Thursday, March 10, 2011

Amid Democratic Revolutions Abroad, Authoritarian Revolutions at Home

By Jackie Smith
As Egyptians and other democracy advocates around the Middle East celebrate their gains in winning concessions from authoritarian regimes, at home we are witnessing a revolution of authoritarianism. Republican governors across the country are seeking to simultaneously seize authority from state legislatures and undermine the ability of ordinary citizens to affect the decisions that shape their lives.

In Wisconsin, Scott Walker’s controversial legislation proposes not just to eliminate worker rights and benefits but also to undercut legislative oversight of key decisions. Similarly, in a highly under-reported development, the Michigan legislature just advanced a bill that would allow the state to take over struggling municipal agencies. Emergency financial managers trained in corporate management logic would be empowered to end existing contracts, take over pension plans, reorganize departments, restructure debt, and dissolve or consolidate fiscally troubled towns and schools. The justification for their decisions is based on economic efficiency, not community well being. But as a writer in the Michigan Messenger asks: “What values will guide these individuals or firms as they work to balance budgets? How will a manager decide whether to sell off an ice rink or a library?” (

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Labor Rights in Mideast and Mid-West Are Key to Counter-terrorism

by Jackie Smith

As popular groups around the Middle East challenge authoritarian rulers long supported by the West, U.S. officials are resisting our own democratic movements to defend basic rights and freedoms. The simultaneity of these struggles is no coincidence. Along with militant fundamentalism, they are responses to the current moment of crisis, which grows from the basic limits of U.S. power.

The United States and its allies have supported dictators in the Middle East in order to ensure stable and secure supplies of cheap oil. Low-cost energy fueled the industrial growth that allowed many in the rich countries of the world to enjoy rising standards of living. But we’re now seeing the limits to this economic expansion in the form of peak oil, water scarcity, rising food prices, and chronic unemployment.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

GOP Anti-Union Strategy Won’t Solve Economic Woes

by Jackie Smith

After three decades of stagnant wages, declining opportunities to join unions, and rising income inequality, American workers are being bullied into making even more sacrifices to their health and well-being so that the super-rich and corporations can continue to enjoy large profit margins.

The latest challenge to American workers is the threat to the basic right to form and join trade unions in order to bargain with their employers collectively, rather than as isolated individuals. This right is being threatened in several states and is part of a concerted national effort led by Republican officials and their corporate funders (such as the Koch brothers). State legislatures in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Indiana, among others are seeking to eliminate public workers’ rights to organize.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Many Protests, One Revolution

by Jackie Smith

The massive rise of popular protests around the Middle East and North Africa coincides with the convening of the World Social Forum in Dakar, Senegal. While the former are the subject of deserved and extensive media attention, the latter has been virtually ignored by mainstream media. Yet all these gatherings of activists should be seen as part of a single, global movement that has been unfolding for over a decade.

While protesters in Egypt seek to topple corrupt and authoritarian rulers, activists at the World Social Forum have been doing the long-term and painstaking work of building a global movement to transform the basic structures of our world economy. It is those structures that both enable the greed and brutality of individual leaders and maintain the conditions against which Egyptians, Jordanians, Yemenis as well as Ecuadorans, Indians, and Detroiters are all resisting.

World Social Forum Convenes in Dakar Senegal Feb. 6-11

The World Social Forum takes place in Dakar, Senegal February 6-11. It is the second World Social Forum to be held in Africa; the 2007 World Social Forum met in Nairobi. The fact that the Forum takes place as the world is mesmerized by tenacious protests around the Middle East highlights links between the dominant model of globalization and a variety of popular modes of resistance. The simultaneity of these gatherings is no coincidence, and it reflects the underlying contradictions and crises of the current world order.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

July 29 March for Human Rights: Let's Promote Smarter Public Debate in Immigration

Following the July 29 March in South Bend, which was led by area youth and students, we're hoping to stimulate more discussion in our community about the policies affecting international migration. Most of the media discourse is very limited and encourages divisive and racist attitudes in the general public. Here's an op-ed piece I submitted to the South Bend Tribune following our march. It is scheduled to appear in the paper on August 14.

Il/legality: Some History
Op-ed by Jackie Smith-- to South Bend Tribune

One of our aims for the July 29 immigrant rights marches here and around the country was to encourage more enlightened and intelligent discussion of what comprehensive immigration reform should look like. For starters, we need some historical perspective on the term “illegal.”

No human being is illegal. They might happen to have moved from where they were born, but humans have been doing that since we first walked upright. Why should we think that “modern” society is so different? Today’s migrants are just doing what humans have always done.

Despite the fact that they’re engaging in an age-old survival strategy, today’s migrants face obstacles that only entered the scene in the 20th century: legally restricted national borders. Before then—i.e., when many European-Americans’ ancestors entered this country—there were no such limits to entry. In fact, people were encouraged to come. Yet they moved for the very same reasons that most international migrants come here today. In a country built on the influx of migrants, it is highly ironic that we’re now closing the door to the opportunities this country provided for our own ancestors’ survival.

If we’re going to insist on the primacy of laws, let’s consider how this nation’s current border laws came to be. Christopher Columbus “discovered” the Americas, and to secure them for his European sponsors engaged in actions that would now be called “genocide.” Genocide is now, thankfully, illegal in contemporary international law, but it came too late to save indigenous communities.

Whereas today’s international migrants are criticized for “stealing our jobs,” Columbus and his successors stole all the gold and silver they could find, in addition to the labor needed to extract these precious ores from the ground. They also stole people for the emerging slave trade. Because these “explorers” were operating in the name of their God, their Church, and/or their king, their activities are portrayed in our history books as noble and justified. But those wanting to call themselves “native-born” in the U.S. today would certainly rather welcome today’s international migrants than those European migrants of earlier centuries.

If we go back just a little more than 150 years, we see that the United States government actually stole a huge chunk of Mexico in the Mexican-American war of 1846-48. Ironically, Arizona used to be Mexico. And the strategies used to take it from Mexico would clearly be deemed illegal under modern conventions of war and under the United Nations Charter. So who should be considered “illegal” in Arizona?

International migration—like the migration of people within our country—is not something most people take lightly. Most don’t want to be uprooted from their families, culture, and traditions. But the fact that their local or national economy is not providing jobs means that their very survival requires movement. U.S. trade policies have further restricted economic opportunities in Mexico and elsewhere, forcing millions to lose their farms, their jobs, and the possibilities of survival in their home countries.

In the United States, we’re lucky to have such a large economy with many opportunities for domestic migrants to pursue without crossing an international border. But citizens in most countries are not so lucky.

Let’s move beyond the dehumanizing name-calling that has characterized the national “debate” on immigration and engage in more thoughtful, historically informed, and reasoned discussions about how best to address international migration.

South Bend Youth Inspired by US Social Forum

One of the key goals of the US Social Forum is to inspire people to take action in their local communities to bring about the kind of world those attending the Forum are envisioning-- i.e., a world where human rights and ecological mindfulness are prioritized over wealth and profit-making.

The power of the Social Forum process to inspire local action is apparent in our experience in South Bend: A group of five high school-aged youth from South Bend La Casa de Amistad's youth collectiva helped organize a march for human rights and against discrimination. The idea for the march came from the widespread calls at the USSF for groups to organize locally to protest Arizona's discriminatory immigration law, SB1070. When they returned home, students began meeting with local organizers from Jobs with Justice and other students from the area--including several University of Notre Dame students who attended the US Social Forum as well.

The organizers inspired many older organizers in the region with their energy, enthusiasm, and creativity. They painted banners and signs for the march, and designed a t-shirt to distribute to marchers and show our numbers. Estimates of the size of the march ranged from 250-400, and people joined us at various points along the way.  The march ended with a rally and speeches at the newly opened Center for Civil Rights History near downtown South Bend. It was appropriate, noted Center director Dr. Kevin James, that this sort of protest event was one of the first major events the Center hosted.

For this town, this size of a march is notable. But what was most impressive is that it was a diverse march with people from all different neighborhoods and colors. I think many who attended were inspired to continue finding ways to build bridges across the diverse segments of the community. We're looking forward to continuing this process and thinking ahead to an event to commemorate International Human Rights Day on December 10.