, low wage labor, mostly in states across the South with weaker labor protection, where the companies are fighting to keep the United Auto Workers off the shop floor. Wages for production workers declined 4.4% between 2003 and 2013, when a fourth of all manufacturing workers made $16/hr or less. The median wage for manufacturing workers in 2015 was just $16.14 an hour.

Our politicians, whether following the policies of international trade deals or the policies of protectionism and “America first”, offer no real alternative for workers- just a race to the bottom for the lowest wages. This May Day, immigrant workers are showing us all another way- fighting back against exploitation anywhere to fight for workers everywhere.
Make The Working Class Rise Again!

While workers take to the streets today, we need to look to the next day, the next week, and the next month to keep up the fight against exploitation. Some of the most important work linking the struggle of undocumented workers and citizens is being done quietly, on the shop floor and in our communities every day. The transformative power of solidarity can be seen in work like the Worker’s Project in Indiana and its campaign between union carpenters and non-union immigrant construction workers. When Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne hired non-union immigrants to work on construction projects, the Trades unions initially planned to rally for “Local Jobs for Local People”. As they talked it over and met with the immigrant workers, though, the carpenters realized the oldest truth in the labor movement. As the union put it, “if  they’re getting f–cked, we’re getting f–cked”. Or, as we say in the IWW, “An Injury to One is An Injury to All”.

Instead of campaigning against undocumented workers, the union invited the undocumented workers to their meetings and listened to their grievances and plans. The undocumented workers launched a campaign over unpaid overtime, and the union workers helped them workers get documentation for the hours they worked. When the undocumented workers picketed their job site over safety hazards, Trades workers honored the picket lines. Finally, the Trades workers invited the undocumented workers into the unions. Eventually, the undocumented workers won settlements from the university, some joined the unions, and both the citizen and undocumented workers came out stronger.

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IWW General Defense Committee stands in solidarity with immigrants, Sheboygan WI

This is the kind of the solidarity between workers that the Industrial Workers of the World, including our Wobblies in the Trades in Indiana, fights for. We extend our solidarity and struggle to every fight against the attacks on the working class. In New York City, IWW members picketed and locked down to bread delivery trucks to stand with undocumented workers threatened with deportation. In Milwaukee and in Saint Cloud, IWW General Defense Committee members have helped provide security at rallies by immigrant communities facing intimidation by anti-immigrant forces. In Minneapolis, the IWW has picketed in defense of CNT union organizers at Ford factories in Spain, where low wages contribute to outsourcing from Minnesota. The Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee organizes imprisoned workers across borders, and last September launched the US’s largest ever prison strike. Campaigns like Stardust Family United and the Burgerville Workers Union are building worker power in food service industries that have kept traditional unions out.

There is a new labor movement, and with it a new world, being built every day in the shell of the old. Today, undocumented workers march at the front of it. By stopping work just for a day, they are showing us all a lesson that the Haymarket Martyrs knew long ago. Working people make the world go around, and that by simply taking a break, we can make the world stop until it listens to us. Today, immigrant workers take to the picket lines and the streets. But, they can’t stand alone, and they won’t- the working class knows no borders.

 

Teachers Push Back Against Mismanagement

By John O’Reilly

The story that came down was simple: we were going to get our hours cut. We work at a school for adults, teaching ESL to immigrants and refugees. Because many of our students are Somali, they use Somali-speaking daycare for their younger kids. Since Friday is the Muslim holy day, their daycare centers generally aren’t open, and so any of our students with children younger than school age can’t come in to learn English on Fridays. The result of this situation is that our student numbers plummet on Friday, and student numbers matter for state funding.

So 3 of us were going to lose our Friday hours. We already work a hard, underpaid and underappreciated part-time job. While teachers in the K12 system are getting attacked by Betsy DeVos and her cronies in Washington, teachers in adult education have long been considered unimportant. No paid time off or sick leave, years since the last raise, and with a management team that wouldn’t know education if it bit them in the eye: it’s tough out here. Losing a whole day a week of pay was intolerable. Tali is a loving mother of two young girls and it’s obvious from talking to her that she would do anything for them. Jane has a bright teenage son looking at colleges. I’m still paying off my debt from the years of college I had to complete to become a teacher in this run-down school and the mice in my apartment eat better than I do some weeks.

We knew what needed to be done. Lacking students, it sure didn’t help that our school’s approach to outreach was to not do any. Rather than cutting hours, what we needed to do was build our program, bring in more students, and expand the student body beyond our primarily Muslim base. After all, there’s lots of people in Minneapolis who could use a free, supportive classroom space to work on their English skills.

Teachers are not known for their interest in shying away from a fight. We talked to all of our coworkers, one by one, over coffee or cheap fast food. We told them that we weren’t okay with losing our hours, that we couldn’t afford it, and they agreed with us. “I don’t understand why they run things this way,” our newest coworker whispered to me over the table at a coffeeshop, looking both ways to make sure nobody was watching us, “It’s like they’re trying to make the school fail.” It turned out the three of us weren’t the only people who had complaints. We promised to support our coworkers if they had our backs this time around.

On the day before the cuts were to go into effect, we marched into management’s office. Appointments be damned. The manager’s eyes went wide as saucer plates when she saw us. The director, smooth as he is, slapped everybody on the back and sat down with us in the plush conference room. He’s got a reputation as someone who will show you the nice things one day and fire you the next for looking at him funny. Great view, I thought as I looked out the large window in his second floor office and settled into a cushy chair, better than the dingy, windowless basement that my students are subjected to all day. We stuck to our plan, each said our piece, delivered the letter with our proposal and signatures, and got up to walk away before he could get a word in edgewise. Everybody’s knees were shaky as we walked out of there but we had gotten through it.

Four hours later, we got an email: the director had approved our plan. Sure, it was good for the whole school, but it wasn’t like those geniuses, who’ve never actually taught a day in their lives, had come up with it. We, the workers who keep the school going, knew what we needed to succeed. “Praise Jesus,” Tali said when I texted her that we’d won, waiting in the school parking lot to pick up her girls. “I realized, he’s just another guy. He’s not better than us, and we made him listen to us,” Jane said as we debriefed. We did it together. We kept our hours. We built our program. The teachers, all women save myself, served our students, overwhelmingly women themselves. We made the big man upstairs listen to us. And we, the workers, did it on our own. It turns out that when you get a bunch of teachers mad, sometimes they fight back. And when we fight, we win!

A Shift in Power: Unprecedented Victory at the School Board

 

Thanks to Unicorn Riot for their great video! 

“It’s pretty clear that there’s a problem,” said Director Nelson Inz at last Tuesday’s school board meeting, “And it’s really disheartening to hear the things that people are saying about racism and practices taking place in our schools to silence teachers of color that we worked so desperately to get to work for our kids, because we know how important it is that they’re there. It’s crushing, really. I can’t believe I’m hearing it.”

At the Social Justice Education Movement (SJEM), our mission is to empower education workers to organize to fight for social and racial justice in their schools, as well as to fight for their own rights as workers. What we’ve found time and time again is that if we don’t do the second, we can’t do the first. In other words: if teachers can’t defend themselves, they can’t defend their students.

Unlike Director Inz, we were not surprised by the stories educators of color shared publicly at Tuesday’s meeting, about the various ways they were pushed out of their schools in a systematically racist school district. They are consistent with what we have heard, seen and experienced in MPS and beyond: staff who speak up for students, or speak out against administrators in any way, are pushed out of schools. We see this pattern hit staff of color the hardest, in large part because staff of color are often the ones to notice and speak up about practices that harm students.  In Minneapolis 66% of students are students of color, and yet our teachers of color only represent 15% of the teaching staff. A recent study shows that having just one black teacher in elementary school can dramatically increase students’ chances of graduating. In a district that claims to know how important it is to have staff that represent students, staff of color who face racism in their schools that goes unchallenged or is directly perpetrated by administrators.

Some of these stories were shared before the school board on Tuesday. We heard from a teacher who got positive performance reviews for two straight years, but was then told she would not be asked back for “poor performance” a month after disagreeing with the principal at a staff meeting. In another instance, a black Special Education Assistant (SEA) was fired for refusing to deny hot lunch to students as a form of punishment. Another black SEA resigned in protest over the way he and his students were being treated–then his former boss made it impossible for him to get another job in the district by calling him “unprofessional” in references. A Hmong social worker at Hmong International Academy was fired for “insubordination” after refusing to comply with administrative orders to unlawfully expedite a special education designation. These are just a few of the stories shared, and they are only a glimpse of what is happening across the district.

The board would like us to think this is a crisis of communication, a problem that results from them not “knowing the full story,” as Director Rebecca Gagnon put it. But do they really want to know? The board tried to block the community from entering the boardroom because of overcrowding; security guards were ordered to push us aside and close the doors. We had to push our way in, only to find ourselves in a room that comfortably fit us. Comfortable except for the heat, which the board repeatedly said was because the room was over capacity. Those of us who stayed after, however, heard the AC go on after the crowd left.

Do they really want to know? Superintendent Ed Graff began the meeting by framing all of the testimony to come as the sad consequence of necessary budget cuts.

“I want to acknowledge that we have a number of individuals coming forward tonight to speak about their personal situation, specifically as it relates to employment decisions and race,” he said “We know that this is a very difficult time for employees who are impacted by the cuts and organizational restructuring that is taking place.”

Not a single one of the educators speaking that night were excessed due to budget cuts, and the board knew that. They read our emails, and promised a meeting with the fired educators, which they canceled the day of. But it’s certainly easier to be sad about budget cuts than  racism, or staff fired for advocating for students.

Do they really want to act? The board responded to the testimony with outrage and a promise to look into it later–then prepared to move on. We were ready for this with a fully-written, legally sound motion that we requested the board vote on. A motion to rectify the wrongful firings of educators who spoke that night, as well as prohibiting food punishment in the district. Though the discussion mainly consisted of board members saying that this was not the proper process, that they needed to investigate further, and that this didn’t set a good precedent; they were looking at a room of 200 people on their feet, holding signs in support, who had pushed through guards to be there. They passed the motion unanimously with two abstentions. Seven dedicated educators of color can work with our students again.

Do they really want to act? In the face of the budget deficit, the cuts the board is choosing to make are telling. The Davis Center and central administration, which primarily “oversees” (rather than assists) us, has a $43,000,000/year budget for salaries alone. Yet only a small percentage of the total cuts will come from the Davis Center. Yet massive cuts are coming from programs that our students of color rely on the most, including Check and Connect.  They’re also coming from massive pay decreases and work increases for the engineers who make our schools clean and safe, most of whom are people of color. And whose budget remains untouched? School resource officers, who mostly get paid to be on their phones, and often make school a criminalizing and traumatizing place for students of color.

The fact is, we’re being given a tired story: that we just need to give the people in power more time to fully understand the issue and then they will fix it. But the solution is not to rely on the nine people sitting on the school board to understand what is happening in every school – that’s impossible. Our schools are somehow supposed to prepare students to live in a “democracy” while being run as dictatorships, where administrators hold all the power. Our schools are somehow supposed to be able to fight racism when the administrators who run them with unilateral power benefit from avoiding controversy. In the same way it is in the board’s best interest to silence us, it is in the principal’s best interest to silence staff.

The solution is not to be patient with our “leaders.” The solution is for the workers, students, and families in schools to have the power. To shift power from positions that benefit from quieting dissent to people whose first priority is the students and the health and happiness of the school community. The solution is to organize for social and racial justice in our schools, and to protect each other along the way. An SJEM organizer who spoke at the meeting framed the night as a “test” for the board, but the real test was for us: could we build the power to defend each other? All it took was connecting educators across the district who wanted to fight, and an organizing strategy to do so. Now that we see the power we have, it’s time to expand it. It’s time to continue the fight. Time to get organized Will you join us?

Come reflect and celebrate this Thursday, 5-7pm at the Waite House Community room: facebook event here. Or contact us at SJEMiww@gmail.com.

 

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