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New Ground 81

March - April, 2002

Contents

  • Workers Held Hostage by Bob Roman
  • May Day 2002: Another World Is Possible by Harold Taggart
  • Conference on Justice and Global Security by Harold Taggart
  • death sentence 2002 by Tom Broderick
  • Other News compiled by Bob Roman
  • YDS Regional Conference
    Action for New Priorities
    3rd Annual STITCH Women's Language School Delegation
    Chicago DSA Officers
  • Letters

  • Workers Held Hostage

    by Bob Roman

    Senator Baucus may have hoped to create an unstoppable momentum to quickly pass the Fast Track trade negotiating authority when he moved to pass it out of the Senate's Finance Committee almost immediately after it arrived from the House of Representatives. But the United States is cursed and blessed with a libertarian approach to legislative decisions; passage of almost anything requires some degree of consensus, most particularly in the U.S. Senate where debate can be unlimited. This means speedy legislation is the exception not the rule. Another reason for the delay is some uncertainty that the votes are there to pass the Fast Track. Finally, the legislation has essentially been stuck in traffic behind other controversial legislation, such as Campaign Finance Reform and "Economic Stimulus". While supporters had hoped to have a vote late February, certainly by early March, now a decision is expected sometime shortly after the Senate returns from its Easter recess on April 8.

    It is at this point that things become ugly or interesting, depending upon your point of view. Far be it that a Beltway naif such as I should attempt to explain the intricacies of Senate rules; they are impenetrable to me as to most civilians. But the bill will be open to amendments, and the bill's managing Senators will bundle the Fast Track with other trade legislation, most particularly with the reauthorization of Trade Adjustment Assistance.

    Trade Adjustment Assistance is a program that was originally passed to assist workers made jobless by their employment being exported to Canada or Mexico as a result of NAFTA. The Senate is proposing some fairly significant improvements to this program, including expanded COBRA (health insurance) and wage insurance as well as expanding benefits to "secondary" victims of plant closings.

    In one sense, this is an example of "genius" of the U.S. legislative system: the way in which it attempts to make legislation a "win-win" game of compromise. An instructive example was the last time Congress passed an increase in the minimum wage. The original bill, as proposed by the AFL-CIO, was a fairly class conscious bit of legislation with only two provisions: an increase in the minimum wage and the removal of a tax loop-hole that allowed corporations to pay their executives extravagantly and deduct that money from the corporation's taxable income. By the time Congress was done with the minimum wage legislation, it contained an increase in the minimum wage and a nice menu of tax breaks for business. In essence, Congress passed the minimum wage by assuring the business community that Uncle Sam would pay for it. (That's mostly you and me, not business, incidentally!)

    In part, this is what the Senate managers of the Fast Track are attempting to do with the Fast Track: something for you and something for you. Are we all happy yet? And in part, it's also an ugly and evil game of chicken. The Trade Adjustment Assistance is not an extravagant program even in its proposed upgrade, but it makes a consequential difference in the lives of working men and women and in our communities. Senators Daschle, Baucus and Grassley are telling us: the Fast Track passes, or else!

    If this were only a case of dividing up the pie, as it was with the minimum wage, it would simply be another instance of sausage making. But far more is at stake here. The trade negotiations that the Fast Track legislation concerns determine far more than an immediate division of some economic pie. They are intimately concerned with the basic rules that determine how trade is conducted, the authority of the state to intervene in the conduct of trade (including conditions of employment, consumer and environmental regulation, etc.), and most importantly the ability of labor and other social movements to organize effectively.

    Opponents of the Fast Track will attempt to amend the bill to include their own instructions to the U.S. trade negotiators: provisions to protect anti-dumping legislation, restrict intellectual "property" rights especially in connection with pharmaceuticals, protection against restrictionÇ8involving labor rights, environmental legislation, consumer legislation, etc. This is partly to salvage something in the event that the Fast Track passes and partly to poison the legislation so the business community will turn against it. It's not clear that either strategy will work, simply because U.S. trade negotiators have a history of listening to instructions they want to hear and using the others as expendable negotiating points. In that context, it hardly matters what the Fast Track legislation contains.

    This issue of New Ground should reach you while the Senate is in recess: a most excellent time to write or call the home offices of Senator Richard Durbin and Senator Peter Fitzgerald.

    Contacting the Illinois Delegation

    The AFL-CIO maintains a web site from which you can fax your Senator. It includes a suggested text, which you can alter to your taste. Go to http://www.unionvoice.org/campaign/fasttrack3.

    Senator Durban

    Washington Office: 332 Dirksen Senate Office Bldg., Washington, DC 20510, Voice- (202)224-2152, TTY- (202)224-8180, Fax- (202)228-0400; Chicago Office: Kluczynski Bldg. 38th Fl., 230 South Dearborn, Chicago, IL 60604, Voice: (312) 353-4952 Fax (312)353-0150

    Senator Fitzgerald

    Washington Office: 555 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510, (202) 224-2854; Chicago Office, 230 S. Dearborn #3900, Chicago, IL 60604, (312) 886-3506


    May Day 2002: Another World Is Possible

    by Harold Taggart

    May Day is a window into the soul of America. The view is disturbing. What lurks there is very alarming. Beneath the veneer of democracy, justice and civil rights lays oligarchy, injustice, discrimination and deception.

    As we prepare to celebrate May Day 2002, Enron dominates the news. Due to the chicanery and irresponsibility of Enron executives, Enron employees watched helplessly as their life's savings evaporated. The company's executives, who were responsible for bankrupting the 7th largest corporation in the U.S., lined their pockets with millions of dollars. To them the employees deserved no more consideration than insects do.

    In 1886, wealthy businessmen led by Marshall Field viewed working class people as nothing more than insects to exploit then stomp underfoot. That year marked a concerted nationwide demanded by working people and their supporters for a decent wage and secure life for themselves and their families. The businessmen of 1886 placed no more value on the life of a working person than did Kenneth Lay, Chief Executive Officer of Enron or his predecessor Jeffrey Skilling.

    In 1886 and 2001, and most years in between, the government responded primarily to the wishes of the business community. In America, dollars have more votes than the demos have. The 1972 Supreme Court ruling Buckley v Valeo insured that dollars would dominate elections when the court ruled that money is free speech.

    In May of 1886, hundreds of thousands of workers across the U.S. marched and agitated for better working conditions and pay. At the core of their demands was the eight-hour workday. On May 1st, 85,000 workers, their families and supporters marched up Michigan Avenue in Chicago to stress their demands. The police, with the blessing and support of a large segment of the business community, were prepared to gun them down like rats at the first misstep. Miraculously, the day ended without an incident.

    On May 4th, workers held a rally at Haymarket Square to criticize police brutality particularly at the McCormick Reaper plant on May 3rd and to plan how to respond. As the assembly broke up, the police, who had been ordered to return to their station, instead marched on those remaining and began harassing them. A bomb exploded in the police ranks and mayhem ensued. Marshall Field and other businessmen immediately seized the opportunity to get rid of the leaders of the protests and demanded they be hanged from the lampposts. Law enforcement officials at every level obediently responded to the demands of Marshall Field. Police, prosecutors, politicians and judges ignored all Constitutional rights and carried out the directives of Field and his cohorts. The events of the first week of May 1886 revealed that in the U.S. the Constitution is suspended when the privileged class feels threatened.

    In 2000, Jeff Skilling, then CEO of Enron, was among the 20 highest paid executives in the U.S. His salary and bonus for that year totaled$6.5 million. In other words, he did the work of 185 people. His long-term compensation was estimated by Business Week Magazine (April 16,2001) to be $66 million. To be worth a compensation package that exorbitant, his qualifications should include genius in the field's of business management, accounting, mathematics, petrochemical science, finance and personnel management and the ability to walk on water. However, during testimony before Congress, Skilling seemed to have little of no skills. Could that mean he can't walk on water either?

    What were Skilling's qualifications? American executives are paid about 16 times more than their Japanese and German counterparts. One Japanese minister remarked that American executives must be the laziest people in the world. They demand exorbitant salaries then must be paid huge bonuses to get them to work. Perhaps the qualification that commands such high compensation and distinguishes U.S. CEOs from their counterparts elsewhere in the industrialized world is the willingness to jettison one's conscience and treat employees like dirt.

    Skilling and Kenneth Lay were willing to strip their employees of their life's savings. Field was willing to strip workers of their lives.

    Kangaroo courts quickly convicted eight leaders of Chicago's eight-hour day movement. Only one had been present when the bomb was thrown, and he was speaking. Five of the eight were condemned to be hanged. On what became known as Black Friday, November 11, 1887, four were hanged. The fifth had died in his cell under questionable circumstances.

    The May Day martyrs are famous around the world representing the sacrifice, suffering and death they were willing to endure to gain decent lives and rights for all working people. Businessmen predicted economic disaster if they cut work hours and raised the pay of their employees. They were dead wrong. In fact the business community became more prosperous.

    With the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the apartheid government in South Africa, only two nations remain that do not celebrate May Day as the international workers' day: Canada and the U.S. The U.S. government and business community want to forget their shameful role in creating May Day. We want to remember it and those behind it.

    History leaves little doubt that the privileged class has contempt for the Constitution and the other institutions of a civilized nation. The purpose of the Constitution in the minds of people like Skilling, Lay and Field is to control "the little people" to borrow Leona Helmsly's term for the unwealthy. Unfortunately, many ordinary people hold the same beliefs. The privileged class's near total control of the media produces a misinformed citizenry that often oppose their own best interests. In 1886, the business-owned media subjected the people to a bombardment of misinformation about anarchists and pandemonium in the streets. Most were convinced that the Haymarket Martyrs should face the ultimate punishment.

    The roots of rights, freedom, justice and equality are very shallow among most Americans. One of the consequences is that we must wage the same battles again and again. We are fighting the PATRIOT Act today. We fought McCarthyism during the 1950s and have fought similar battles throughout our history.

    Those who see through the hypocrisy, see through the window to the rotten core, owe a debt to the May Day Martyrs and need to do everything possible to realize their dreams. There is much to do.

    The celebration of May Day 2002 in Chicago will include events from April 20 through May 4. The theme is Carnival Against Capitalism: Another World Is Possible.

    On Sunday, April 28, the main parade will begin at 10am in Douglas Park at Sacramento and Roosevelt Rd. It will wind through Little Village and Pilsen to Harrison Park. Everyone is invited to participate and encouraged to bring some carnival item such as a street act, musical instrument, puppet, costume, banner or sign. Stilt-walkers and puppeteers already have pledged to participate. Radical drummers and cheerleaders will be there.

    Wednesday, May 1st will include an evening at the HotHouse at 31 E Balbo. A panel will begin the evening at 7:00 p.m. when experts will discuss the effect of power concentrated in the hands of a few economic robber barons on the lives of average people. The cabaret play Cold Chicago: A Haymarket Fable by Warren Leming will be presented at 8:00. Beginning at 9:30, bands playing resistance music will provide entertainment into the night.

    There are events planned for every day from April 26 through May 4th.For details, go to http://www.chicagosocialistparty.com/mayday/ or visit the Chicago DSA Web site, http://www.chicagodsa.org/page9.html or call 708.494.0390.


    Conference on Justice and Global Security

    by Harold Taggart

    The wars follow the most advantageous oil pipeline routes, said Michael McConnell of American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). The most convenient route after Afghanistan from the abundant Caspian Sea Basin oil reserves is Iran, he added.

    McConnell addressed over 100 people at the kickoff caucus of the Conference on Justice and Global Security held at St. Scholastica Academy on Chicago's north side. Almost every problem is approached as a war, he added. There is the war on poverty, the war on drugs, the war on crime etc. The word has become so cliché that the nation doesn't question its use under questionable circumstances when thousands of innocent lives are at stake.

    Chicago Peace Response organized the conference. Peace Response is a coalition of progressive groups led by the American Friends Service Committee. As can be expected from an AFSC-organized project, the conference was nearly flawless. Although the attendance met and slightly surpassed the estimated number of participants, the number should have been higher.

    McConnell criticized the waste of money on the military when so many people are living in poverty. He believes we are at a crossroads in history and the next few months will determine the course of the world for the next 50 years.

    The remaining panelists cited personal experiences related to the 11th of September and enhanced security. Eva Rupp, who works for the Commerce department in Washington DC, described the terror and chaos that swept the nation's capital and her personal tragedy knowing that her step-sister could be on one of the planes. The most mysterious reaction in D.C. was the absence of vehicle traffic, she said. Everyone walked. Rumors were rampant that another 20 planes were unaccounted for. People stopped periodically to listen to the latest news reports blaring from nearby residences and storefronts.

    About three hours later, Eva received the news that her half-sister was on Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania. At first she was angry and baffled. She traveled to Afghanistan in an effort to understand what had happened. There she encountered even greater horrors. Four tiny children in one family were so traumatized by U.S. bombing they could not speak. They mumbled and blathered. Trauma was common even among adults. Everyone had a story of family members killed or mutilated by the bombing. The Afghan people were just as baffled about being targets as Eva was. Their only guilt was the soil they walked on, they protested. Most were happy that the Taliban was gone.

    Gene Stoltzfus, of Christian Peacemaker Teams, was a member of a team that visited Afghanistan after the U.S. bombing died down. Afghanis wanted to know where the American peace movement had been the past 23 years. Over those years about 50% of all structures had been demolished. U.S bombing killed an estimated 2,500 people in just four of 30 Afghan provinces. Those were the most populated provinces. A problem never mentioned was the huge boulders showered down on people and buildings when U.S. bombs blew out entire sections of mountains.

    Lucrecia Mejia, a Chicago resident, described how the lives of people like her have been turned upside down. Latinos are afraid to fly, not because of terrorist hijackings, but because of stepped up security measures that will be directed disproportionately toward them. Their dreams of amnesty for undocumented workers are shattered now, she complained.

    Laila Farah gave a novel presentation. Farah was born in Lebanon but left with her family after bombing by Israeli then Americans destroyed most of her native village. She is now an American citizen, Ph.D. and Assistant Professor in the Women's Studies Program at DePaul University. She presented a performance art piece titled "Stars and Stripes" which described a recent experience she had with Swiss customs agents when returning to the U.S. from Lebanon. Swiss agents attributed detention and repeated body searches to U.S. anti-terrorism laws passed in 1996 and the PATRIOT Act passed at the end of 2001. The name of the presentation came from the markings on the passenger manifest. A few passengers had asterisks by their names. Arabs names had asterisks and yellow lines. "You are either with life or you are against it," she said, paraphrasing Bush's ultimatum to everyone in the world to join his war.

    The second day of the conference was devoted to deeper analysis of global justice and security and the relationship between the wars abroad and the wars at home. The morning panel stressed the theme that imperialism has always been a U.S. policy and September 11th had given it added momentum. U.S. conquests are acknowledged and glorified in the Marine hymn "From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli," said Bal Pinguel. Bal Pinguel, a Filipino member of the AFSC, discussed his imprisonment in the Philippines where he was sentenced under one of Ferdinand Marcos' Military Tribunals. He mentioned his parent nation's suffering under U.S. imperialism. Immediately after the Spanish American war, the U.S. killed half of a million Filipinos and indirectly caused the deaths of over one million more. Back then, the U.S. called its aggression pacification. Immediately after WW II, the U.S. killed an additional half million Filipinos. This time it was labeled anti-Communism.

    The panelists discussed the hypocrisy of U.S. policy. Other nations contributed far more to the creation, growth and nurturing of the Taliban and Al Qaeda than did Afghanistan. Dr. Mugabe Stovall of the University of Illinois, Chicago Campus, said the street name of heroin in Chicago is Karachi because that's the source of most of it. Several experts discussed the dilution of freedom at home such as greater police powers, reversed burden-of-proof now put on the accused and gang loitering laws. Somehow, in the twisted minds of our leaders, reduction of freedom at home is necessary for the fight for our freedom abroad.

    Melinda Powers of the National Lawyers Guild stressed how the U.S. places different values on people. Afghanis are worth up to $1,000 based on the payments made to families of "collateral damage" victims. The family of an executive who was a victim of the World Trade Center attack will receive an average of $1,000,000.

    Medea Benjamin, founder of Global Exchange, was the keynote speaker of the afternoon. Like many of the speakers that weekend, she had visited Afghanistan after the U.S. attack on its people. RAWA, the Revolutionary Afghan Women's Association, said they wanted rid of the Taliban, but not the way the U.S. was doing it. They absolutely did not want the Mujahadeem back in power.

    Reporters told her that their editors had forbidden them to write stories about deaths and injuries of innocent people. Her group scheduled a news conference when it returned to the U.S. because they had witnessed and heard many things that were not known in the U.S. No one came to the press conference. No talk shows would have them as guests, not even Bill O'Reilly or Politically Incorrect. One reporter who got an interview with Mohammed Omar was fired. Only Al-Jazeera would air their reports. There is an incredible media cover-up, Medea complained.

    Bombing is done from high altitudes. The accuracy is less and there are an estimated 75% more civilian casualties. Cluster bombs are composed of 202 bomblets. The bomblets are full of shards of steel and shrapnel and are intended to indiscriminately maim and terrorize. An estimated 30% don't explode. They are like time bombs or mines that detonate later usually when some curious child picks them u or plays with them. The United Nations defines them as terrorist weapons.

    Alexander Cockburn was the featured speaker at the benefit dinner on Saturday. Cockburn is a bi-weekly contributor to The Nation magazine and co-editor of the newsletter Counterpunch.

    Cockburn believes oil is overemphasized as the reason for U.S. involvement in Mideast wars. He also gives little credibility to conspiracy theories that the U.S. was involved in perpetrating the 11th of September attacks. The hatred for America is primarily due to the disparity of wealth, he believes. There also is a basis for the hatred in remarks such as that made by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Albright said during a TV interview that the deaths of nearly one-half million children in Iraq as the result of a U.S.­backed embargo was worth it.

    People in the Third World are better informed than believed, Cockburn claimed. People in the U.S. are more misinformed than they believe. Consequently, U.S. citizens are not equipped in many cases to make decisions necessary for the operation of a truly democratic nation. Corporate control of the media is responsible for the U.S.'s information problem.

    Cockburn acknowledged that there were many warning signs of the 11th of September attacks. The failure to stop them was due to information overload, he claims. Clues pointed to September 11th and to several other days. With all the intelligence gathering systems in operation such as Carnivore used by the FBI, and Echelon, a spy tool of National Security Agency, it's impossible to process and interface everything.

    The final day of the conference was devoted to dialogue and focus groups commissioned to provide a plan for the direction peace groups should take. The session began with a stirring talk by the Reverend Calvin Morris of the Community Renewal Society.

    The war on terror is a big lie, Rev. Morris shouted. The war is an assault on anyone not fortunate enough to be born into the privileged class. The war on terror is just a continuation of war as usual, he concluded.

    Participants in the breakout groups reached unanimity on several issues. The media are the propaganda arm of the corporations. They obstruct and divert the effort to acquire the information necessary to make informed decisions. Corporations operate in the interest of profits not of the nation and the people. The government works for corporate interests.

    There was not consensus on the current war. Many believed some degree of retaliation was necessary to preserve U.S. security even if that meant casualties among innocent people.

    The report backs had nine recommendations. (a) Education (b) Reform the media so that dependable information will be provided. (c) Create a resources center for activist actions and community education. (d) Rent a billboard to publicize progressive issues. (e) Hold monthly vigils. (f) Communications to Congress. (g) Form a coalition and umbrella group. (h) Support protests. (i) Reach out to international groups.


    death sentence 2002

    by Tom Broderick

    Abolition of and not reform of the death penalty was the message of death sentence 2002, a conference held at the Lincoln Park Campus of DePaul University in Chicago on Saturday, March 9th and at nearby St. Josaphat Church on March 10th. The conference was attended by about 400 anti-death penalty activists, primarily from Illinois. Over 130 Organizational Sponsors were printed on the Sponsors list and Chicago DSA was among them.

    The issues of race, class, official indifference and official injustice were the subjects of nearly every speaker. Jane Bohman, Executive Director of the Illinois Coalition Against the Death Penalty (the organizers of the conference), in her welcoming speech dealt with the thirteen men exonerated after years on Illinois' death row. She spoke of police misconduct, the torture of suspects by Chicago police, the use of jailhouse snitches by prosecutors and the fact that 70% of the people on death row in Illinois are people of color.

    Dean Mezey, the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at DePaul (another sponsor), during his welcoming speech remarked that the focus of St. Vincent DePaul was on the spiritually and materially deprived and the majority of those on death row come from a materially deprived background.

    Former IL State Representative Coy Pugh reported that Illinois has a higher percentage of people of color on death row than another state. Urging us to push the Illinois Legislature toward abolition, Pugh noted "We have come a long way in the struggle, but if you ask any inmate on death row, we have not come far enough."

    Linking today's abolitionists against the death penalty to those of the nineteenth century fighting slavery, U.S. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) said "Those who fought against slavery fought for justice and allowed President Lincoln the space to sign the Emancipation Proclamation . . . This movement is a continuation of the struggle against slavery." Senator Feingold, the morning's principal speaker, called Governor Ryan's decision to impose a moratorium against the death penalty, here in Illinois, a catalyst for the nation. According to Sen. Feingold, conservatives like Pat Robertson have embraced the moratorium until a thorough review of the death penalty has been conducted. He faulted the U.S. Supreme Court for not providing leadership on the issue, but says "the tide may be turning as Justices O'Connor and Ginsburg have voiced concerns over the fairness of the death penalty." Senator Feingold, pointing out that in the United States, to live or die is color and class related, urged us to abolish the death penalty in Illinois and then take the message to the nation.

    The afternoon provided the opportunity to attend two workshops and connect with other activists. Some of the workshops were: Why the death penalty cannot be reformed; Faith Communities Perspective; Domestic Repression, Police Brutality and the Death Penalty and Building Grassroots Activisim. The only complaint I heard (and share) is that we were limited to only two workshops. Everyone I spoke with said the quality of the workshops was high.

    The first one I attended was presented by two Amnesty International Death Penalty Coordinators, Robert Schultz of the Midwest Region and Mike Halperin of Texas. A.I.'s position on the death penalty comes primarily from two points in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights: (1) All people have a guarantee to a right to life and (2) All people have a right to be free from torture. Halperin said the term "capital punishment is a vague and sanitary expression that doesn't come close to revealing the truth of the situation. The death penalty is a process to exterminate human beings. It is physical and psychological torture that culminates in extermination. It is cruel, inhuman and degrading."

    "The whole world is watching Illinois" according to Halperin. Illinois is the only state in the union with a moratorium on the death penalty and people on both sides of the abolition issue, at home and abroad, are waiting to see what Governor Ryan's commission reports and what the Governor then does.

    Whatever the report, the Governor cannot put an end to the imposition of the death sentence in Illinois. This task falls to the Illinois legislature. Robert Schultz discussed three bills pending before the Illinois General Assembly. The first calls for abolition of the Death Penalty. It is House Bill 576, sponsored by A. Turner, D-9; W. Delgado, D-3; K. Yarbrough, D-7; B. Currie, D-25; L. McKeon, D-34 and W. Younge, D-114. We need to write and call Illinois Representatives and demand they support this bill. Abolition in Illinois could start a national momentum. The second is House Bill 3743, sponsored by Rep. M. Flowers, D-21. This is a fall back bill that would enact a moratorium through the Illinois House and would need support only if the current or next Governor rescinded the moratorium. The final bill is House Bill 5788, sponsored by Rep. J. Brosnahan, D-36. This bill calls for banning the execution of the mentally retarded. The law was originally passed in 1989 only to be vetoed by then Governor Edgar. There is no bill pending that deals with the execution of juveniles. Apparently the United States and Somalia are the only two member states of the United Nations not to sign the International Rights of Children, which would prohibit the execution of juveniles. Interesting company.

    The second workshop I attended was Innocent men sentenced to death, presented by Jane Bohman. It featured three men wrongfully sentenced to death and later exonerated: Gary Gauger, Darby Tillis and Steve Smith. Each of these men had a horrific personal story. Police and prosecutorial misconduct were featured in all three cases. Judicial misconduct was featured in two of them. All three were apparently convenient as suspects and cooperated in the police investigations. Even though police and prosecutorial misconduct landed them in death row and ultimately aided in their exoneration, the officials involved in the misconduct have not been punished and in many cases have been promoted.

    A quote from each man: Gary Gauger: "Politicians run on their records of convictions, not on rehabilitations." Darby Tillis: "If I go down the street and steal a potato to feed me and my momma, I'm a thug. Well I say if Bush and Daley send people to death row, they are thugs for personal and political gain." Steve Smith: "Prison officials know they have innocent people on death row, but for them it's a job."

    The workshops were followed by the best $10.00 dinner I think I've ever had. This was a time for socializing, entertainment and more speeches. We were introduced to Jennifer Bishop and Renny Cushing from Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation. This is a national group of the family members of both homicide and state killing victims who speak out against the death penalty. They oppose the death penalty in all cases and seek reconciliation through community outreach.

    Mike Farrell, actor, director and President of California Death Penalty Focus was the principal speaker at dinner. He spoke of his involvement in human rights issues from El Salvador to Rwanda to death row in the United States, linking them all. He spoke of us all as "downwinders", referring to the people downwind of a nuclear blast. The blast may not kill us, but it affects us. He spoke of hope: "As the hope of the uneducated, the rabble, became the trade union movement, the hope of this abolitionist movement will lead to the end of the death penalty. Hope is believing in spite of the evidence and then watching the evidence change."

    Also speaking during the dinner was Larry Marshall, Legal Director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions, Northwestern University School of Law. He has been responsible in the overturning of several death sentences in Illinois. He mentioned the six Illinois Gubernatorial candidates and their support of the death penalty. "All recognize it was broken. One says it has been fixed and the other five say it can be fixed." Marshall says the "stakes are high; we must make sure the reforms are not passed, that the death penalty is abolished." "Twenty-five years experience with the new and improved death penalty shows it is not arbitrary. It is racist, especially when blacks kill whites." "It allows for the execution of juveniles, the mentally retarded and most certainly the innocent." Marshall says that some people on death row are afraid of the death penalty being abolished. Some who claim innocence say they are afraid that if they receive life in prison without possibility for parole, they will be forgotten. "We will not forget them . . . they will not be the victims in our political struggle to abolish the death penalty."

    Sunday at St. Josaphat Church was an interfaith service with music and prayers throughout. The two major events were the presentation of the first Cunningham - Carey award to Governor George Ryan (for imposing the moratorium) and a talk by Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking.

    Governor Ryan told us that he imposed the moratorium because it was the only thing he could do. He had lost faith in the criminal justice system in Illinois. Although he supports the death penalty, he does not believe the system in Illinois is working. Since Illinois implemented the death penalty in 1976, thirteen men have been exonerated and twelve have been put to death. "Those odds are like flipping a coin." Stating that he used to be a pharmacist, Governor Ryan said "I would not be allowed to continue my practice if I dispensed the right medication about half the time." He continued "It makes me angry to think that the justice system I believed in came so close to executing an innocent man. I can't imagine how Mr. [Anthony] Porter felt about ordering his last meal and awaiting death while knowing his innocence."

    "More than two thirds of the death row inmates in Illinois are African American . . . Many did not get a trial by a jury of their peers . . . Is this justice? I don't think so . . . Time and time again, we nearly strapped an innocent person to a gurney to have lethal poison injected into their veins for a crime they didn't commit . . . Ninety-nine percent accuracy won't do here . . . The government can come in with the backing of the state treasury, the federal treasury to take on anyone they want . . .We have to have a system of fairness and compassion . . . a system where those accused of a capital crime . . . have adequate and trained representation." We must get away from a system where the police believe the "win/loss record is more important than getting the right person behind bars." So spoke Governor Ryan.

    Sister Helen Prejean continued the injustice theme. She said her journey started while working with the poor. She noticed that African American people struggling in poor neighborhoods didn't get attention from the city. But if drugs moved into a white neighborhood, action was prompt. "If you are poor and don't have access to competent lawyers, you are out of luck." Referring to the talk by Governor Ryan, Sister Prejean said "How precious conscience is in a politician." She asked "when we impose the death penalty, are we healing victims' families or are we creating more victims' families. A great question to end the conference on. A great question to ask our friends, neighbors and legislators.


    Other News

    compiled by Bob Roman

    YDS Regional Conference

    The Young Democratic Socialists are planning a Midwest regional conference for Saturday and Sunday, April 6 and 7, on the University of Chicago Campus in Chicago. As New Ground goes to press, the details are still in the rough draft stage, but the keynote speaker at the event will be Barbara Ehrenreich. There is a conference fee of $15 to $30 (sliding scale) which includes three meals, and yes, geezers are welcome.

    The details of the conference schedule will change, but a general outline looks like this.

    Saturday

    9:30am- opening / registration / breakfast - socialism talk

    11am- issue workshops

    1pm- luncheon address on Universal Health Care

    2:30pm- campaign workshops

    4:30pm- Panel Discussion & Regional Planning Session (A20)

    6:30pm- dinner

    8pm- Barbara Ehrenriech keynote

    Sunday

    9:30am- breakfast

    10:00am- Training: Midwest Academy

    1:30pm- lunch / wrap up

    For housing, carpool and schedule information, call 773.834.6525 or email noahm@uchicago.edu. For more up to date information or to register on line, go to http://www.ydsusa.org/organize2002.html.

     

    Action for New Priorities

    During the Bush and Gingrich years, Chicago's Coalition for New Priorities was one of the centers of resistance to the conservative agenda. It was part of a loose national network of organizations devoted to changing the U.S. national spending from military to domestic priorities through both education and action. When the Coalition ran into organizational difficulties, Jobs with Justice had just really taken off as an organization in Chicago. The Coalition took the opportunity to find a home with Chicago Jobs with Justice as the Committee for New Priorities. The Committee spent the next several years largely holding monthly forums. These were often quite good, but like many left endeavors, they were haunted by that nagging feeling of talking to one's self.

    Dubya's coup de court and the aftermath of September 11 was the ton of straw on the camel's back, to mangle a cliché. The Committee has raised money for staff, hired Dana Sevakis, changed its name to Action for New Priorities (still a part of Chicago Jobs with Justice), and formulated a plan of action for the next few months.

    The first public event organized by Action for New Priorities is synergistic with another Chicago Jobs with Justice project: a meeting of the Chicago Workers' Rights Board on the subject of "Illinois Confronts the Federal Budget Crisis". Workers Rights' Boards have been established by Jobs with Justice in many cities around the country. They provide a public forum for workers and community members facing violations of their legal and human rights. The boards are comprised of religious and community leaders as well as politicians and academics who provide a moral and ethical voice to the struggles of working people.

    Illinois Confronts the Federal Budge Crisis: A Speakout for Fairness and Justice in the Economy will be held on Saturday, April 6, 1 PM to 4 PM at IBEW Local 134's Boyle Auditorium, 600 W. Washington in Chicago. The event has been endorsed by over 40 labor, immigrant, religious, welfare and social justice organizations, including Chicago DSA.

    This is just the first step for Action for New Priorities. For more information about the event and about Action for New Priorities, contact Ms. Dana Sevakis at 312.738.6209.

     

    3rd Annual STITCH Women's Language School Delegation

    The STITCH women's delegation combines excellent Spanish instruction with an in-depth look at the economic situation facing women workers in Guatemala. We will spend five mornings learning Spanish with one-on-one instruction at the well-respected school La Union in the colonial town of Antigua Guatemala. In the afternoons, we will talk with the women battling conditions in the booming apparel-for-export (or maquila) industry nearby. Participants will engage in candid conversations with pioneer organizers and sweatshop workers about the effects of globalization on their daily lives and their efforts to empower themselves.

    In the final days of the delegation, we will meet with other workers affected by free trade policies: agricultural workers. We will travel to the western highlands to learn about the feminization of agricultural labor and the challenges workers face in fighting for just conditions. Participants will enjoy the area's lush mountain terrain and rich Mayan culture while gaining a deeper understanding of globalization's impacts on Guatemalan women, their families, and their communities.

    This delegation is open to women only. The cost of the delegation is $800 and includes housing, all meals, language instruction, and domestic travel. Participants must pay their own way to Guatemala City and cover incidental costs such as snacks and tips. Alternative arrangements can be made for women who are interested in the delegation but do not want to participate in the language school. Scholarships are available. Please email Liz O'Connor for an application at stitchdc@earthlink.net. Find out more about STITCH at www.STITCHonline.org.

    To reserve your space in the delegation, please send $75 by April 20 to Hannah Frisch at 4933 S. Dorchester, Chicago, IL 60615. Full fee is due by May 1, 2002.

     

    Chicago DSA Officers

    The date for Chicago DSA's annual "Membership Convention" in June has not yet been set, but it's not too early to start thinking about getting involved in Chicago DSA in a leadership way. The offices up for election in June will be the female Co-Chair, the Treasurer, and the Political Education Officer. These are two year terms. Because Chicago DSA has no paid staff, the officers substitute for staff, making their role somewhat different than many other Boards. The female Co-Chair position is vacant, but if you are interested, feel free to contact the incumbents (see the New Ground masthead on page 2) or call the Chicago DSA office at 773.384.0327 or plan to attend one of the monthly Executive Committee meetings which are held every second Tuesday, 7 PM, at the Chicago DSA office.


    Letters....

    Dear Editor:

    Shortly before the DSA convention last November I attended a meeting of the Boston chapter and urged our delegates to raise the question of moving the national headquarters to Chicago. That should be enough to prove my admiration for Chicago DSA. No need to add my affection and esteem for Carl Shier, which goes back more than 25 years.

    I was therefore somewhat saddened to read in New Ground (#78, "The Assault on Reproductive Rights: It's All About Control") an article by Libby Frank stating, with much heat, that people like me are "right-wingers" who are "hell-bent on forcing their beliefs on the rest of the country". Why? Because we believe that human life begins at conception. And, of course, human life does begin at conception. Where else could it begin? Well, actually, some respected embryologists hold that it begins about 14 days after conception, but I'm afraid that would not give Comrade Frank much comfort.

    However, I am unfair to Comrade Frank's article. She is more concerned with right-wingers who brandish this scientific fact of human life in order to get legislation passed to outlaw abortion, even in the earliest stages of the embryo's development.

    I would certainly not go that far. All I, and most other pro-life socialists and Democrats, have been pushing for is passage of a federal ban on late-term abortions, except where performed to save the life of the mother. Such bills passed Congress twice and were twice vetoed by Bill Clinton. One of them won the votes of 77 Democrats in the House. David Bonior, then minority whip and one of the finest men ever to sit in the House, one of those 77, told me once that about 40 of them were consistently pro-life. Which means that about 37 were Democrats who were ordinarily prochoice but who switched to pro-life at that point in pregnancy when there could be no doubt that the fetus had become a fully formed human being. To kill it would be at least homicide, if not murder.

    Sadly, Comrade Frank is not interested in such distinctions. It does not seem to concern her that there is a steady stream of pro-life Democrats leaving the party over this issue. It will be most instructive to see how Bonior, the man who led the fight against the nefarious Newt Gingrich, fares in his campaign for governor of Michigan. The AFL-CIO, with the exception of Jimmy Hoffa, Jr., is backing him. Will folks like Libby Frank make it possible for Jimmy's candidate to defeat Bonior? I hope not.

    In solidarity,

    John C. Cort

     

    Editor's note: Chicago DSA has not been much for taking formal positions on issues, prefering action as a form of speech. With regard to abortion, Chicago DSA was a member organization of the Illinois Pro-Choice Alliance. I expect we would be members now if the Alliance were still a going concern. On the other hand, while electoral politics is not one of Chicago DSA's strong points, we have endorsed a few "pro-life" candidates when they were otherwise progressive, and I expect we would do so again.


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