Someone’s Got a Persecution Complex

Apparently you can’t even talk about Jesus in public anymore, at least to hear some people tell it. News flash: Christians aren’t being persecuted, but in the 21st-century United States, some groups certainly still are…

Making Noise in the South

I was most directly inspired to write this by a letter in my local newspaper, but it easily applies to countless claims from politicians, talk show hosts, journalists, and next-door neighbors across the United States. It’s been submitted to the Dahlonega Nugget for print July 22, 2015. Please share freely:

Someone in this country has a persecution complex and, despite the tired rhetoric from those stuck in the 1950s, it’s not the Americans who still suffer from the real effects of persecution.

I’m a Christian. I have plenty of atheist and Muslim friends. They’ve never criticized me for my religious beliefs or tried to push their values on me. They accept me as I am. In fact, I’ve only ever been attacked for what I believe by other Christians (apparently I’m a Catholic Mary-worshipper).

Relax. No one’s feeding us to the lions. There’s no shortage of churches in our country…

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Confederate Monuments Across the South Tagged With “Black Lives Matter” and Anti-Racist Messages

Since the massacre of 9 black women and men at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and the ensuing backlash against the Confederate flag, a number of Confederate monuments and memorials have been tagged with “Black Lives Matter” and other anti-racist messages across the United States.

The incidents have stretched across the South from Maryland to Texas and even reached a monument to Christopher Columbus in Boston. In Jacksonville, Florida a Native American mask was placed in the lap of an Andrew Jackson monument. Jackson was notorious for his support of the Indian Removal Act and the forced removal of Native Americans from their traditional homelands in the Southern United States.

In South Carolina, 30-year-old Bree Newsome climbed a flagpole at the state capitol and removed the notorious Confederate battle flag located there. That particular flag has been at the center of controversy since at least the 1990s. In the year 2000 the state legislature voted to remove the flag from atop the state capitol and place it in a less prominent area. In the wake of the Charleston massacre the flag has again become a point of conflict, with even conservative Republican politicians calling for its removal. After removing the flag, Miss Newsome proclaimed: “You come against me with hatred and oppression and violence. I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today!” She was arrested immediately after climbing down from the pole.

While the messages were quickly covered up or removed, their psychological impact has been profound, especially at a time when some Americans continue their efforts to whitewash symbols of the Confederacy — symbols used for decades by white supremacist groups and segregationists — as non-racist tributes to some mythical “Southern heritage” (a heritage in which people of color and their contributions are always left as an afterthought). The message is clear: The Black Lives Matter movement and resistance to violence against people of color in the United States are here to stay.

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Same as it Ever Was: Attacks on LGBT Community Continue

A letter to the editor in the June 17th issue of the Dahlonega Nugget complained of an alleged “LGBT agenda” and that LGBT-people are bullying straight Christians. Such claims are not only untrue, they border dangerously close to hate speech.

There is no single LGBT agenda, despite the right-wing rhetoric. There is a plurality of social and political views in the LGBT, as in any other, community. I’ve been a friend and ally to LGBT people for over two decades and not once have they tried to “convert” me or force any ideas on me.

To claim that LGBT people are bullying anyone erases the struggles of LGBT people to merely survive in our society. Until the 1960’s it was unsafe to be openly gay even in otherwise “progressive” cities. LGBT people in New York had to riot to gain the smallest measure of respect and many in the LGBT community still struggle for respect, acceptance, and safety.

Bullying is still a real threat to the LGBT community. Over 41% of trans and gender non-conforming people have attempted suicide – ten times the average. Lesbian, gay, or bisexual people attempt at four times the average. In rural and suburban areas of the country, especially the South, LGBT people continue to keep their sexual or gender orientation secret for fear of attacks. There are LGBT people here in Dahlonega who, from fear for their safety, are unable to live their lives openly. State legislatures across the country have tried to pass laws legalizing discrimination against LGBT people. Teachers across the country have been fired from their jobs for being gay or lesbian. And straight Christians are being bullied?

There’s a difference between being called out for hate speech or bigotry and bullying. No, you don’t have a right to endanger LGBT people, any marginalized groups, in our community. To allow that creates an unsafe climate for our neighbors that we cannot tolerate. We’re still living with the effects of racism, as the recent shooting in Charleston demonstrates. Hate speech provides openings for that sort of behavior. Allowing it to pass unchecked makes us complicit in those actions.

The letter gets one thing right: There are church communities that accept LGBT people. It’s not a matter of “love the sinner, hate the sin,” but of loving and supporting our neighbors unconditionally. While right-wing “Christians” push their reactionary ideals on the rest of us, one can only imagine how Jesus, who called on us to love our neighbors as ourselves, would receive LGBT people. For all we know, he did – after all, he surrounded himself with the most marginalized people of his time.

So let’s get real and stop the reactionary rhetoric. Christians aren’t being bullied and, if they don’t accept LGBT people for who they are, they can hardly call themselves Christian. We have a duty to love and protect our neighbors. Hate speech and bullying against anyone who’s different cannot, and will not, be tolerated in our community.
(Submitted to the Dahlonega Nugget “Letters to the Editor” by Jeremy G for publication 24th June 2015)

Response to “Mad Max and the End of the World”

On May 26, 2015 Jacobin published an article by Stephen Maher titled Mad Max and the End of the World. As I read the piece I noticed that I disagreed with the author on a number of issues. That’s not a problem; it is reasonable for people to have different interpretations of art. Then I noticed numerous issues that are not simply matters of interpretation but are issues of the author using a term improperly, making three claims that are false, and leaving out important aspects of the film that run counter to the author’s claims.
Before continuing I will point out that I agree with the author’s claims that Max is a Christ figure and that the film is a Western.

A paragraph in the article begins with “But by the third film, 1985’s Beyond Thunderdome, society has completely descended into anarchy.” This is a misuse of a term. The author used anarchy as a synonym for chaos. Maher is a writer for Jacobin, a socialist magazine. He should therefore have the knowledge that anarchy has been a goal by the over 150 year old anarchist movement which aims for a world absent of unnecessary hierarchies and not chaos. He should not be using the term in the way that the corporate media run by the 0.1% use it.
For the first false claim in the article reads “In Fury Road, Max and Imperator Furiosa endeavor to rescue the Five Wives of Immortan Joe.” This is an only partly true claim that leaves out an important detail. The Five Wives has sought out Imperator Furiosa asking for her assistance in their escape. They were already working towards rescuing themselves and throughout the film actively participated in their rescuing. This is an example of why this is a feminist film; the women of the film did not relay on men to save them but sought out a fellow woman for help and actively participated in their freeing.

The second false claim in the article reads “In Fury Road “we” is defined as those steeped in the uniquely rational culture of the West.” The author gives no examples as to prove that the protagonists have attributes of the West. They are seeking out a matriarchal society something not Western at all, in fact something that terrifies reactionaries in the West who label themselves as “Male Rights Activists.”

The third false claim in the article when shown to be false also further shows falsity in the second false claim, it reads “we are not things… They are declaring their freedom from tradition and culture.” The Five Wives are in fact declaring freedom from being property. This can be shown when Immortan Joe refers to them as his property, things. This further disapproves the second claim, that the protagonists are the West, because the West is the society that created the massive in scale chattel slavery of Africans that they kidnapped from Africa. The protagonists are rejecting slavery.

Interpreting Mad Max: Fury Road as an Orientalist film is and not as a critique of capitalism is a major part of the article. To give this thesis backing important aspects of the film had to not be mentioned by the author. One important aspect of the film that runs counter to this claim is the existence of two characters, The People Eater and The Bullet Farmer.

The People Eater is in control of a large portion of the fuel left in this region of the post-apocalyptic world. He looks like the famous fat-cat capitalist caricature donning a black and white suit similar to the Monopoly Man and is a grotesquely overweight, notably the only character in the film who is overweight. A sign that because he is at the top of the post-apocalyptic capitalist hierarchy he can be fat just as the fat-cat caricature was and is used in our capitalist society. This character is a personification of the capitalist corporate CEO, something that does not fit the author’s claim that the film is an Orientalist film and not an anti-capitalist film.

The Bullet Farmer is a character who is in control of a large amount of weaponry. He is the personification of the present day military industrial complex. Immortan Joe is in control of the water, the resources needed to sustain life as well as the military. These three form the capitalist ruling class. They are in control of the means of production and the protagonists defeat them in combat and return to the society once ruled by Immortan Joe with their vehicles having red and black flags (a symbol of anarchist communism). This is a detail the author also left out.
Once they have returned there is not some change of traditional culture into a Western culture imposed on by the protagonists that would fit into the original article’s thesis. Instead the water is allowed to flow freely thus giving control of the means of production to the masses. Also at the end Max leaves. This runs counter to how the West has behaved to other cultures when they have disposed of the leadership. Either colonialism or nation building is used as a means to extract natural resources. This is another example of the protagonists acting in a non-Western manner.

Stephen Maher puts forth a different interpretation of Mad Max: Fury Road than what many interpreted it as. This is fine as long as terms not misused, false claims are not made, and important aspects of the film are included.

Election 2016: Vote for Nobody!

The 2016 elections are a year-and-a-half away, but it’s already clear the likely Democrat and Republican candidates are committed to business as usual in Washington. It’s doubtful there will be any meaningful changes in Congress, none, at least, that will translate into gains for working people, those who can’t find jobs, or those struggling to survive on low-paying jobs.

With that in mind, I’d like to suggest an alternative candidate for 2016: Vote for Nobody! Nobody will keep election promises. Nobody will listen to your concerns. Nobody will help the poor and unemployed. Nobody tells the truth. If Nobody gets elected, conditions will improve for everyone!

Of course that’s all in jest, but it raises an important point. Working people are increasingly disconnected from politicians in Washington and the state capitol. The laws they pass are more likely to benefit a handful of wealthy donors or transnational corporation than any of us.

With that in mind, it’s time we explore solutions that actually work for regular people: working folks, students, the unemployed, the disabled, retired people, etc. We can’t rely on the government or politicians to solve our problems for us.

So much time and so many resources are spent getting politicians elected. Those resources might be better spent working in our communities to find solutions that don’t rely on the broken machinery of the state. We know best how to fix the problems in our communities. So why do we keep electing representatives who we know are out of touch, who represent the interests of an elite group? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results has gotten us nowhere.

Nobody will look out for you after the 2016 election -- that's a promise!

Nobody will look out for you after the 2016 election — that’s a promise!

We’ve been conditioned to rely on politicians to handle our problems and that social change is impossible without asking permission from the state, to the point we feel powerless to do anything about it.  Collectively, as a community, we do have power. When we work together we can build stronger communities, the kind that work in the interest of everyone. The government, with its mountains of paperwork, automated “customer service” systems, and hours of waiting in line just to get a permit or approval for some new project, only hinders our ability to get things done. We can rely only on ourselves, and our neighbors, to improve conditions and build a better tomorrow.

I’m voting for Nobody in the next election. I won’t discourage anyone else from voting, but I do encourage folks to give these issues serious consideration. Will voting for politicians one day every two or four years, then complaining that nothing ever changes when we get home, really get us anywhere? And if not, what can we do about it? Let’s start in our communities and coordinate with similar groups in other communities to address our problems today. We have the power to make the change we want to see in this world. November 2016 is still a long way off and the clock is ticking.

Note: This statement was submitted as a letter to the editor for the May 27th edition of the Dahlonega Nugget

Fighting for Our Own: Working Class Resistance in Appalachia and the South (Part 2 of 3)

Part 2 of 3: Slave Revolts, Convict Leasing, and Prison Uprisings (part 1 available here)

Dividing the Working Class: The Racial Caste System
The United States, and the South in particular, have a long and painful history of holding people captive and forcing them to work against their will or for very little pay. The roots of white supremacy, and the very concepts of race and “whiteness,” are inextricably tied to the expansion of European colonialism. During the transition from feudalism to a capitalist society, white supremacy helped cement the economic and social dominance of the ruling class over working people of European, African, and indigenous descent.

The state’s effort to divide poor and working-class white settler-colonialists (or those forced into exile and indentured servitude, as was the case for many in Georgia) against people of color pre-dates the founding of the United States as a nation by at least a century. Many early settlers in the South were Protestants, who had earned a notorious reputation for slaughtering Irish Catholics in Ulster, at the behest of the Crown.[1] They refined those skills and carried them over to the new British colonies. There they slaughtered the indigenous population in the very same manner, and continued to do so for the next two centuries. The practice of “scalping,” generally associated with American Indians, actually originated with the Scots-Irish in Ireland and was brought across the Atlantic, where local colonial governments awarded bounties for Indian scalps or other proof they’d been killed.

Black and white settlers in Virginia fighting in Bacon's Rebellion

Black and white settlers in Virginia fighting in Bacon’s Rebellion. Settlers fought against the ruling class, but also against indigenous Americans, proving social relations even at that time were extremely complicated.

As wealthy English planters gathered more land and resources along the coast they pushed the Scots-Irish and German settlers farther west. These settlers constantly found themselves on the front lines of American expansion, where they served as the state’s foot soldiers in clashes with the indigenous population (white settler-colonialists very often joined indigenous tribes out of either desperation or disgust at their fellow settlers). While many of the original slaveholders (and the “Founding Fathers”) in the colonial and post-revolution eras were wealthy Englishmen, after the 1800s, non-English white settlers and their descendants came to own slaves, accumulate large parcels of land, and gain political power.[1]

Slave revolts and anti-Indian propaganda kept white settlers in a state of constant fear. The ruling class exploited this tension to drive a wedge between social groups, placing them at odds with one another to serve their own interests. Bacon’s Rebellion (1676, Virginia), during which white former indentured servants and black slaves joined forces against the colonial ruling class, was a major turning point in class relations in the colonies. Subsequent uprisings in nearby states led to a hardening of the nebulous racial caste system in the English colonies (Bacon’s rebellion was also directed toward indigenous Americans, demonstrating analyses of class struggles are always difficult and subject to a variety of social factors). These divisions have persisted into the modern era and the state still exploits them to divide the white working class from working people of color.[2]

Slave Revolts in the South
US history is replete with slave revolts that remain mostly unmentioned in school history lessons. It’s not uncommon to hear students question: “Why didn’t the slaves just rebel if things were so bad?” or apologists for slavery pose similar questions. Those questions are difficult to answer given the dominant historical narrative; one that focuses on “great (mostly-white) men” rather than working people and material conditions on the ground.

The largest slave revolt in what is now the United States occurred in Florida. Twenty slaves, under the leadership of a man named Jemmy, gathered at the Stono River and raided a warehouse in 1739. They executed the white owners, placed their heads on display, burned homes and warehouses, and killed European settlers on their march toward St. Augustine, where they hoped to find freedom. About 100 rebel slaves joined the force, which very quickly found itself embroiled in armed struggle with the English. Many of the rebel slaves were executed, but some are thought to have escaped to freedom. The following year, 50 slaves were executed in the aftermath of a similar uprising in South Carolina.[3]

The largest slave revolt on US-controlled soil occurred in southern Louisiana in 1811. Charles Deslondes, a mulatto slave driver who drew inspiration from the Haitian Revolution (a massive slave revolt that liberated the colony from French domination), led a group of 25 slaves to revolt on a sugar plantation. They attacked the owner (who escaped) and his family, seized guns, ammunition, and supplies from a nearby militia warehouse, and marched toward New Orleans. Eventually the small army numbered between 120-300 rebel slaves and faced armed resistance from US Army and militia forces 20 miles short of New Orleans. Twenty rebel slaves were killed in combat, 50 were imprisoned, and the rest escaped by fleeing deep into the swamps. Fifty more were captured later. In all, about 100 survivors of the battle were summarily executed.[3]

The slave revolt led by Nat Turner and the surrounding propaganda was used to strike fear into the white working class and justify harsher living conditions for black slaves. It also served as a catalyst for the Civil War and the end to chattel slavery in the South.

The slave revolt led by Nat Turner and the surrounding propaganda was used to strike fear into the white working class and justify harsher living conditions for black slaves. It also served as a catalyst for the Civil War and the end to chattel slavery in the South.

The most infamous slave revolt in the United States was led by Nat Turner in Virginia during the summer of 1831. Turner gathered a small army of fellow slaves, killed the plantation owner, and raided nearby homes for money and supplies. They indiscriminately killed many of the white residents, who they saw as enemy combatants, along the way. Their force eventually numbered between 50-60 rebel slaves, including 5 free black men. The rebellion was put down by the state militia, but Turner escaped capture for over 2 months. Turner and his rebel force slaughtered 55 whites in the rebellion. Turner and 55 accomplices were executed shortly after. Following the uprising, angry white settlers murdered 200 more black locals (who had no involvement in the slave revolt) without consequence.[4]

The US Civil War in Appalachia
The immediate aftermath of Nat Turner’s slave revolt was a heightened sense of fear among white settlers and harsher conditions for black slaves in the South (at the time there were also still slaves in the North, although trading or “buying” new slaves was prohibited). The uprising is seen as a precipitating event of the US Civil War, which led to the formal end of chattel slavery. John Brown’s 1859 raid on the the federal armory and arsenal at Harpers Ferry is viewed as one of the primary and immediate catalysts for the US Civil War.

John Brown, a devout Christian and outspoken abolitionist, with a handful of accomplices, planned to establish a base of operations in the Blue Ridge Mountains of what was then Virginia (West Virginia would split from Virginia just two years later over the issue of secession from the Union[5]). From there they hoped to assist escaped slaves, attack slaveholders, and push forward the abolitionist cause to end slavery through armed insurrection.

On the night of October 16, 1859, John Brown and 21 men (some of them former slaves), swept into Harpers Ferry and seized the federal armory, arsenal, and a nearby weapons supply facility. They held several prominent citizens hostage in the armory. Brown’s plan was centered around the idea that, with their masters now captured, local slaves would join his ranks and take up arms against slaveholders. His plan failed to come to fruition. The local militia surrounded the armory and trapped Brown’s small group inside. Just a few days later federal troops, under the command of General Robert E. Lee, swept into Harpers Ferry and put and end to the short-lived insurrection.[6]

Ten of Brown’s men (including both his sons) were killed in the battle, seven were captured, and five escaped. Those who were captured were quickly tried in Charlestown and executed. John Brown’s final words would prove grimly prophetic: “I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land can never be purged away but with blood.”[7] The US Civil War began less than 18 months later. Many would argue that those sins have yet to be washed away, and even that many more have since been accumulated.

While much of the armed conflict during the Civil War stayed away from Southern Appalachia (with notable exceptions, such as battles in Chattanooga and Northwest Georgia toward the end of the war), war time was far from peaceful for residents of the mountains. More than in other parts of the South, residents of Appalachia were sharply divided on the issue of secession and being forced to fight in a war to protect the economic interests of the ruling planter class, who held most of the slaves in the South. Residents of Eastern Tennessee and parts of Western North Carolina were particularly supportive of the Union, sometimes constituting a majority and travelling north to join the Union Army. Some pockets of North Georgia, especially in Lumpkin and Fannin Counties, supported the Union and served as refuge for those looking to avoid being drafted into the Confederate army.

There were notable armed skirmishes between residents in the region. The Shelton Laurel Massacre, made famous in the Ron Rash novel The World Made Straight, saw a North Carolina military regiment execute thirteen unarmed Union sympathizers, including a 64-year-old man and a twelve-year-old boy. Such atrocities seem to have been much more common than regular (or “traditional”) military encounters in the area. Governor Zebulon Vance wrote in his journal at the time: “The warfare between scattering bodies of irregular troops is conducted on both sides without any regard whatever to the rules of civilized war or the dictates of humanity.”[8] (We’ll leave the question of how a member of the local ruling class might consider any form of war “civilized” for another time)

John Brown has been dismissed as a

John Brown has been dismissed as a “lunatic” for his positions and the actions he took to end slavery by violent insurrection, but considering the planning he and other put into planning the raid on Hapers Ferry, he was obviously well aware of what the consequences his actions (regardless of the result) would have in Virginia and across the nation. His last words, 18 months prior to the Civil War, would prove frighteningly prophetic.

Similar scenes were recorded in West Virginia, southwestern Virginia, and East Tennessee. In Lumpkin County, Georgia, a local merchant summarily executed a group of draft dodgers and deserters. The names and number of those killed is not recorded.[8] Records of these and other incidents are either difficult to locate or contain little useful information. Many of these brutal events are only just now making their way into the historical narrative of the US Civil War.

When current residents of Southern Appalachia boldly fly the Confederate Battle Flag, claiming it as a part of their “Southern” heritage, they are likely uninformed or misinformed about actual history in the area. Their arguments in support of the flag as a symbol of local pride are dubious at best, considering strong support for the Union and contempt of the Confederate government by their ancestors.

Slavery in the mountain region was much less popular than in the Deep South. When slaves were used it was mostly after the farming season had ended when slaves were leased out in Georgia or North Carolina to extract gold and precious gems from local mines. Slaves were sometimes sold on the courthouse steps of mountain towns like Dahlonega.[9] Opposition to secession and support for the Union in the region weren’t strictly based on a moral opposition to slavery. They were more likely due to a difference in material conditions between family-owned farms in the mountains and sprawling plantations owned by wealthy planters further south. Residents of the mountains also didn’t take kindly to being taxed to support a war in which they had no personal interest. The mountains did serve as a hideaway for escaped slaves during the war and West Virginia carved itself from the Confederate state of Virginia due, at least in part, to local opposition to slavery.[10]

New Forms of Slavery Emerge from the Old
The Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution formally ended chattel slavery and indentured servitude in the country, but made an important exception for another form of slavery. The amendment reads, in part:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States…”[34]

This exception would prove crucial in the re-emergence of slavery in other forms after emancipation.

In the wake of the Civil War, the planter class was left without the steady pool of free labor on which they relied. There was also a large population of recently freed slaves who owned no land and could find no employment to feed themselves or support their families. Following his infamous “March to the Sea,” which left a line of indiscriminate destruction the Georgia (ruining conditions for both poor/working-class and wealthy residents), General William T. Sherman was pressured into ordering large parcels of land in Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida be redistributed. His plan would provide 40 acres of property to each former slave. This order was met with fierce resistance by the planter class (the “old” ruling class) and was quickly rescinded by Andrew Johnson, president Abraham Lincoln’s successor and a sympathizer of the South. Most of the land was quickly returned to the previous owners, while the struggle for economic and social dominance by the planter class and the Northern ruling class (imposed by federal troops during Reconstruction) continued.[11]

During the war many slaves had already freed themselves on their own terms, long before the Emancipation Proclamation (which, interestingly enough, freed no slaves, since Lincoln had no political authority in the South and the Proclamation did not cover the few remaining slaves in the North). Land transfers between the planter class and freed slave were less than peaceful. In 1868-69, with rice field workers in the Low Country of South Carolina and Georgia striking for better conditions, former slaves in the Ogeechee Neck (12 miles south of Savannah) mounted an insurrection and seized land for themselves. They expropriated the same land their ancestors had been forced to transform into rice fields, took up arms, and distributed manifestos in an effort to spread the insurrection. The Ogeechee rebels had a clear goal of overthrowing the ruling planter class and distributing the land among workers. They formed into regular military companies with muskets and bayonets seized from Savannah. The rebellion was put down only after civil and federal military authorities intervened. Of the rebel forces, 143 were arrested, 116 were tried, and five were convicted of “insurrection, robbery by intimidation, and armed assault with intent to murder.” They were sentenced to 5 years hard labor, but later pardoned by Republican Governor Rufus Bullock.[33]

the_post

Disobedient prisoners in the chain gang system were often tied to posts in awkward and uncomfortable positions for the entire work day. They were left to suffer, without food or drink, in the heat and humidity of the Deep South.

During Reconstruction black residents of the South made modest gains, many starting small farms of their own and even getting elected to local and national political office. Still, it was obvious that a white ruling class, either dictated by the federal government or local plantation owners, still maintained control over the region. Many former slaves went back to work on the same plantations where they’d been enslaved for meager wages.

After the period of Reconstruction ended and federal troops left, control of the South returned to the old ruling class. Most states quickly passed laws that essentially criminalized having black skin. Black southerners would be arrested and detained for vagrancy, mischief, making insulting gestures, and other vague or arbitrary offenses known as “Black Codes.” Those convicted were sentenced to jail and prison terms and hit with fines they could never pay. To work off those fines the state leased prisoners out to local plantation owners, effectively creating a new form of institutional, and completely legal, slavery. Disobedient prisoners were sometimes tied to posts in awkward and uncomfortable positions all day, roasting in the Southern heat and without food or water. Laws like these laid the foundation for the “Jim Crow” caste system in the South. The “convict leasing” system has had a lasting impact on the US justice system and modern mass incarceration.[12]

chaingang

A chain gang in the US South (undated). “Black Codes” were used across the South to criminalize freed slaves and force them back into work for their former slaveholders. Chain gangs consisted of mostly black, and a few poor white, prison workers. Georgia was the last state to do away with chain gangs in 1955.

Southern states eventually moved away from convict leasing and developed convict labor camps. Two of the most notorious prison farms were at the Louisiana State Penitentiary (Angola) and the Mississippi State Penitentiary (Parchman Farm). This period gave rise to the infamous “chain gangs,” where prisoners were forced at gunpoint to perform physically demanding labor, either for the benefit of the state (building roads, clearing brush, etc.) or the amusement of prison staff. Georgia was the last state to do away with chain gangs in 1955. Inmates in the state penal system still refer to prison as the “chain gang.”

While the disappearance of chain gangs made grueling prison labor and the horrible living conditions less visible to the public, state and federal prisoners in the US are still coerced into work for fear of having basic privileges like visitation, commissary, or phone calls revoked. In most states and in the federal system prison workers are paid a nominal wage (always well below the federal minimum wage). In Georgia and Texas inmate workers receive no pay for their labor. Although prison workers aren’t generally considered part of the “working class,” some unions and prison abolition groups are pressing for union recognition and better living conditions for prison workers. Efforts to organize from the inside are almost always met with brutal repression from prison administration.

Prison Organizing and Uprisings in the South
Most of the well-known prison uprisings occurred at men’s prisons, where names like Folsom, Attica, and Lucasville still strike fear into the hearts of corrections officers and state officials across the country. Women, however — even in Appalachia and the South — have their own history of agitation and rebellion behind bars.

In 1974, Carol Crooks, a woman prisoner at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York won a legal battle against the state department of corrections. She was beaten by five male guards in retaliation. The beating led her fellow inmates to take some of the guards hostage in an effort to take control of the prison.[13] While not in the South or Appalachia, per se, this incident serves as a reminder for those who minimize the role of women in resisting incarceration or living conditions in US prisons.

A year later, in 1975, women at the North Carolina Correctional Institute for Women (NCCIW) protested their miserable conditions by staging a work stoppage and sit-down protest in the prison laundry. They demanded adequate medical care, better counseling services, and a shutdown of the prison laundry facility. Prison guards responded by attempting to corral the women, who had remained peaceful, into the prison gymnasium where they were beaten. The women fought back with whatever means were at their disposal, using volleyball equipment, chunks of concrete, and wooden poles to defend themselves. The state eventually sent in over 100 guards from other prisons to end the uprising. The prison resumed normal operations four days later, but the prison laundry was closed shortly after the incident.[14]

Male prisoners in Appalachia and the South have a long history of rebellion. On New Years day 1986, twenty male prisoners at the state penitentiary in Moundsville, West Virginia took guards hostage in the dining hall. This led to a standoff that lasted more than two days. They took 16 prison guards hostage and killed three inmates thought to be informants. Like participants of other prison rebellions across the country, the incident was sparked by a demand for clean and humane living conditions, adequate food, and basic medical care.[15]

In December 2010, inmates in several Georgia prisons coordinated a peaceful work stoppage and hunger strike. At least six major prisons were affected (there are over 100 correctional facilities, not including county jails, in the state). Workers refused meals and failed to report for work details. Since most of the work the makes Georgia prisons operate is made possible by unpaid inmate labor, the work stoppage had an immediate impact. The inmates were demanding, as usual, clean living conditions, educational opportunities, adequate and nutritional food, pay for work, and basic medical care.[16] Their demands were met with force by prison officials. The heating and air system, electricity, and all water to the prisoners’ living quarters were shut off. Most of the prisoners quickly gave in and went back to work within a few days. Those who did not were isolated from the general population and punished.

Women are the fastest-growing prison population in the United States. Groups like the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee and the Incarcerated Workers of the World, are trying to gain union recognition for prison workers. Georgia and Texas force many state prisoners to work with no pay.

Women are the fastest-growing prison population in the United States. Groups like the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee and the Incarcerated Workers of the World, are trying to gain union recognition for prison workers. Georgia and Texas force many state prisoners to work with no pay.

The strikes were coordinated with help from outside supporters and mobile phone contact between prisoners at different facilities. The Georgia Department of Corrections singled out 37 alleged organizers of the strike and placed them in close confinement. Guards retaliated against the prisoners with physical brutality and extreme isolation. An incident during which one of the prisoners, Kelvin Stevenson, was strapped down and beaten with a hammer was captured on film.[17] Georgia prison officials have a long-standing practice of beating unruly inmates and placing them in confinement — where outsiders can’t view the damage — until they heal up or become docile and obedient.

Many of those singled out as organizers of the 2010 strike were denied visits when family members spoke to the media. Several were transferred to the state’s new “supermax” facility in Jackson, Georgia. Some of the prisoners staged additional hunger strikes in 2011 and 2012, with help from outside groups like The Ordinary People Society, Occupy Atlanta, and the IWW General Defense Committee. Four of the original strikers, now under close security at Georgia State Prison in Reidsville, staged another hunger strike in 2015. Their only demand was that their security level be reconsidered, per state policy.[18]

These strikes have never been acknowledged by state officials. The Georgia Department of Corrections has frequently provided false or misleading information about the strikes to local media. Outside groups like the Atlanta Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) continue to work with prisoners for union recognition, pay for the work they do, and improved living conditions for all Georgia prisoners. A wave of prison hunger strikes and work stoppages, one that included 30,000 California prisoners, swept across the country between 2011 and 2014.

The Georgia prison strikes inspired the creation of a group called the Free Alabama Movement (FAM), made up of community members, family members of incarcerated people, and inmates at Alabama prisons in 2014. FAM went public with a planned strike at multiple prisons and their effort to form a union for prison workers (called the Incarcerated Workers of the World).[20] They coordinated with the Atlanta IWW and the IWOC for several months leading up to the planned work stoppage. While there was some unrest at the St. Clair Correctional Facility in Springville, a widespread strike failed to come to fruition. The organizing campaign included woman prisoners, something the 2010 Georgia strikes lacked.[21] Organizers of the Alabama strike were singled out and faced retaliation (although apparently not as brutal — or obvious — as what happened to Kelvin Stevenson in Georgia). They organized for another strike in early 2015, which was broken up by prison administration and the looming presence of the state’s prison riot squad (Correctional Emergency Response Team [CERT]). In April of 2015 a corrections officer was allegedly attacked by an inmate during breakfast. The result was a brutal crackdown by the CERT team and continued repression of inmates at the facility. The CERT team and prison officials had antagonized prisoners for weeks leading up to the incident.

Alabama and Georgia prisoners continue their efforts to gain better living conditions and union recognition. While their strike campaigns have gained some public attention, without pressure from supporters on the outside their options are limited. Most long-term improvements in the modern prison system have been achieved through full-scale, bloody uprisings like those at Attica and Lucasville. The Free Mississippi Movement is organizing prisoners in Mississippi while the IWOC is currently focused on prisons in Missouri and the Midwest. An Alabama branch of the IWW was born out of the organizing efforts in support of St. Clair prison workers in 2015.

Private Prisons, Immigration Detention, and Mass Incarceration in the South
Since the dawn of the “war on drugs” movement in the early 1980s, through the “tough on crime” rhetoric of the 1990s, and the introduction of “three strikes” laws and mandatory minimum sentences, the US prison population has grown exponentially. There are approximately 2.3 million people behind bars in the United States on any given day. The US has the highest prison population and the highest rate of incarceration in the world. The South has the highest rate of incarceration in the US. Six of the top 10 states with the highest incarceration rate are in the South, the top 3 being Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama (Texas is 5th, Georgia 7th, Florida 8th).[22] Georgia is also noted for having the highest number of people under correctional supervision (that is, in jail/prison, on parole, or serving probation) at 1 in 13 residents.[23] This has made finding jobs or staying out of the corrections system difficult for a large minority of Southern workers.

Inmates aren’t leased out as they once were, but prison labor in places like Georgia is the means by which the entire correctional infrastructure functions. Inmates grow crops, milk cows, and slaughter meat for consumption by the prison population. They also make the clothing, cleaning supplies, build beds and lockers, perform routine maintenance at existing prisons, and even help construct new prisons. States also loan out state prison inmates to counties, where they are housed to build roads, clean storm damage, sort trash, and so on; jobs that would otherwise employ members of those communities. Some states, like Colorado, have come under fire for producing designer goods like artisanal cheeses, using prison labor. The products are sold in private-sector markets like Whole Foods, while prison workers receive as little at sixty cents a day for their labor and eat food that meets the minimum requirement for survival.[24]

While the prison population seems to have leveled out in recent years, the private prison industry, which commodifies prisoners, is a fast-growing and highly profitable segment of the economy. Companies like Correction Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group are literally making money from keeping jail beds filled. CCA was awarded its first contract at a prison in Hamilton County, Tennessee, near Chattanooga in 1985.[25] Since then private prisons have grown to cover 6% of state prison populations and 16% of the federal prison and immigration detention population.[26]

The fastest growing incarcerated populations are now women and immigration detainees. Many federal immigration detention centers are operated by private prison companies like CCA. At one time, undocumented immigrants were simply returned to their country of origin with only a short stay, if any, at a detention facility near the US-Mexico border. Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States there has been a growing tendency to detain undocumented immigrants for longer periods of time. The profit motive for private prison companies has only increased demand to keep beds in prisons and immigration detention facilities filled. Now undocumented immigrants crossing the border from Mexico are shipped to detention facilities in far-away states like Georgia and North Carolina, where they sit for anywhere from several weeks to two years while their cases are resolved. Undocumented immigrants, lacking US citizenship, have limited legal rights under the Constitution and generally receive no professional legal counsel, due process, or the opportunity to appeal decisions.

From 2001-2011 over 3 million people were held in immigration detention facilities at some point. Despite rhetoric from the Right about president Obama being “soft” on immigration, an average of over 30,000 undocumented immigrants are detained at these facilities on any given day and the number continues to rise.[27]

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Protesters march to a vigil at the gates of Stewart Detention Center (2015). Stewart is one of many privately-owned immigration detention facilities in the South. It is located in Lumpkin, Georgia, the county seat of Georgia’s most impoverished county.

The child immigration crisis of 2014, during which children and adults from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador fled their homes in fear for their lives or the lives of their children, was caused by US foreign policy. The US government, under Hillary Clinton’s State Department and President Obama, backed a 2009 coup in Honduras that replaced a democratically-elected leftist government with a reactionary (and pro-corporate) right-wing dictator.

The US has a long history of similar interventions in Latin America, including support for right-wing military forces during El Salvador’s civil war in the 1980s, attempts to overthrow the democratically-elected Sandinista government in Nicaragua during the 1970s and 80s, and multiple attempts to overthrow the leftist government of Hugo Chavez, and now Nicolas Maduro, in Venezuela. In effect, the US is creating a constant supply of undocumented immigrants to fill beds in private prisons through its own failed policies.[28]

Stewart Detention Center, operated by CCA, is one of the more well-established immigration detention facilities in the South. It houses undocumented immigrants from all over the world, but primarily Mexico and Central America. The facility has also been used to house asylum seekers fleeing brutal regimes in Somalia and other war-torn countries (again, where the US has intervened). The facility is located in the most impoverished county in Georgia and houses over 1,700 detainees at a cost of about $55/day — each. Conditions at the facility, even though most detainees have only committed a civil offense, are indistinguishable from most US prisons. In fact, Stewart has been singled out as having some of the worst living conditions of any correctional institution in the state, with poor-quality food and some of the most brutal treatment of detainees by staff (detainees are often unable to communicate needs to staff because of language barriers).[29]

Facilities like Stewart have become targets for immigrant advocacy groups. Volunteers from the metro Atlanta area (about 2-½ hours from Stewart) purchased a house that now serves as a refuge for family members visiting loved ones (often from out-of-state) at Stewart. They are able to spend the night on weekends and see their loved ones, sometimes maybe even for the last time, on Saturdays and Sundays. This is especially important as there are no hotels or motels near the facility. The hospitality house, El Refugio, also serves free meals to visiting family members and volunteers visit detainees at Stewart who otherwise wouldn’t receive visitors because they have no family in the area.[30] In the visitation area it is not uncommon to see children bawling and screaming out of fear that it might be the last time they see a parent.

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Students at a rally in Florida (2015) set fire to a Confederate Battle Flag. Many Southerners point to a flag as a part of their heritage, but Civil War-era social relations were extremely complicated. Many residents of North Georgia, Western North Carolina, and East Tennessee sided with the Union, provided refuge for escaped slaves, or housed and employed Confederate draft dodgers.

When poor conditions at these detention facilities persist for long enough, family, immigrant rights advocates, and the detainees themselves often fight back. Each year a group of volunteers from El Refugio, the Georgia Latino-American Human Rights (GLAHR) organization, and other groups from across the country conduct a march through the small town of Lumpkin to a vigil outside the gates of Stewart Detention Center. The march draws hundreds of supporters who sing and chant spiritual songs along the way. The vigil ceremony at the gates often involves some act of civil disobedience, such as crossing an invisible guard line, which inevitably results in some supporters being arrested.[31]

In February 2015, detainees at the Willacy County Correctional Center, 40 miles from the US-Mexico border in Texas, led an uprising. Willacy is an immigration detention facility privately-operated by Management and Training Corporation. Detainees made (by now) familiar complaints about inadequate medical care, cruel treatment by staff, and sexual abuse. Inmates refused to go to breakfast or report to work details and subsequently broke free from their housing units. They converged on the recreation yard and set fire to the facility, leaving it uninhabitable. The rebellion reportedly involved 2,00 inmates and as many as 2,800 detainees were relocated to other facilities.[32] It’s too soon to say whether this uprising will result in any material improvements for detainees, but it did bring national attention to a problem that has received little coverage in the mainstream media.

Rebel Resistance in the South — Looking Forward
Many Southerners, especially conservatives, states’ rights advocates, and white supremacists, boast about the South’s “rebel” heritage, pointing to the US Civil War for inspiration. They fly the Confederate Battle Flag not realizing, or refusing to admit, the flag gained no symbolic meaning until it was adopted by the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920’s and Southern segregationists in the 1950’s and 60’s (when it was added to many state flags in Southern states).

The South does, indeed, have a long rebel heritage, but the imagery invoked by those who support the Confederate Battle Flag is far from central to that history. Southern workers have fought, and continue to fight against indentured servitude, slavery, forced drafts into the Confederate army, convict leasing, chain gangs, mass incarceration, and for-profit prison and immigration facilities. The South has a long history of working-class rebellion against the ruling class and white supremacy that crosses artificially-imposed racial and cultural barriers. There is also a distinct, but undeniable, working-class consciousness among workers in the region. In that regard, Southerners have every reason to boast of their true “rebel” spirit as they continue to challenge the institutions of oppression and domination in the region.

Sources and More Information:

  1. An Indigenous People’s History of the United States, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
  2. A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn
  3. The Five Greatest Slave Rebellions in the United States, Henry Louis Gates: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/did-african-american-slaves-rebel/
  4. Nat Turner’s Rebellion, http://afroamhistory.about.com/od/slavery/a/Nat-Turners-Rebellion.htm
  5. Creation of West Virginia: http://www.aaregistry.org/historic_events/view/west-virginia-created-secession-southern-confederate-state
  6. John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p2940.html
  7. John Brown’s last words: http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/johnbrown.html
  8. Appalachia: A History, John Alexander Williams
  9. Slavery in the American Mountain South, Wilma A. Dunway
  10. Southern Unionism in the Civil War: http://www.csuchico.edu/inside/current-issue/bigpicture-1.shtml
  11. The story behind “40 Acres and a Mule”: http://www.theroot.com/articles/history/2013/01/40_acres_and_a_mule_promise_to_slaves_the_real_story.3.html
  12. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander
  13. Bedford Hills women’s uprising, 1974: http://www.alternet.org/story/141474/beyond_attica%3A_the_untold_story_of_women%27s_resistance_behind_bars
  14. NCCIW women’s uprising, 1975: http://newpol.org/content/nor-meekly-serve-her-time-riots-and-resistance-womens-prisons
  15. Background in 1986 WV Prison Uprising: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/12/have-a-safe-riot/354671/
  16. Georgia Inmates Stage Historic Strike: http://www.georgiagreenparty.com/blogs/bdixon/GA_InmatesStageHistoricOneDayPrisonStrikeToday
  17. Georgia Inmates Beaten with Hammers: https://libcom.org/news/georgia-inmates-beaten-hammers-during-2010-prisoners-strike-new-video-released-30082013
  18. Resistance in Georgia Prisons Continues: http://anarchistnews.org/content/anarchist-resistance-georgia-prisons-continues
  19. Alabama prison strikes 2014: http://inthesetimes.com/prison-complex/entry/16607/alabama_prisoners
  20. St. Clair prison strike 2015: http://www.alabamaprisonwatch.org/2015/02/support-strike-at-st-clair-correctional.html
  21. St. Clair prisoners attacked by riot team 2015: http://www.al.com/news/birmingham/index.ssf/2015/04/15_inmates_treated_after_riot.html
  22. Incarceration rates by state: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/28/states-prison-rates_n_3667046.html
  23. Georgians under correctional supervision: http://www.pewtrusts.org/~/media/legacy/uploadedfiles/pcs_assets/2009/PSPP1in31factsheetGApdf.pdf
  24. Prison Labor’s New Frontier: http://fortune.com/2014/06/02/prison-labor-artisanal/
  25. Private Prisons: Pros and Cons: Cons and Pros, Charles H. Logan
  26. ACLU Report on Private Prisons: https://www.aclu.org/issues/mass-incarceration/privatization-criminal-justice/private-prisons
  27. PBS Report on Immigration Detention: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/race-multicultural/lost-in-detention/map-the-u-s-immigration-detention-boom/
  28. Details on US interventions in Latin America, which are extremely numerous and almost exclusively supportive of right-wing dictators or US puppet regimes, available at the SOA Watch web site: http://soaw.org/
  29. Stewart Detention Center info: http://www.detentionwatchnetwork.org/sites/detentionwatchnetwork.org/files/ExposeClose/Expose-Stewart11-15.pdf
  30. Information about El Refugio: http://elrefugiostewart.org/about-el-refugio/
  31. Details of 2014 Stewart Detention Center protest: http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/2014/11/22/3429000/5-soa-watch-protesters-arrested.html
  32. Willacy County facility taken over by inmates: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/21/willacy-county-prison-tak_n_6727930.html
  33. Dixie Be Damned: 300 Years of Insurrection in the American South, Neal Shirley & Saralee Stafford
  34. Thirteenth Amendment of the US Constitution: http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=40

Suppressed Workers: Prison Strikes in Georgia

Let’s put two uncontroversial facts out there: 70% of the American population could be jailed/imprisoned if they were caught for something they’d done and prisoners are largely non-violent. The prison population is essentially identical to the non-prison population and most prisoners represent little to no threat to society. Even among violent offenders, most are not what we might think of as violent-tempered psychopaths.

Georgia has the 7th highest incarceration rate in the US. Inmate workers are not paid for their labor.

Georgia has the 7th highest incarceration rate in the US. Inmate workers are not paid for their labor.

Prisoners are also workers. Contrary to popular imagination (and media portrayals), prisoners do not merely spend all their time behind bars watching television, eating, working out, and sleeping.  They constitute a work force routinely used, not only to run prisons, but sometimes to produce revenue for the state. Unlike other workers, however, they are either not paid wages or earn only pennies a day. Yale’s Institution for Social and Policy Studies explains that:

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, federal inmates earn 12 cents to 40 cents per hour for jobs serving the prison, and 23 cents to $1.15 per hour in Federal Prison Industries factories. Prisoners are increasingly working for private companies as well. A significant cut of even these token wages goes to criminal justice system fees. Offenders thus have little hope of saving money while in prison, and this lack of money combined with fragile post-release support systems is an explosive formula for recidivism and reincarceration.”

Georgia prisoners are in a similar situation, though the incarceration rate is much higher in the Peach State than the national average (ranked 7th per capita in the nation).

It should not surprise anyone, then, that these ordinary Georgians are upset with their lack of pay and poor treatment. In 2010, many of them held strikes in prisons across the state, demanding better living conditions and adequate compensation for their hard work. As expected, their peaceful protests were met with state brutality. According to sources close to the prisoners, many of those same prisoners are still suffering because of their role in the protests; one of whom was “beaten severely with a hammer by guards“.

Support the Georgia prisoners and their plea for better conditions and compensation. You can show your solidarity and support in a variety of ways including letter-writing and sending books and magazines. For more information on organizing for better conditions in prisons and criticism of the prison system, see “The Other Side of the Wire: Prisoners as Workers”.

Rest In Power: Memorial Service Honors Georgia Victims of Police Violence

The death of Freddie Gray and the uprising in Baltimore have dominated news coverage for the past week. Incidents of police violence around the country have gained massive attention since, and even before, the uprisings in Ferguson last year. With all the attention paid to these national cases, we sometimes ignore the police killings of unarmed civilians in our own backyard.

On Saturday, May 2, concerned citizens from different races, gender identities, and economic backgrounds came together at Oakhurst Baptist Church in Decatur to remember the lives of Georgians who were killed or maimed by police, or whose investigations were hampered by police interference. These people have names, and so do the people who killed them.

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Pictures of Georgia victims of police violence at a memorial service, Oakhurst Baptist Church, Decatur.

Kathryn Johnston was a 92-year old grandmother killed in her own home by Atlanta police serving a no-knock warrant based on false information. Mrs. Johnston attempted to defend herself from what she thought was an attack by intruders. She was viewed as a threat by officers who shot and killed her. Some of the officers involved were sentenced to prison terms for covering up details of the raid, but not for the killing of Mrs. Johnston.

Kevin Davis, a 44-year-old black man with no criminal history, was killed by Dekalb County police officer Joseph Pitts in December 2014. Davis had dialed 911 to get help for his wife, who had been stabbed by a guest. Police showed up, entered Kevin Davis’ home, shot his dog and then fired on Mr. Davis. Dekalb police then transported Mr. Davis to the hospital in handcuffs and refused to allow his family to visit. Kevin Davis died alone in the hospital three days later. He had previously taken part in Black Lives Matter marches and protests.

Kathryn Johnston, 92, was killed in her own home by Atlanta police serving a no-knock warrant based on false information.

Kathryn Johnston, 92, was killed in her own home by Atlanta police serving a no-knock warrant based on false information.

Anthony Hill, a 27-year-old US Air Force combat veteran and musician, was killed by Dekalb police officer Robert Olsen in March during a manic episode. Mr. Hill was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which can cause delusions and hallucinations. He was completely naked and obviously unarmed when Officer Olsen shot him. No charges have been filed in the case. Hill’s partner said of him at the #RestInPower memorial service, “If he wasn’t walking around smiling, he was walking around singing.” Matthew Ajibade, a 22-year-old Savannah College of Art & Design student from Lagos, Nigeria, who also suffered from mental illness, died under unexplained circumstances at the Chatham County Jail in January of this year. No charges have been filed in that case either.

Nick Thomas, 23, was killed in Smyrna just last month while six (yes, six) police officers attempted to serve a warrant at his workplace. Mr. Thomas fled, likely fearing for his safety, and was shot to death in a barrage of gunfire by police. Officers claim Mr. Thomas was driving toward them, but almost all bullet holes were fired into the side of the vehicle and witnesses report Mr. Thomas was driving away from officers at the time. Thomas’ mother is attempting to organize what she calls “strong women” from all 50 states to raise awareness and combat police violence.

Kendrick Johnson’s body was found rolled up in a wrestling mat at his school in Valdosta last year. School officials and investigators claim Johnson, age 17, crawled into the gym mat himself and died from asphyxiation. A subsequent independent autopsy revealed Johnson died from blunt force trauma and when his body was exhumed most of the internal organs were missing. The clothes Kendrick wore to school that day were never found and local police have been notoriously uncooperative in dealing with the family.

Kendrick Johnson, 17 of Valdosta, died under mysterious circumstances. Local police have refused to cooperate with the family.

Kendrick Johnson, 17 of Valdosta, died under mysterious circumstances. Local police have refused to cooperate with the family.

Just last week Atlanta police shot and killed Alexia Christian, 25. Ms. Christian had been patted down, handcuffed, and placed in the back of a squad car when officers claim she opened fire on them from inside the vehicle. This is not the first case, even in Georgia, of police killing a handcuffed victim. In September of last year, Savannah police shot and killed 29-year-old Charles Smith, whose hands were cuffed behind his back.

Here in the North Georgia mountains last year, Bounkham Phonesavanh (“Baby Bou Bou”) was maimed when Habersham County deputies served a no-knock warrant and tossed a flash-bang grenade into the crib where Baby Bou Bou was asleep. The Habersham Sheriff’s Department has refused to take responsibility for the incident and sheriff Joseph Terrell laughed through an interview with WSB-TV when questioned how he felt about the matter. The family recently reached a $1 million settlement with the county (which will likely come out of taxpayers’ pockets, not from the sheriff’s departments budget). The settlement amount doesn’t even cover the family’s medical costs. Baby Bou Bou has suffered permanent facial damage and scarring and will likely suffer emotional trauma the rest of his life. The family and their supporters continue to push for charges against the officers involved.

While the focus of recent victims of police violence has been centered on young black males, it’s important to note that women, Latinos, American Indians, LGBT people, and even poor whites are also frequent victims of these incidents. This is an issue that crosses racial boundaries and affects almost all Americans who don’t belong to the ruling class. The Freddie Gray and Baby Bou Bou cases demonstrate we need not even break any laws to become victims of the police.

We should see more than just people of color out in the streets protesting and chanting that Black Lives Matter. While protests are a great catalyst for sparking conversations about race and police violence, charges against officers in the Freddie Gray case would never have been filed without the Baltimore Uprising. We need to find more long-term solutions to resolve these problems.

A flash-bang grenade thrown by Habersham County Sheriff's deputies landed in the crib of Baby Bou Bou, leaving the child permanently disfigured. Sheriff Joseph Terrell has been uncooperative, even dismissive, and no officers have been held responsible for the incident.

A flash-bang grenade thrown by Habersham County Sheriff’s deputies landed in the crib of Baby Bou Bou, leaving the child permanently disfigured. Sheriff Joseph Terrell has been uncooperative, even dismissive, and no officers have been held responsible for the incident.

In cities like New York and Oakland, residents are aggressively filming almost every police interaction to the point that police are no longer comfortable entering some neighborhoods. Residents host block parties and declare their neighborhoods “cop-free zones.” The flip side of this is that these neighborhoods are building community self-defense groups and select local residents, rather than outside police, to keep their neighborhoods safe. It’s important to note that, like many urban police forces, 70% of Baltimore City police reside outside city limits and 10% live outside the state. Community self-defense ensures community defenders are accountable to and come from within their own neighborhoods. This approach has proven highly successful in Latin American countries, where state police are corrupt or non-existent, and these ideas are slowly making their way into the consciousness of Georgia residents and those across the United States.

We recognize that many police officers mean well and are truly dedicated to protecting our communities. Unfortunately, the system in which they’re required to work doesn’t allow them to protect us in the ways we need and very often makes our communities more dangerous. Modern police forces were created to enforce the will of the ruling class on working people and have proven highly effective in that regard.

In Lumpkin County and most of North Georgia, we’re fortunate to have a low violent crime rate and mostly responsible police forces. However, we believe that ourselves and our neighbors are best equipped to decide how our public safety can most effectively be administered. The Baby Bou Bou incident in Habersham County proves that even rural mountain communities are not immune from the effects of police violence and a lack of accountability.

Tiffany Smith and Nelini speaking at the memorial service. Women of color have been instrumental in organizing recent protests against police violence.

Tiffany Smith and Nelini speaking at the memorial service. Women of color have been instrumental in organizing recent protests against police violence.

If we are made uncomfortable by the uprisings in Ferguson and Baltimore, perhaps that tells us something about the role we all play in these incidents. Spokesperson for the families of Kendrick Johnson and Baby Bou Bou, Marcus Coleman, said at the Decatur memorial service: “The time is now to make those uncomfortable in the places they feel most comfortable.” If we can feel content and safe while our neighbors suffer the structural violence of poverty, mass incarceration, and gentrification and the immediate violence of crime in their neighborhoods and police violence, perhaps it’s time to step out of our comfort zone and support our neighbors who are fighting for their lives.

If one of us suffers, we all suffer and none of us is free until we are all free.

Participating groups included: Oakhurst Baptist Church, Oakhurst Presbyterian Church, WeCycle Atlanta, Active Voice, Raise Up ATL, Rise Up Atlanta, #ItsBiggerThanYou, Gen Y Project, Decatur Black Lives Matter, Davis Bozeman Law Firm, Save Our Selves (SOS), Atlanta Q&T POC, Atlanta Friends Service Committee, Willie Watkins Funeral Home, Henry & June, and Jewish Voice for Peace, Action in Dahlonega


More on community self-defense and the origins of modern policing:
https://actionindahlonega.wordpress.com/category/articles/anarchist-approaches-to-crime-and-justice/
https://libcom.org/history/origins-police-david-whitehouse


Click here for an update on the Matthew Ajibade case.

More information on Georgia victims of police violence:
Kathryn Johnston: http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/02/24/atlanta.police/
Kevin Davis: http://www.ajc.com/news/news/dekalb-police-respond-to-critics-of-officer-who-sh/nj55t/
Kendrick Johnson: http://www.ajc.com/news/news/local/parents-of-star-recruit-sue-kendrick-johnson-faceb/nj5c2/
Charles Smith: http://legalinsurrection.com/2014/09/georgia-police-officer-shoots-kills-handcuffed-black-suspect/
Alexia Christian: http://clatl.com/freshloaf/archives/2015/05/04/activists-apd-should-immediately-release-camera-footage-in-alexia-christian-police-shooting
http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/crime/woman-fatally-shot-in-back-of-atlanta-police-car-identified/ar-BBiZMZF
Nick Thomas: http://www.ajc.com/news/news/family-of-man-killed-by-smyrna-police-call-for-fbi/nkd64/
Anthony Hill: https://actionindahlonega.wordpress.com/2015/03/10/anthony-hill-unarmed-georgia-man-murdered-by-police/
Matthew Ajibade: http://www.blackyouthproject.com/2015/01/how-did-matthew-ajibade-die-in-custody/
Baby Bou Bou: http://www.ajc.com/news/news/report-family-of-baby-bou-bou-county-reach-964k-se/nkzmb/
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8KeXpxfa1mY

Fighting For Our Own: Working-Class Resistance in Appalachia and the South (Part 1 of 3)

Part 1 of 3: Labor History and Militant Unions in the South

Birth of the US Labor Movement
International Workers Day (May Day) is a celebration of worker contributions to our society and the struggles of past workers who fought, and sacrificed their lives, for many of the benefits we enjoy today. May Day is a national holiday in many countries and is especially associated with Communist states like the Soviet Union and Cuba. Many US workers, however, don’t realize the holiday’s origins are firmly rooted in the labor struggles of our own country.

The history of the US labor movement, which won the eight-hour day, an end to child labor, the right to organize, weekends, overtime pay, and much more (note: some workers today still don’t have enjoy many of these benefits), is often associated with factory workers in urban areas like Boston, New York, Detroit, and Chicago. Occasionally rural coal miners are lumped in, but the struggles and contributions of workers in the South, especially the rural South, are often ignored. The South, even in conservative regions like northern Alabama, North Georgia, and Upstate South Carolina, have their own history of militant labor activity and resistance.

This is the first in a three-part series on radical labor struggles and the fight for liberation in the South and  Southern Appalachia. Obviously it can’t cover every issue in detail, but we will look at a broad range of important events that transcend racial, gender, and cultural boundaries. The first part covers the legacy of May Day and radical labor history in the South.

MayDay-3

Many workers sacrificed their lives in the fight for an 8-hour day. The first May Day in 1886 launched that struggle.

A Brief History of May Day
May Day began with the fight by workers for an eight-hour work day. Its origins date back to 1886, when the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (FOTLU) issued a proclamation that “eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s labor from and after May 1, 1886.” At the time most workers, especially those involved in manufacturing and heavy industry, were expected to put in at least 10 and as many as 16 hours. Child labor was frequently used for some of the more dangerous jobs.

The FOTLU’s demand for an eight-hour day was supported by the Knights of Labor a year later, and eventually drew wide support from workers in the Trades and Labor Assembly, the Socialist Labor Party, and many anarchists and socialist groups.

On the first May Day, between 200,000 to 300,000 workers from over 13,000 businesses walked off their jobs. It remains one of the largest and most widespread strikes in US history. The labor movement, and the anarchist approach of direct action and a general strike, gained popular support from the public. The strikes remained peaceful until May 3rd, when police and strikers clashed outside the McCormick Reaper Works factory in Chicago.

May Day draws much of its significance from the Haymarket Massacre (May 4th, 1886), which occurred at the height of the 1886 strikes. As a massive labor rally was dispersing an unidentified person threw a bomb into a crowd of policemen, killing four of them. Despite the fact that, to this day, nobody knows who threw the bomb, eight anarchists singled out, tried, and executed for their supposed role in helping to create the bomb. The repercussions of the bombing and the execution of the Haymarket Martyrs, still resonate in today’s labor movement, especially in organized anarchist and communist circles. The treatment of modern workers and labor groups by police and the state are a testament to the lasting effects of the Haymarket incident and participants in the first May Day strikes.[1]

Radical labor struggles have a long history in Georgia and across the South. From the violent battles of miners in Southern and Central Appalachia to the national textile mill strikes during the Great Depression to the black workers struggles of the 1960’s and 70’s to the recent Fight for 15, OUR Walmart, and immigrant rights movements, workers in the region can boast of an unbroken record of demanding better conditions and a bigger share of the wealth they create.

Coal Miners and the Roots of Radical Labor in Appalachia
The coal industry has long been a dominant force in the economy and cultural history of the Appalachian region, especially in places like West Virginia, Kentucky, southwestern Virginia, and eastern Tennessee. People have been extracting coal from the Appalachian mountains since the 1880s, and gold and precious gems long before that. We’ll focus on the origins of organized labor in coal communities and two instances of militant resistance by coal miners: Matewan and the Battle of Blair Mountain.

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Coal miners fighting at the Battle of Blair Mountain (West Virginia, 1921)

In the early days of coal country the population swelled. Regions that had previously had almost no black residents saw a steady increase (McDowell County, VA went from 0.1% in 1880 to 30.7% in 1910).[2] From the start, coal miners and their families were dependent on the big coal companies that dominated the region. They were forced to lease land that the wealthy coal tycoons owned, and relied on the coal companies for jobs and food. The coal companies swept in and bought up most of the land and mineral rights in coal country. When some small farmers refused to sell their family farms they were either tricked into selling by the coal companies or forced off their land by the state for the “common good.” This confluence of ownership and control of the labor market led to a situation where most workers, even those not employed by the coal companies, found themselves at the mercy of coal operators for survival.

Miners spent all day in the coal mines, with many losing their lives or becoming crippled, then spent their money at company stores on overpriced food and goods, then went home to land owned by those same coal companies. Most of the money coal operators paid their workers eventually made its way back into their pockets. Every small town in coal country was a company town by default and workers were left with little option but to bow to the interests of their bosses.[3]

From the 1870s to the 1890s, while workers in urban areas mounted fierce resistance and made substantial gains against factory owners, the Knights of Labor and the National Federation of Miners and Mine Laborers struggled over influence with miners.  This struggle eventually led to the creation of the United Mine Workers (UMWA), who won a significant victory during an 1894 strike and eventually helped mine workers win an 8-hour day and safer working conditions in 1898. It took many more years for these improvements to make their way across Appalachian coal country and the coal operators fought the miners every step of the way.

Conflicts between coal miners and operators in Appalachia were notoriously brutal. In 1920 private security agents for the coal operators  (the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency) swept into Matewan, West Virginia and began evicting residents from their homes in the Stone Mountain Coal Camp. The UMWA had been working to organize miners in the area at a time when labor unions didn’t have legal protections from government. Workers could be fired or blacklisted for even talking about joining a union and the coal operators did everything within their power to break union organizing efforts. Residents of Matewan, with assistance from local police chief Sid Hatfield (a rare case of law enforcement siding with unions) surrounded the agents, resulting in a bloody fight that killed seven of the agents, two miners, and left several other wounded. [2]

Perhaps the most notorious case of militant resistance in Appalachia was the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain. While most of West Virginia was organized into the UMWA, southern West Virginia was still controlled by coal operators and company towns. In August 1921 armed miners sought to install their right to a union by force in Logan and Mingo counties. In all, 10,000 coal miners battled about 3,000 lawmen and strikebreakers (who were fighting in the interest of the mine owners) fired over 100,000 rounds at each other in the bloodiest armed battle since the Civil War. Five days later President Warren Harding sent in the US Army to break the conflict. Many of the miners involved in the battle were tried on charges ranging from murder to conspiracy to treason. Almost 1,000 were convicted, but many were acquitted by sympathetic juries or pardoned a few years later.[2]

The immediate aftermath of Blair Mountain was a dramatic decrease in UMWA membership and substantial gains for the coal operators. The union was set back significantly by the Blair Mountain incident and didn’t recover until after the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was passed in 1935. Despite this, the legacy of the Battle of Blair Mountain lives on in Appalachian folklore and remains a point of pride among working people in the region to this day.

Unions have lost the prestige they once held in coal country while new less labor-intensive methods of extracting coal have left many residents unemployed and dependent on government assistance for survival. This has led to tension among residents, with the remaining miners finding themselves at odds with residents concerned about the environmental destruction caused by strip mining, mountaintop removal, and hydraulic fracturing (fracking). The coal operators, like their predecessors, have proven themselves masters at diving residents, successfully pitting struggling miners against residents worried about clean drinking water and the irreparable destruction of the surrounding landscape.

The 1934 Textile Workers Strike
In the 1880’s, textile mills began to migrate from their traditional base in New England and the mid-Atlantic states to southern states in search of cheap labor and an escape from organized unions. By the 1930s, more than 70% of the textile industry had relocated to the South.[4] When the market for cotton and textiles declined in the 1920’s and into the Great Depression, conditions in the mills deteriorated and mill operators cut workers’ hours with no corresponding wage increase to help them survive. In 1929 Southern workers launched hundreds of walkouts that spread across the region, from South Carolina to Alabama and throughout Southern Appalachia. Most of the strikes were spontaneous and organized by the workers themselvses, with little or no organized union influence. These actions fostered an even greater tension between workers and factory operators and led to a rapid decline in labor relations.

The Textile Workers Strike of 1934, which involved 400,000 US workers, touched nearly every corner of the eastern United States. Unlike previous strikes, much of the militant resistance between 1929 and 1934 originated from textile mills in the South. In Gastonia, North Carolina and Elizabethton, Tennessee, striking mill workers were met with violent suppression. They responded with militant action, staging wildcat strikes and walkouts under communist-led unions like the National Textile Workers Union (NTWU). These actions often conflicted with the wishes of more mainstream unions like the United Textile Workers (UTW). Conditions were so awful that workers in Greenville, South Carolina staged numerous strikes, knowing they could easily be replaced by the countless unemployed workers who couldn’t find work at the time.

Striking textile workers face armed security in Alabama (1934)

Striking textile workers face armed security forces in Alabama (1934)

In July 1934, UTW members in northern Alabama launched strikes that spread from Huntsville to Florence, Anniston, Gadsden, and Birmingham. These eventually spilled into Chattanooga, Tennessee and Dalton, Georgia. While not as widespread or as militant, mill and textile workers in Columbus, LaGrange, and at the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill in the Cabbagetown neighborhood of Atlanta (an area populated mostly by emigrants from the mountains) went on strike and mounted resistance that led to the deaths of several workers.

While largely unsuccessful at its stated goals, the 1934 Textile Workers Strike was instrumental in the passage of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA, also called the Wagner Act) which finally granted workers legal protection to form unions and protect them from retaliation by bosses for collective organizing activity. The NRLA (coupled with the 1947 Taft-Hartley act), which had been presented as a major success for workers, ultimately undermined their interests by creating an opening for union bureaucracy and promoting a tendency for union leadership to collaborate with management against the interests of the workers. It also left unions and their leadership dependent on politicians (mostly Democrats) to protect their influence and financial interests.

While unions were extremely effective at improving wages and conditions for certain workers in the post-WWII era, much of the financial and political corruption that gives modern workers a bad impression and prevents them from joining unions can be directly traced to the Wagner Act and Taft-Hartley and union leaders who place their personal interests ahead of the workers.

Militant Labor in Southern Mills and Communist Collaboration
Many mill towns in the pre-WWII South operated as company towns, in a fashion very similar to coal towns of Appalachia. Workers in these areas found themselves at the mercy of mill operators. With the onset of the Great Depression, and more desperate circumstances for mill workers, relations in local mills grew more tense. Workers in the Dalton textile industry were organized under UTW Local 1893, which initially operated in secret and regularly found itself at odds with management. By 1934 the union grew so influential the local press considered Dalton an important player in upcoming state elections.

As the 1934 textile strikes were taking off, a wave of strikes, walkouts, and militant activity swept across northern Alabama and made its way into Chattanooga, TN, western Georgia, and the textile-centered city of Dalton, Georgia. They began as wildcat strikes, with many turning violent, but by September the UTW called for a general strike. In Dalton, 1,200 millhands took place in the walkout and showed their support in a Labor Day rally, the largest of its type in the city’s history. The local press reported that 1,500 workers “representing every trade organization” took part in a parade in support of the strike.

Union organizers promised the strikers would remain peaceful, which they did, until gunfire erupted between picketers and “armed deputies” (comprised primarily of non-union workers and strikebreakers). Two men were killed and 20 more injured in the skirmish.[5]

While the 1934 strike was mostly ineffective at achieving the textile workers’ demands, it shifted the perspective of workers in the area from a narrow localism to a broader regional and national working class consciousness. They had become part of the national labor movement.

In 1939, Dalton workers at Crown Mill went on strike after contract negotiations with management failed. They managed to shut down all three plants during their three month struggle. They eventually gave in after the company brought in scabs to break the strike. Workers eventually signed a contract that granted considerable concessions to management, but the union survived and was instrumental in improving conditions for workers and helping to sustain a strong textile industry in the area, even after other textile mills throughout the South shut down in the 1980s and 90s.[5]

Union activity and resistance in Georgia weren’t limited to the textile industry. During the Great Depression workers in major Georgia cities took part in mass actions to protest unmet needs and demand a government response to their horrible economic situation. Meanwhile, sharecroppers in rural Georgia joined forces to fight back against exploitation by planters.

In both situations, workers collaborated with organizers from the North, including the Communist Party and other organized socialist and communist groups. While the focus of communist organizing in the South was centered in Alabama, by 1932 it made its way into rural Georgia and had an impact on the labor movement across the state. While factory and farm owners tried to label organizers from the North “outside agitators” (a common tactic used by capitalists and the ruling class in strikes, protests, and urban uprisings even today), the focus of these efforts was strongly centered on local initiatives and issues and their course was determined by local workers and residents.[6]

Black Workers in Georgia During the 1970s
Despite efforts by earlier unions like the Knights of Labor, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (the CIO, before they merged with the American Federation of Labor) to develop unions that crossed racial barriers and include workers of all skill levels, most US labor unions — especially in the South — were dominated by skilled white male workers. In factories in both the North and South, when black workers were employed at all, they were often given less-desirable and lower-paying jobs as janitors, porters, or foundry workers. Black auto workers in the North, especially in Detroit, were politically radicalized during the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 60s and used what they had learned to organize for better conditions. Black workers in the urban South grew more radical in the South toward the end of the 60s and into the early 70s in the wake of the Black Power movement.[7]

Workers at the Mead Packaging Corp. facility in Atlanta found themselves at odds with union leadership and management in 1972 and created the Mead Caucus of Rank and File Workers, made up mostly of black workers. In August 250 workers organized a wildcat strike without authorization from their union, the International Printing Pressmen and Assistants Union of North America (IPPAU-NA) Local 527. The union leadership was notorious for under-representing workers and for its open support of white supremacy.[8]

Mead wildcar strike leader Sherman Miller and supporters (Atlanta, 1973)

Mead wildcat strike leader Sherman Miller and supporters (Atlanta, 1972)

Striking workers received no support from their union and were met with police violence, but the strike enjoyed strong support from the community and civil rights organizations and 75% of the workers remained out during the strike. Many strike participants and their supporters were members of the October League, a revolutionary communist organization that played a significant role in the strike, the Black Panther Party, or other radical political groups.

The Mead wildcat strike lasted seven weeks, after which the union and management gave in to many of the workers’ demands. All sides reached an agreement whereby the local union agreed to represent worker demands, committees were established inside the plant to hear and address grievances about racial discrimination, and the company promised not to retaliate against strike leaders. Regardless, 36 workers were suspended during the strike and some were fired. Many were able to get reinstated after going through the lengthy National Labor Relations Board arbitration process to get their job back and some continue to work there today under the Teamsters Local 728 union.

The 1970s also saw resistance from workers at Church’s Chicken location in the Atlanta area. The company was notorious in the black community for its disregard and poor treatment of its mostly black workforce. In 1972 Church’s workers staged a city-wide strike and boycott campaign that shut down the majority of locations in the city. This strike forced the company to agree to speed up its integration of black workers into management and promote more black workers to management positions. In 1973 the company elected its first black board member and launched an ad campaign touting itself as an ideal environment for black workers to “learn the necessary skills in operating a fast food outlet.” It also launched a campaign to rebrand itself in the black community, making small contributions to civil rights organizations and sponsoring a number of local little league baseball teams.

None of these actions addressed the exploitation of Church’s workers in a meaningful way. While a  small fraction of black workers made it into management, most remained stuck in low-paying and less-desirable positions as cooks or cashiers. The 1972 strike did succeed at increasing working-class consciousness and confidence in the collective power of workers to force improved conditions. This sense of solidarity, combined with the failure of management to address conditions, led to further strikes and boycott campaigns in 1977 and 1979.

The looming threat of a strike and boycott campaign in 1977, which drew support from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), forced the management to grant several concessions to workers. However, without a union or organized infrastructure to enforce the agreement, the company backed out on its promises and left conditions for workers largely unchanged.

Workers continued complaining about racism, poor treatment by management (even black members of management), and demotions or firings without justification and no recourse. This led to a 1979 strike by 35 Church’s workers, which eventually grew to over 100 workers from multiple locations. The strike lasted several months, gaining support from civil rights leaders, black business owners, and even some Church’s store managers (who joined in the strike). The striking managers eventually became the center of attention, detracting from the workers demands and changing the campaign’s focus.

Atlanta’s first black mayor, Maynard Jackson, who was struggling with his own set of problems from striking city sanitation workers, helped foster an extremely hostile environment for the city’s labor movement. Church’s management launched a smear campaign against Hosea Williams, a civil rights icon and key figure in the strike, while police antagonized the striking workers. They eventually arrested Hosea and one of the protesters for “using a bullhorn” shortly after the strike began. A week later, police arrested civil rights leader Tyrone Brooks and another protester on similar charges.

The 1979 strike eventually devolved into a legal battle between Hosea and the company, during which the strike lost steam and the workers’ demands went unmet. In the 1980s Church’s made a public effort to improve its reputation, making what it called a “stronger investment” in the black community. The company made large donations to civil rights organizations, which eventually helped it gain support from the SCLC, NAACP, and Operation PUSH. Unfortunately, black Church’s workers didn’t receive the same sort of attention from the company and conditions remained poor.[10]

The Mead and Church’s strikes, while forgotten by much of the Atlanta population, made a lasting impact on the local labor movement. The Fight for $15 campaign has gained steady support in recent years and a flurry of organized union activity in the food and retail industry has popped up across the area. In 2013, Sodexho food service workers at Emory University won the right to form a union and forced management to grant them a contract with better wages and working conditions with the support of the Students and Workers in Solidarity group. Several students and workers were arrested while protesting in support of workers on campus and gained broad publicity and support through a media and direct action campaign. More recently, fast food workers in Atlanta have led several strikes, walkouts and protests, which have steadily gained support from the local community and the broader labor movement. They’re part of a larger nationwide movement by thousands fast food workers to win a living wage and union recognition.[17]

Manufacturing, Solidarity Networks, Hope for a Brighter Future
While labor unions have steadily lost influence in the United States over the past several decades, union membership is the South continues to rise. The five states with the fastest growth in union membership are all located in the South (all five, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, and Virginia are also home to portions of the Southern Appalachia region).

In the 1990s the auto industry, in search of cheaper labor and less union support, shifted production facilities to the Southeast. While this helped them escape the influence of organized labor for several years, workplace organizing in the region has seen a recent upsurge. Much of this activity has been centered around central and eastern Tennessee, Upstate South Carolina, and West Georgia. In 2013, the United Auto Workers (UAW) added 1,800 workers at a General Motors facility in Spring Hill, Tennessee, with corresponding gains for unionized workers in the construction trades. Workers at Kia facilities in Georgia and BMW facilities in South Carolina have also launched efforts for union recognition.[12]

Volkswagen, which recently opened facilities in the Southeast, has a reputation as a labor-friendly company. In 2013, with vocal support from the company, workers were set to vote in support of a union at a the Chattanooga VW facility. After overwhelming pressure from state politicians, the workers narrowly lost a vote for union recognition in their workplace. It was later revealed that, in addition to threats from lawmakers trying to halt the spread of unions in the state, Tennessee governor Bill Haslan attached strings to to $300 million incentive package to VW on the condition that labor talks be concluded “to the satisfaction of the state.” The loss robbed organized labor of momentum in the region, but union activity continues its slow, steady rise in the South.[13]

In 2013, a 42-year old worker, Teresa Weaver Pickard, died from heat exhaustion at the Sewon America auto parts facility in Lagrange, Georgia (a Korean company that makes parts for Kia automobiles). Workers had complained for years about poor conditions and broken A/C units at the plant and reported physical altercations with management.[14]

The UAW had been trying to organize workers at the plant for several years with little success. The company, like many other automakers who set up shop in Southern states, spent a considerable amount of time and resources pushing anti-union propaganda and (often with the complicity of local politicians) busting any efforts by workers to organize to protect themselves and fight for better wages. As a result, workers at Sewon America and other factories in the South and the Appalachia region are still underpaid and mistreated.

Following Teresa’s death, local groups like Jobs for Justice, the Atlanta branch of the IWW, and several other social justice and civil rights organizations collaborated with Sewon workers to bring attention to the workers’ situation and push for union recognition. The campaign was short-lived after many workers at the plant declined to participate for fear of retaliation by management and the risk of losing their jobs in an area that suffered from extremely high unemployment and poverty.

In the past several years more radical working class organizers have developed the idea of grassroots solidarity networks. These networks are strongly influenced by the idea of cross-industry (and cross-cultural) working-class solidarity and the long legacy of direct action. Direct action is the idea that workers can gain meaningful changes by exerting their collective power rather than waiting on union leadership or politicians to do things for us.

Atlanta Solidarity Network (ASOL) is one of many solidarity networks that bring together workers to fight in their mutual interest. Action in Dahlonega in a solidarity network in the North Georgia mountains.

Atlanta Solidarity Network (ASOL) is one of many solidarity networks that bring together workers to fight in their mutual interest. Action in Dahlonega is a solidarity network in the North Georgia mountains.

The Atlanta Solidarity Network (ASOL) is a loosely-organized group of workers from different workplaces with a number of wins under their belt. Much of their success comes from helping workers who haven’t been paid or who have been fired from jobs without cause either get paid or get their jobs back. By placing public pressure on bosses, and getting local workers and allies from across the country to launch phone-zaps and negative publicity campaigns that interrupt their cash flow, ASOL and other solidarity networks have helped exploited workers win some sort of justice without waiting on the broken machinery of government agencies.

Recently Action in Dahlonega (AID), a solidarity network in the North Georgia mountains, has helped workers get justice and get paid. Their first major success came after a Dahlonega restaurant owner closed two restaurants in Dahlonega, leaving workers without jobs, and opened three new restaurants in a nearby town. Their boss had a long history of underpaying workers and he refused to give at least 10 of the workers their final paychecks after closing. The workers and AID launched a public campaign to put pressure on the boss. After a strong show of support from the local community, the boss gave handed over the workers’ paychecks within 4 days.[15] AID also works on local community issues, like trying to remove local signs that Cherokee residents find offensive and building a free store open to anyone in the community regardless of need, to build a strong network between workers who share common class interests, even when they don’t come from similar political backgrounds.[16]

Breaking Down Boundaries

While union membership is slowly rising in the South, there’s no doubt mainstream unions have lost much of the influence they once had and union members often see no value in being members and paying due. Much of the influence mainstream unions retain is inextricably tied with the Democratic party, making their appeal to large segments of the working class extremely limited.

Fast food workers and community supporters demonstrating for a living wage and the right to union representation (Atlanta, 2015)

Fast food workers and community supporters demonstrating for a living wage and the right to union representation (Atlanta, 2015)

Our nation’s working-class history isn’t restricted to one political group. People from all political backgrounds, or none at all, share a common goal of working to make someone else wealthy, struggling to pay bills, and working harder to survive with fewer resources. At one time even socially conservative rural Americans collaborated with communists and socialists to work toward their shared interests in the workplace.

Even our neighbors in the mostly-conservative South and Appalachia realize they’re being exploited by wealthy business owners and politicians. They face many of the same problems and share many of the same concerns as those on the radical left wing of the political spectrum. While we might not agree on many issues, we can often find solidarity and common ground in the workplace. The long history of radical and militant labor in the South and Appalachia have much to teach us, not just about relationships between bosses and workers, but also about the relationship between different segments of the working class. In the end, either we’ll all enjoy a greater share of the wealth we produce, or none of us will.

Sources and More Information

  1. A Brief History of May Day: http://www.iww.org/history/library/misc/origins_of_mayday
  2. West Virginia’s Mine Wars: http://www.wvculture.org/history/minewars.html
  3. Power and Powerlessness: Quiescence and Rebellion in an Appalachian Valley, John Gaventa
  4. Southern Workers Spark Massive Textile Strike: http://apwumembers.apwu.org/laborhistory/13-5_1934textilestrike/1934textilestrike.htm
  5. Creating the Modern South: Millhands and Managers in Dalton, Georgia 1884-1984
  6. The Unemployed People’s Movement: Leftists, Liberals, and Labor in Georgia, 1929-1941
  7. Militant black labor organizations: http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/rbwstudy.html
  8. “Wildcat at Mead” film, http://wearemany.org/v/wildcat-at-mead
  9. Mead Wildcat strike aftermath: https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-1/atlanta-wildcat.htm
  10. Atlanta Church’s Chicken Strike: https://redatlanta.wordpress.com/category/atlantas-untold-fast-food-strike-history/
  11. Chattanooga’s Radical History: http://www.chattanoogan.com/2013/3/25/247459/Chattanooga-s-Radical-History.aspx
  12. Chattanooga Times-Free Press: http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/business/aroundregion/story/2014/feb/02/unions-gain-in-southunions-find-new-southern/130487/
  13. Yahoo News: http://news.yahoo.com/uaw-reports-55-percent-membership-vw-plant-tennessee-125453121.html
  14. Teresa Weaver Pickard Story: https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/06/06/sewo-j06.html
  15. Action in Dahlonega story on Workers’ Victory: https://actionindahlonega.wordpress.com/2015/04/25/dahlonega-workers-win-wages-theyre-owed/
  16. Action in Dahlonega story on racist local signage: https://actionindahlonega.wordpress.com/2015/04/17/confronting-dahlonegas-history-a-brief-statement-about-forgetting-our-brutal-past/
  17. Students and Workers in Solidarity – Emory University: http://sws-emory.webs.com/ 

Victory! Dahlonega Workers Win Fight for Wages

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A victory for one is a victory for all!

Action in Dahlonega is excited to announce that, after over a week of steady pressure and a remarkably strong show of support from the local community, Piazza and Main Street Burgers workers who recently lost their jobs and had been denied their final paychecks have been paid.

Both restaurants closed down about two months ago, leaving many workers without jobs and without their final paychecks while the owner set up shop at new restaurants in Big Canoe, a nearby town. Before the restaurants closed, workers routinely had trouble cashing paychecks or getting paid for all the hours they worked. Some were not told when they would receive their final paychecks or how much they were owed. Others were told they would be paid “when Piazza sold” (which seemed questionable since the owner didn’t own the buildings or property on which both restaurants were located).

The issue gained attention from across North Georgia (and even across the country) after some of the workers decided to take a stand and demand what they were owed. A story about the workers and their former boss, published by Action in Dahlonega two weeks ago, went viral and brought wide attention to the workers’ struggles. After a tremendous outpouring of support from the Dahlonega and North Georgia communities, coupled with the looming threat of pickets and other actions, their boss quickly gave in to the workers’ demands. Their paychecks were mailed within four days of going public and workers were able to successfully cash them earlier this week (some previous checks had failed to clear the bank).

Some of the workers initially sought help for wage theft from the Georgia Department of Labor and the US Department of Labor with no response. This win for the workers, without resorting to and waiting on the broken machinery of the state, demonstrates the collective power of regular people to fight for justice and get what rightly belongs to them.

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Piazza and Main Street Burgers have closed. After trouble getting paid, workers who stuck with the restaurants until the end were finally paid after a public campaign.

It is our hope that the spotlight this incident brought to the actions of their former boss will prevent him, or other business owners in our community, from taking advantage of our fellow workers in the future. We would like to point out that many local employers were supportive of the workers as this situation unfolded, with some even offering jobs to former Piazza employees.

Action in Dahlonega would like to thank our local community for stepping up to support these workers. Without their backing it’s unlikely the workers would have succeeded, and certainly not as quickly as they did. We are fortunate to live in a community that cares about our neighbors and shows a willingness to side with regular workers in their struggles against crooked bosses.

Some workers who were let go prior to the closings of Piazza and Main Street Burgers report trouble being paid for all the hours they worked or receiving a final paycheck. We are continuing to work with them toward solutions. We will report back with any updates or planned actions to seek justice for our fellow workers.

In Solidarity,
The Action in Dahlonega Solidarity Network

To get involved in other Action in Dahlonega campaigns, contact us by email or on Facebook.

The original story from Action in Dahlonega: https://actionindahlonega.wordpress.com/2015/04/12/piazza-owner-gets-rich-while-refusing-to-pay-workers-a-call-to-action/

Upcoming Action in Dahlonega and Related Events

  • Prison Letter Writing Group to Political Prisoners and Other Prisoners in Georgia, bi-weekly meetings. Contact us by email or Facebook for more details.
  • Anarchist Reading Club every Wednesday at 5:30 PM at UNG-Dahlonega campus, Dunlap Building Room 211-B. Everyone welcome (everyone welcome — you don’t need to be an anarchist or a student). We will be meeting every Tuesday from 8:00-9:30pm for our summer reading series at members’ homes or public area TBD. Guests are encouraged to bring snacks and/or refreshments for members coming from work or who are unable to eat before the meeting.
  • Black Rose North Georgia planning group, meetings held regularly. Contact us for details. Next meeting Tuesday 5/19 at 7:00pm, location TBD.
  • Summer reading series of “An Indigenous People’s History of the United States” by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. Next meeting 5/19 from 8:00-9:00pm, location TBD. We’ll discuss the Intro and Chapter 1 Contact us by email or Facebook for more details.

Confronting Dahlonega’s History: A Brief Statement About Forgetting Our Brutal Past

For several months now, Action in Dahlonega has been quietly trying to bring attention to troubling accounts of history in Lumpkin County and North Georgia, especially pertaining to the downplay of the Trail of Tears and human slavery. We have worked with local people of Cherokee descent to bring attention to some of the troubling signs around Dahlonega, we have approached the Lumpkin County Historical Society for help modifying of removing these signs (which they effectively have refused to do), and done some of our own research on these matters. Here’s a brief statement on why we find this problematic. We will have a much more in-depth look at the handling of local history and corresponding public actions soon.   

Dahlonega is filled with warm, generous, friendly people, but we’re not without our problems. Like anyplace else, Dahlonega has its own version of local history that often discounts the worst points of what actually happened.

A prominent sign on the square reads: “The Gold Rush Days Festival each October recalls the Georgia Gold Rush of 1829 with the bittersweet echo of the forced removal of the Cherokee in 1838 along the Trail of Tears.“ This sign was placed by the Lumpkin County Historical Society and is one of few local mentions of the Trail of Tears. It represents a disturbing trend of attempts by local officials and the LCHS to reframe our history.

Maibaum History Tree, Hancock Park, Dahlonega

Maibaum History Tree, Hancock Park, Dahlonega. It suggests a steady progress from wild animals to apparently “primitive” indigenous people to a modern civilization dominated by white settlers.

Local historical accounts, including the sign in question and the Maibaum History Tree in Hancock Park, frame the Gold Rush as the precipitating event leading to the Cherokee removal and seek to absolve local governments of responsibility; but the actual history reveals a much different story. The Cherokee and Creek people’s fate was sealed from the moment the first white settler colonialists landed in Georgia. From the colony’s founding, James Edward Oglethorpe had his eyes set on the area, relenting only after natives put up fierce resistance.

There was nothing “bittersweet” about the Trail of Tears. It was nothing less than an act of genocide in a long and concerted effort to exterminate this country’s native people. The Cherokee were illegally removed from their homeland, a sovereign nation, and forced to relocate to a foreign land. Approximately 17,000 died on the journey. Some remained in the area, either as second-class citizens married to white settlers or by fleeing deeper into the mountains.

That the brutal struggles the Cherokee and Creek people endured is framed as anything other than what it was is something we all must confront. Replacing signs like those mentioned above, while absolutely necessary, is only a first step. We need to face the awful truth about what happened to the original residents of our area and work with them toward making it right. A good start might be working to create a monument acknowledging the loss experienced by victims of the Trail of Tears. At the very least, we should ensure local historical accounts boasting about the area’s connection to gold accurately reflect the darker side of that legacy.

Sign on the Dahlonega Square, placed by the city and the Lumpkin County Historical Society, calling the Trail of Tears "bittersweet."

Sign on the Dahlonega Square, placed by the city and the Lumpkin County Historical Society, calling the Trail of Tears “bittersweet.”

As descendants of people who colonized this nation and brutally forced its original inhabitants out, we bear a responsibility to correct those acts — not just to ease our collective conscience, but because the descendants of  those original inhabitants are our neighbors and deserve our acceptance and to have their pain recognized.

Dahlonega is a beautiful community and we should preserve our distinct culture and the sense of connectedness we share with our neighbors, but we also bear a heavy burden to those who paid the ultimate price so we can be here and have an obligation to accept people from all backgrounds into our community.

To get involved or to learn more about Action in Dahlonega’s efforts to remove the sign email us at action.in.dahlonega@gmail.com or check us out on Facebook

For more on local responses to the sign and the Trail of Tears:
https://actionindahlonega.wordpress.com/2015/03/24/trail-of-tears-remembrance-day-the-struggle-continues/
https://actionindahlonega.wordpress.com/2015/02/17/issues-of-local-historical-concern/
https://actionindahlonega.wordpress.com/2015/02/22/historical-and-present-marginalization-of-the-cherokee-people-and-slaves-in-north-georgia/

Don’t Run, Call 911: Naloxone and Medical Amnesty Save Lives

Last week, the UNG Gainesville Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), Georgia Overdose Prevention, and the Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition (AHRC) hosted an overdose prevention workshop at the Gainesville campus of the University of North Georgia.

Georgia, like the rest of the country, is in the midst of an overdose epidemic. Heroin-related overdose deaths tripled between 2010 and 2013 due to a confluence of issues, including patients turning to street drugs after the government tightened restrictions on prescription painkillers and the appearance of fentanyl-laced heroin on the streets of Atlanta and many other cities. Fentanyl is a synthetic opiate that is 15-20 times stronger than heroin and 80-100 times stronger than morphine. While heroin and fentanyl deaths are on the rise, most overdose deaths are caused by prescription medications like Xanax and Vicodin, often legally prescribed, or a combination of prescription medications.

Vials of naloxone with an intramuscular needle that can't be used to inject street drugs. Naloxone can almost always reverse an opiod overdose if given in time.

Vials of naloxone with an intramuscular needle that can’t be used to inject street drugs. Naloxone can almost always reverse an opiod overdose if given in time.

Georgia Overdose Prevention was born in Atlanta in late 2012 in the wake of an overdose awareness vigil at Piedmont Park. It was there that several people, including some members of Action in Dahlonega, shared stories of losing friends and loved ones to drug overdose. There they met Mona Bennett of the Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition (AHRC), who has worked to make the lives of drug users in Atlanta safer for many years. Mona shared information about efforts in Georgia and other states to get two laws passed: one to provide legal amnesty to friends who call 911 to report an overdose (even when the police show up and drugs are present) and another to make access to naloxone, a live-saving drug that reverses opiate overdoses, legal to carry, distribute, and administer.

For several months the group met, usually at a Fresh to Order restaurant in Midtown, to plan a course of action. The group remained an informal grassroots network and worked closely with harm reduction advocates in Georgia and North Carolina (which had recently passed its own Good Samaritan and naloxone access laws), medical professionals, and even local police, and slowly grew their numbers. In 2013 they joined forces with another local overdose prevention group and launched a media and outreach campaign. They were eventually able to get state representative Sharon Cooper, chair of the House Health and Human Services committee, to support and sponsor the law. State senator Renee Unterman, chair of the senate Health and Human Services committee, agreed to support the law if it passed the House.

Mona Bennett of the Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition.

Mona Bennett of the Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition.

The parents of those who lost loved ones and other activists leapt into action at the start of the 2014 legislative session. They roamed the halls of the capitol almost every day, carrying pictures of their children and loved ones and sharing their stories with anyone who would listen. Despite some tense moments, and much to their surprise, a comprehensive law providing legal amnesty to bystanders who call 911 to report an overdose from drugs or alcohol and granting broad access to naloxone passed on the next-to-last day of the legislative session. The law, which has since become a standard for similar laws around the country, was signed by governor Nathan Deal on April 24, 2014, effective immediately.

After the law passed, Georgia Overdose Prevention and AHRC set about getting the word out and distributing naloxone to Georgia communities. They’ve also worked with local police and sheriff’s departments, from Holly Springs to Atlanta (which recently started a pilot program in Zone 1, the heroin “capital” of Georgia) to equip officers, who are often first responders to an overdose scene, with naloxone. As of April 8, 2015 at least 232 overdoses have been reversed from naloxone distributed by Georgia Overdose Prevention and AHRC. That’s 232 lives potentially saved, with many more we might not know about, thanks to grassroots direct action.

Georgia Overdose Prevention volunteers with naolxone kits.

Georgia Overdose Prevention volunteers with naolxone kits.

Georgia Overdose Prevention frequently hosts workshops to educate the community on these new laws and on naloxone administration. They have recently included methadone clinics and rehab centers, two of the most at-risk communities, in their awareness and naloxone distribution efforts.

The story of Georgia Overdose Prevention and the long history of ARHC prove the power of regular people taking action within their communites to improve conditions and save lives. While the state helped by passing laws that effectively remove them from the picture, the credit for such laws, education and outreach, and life-saving measures falls squarely on the regular people who put in the work to make it happen.

Many states still don’t have 911 Good Samaritan and naloxone access laws in place. Even in states with such laws, many drug users are still unaware they exist. The work of groups like Georgia Overdose Prevention and AHRC will continue for the foreseeable future and it will certainly save more lives. To quote one Georgia Overdose Prevention member, who has since seen several of her son’s friends who once used recover and lead healthy, productive lives: “If they’re still alive, there’s hope.”


Georgia’s overdose prevention law, HB965, provides immunity from arrest, criminal or civil charges, and prosecution for drug paraphernalia, small amounts of controlled substances, and underage purchase or possession of alcohol for bystanders at the scene of an overdose when someone calls 911 for help. It also protects against probation and parole violations and violations of protective and restraining orders.

When calling 911 to report an overdose, or if police stop and question you about naloxone you have in your possession, explain that you are protected under HB965 / O.C.G.A. 13-16-5, which gives you the right to immunity and permission to possess and administer naloxone. Click here for the Georgia Overdose Prevention/AHRC overdose reversal guide.

To support Georgia Overdose Prevention or get naloxone for yourself or a loved one contact them by email or visit their web site. To get your own naloxone kit, click here.

To learn more about Atlanta Harm Reduction, which also operates a free needle exchange and promotes harm reduction methods to make using safer (and prevent transmission of diseases like Hepatitis C and HIV) for drug users who aren’t ready to quit just yet, contact them by email or visit their web site.


A copy of the Georgia law can be found here.

Information about naloxone and how to administer it is available here.


States with 911 Good Samaritan and/or Naloxone Access Laws

States with 911 Good Samaritan and/or Naloxone Access Laws

Statistics on US drug overdoses:
http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/03/04/us-health-heroin-idUSKBN0M02C320150304
http://www.drugwarfacts.org/cms/causes_of_death#sthash.COnPAtQp.dpbs

White County Man Arrested for Taking Direct Action to Save Lives

Update 4/17/2015:
According to local reports, after immense pressure from the public, White County Sheriff Neal Walden has requested District Attorney Jeff Langley not pursue charges against Shannon Hamilton for attempting to erect a safety barrier at a bridge where his daughter and a friend died in a March car accident. The county has also erected a temporary safety barrier and promised to install a permanent barrier on Tuesday, April 28th.

It is highly unlikely the bridge on Gene Nix Road would have received any attention, and there’s no telling when it would have been addressed, had Mr. Hamilton not taken the action he did. While it’s promising that Walden has expressed his desire that charges should not be pursued, Mr. Hamilton should never have been arrested in the first place and there’s no guarantee Langley won’t ignore the request to prove a point. And while Walden’s move is a welcome gesture, it does nothing to address the unjust charges faced by many inmates of the White County jail and other North Georgia jails.  

People like Mr. Hamilton demonstrate the power of regular people and members of our community to make positive change without waiting for the government to act. He also shows what makes North Georgia a strong community and a great place to live.

More information available here:
http://accesswdun.com/article/2015/4/304317/sheriff-walden-ask-da-not-to-pursue-charges-against-shannon-hamilton


 Shannon Hamilton was arrested yesterday by White County Sheriff’s officers for erecting a barricade along a stretch of Gene Nix Road that many find dangerous. Mr. Hamilton’s 16-year old daughter, Cecily, and an 18-year old friend, Taylor Scott Swing, died in a car accident at the same location on March 14th.

White County commissioners recently voted to install a guardrail near the location, but work has not yet begun and there’s no indication as to when it might start. County road departments generally have supplies to install guardrails on hand and use existing county workers or state and county prison labor to handle routine roadwork. Given the pace of road construction in Georgia and the fact that there are still downed trees along many major roads in the area, two months after our winter ice storm, Mr. Hamilton is entirely within reason to complain that the county isn’t moving fast enough.

Picture of the location where Cecily Hamilton died, from her sister's Facebook page

Picture of the location where Cecily Hamilton died, from her sister’s Facebook page

White County has the resources to employ sheriff’s deputies to arrest people for minor violations like the one committed by Mr. Hamilton and fill their jail with people charged for possession of small amounts of drugs and probation violations, but they can’t find resources to keep local roads safe. Mr. Hamilton went away in handcuffs peacefully, saying “[I]t’s sad the community of the grieving parents have to make things happen when the White County Roads Department won’t do it.” The fact that he was arrested is further proof of the state’s intolerance for residents taking community needs into their own hands.

It is our opinion that Mr. Hamilton’s actions were entirely justified and that they may very well have saved lives had he completed the work. Perhaps now that the county has to remove the work Mr. Hamilton put into the project they’ll erect a new guardrail while they’re at it.

The county’s actions further prove that we can’t rely on the state to keep us safe and handle our daily affairs for us. It is our opinion that they are here to protect a privileged few and their actions in this case only reinforce that sentiment.

It’s appalling that a man still grieving over the death of his daughter should be hauled off to jail in handcuffs for trying to help. We demand that White County drop all charges against Mr. Hamilton and erect a guardrail along Gene Nix Road immediately. Shannon Hamilton has our respect and deep sympathy for taking matters into his own hands and putting his freedom on the line to save lives. Hopefully the attention this case has brought can help to do more.


White County Contact Information:

White County Commissioners
County Government Office
(706) 865-2235

White County Sheriff
Sheriff Neal Walden
706-865-5177

White County Detention Center
706-865-6360

District Attorney
Jeff Langley
Phone: 706-439-6027
Fax: 706-745-6029

White County Road Department
Phone: 706-865-2510
Fax: 706-348-6702


Email us if you’d like to be involved with this or our other campaigns at: action.in.dahlonega@gmail.com.

More on the Mr. Hamilton’s arrest and the accident in which his daughter was involved:
http://nowhabersham.com/man-arrested-doing-road-work-at-bridge-where-teens-died/#respond
http://nowhabersham.com/friends-gather-at-bridge-where-white-county-teens-died/

More information on White County Jail:
http://prisonhandbook.com/6853/white-county-detention-center-clevenland-ga/

Piazza Owner Opens New Restaurants, Refuses to Pay Workers at Restaurants He Closed — Update

Update 4/23/2015:
We have reports through our contacts that, after last week’s pressure, they have received paychecks and they  DID clear. A full update on the situation is available here. Thanks to the Dahlonega community for their overwhelming support and to the workers for sticking with it to make this happen. Solidarity! 

Update 4/16/2015:
Action in Dahlonega has received word that, since our original story went viral and thanks to a tremendous outpouring of support and pressure from the Lumpkin County community, Meyer sent a text message to several of the affected workers that their final paychecks are being processed and mailed out today. We’ll continue to keep up the pressure until our fellow workers have the money they earned in their hands, but this seems like a promising development. We’ll post a follow-up article once we have more information.

Update 4/15/2015:
Meyer publicly stated on Facebook and in text messages sent to some former workers that they would get paid “when Piazza is sold.” He has thus far refused to commit anything in writing or tell workers what they are owed. He has also stated he is not the owner of the new restaurants despite the Smoke Signals article, in which he’s quoted, suggesting otherwise. On Tuesday, his LinkedIn profile indicated he was the owner of Piazza, Main Street Burger, and Forks (it’s since been changed). Since Sunday, several of Meyer’s former employees have come forward about problems getting paid (among other things) or not receiving their final paycheck from Meyer.

We reiterate our demand that Meyer pay the workers what they’re owed to avoid further public action by Action in Dahlonega or legal action by exploited workers.


It appears Piazza, an Italian restaurant near the Dahlonega square, and Main Street Burger have (at least temporarily) closed up shop, but their owner keeps cooking up something rotten. He’s left some workers  out of a job and without the wages they’re owed.

Action in Dahlonega members have spoken with former Piazza and Main Street workers over the course of several months and this appears to be nothing new. According to them, it was not unusual for paychecks to arrive late, if at all, or for the owner and managers to offer alternative methods of payment (such as beer).

A logo for Ed & Lucy's Bistro, established 2015

A logo for Ed & Lucy’s Bistro, established 2015

The owner of Piazza is/was David Meyer, an Art Institute of Atlanta Culinary graduate and Dahlonega resident who has been in the restaurant business for over 15 years. He has since opened several restaurants near Big Canoe and Marble Hill, including Forks, Ed & Lucy’s Bistro, and Revered Billy’s BBQ. Whether Piazza, Main Street Burger, or any of the other restaurants operated by Meyer are struggling financially, the fact remains that workers, many of whom are University of North Georgia students, worked to keep the doors open as long as they could. There’s no reason to think Meyer won’t treat workers at these new restaurants with the same disregard.

Despite the closing and his continued refusal to pay workers what they’re owed. it doesn’t appear Meyer is any worse for the wear. Meyer continues to pour his efforts into new business ventures (the new restaurants opened in late 2015/early 2015) and line his pockets with money earned by our fellow workers in Dahlonega.

A photo of Meyer from his Facebook page.

A photo of Meyer from his Facebook page.

As friends, neighbors, and comrades of those exploited by Meyer, we stand in solidarity with the workers of Piazza, Main Street Burger, and Meyer’s new restaurants. We will work with those who have dedicated, and continue to dedicate, their time and labor to serve Dahlonega’s residents and visitors.

If Pizza and Main Street do re-open, we will take the fight to Meyer to make sure the workers’ voices are heard. In the meantime, we intend to make clear that exploitation of workers in our community will not, and must not, be tolerated. Meyer must do right by our fellow workers on whose backs they’ve built their business.

Email us if you’d like to be involved with this or our other campaigns at: action.in.dahlonega@gmail.com.

More information on Meyers new ventures:
http://bigcanoenews.com/news/news-col1/big-canoe/6514-three-restaurants-to-open-at-north-gate-station
http://www.bigcanoenews.com/news/news-col1/pickens-county/6847-forks-deli-opens-at-north-gate-station

Contact Info for Meyer’s new restaurants:
Forks: 60 Northgate Station, Jasper, Georgia 30143 / phone: (706) 429.8530
Ed & Lucy’s Bistro: 60 Northgate Station, Jasper, Georgia 30143 / phone: (706) 608.8000
Reverend Billy’s BBQ: 60 Northgate Station, Jasper, Georgia 30143 / phone: (678) 787.2427

Dahlonega Nugget Cover Story Reinforces Oppressive Attitudes

The cover story of the March 25th edition of the Dahlonega Nugget features the now infamous University of North Georgia catalog cover (more details here) that has made national news for reflecting racist and sexist stereotypes and isolating women and minority students.

The article seems to reflect a clear bias in favor of the photograph, or at least goes out of its way to excuse it. The only people directly quoted in the article are school administrator Kate Maine and journalism student Hunter Leger. Maine condemns the photograph but insists it was a stock photo, implying at least part of the blame lies elsewhere. Leger, explains that other students took issue with the school’s use of the photograph, but dismisses those who found it problematic trying to “[pacify] the crowd that would seek to deem anything they’re uncomfortable with as racist.”

It should be noted that Leger, the only UNG student quoted in the article, and the article’s writer are both white men. The fact that this happened on an issue directly relating to people of color and women only reinforces our argument that white supremacy and patriarchy are deeply woven into the fabric of our culture. Academic institutions and the media consistently place more value on the voices of white men than those of marginalized groups. The writer failed to mention why certain people found the catalog cover racist and sexist, instead referring to urban media sources like the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and New York Magazine, or second-hand accounts from Maine and Leger.

The fact that the Nugget didn’t interview any black or non-male students for the article is not merely lazy, it reflects a troubling attitude that pervades our modern media. In an era when black men and women are murdered by police and news outlets scramble to dig up criminal records or inflammatory Facebook photographs of the victims, we can’t rely on the media to provide objective coverage or give voice to these victims.

Even if UNG and the Nugget learn from this experience, the changes will most likely be superficial. Many schools and newspapers know how to properly handle the language and imagery around race and gender, but the structural problems that form the foundation of white supremacy and patriarchy in our society remain. Even when the voices and experiences of marginalized groups are included, they’re lost or ignored in a culture that has been conditioned to give them less value.

The unfortunate truth is, the photograph an entirely accurate depiction of social relations in modern America. Even when we’ve learned how to not sound racist or sexist, racism and sexism still thrive. We must continue to fight not only oppressive words and images, but the structural conditions that oppress and exclude people of color and women and place more value on the opinions of white men than those of any other group.

Naloxone and Medical Amnesty: Saving Lives and Offering Hope

A response to the Cherokee News-Ledger article bashing overdose prevention laws in Georgia. Naloxone and 911 Good Samaritan laws save lives. Apparently some people don’t care about that.
(JG)

Making Noise in the South

Erika Neldner, managing editor of the Cherokee-Ledger news in Cherokee County Georgia, recently published an editorial that was critical of Georgia’s 911 Good Samaritan law and overdose prevention efforts. She relies on outdated and inaccurate myths that have been disproven and to which only the most reactionary politicians and pundits still cling.

Georgia’s overdose prevention laws passed in 2014 with broad bipartisan support and the backing of Gov. Deal and  police departments across the state. That the article comes from Cherokee County is important. The Holly Springs Police Department was the first in the state to equip officers with naloxone. In Holly Springs alone 9 overdoses have been reversed since April 2014. When Woodstock and Canton are added, Cherokee County has had at least 19 overdose reversals. I’m sure the loved ones of those whose of those who were saved are grateful that Police Chief Frank Rotondo didn’t adopt…

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