Working Class Perspectives: Inequality After Occupy by Penny Lewis

Inequality After Occupy

by Penny Lewis

When the media became aware of the protest centered at Wall Street during the fall of 2011, a predictable line of questioning immediately appeared – whatever in the world are they protesting? “The cause . . . was virtually impossible to decipher,” intoned the New York Times, joining the bulk of the mainstream coverage of the protest in its early weeks, which together professed confusion at the sight of the rag-tag group of occupiers.

Of course, to crib Liza Featherstone, covering the protests for another NY daily, the opposite was closer to the truth: everyone who came near Zuccotti Park knew exactly why the protesters were there.  Given the scale of the economic crisis, Main Street’s bailout of Wall Street, and ongoing oligarchy, the “only surprise [was that it took] so long for the citizenry to take to these particular streets.” The graphic polarization of their chant, “We Are the 99%” made it all the more clear:  it’s the (unequal) economy, stupid.

In the years since the destruction of the occupations, this critique of inequality – one, broad part of what Occupy was all about – has only broadened and deepened in the US.  Occupy should claim credit for getting it on the map, while political iterations old and new have been keeping it there.  Today, the fight against inequality is taking greater institutional shape, and seemingly exerting more leverage, in places inspired by Occupy but moving beyond its initial tactics.

Studying Occupy Wall Street in New York from its inception and through 2012, my colleagues and I traced the “enduring impact” of OWS through various measures, including the ongoing movement participation of core participants and the proliferation of “Occupy after Occupy” efforts – what journalist Nathan Schneider described as a “productively subdivided movement of movements.”

Joining most observers, we noted that Occupy’s impact was most easily traced in the extent to which it had shifted the discourse in the United States.  “Income inequality” was suddenly in the headlines.  We included a graph that showed how frequently the phrase was invoked by the media pre-, during, and post-Occupy.  We found that news mentions of “income inequality” rose dramatically with the outset of Occupy, and in the aftermath remained substantially higher through the end of 2012 (up about a third from pre-Occupy levels).

I ran the numbers again this week, and I have to admit I was surprised by the results.

LexisNexis Academic Database, all news (English), United States

LexisNexis Academic Database, all news (English), United States

As we’d seen before, in the year after Occupy’s peak, the numbers stayed higher – 30-50% of the pre-Occupy discussion.  But beginning in the fall of 2013, the numbers reached Occupy levels again, and this time rising to over 2000 mentions of the phrase “income inequality” in December 2013 – over 50% more than Occupy’s peak.

Of course, I shouldn’t have been surprised to see this rise. The occupations have gone away, but neither the crisis nor the resistance has disappeared.  Low-wage and precarious workers are at the forefront of the fights today, and they are keeping inequality in the spotlight.  This past fall and winter we’ve seen fast food strikes and the “Fight for $15”; other minimum wage fights around the country; Walmart workers demanding $25,000; university adjuncts organizing and striking.  Workers, unionists and Occupy veterans, through both traditional labor and “alt-labor” organizations are elevating the fights around income inequality and pushing for concrete change.  Tailing these developments, figures from President Obama and the Gap are now simultaneously pushing for (highly inadequate) wage increases.

Media attention to inequality reflects recent electoral shifts as well.  Mayors who ran left were decisively elected in New York, Seattle, and Boston.  (Occupations existed all over the country, but it would be interesting to probe the relationship between those Occupations and new electoral outcomes. Certainly, these three cities were home to sustained and popular occupations in fall 2011.) Labor’s candidates and initiatives did well overall, in the 2013 local election cycle; and in Seattle, Occupy activist and socialist Kshama Sawant was elected to the City Council.  While many of the core Occupy activists eschewed electoral politics, we nevertheless see the outlines of their critique emerge in race after race.

As important as Occupy’s inspiration has been as the carrot encouraging these new movements and electoral shifts, the ongoing crisis that working people are experiencing and the desperate straits that unions and other progressives find themselves in provide the stick. . Labor, in particular, has been working hard to shift course for many years.  Occupy’s eruption was a major shot in the arm, but many of the campaigns we see today have their roots pre-Occupy.

However, the energy and audacity in today’s movements are fueled in part by the experience of Occupy (and the organizers who started the occupations and emerged from them). Direct action and prefigurative practices inform many of the efforts that contribute to today’s groundswell, such as the strikes and walkouts.  But unions are also exploring worker cooperatives, community groups and activists are forestalling foreclosures through occupations, and activists are tying collective student debt refusal to the demand for free higher education.

The Occupy activists we spoke with two years ago continuously echoed each other, saying that the movement needs to “take the long view” and remember that change doesn’t happen overnight.  I haven’t spoken with enough of those activists today to know their assessment of the fights they see and are participating in today.  They are not out there, all day, all week, occupying Wall Street – and it wasn’t enough when they were. The scale of necessary social transformation remains daunting, and questions of both strategy and power loom large. But all day, and all week, more people are talking about inequality and directly fighting against it.  And workplace by workplace, franchise by franchise, ordinance by ordinance, council member by council member, co-op by co-op, the struggle continues.

Penny Lewis

Penny Lewis is an Assistant Professor at the Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies, School of Professional Studies, CUNY.  She is also the author  of Hardhats, Hippies and Hawks, The Vietnam Antiwar Movement as Myth and Memory.

Working Class Perspectives on Pete Seeger by Kathy Newman

Sing Out! Lessons from the Extraordinary Life of Pete Seeger

(reprinted from the Working Class Studies Blog)

th-4Like thousands of fellow Americans, I have spent the last week listening to Pete Seeger’s recordings, poring over his many obits, and inhaling Alec Wilkinson’s wonderful short biography, The Protest Singer: An Intimate Portrait of Pete Seeger. With this work behind me, I offer seven lessons that those of us committed to working-class justice and working-class studies can glean from Seeger’s extraordinary life.

Scholars of working-class culture have a lot to offer working-class movements. Some of Seeger’s first paid work was for the legendary folk music authority, John Lomax. As Wilkinson notes in his bio of Seeger, each week Seeger listened to hundreds of records at the Library of Congress—“English and Scotch Irish ballads kept alive in the thSouth, rural blues, farmer songs, widow’s laments, millworker songs, soldier songs, sea shanties, slave songs, tramp songs, and coal miner songs.” By the end of Seeger’s time in the archive, he had flagged a collection of protest songs that he wanted to make into a book, but “his father thought it too controversial.”But soon enough Seeger found someone like himself, Lee Hays, who had “compiled a book of union songs.” Hays and his roommate, Mill Lampell, along with Woody Guthrie, became the nucleus of Seeger’s first band: The Almanacs.  Click here to read more


Mandela and the Kingdom Come: 1990 Essay by June Jordan

The death of Nelson Mandela is being commemorated around the world.  President Obama even described his own political awakening in terms that paid tribute to the struggle in South Africa and Mandela in particular.  Mostly the praises are heaped in palatable shovelfuls that cover over the dangerous meaning of his symbolic and actual life.  Poet Matt Sedillo said it best:

History is complex. The US media is not. Mandela is presented here in America as a great man for embracing Apartheid era politicians and American political leaders. His embrace of revolutionaries fighting in the national liberation process is completely whitewashed. Basic point Mandela and the ANC in its inception was essentially a communist organization. Almost all liberation forces of the 20th century were communist. The communist struggle was a struggle against exploitation. Imperialism and colonialism are exploitative processes. Whoever Mandela was the portrayal of him as a great man for embracing American imperialists and racist South Africans is indicative of the racist imperialist values of this country and have very little to do with the actual and complex legacy of Nelson Mandela.

The other important corollary to Matt’s comment is that nearly all of the gigantic national liberation struggles of the 20th century fell under the leadership and control of the national bourgeoisie of those struggles. This in no way undermines either their importance or Nelson Mandela’s contribution to the revolutionary struggles of the 20th century, but instead speaks to the limitations of those times. Communism 50 and 60 years ago was ideology welded with a practical struggle against imperialism. Today it is a practical movement of those expelled from capitalist relations of production against capitalism itself. Nelson Mandela represents the best of that struggle against that exploitative system. His death reminds us of the continuing struggle under different and vastly more promising conditions.

As Matt also points out:

Indeed  the aims of all actual and not just rhetorical nationalist movements in the 20th century was to industrialize or at least dramatically alter the relationship between industrial power and said nation. The motion to industrialize sets the groundwork for the struggle between the political formations of industrial proletariat and the bourgeoisie over in whose name industrialization would take place. Whether you were Mao or Atatürk industrialization was a must. This process took place in America as well under Lincoln, Prussia under Bismarck, Japan under Meiji in the same manner nearly a century earlier. Conditions once again are changing. The forces that must contend for the shape of society are in turn shaped by these changes.

Another poet wrote a startling essay on the occasion of Nelson Mandela’s release in 1990.  Here is June Jordan’s column in The Progressive from that time.

Mandela and the Kingdom Come

by June Jordan

The world watches for the face of this MandelaKingdomCome
man. This is the face hidden and for­
bidden by force. These are the
cheeks and these are the lips and this is
the nose and these are the ears and the eyes
of the head of a country buried in hatred
and blood.
It’s 5:35 A.M. when I switch on the TV,
and somebody’s complaining that Man­
dela’s “really late.” He’d been scheduled
to appear more than half an hour ago. So
he’s late. After twenty-seven years in
prison, after seventy-one years of impris­
onment inside South African apartheid, he
is not, the reporter complains, on time.
What could possibly explain the delay?
Didn’t he realize that hundreds of top in­
ternational media personnel expected and
needed him to show up? Didn’t he un­
derstand that this remarkably elite press
corps felt very uncomfortable? It was hot.
All morning the sun burned above them th-2
and they could find no shade. There didn’t
seem to be a cold beer available, for miles.
But suddenly the helicopters rose into
the sky. And, like a badly lit, slow-motion
movie, you could see a short, pale caravan
of cars making its approach to the prison
gates. Within minutes, it was happening.
He was there. He was here. Hand-in-hand
with his comrade and wife, he stood still
and he did not smile. And then the two of th-3
them began to move: He walked like a
man who does not take the earth for
granted. He took one step after another
with obvious care and delight. Right next
to him, Winnie Mandela stayed close, at­
tuned and alert, and radiant.
My spirit divided between terror and
tears. Would he be shot? In the American
tradition of Dr. King and Malcolm X, was
I about to see another black man felled and
bleeding beyond recall?
But this miracle was no kind of re-run!
This Nelson Mandela a.k.a. terrorist a.k.a. th-4
communist a.k.a. felon who had vowed to
resist violence with violence, to acknowl­
edge respect with respect, and to confront
the catastrophe of time with total rebellion
against the waste and the weakening that
time entails, this same Mandela was re­
turning to near-universal tribute and ac­
claim: “His freedom,” a white man on the
radio declared, “is the moment the world
has been waiting for.”

No one would shoot Mandela. He had
outlived the usual meanings of mortality.
His resolute endurance of hard labor and
three decades of solitude and confinement
and love suspended and fatherhood th-5
snatched away completely mocked the al­
leged power of only death. You could
shoot Mandela but Mandela could not be
killed. He would not die. He would not
consent to that. We would not consent to
He had borne the unimaginable and so
he had become the unimaginable among
us: A brilliant, steady lover who will nei­
ther fawn nor forgive nor forget. This was
the man South Africa had hoped to erad­
icate. This was the life and the dignity that
apartheid means to efface. This was the
leader that stone and whips and censor­
ship and stone and night after night of no
respite and no remnant caress and stone,
and the de facto annulment.of marriage,
the ridicule of desire, the torture of prin­
cipled conviction, night after night after
night of stone and rock and lifting an ax
to the rock and smashing the rock for the
stone after stone, this was the leader the th-6
lover-in-exile that nothing (not even age)
could diminish or destroy.
His voice is not deep. His words do not
roll and break, mellifluous. He reads from
pieces of paper blown by the wind. He hes­
itates. The page will not turn. He waits.
He tries again. The page turns. He goes
He is not young. He does not move
easily, or fast. He stands tall. His arms rise,
effortless, to the clenched fist salute of
black power.

I am crying because I am overwhelmed by
victory: The cost is not forgivable. Tears
come from someplace uncontrollable
and free and right around now anything
uncontrollable and everything free looks
and feels pretty good to me. I am crying
because last week two white men accosted
me, calling me “Bitch!” and calling me
“Nigger!” and last week Mr. Nelson Man­
dela was still locked away, a prisoner of
racist white men, and I was not sure about
the swift and certain demise of apartheid
but this morning I am sure. It’s over.
His victory is big news. Enemies of his freedom th-7

have died or they will die or they
must welcome him. This is not about the
falling apart of the Berlin Wall. This is
white Western hegemony acceding to the
non-European future of the planet. You
cannot rule somebody who would rather
die than kneel. You cannot intimidate
somebody seeking his freedom or your
His victory is big news. This is an Af­
rican black man who says, “I stand here
before you not as a prophet, but as a hum­
ble servant of you, the people.” Mandela
is not a man of the cloth. The African Na­
tional Congress is not the Church. Um-
khonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the
ANC that Mandela founded in 1960, sig­
nified and continues to signify armed
struggle, here and now, for the kingdom
to come, here and now.
He personifies a secular revolt against
here and now violations of human rights.
He calls on no authority beyond the au­
thority of the pain and the degradation of
living in black South Africa.
Mandela’s rhetoric avoids religious or
other abstract allusions. He remains spe­
cific. He speaks a language appropriate to
a task-force committee meeting of actual
men and women. He proceeds, meticu­
lous, in his matter-of-fact giving of thanks
to “Comrade Oliver Tambo” and to the
South African Communist Party and to
the South African white women of The
Black Sash and to “the mothers and the
wives and the sisters” and to his “beloved
wife and family” and to “the world com­
munity” and he does not, anywhere, thank
Mandela bodies forth a humanist, dem­
ocratic vision in which all human life oc­
cupies the first and last position of con­
cern. Human beings create tyrannous
conditions: Human beings must over­
throw these tyrannies. His practical, prag­
matic vocabulary does not accommodate
delusion or despair. His summoning forth
of “a democratic and free society in which
all persons live together in harmony and
with equal opportunities” resonates as
common sense.
There is a man lifting his daughter high
above his own head so that she can see the
leader who believes she has the power to
be free. There is a young boy climbing the
rough hard wall of Capetown’s City Hall.
He never looks down and he never looks
behind him as he rises high enough to
glimpse Mandela just about to address a
world that wants to hear whatever he will
say. After twenty-seven years of silence
imposed by the innermost prisons of
South Africa, Mandela chooses this one
word from Xhosa, his native language:
He hurls the word into the darkness:
AMANDLA! (POWER!) And the standing
throng of 20,000 instantly responds:
OURS!). So be it.

12 / APRIL 1990
June Jordan appears in this space every
other month. Her latest book, “Naming
Our Destiny: New and Selected Poems,” is
available from Thunder’s Mouth Press in
New York City.

People’s Tribune: Nov-Dec 2013 Education Must Serve The People

The new People’s Tribune (Nov-Dec, 2013) is now in print.  Here is a pdf of this edition, featuring a center spread on education:PT-NovDec-2013_draft3


Ned Sublette Introduces Los Van Van at World Music Conference in Cardiff, Wales

Thanks to Rock and Rap Confidential for sharing this piece:


This presentation was made yesterday by our good friend Ned Sublette in Cardiff, Wales at the international world music conference known simply as WOMEX:

How many of you have been to Cuba?
How many of you have seen Los Van Van play?Los Van Van

You’re in for a treat today. Every Van Van concert is a historic experience, and today they’re going to play with the intensity of an impending storm.

In this kind of recital presentation in a seated auditorium, you get every note of the music, but it’s one level shy of the full experience. For that, you’d have to be standing on Cuban soil, preferably at the outdoor Havana dancehall La Tropical, with thousands of young Cubans putting their hearts into singing along with all the coros, experiencing the nuances of the lyrics in their faces, expressing the polyrhythms by moving different parts of their bodies in different directions, pushing the band to drive them harder. I saw this many times.

I came to Los Van Van late. Their official date of foundation was December 4, 1969, and I first heard them play live in January 1990 in a television studio in Havana, my third day ever in the country, at the taping of a TV special in honor of their twentieth anniversary. All that time already they’d been the maximum institution of Cuban popular music. I’d heard their records, though their records weren’t easy to get, given the pariah status of Cuba in the United States, which is why I subsequently started a record label called Qbadisc, at a time when there existed maybe five or ten CDs of Cuban music in the world.

You can’t imagine Cuban music without Los Van Van, any more than you can imagine the world’s music without Cuba. Havana was the first great music capital of the hemisphere. Already in the 16th century, musical ideas traveled from Havana back to Spain and up through Europe. Cuban influence has been heard worldwide ever since then, and Cuba’s a world power in music today. But following the change of government in 1959, after Cuba declared independence from the United States, a whole world came crashing down. Many musicians left, but more stayed. Technical resources vanished. Spare parts couldn’t be gotten. Impresarios fled. The country was embargoed, and, unfortunately, still is, by the United States. Cuban music had to be rebuilt, phoenix-like, out of the ashes. That process took years, out of earshot of most of the world, and it took until the 90s for Cuban music to reclaim its place on the world’s music stage after disappearing for decades into the memory hole.

During those long years, especially after the disappearance of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991, during the austerities of what the Cuban government called the Special Period in Time of Peace, it seemed at times that Cubans were surviving on music. A popular song carried a lot of weight in Cuba, where media channels were few but far-reaching. A coro didn’t attain its full meaning until the entire country, from children to seniors, had sung it for a few months. People didn’t come out to hear old hits. They came to hear something new, something that would speak to their situation, and bands competed furiously to provide it.

Juan Formell began putting his coros into the Cuban air in 1968, when he first came to prominence as music director, composer, and bassist of Elio Revé’s group Changüí ’68. After a year and a half or so, he left that band to start his own group, and was joined by a number of musicians he had worked with in Revé’s band, who wanted to be part of the new thing. The first Van Van album sounds fresh today. Despite the technical limitations of the time and place, it’s a fabulous record that already contains the basic elements of the Van Van project. It was utterly experimental in the way it broke with the then prevailing harmonic and rhythmic practices. I love salsa, which is based on prerevolutioary Cuban music, but this is something else. This music took an alternative path, drawing on deep Cuban roots not to answer, but to ask, contemporary questions.

There’s a song they opened their sets with in the 90s: Qué tiene Van Van que siga ahí? What does Van Van have that it keeps going like this? What does it take to be not only the greatest dance band in Cuba, of all places, but to stay on top for almost forty-five years in that highly competitive musical environment, which among other things depends on continually being able to please the teenage dancing public?

Formell updated the band’s sound constantly – not to be trendy, but to take advantage of new instrumental and technical possibilities, as individual musicians came and went. I count twenty-three studio albums over forty-four years, and, despite an almost total turnover of personnel, if you listen to their first album from 1969 back-to-back with the last one, La Maquinaria, from 2011, despite all the changes, there’s a unity to it. Nobody else in Cuba or anywhere sounds Los Van Van. They’ve exerted an enormous influence over the bands that came after them, but nobody could copy their sound. They have a peculiar, original orchestral texture: a charanga instrumentation of flute and violins, but with trombones to fill in the tenor register. They sound like deluxe produced music when they play live.

But that’s just the surface of what’s different about them. Formell changed the rhythmic matrix of Cuban dance music. There’s a steady pulse, which people raised on rock and roll can identify with – cha, cha, cha, cha, easy for anyone to dance to. But then there are all these internal polyrhythms. Formell brought in the rhythms of the great classical music of West Africa, the batá rhythms of the Yoruba religion, into the basic dance texture. He reconceptualized the rhythm section. He popularized the use of the electric bass instead of the upright in Cuba. Los Van Van were brought electronics into Cuban music in a different way than any other band I’ve seen. They used a drumset, something you only previously saw in Cuban jazzbands and rock bands, but they used it differently. Los Van Van has had in forty-four years, only three drummers – Blas Egues, the mighty Changuito, and for the last twenty years or so, the drummer’s been Formell’s son, Samuel Formell, who’s presided over an era in which the present-day members of the group all grew up listening to Los Van Van.

Their cubanía shows up not only in the music, but also in the lyrics written by Formell and others, most notably including their great founding pianist and composer César “Pupy” Pedroso. If you want to know what it was like living in Cuba in the 70s, 80s, 90s, and beyond, listen to Van Van, who sang in the language of the people – memorably personified by singer Pedro Calvo, among a number of others — about the challenges and pleasures of contemporary daily life. Even though Van Van played all over the world, the meaning of their music was rooted in the breadlines of Havana, and their validation came at the level of the baile popular, the popular dance. Cabeza, corazón, cintura, lots of bands have two of the three, but Los Van Van has all three. One of Formell’s greatest, simplest lyrics, is a simple exhortation to dance with your heart: Dale con el corazón, muévete, muévete . . .

There have long been two streams of Cuban music – one for domestic consumption, another for export. But Van Van is both. Over the decades, they’ve lived on airplanes, representing Cuba with sabor and dignity in many of the countries that are represented here today. But back in Cuba, they always had a song on the radio. When they have a song out, it stays on Cuban radio sometimes a year and a half, until another Van Van song comes along. You couldn’t gauge popularity by record sales in the unique anti-market of Cuba, so the way you knew who was the most popular was to line all the bands up on the Malecón and see who draws the biggest crowd, and that would be Los Van Van.

In February 1996, with Cuban music at the peak of yet another of its cycles of creativity, I saw the band play six consecutive nights at the Palacio de la Salsa in Havana’s Riviera Hotel. By that point the band had been in existence twenty-six years, and they rehearsed every day, as Cuban bands do. I was present all six nights, and I realized: even with all those years behind them, each night the band was growing. I heard this happen. Each night the band was a quarter of an inch bigger, finding new places to go as they made their way through the complicated, stretched-out arrangements that they played without reading. The band that finished that six-night run was just a little better than the band that started it. This process had been going on, one gig at a time, for decades.

I asked Juan Formell yesterday what it was like – one of those dumb interviewer questons, right? – given the exceptional role of Cuba in the world, what it was like to be emblematic of Cuba both at home and abroad all these years.  He said, “to represent your country on a level like this — what more can you ask God for? I don’t think I could ask for more than that.”

I’m happy to bestow this honor on Juan Formell – composer, lyricist, bandleader, bassist, singer — but Cuba bestowed it on him a long time ago. This is Juan’s award, but it’s an award to the heroic musicians of Cuba who kept their country going, to the dozens of people who have played in and facilitated Los Van Van, and it’s ultimately an award to Cuba, which I highly recommend you visit. As Mayito Rivera sang in Formell’s apotheosic “Soy Todo,” Yo soy Van Van, yo soy Cuba.

PEN Releases Statement on Crimes Against Journalists in Mexico

[PEN International released the following statement about the disappearance and punishment of journalists and writers in Mexico that makes  Mexico "one of the most dangerous countries in the world in which to be a writer." -- editor]
23 October 2013

Mexico: Step up measures to end impunity for crimes against journalists

The climate of impunity which allows attacks on journalists in Mexico to remain unpunished is contributing to the on-going high level of risk to the security of writers in the country, PEN International said today as it attended the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Mexico’s human rights record in Geneva.

The organization reiterated its call for increased and effective protection for journalists and writers by the federal government.

‘Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world in which to be a writer,’ said Ann Harrison, Programme Director of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

‘We have joined many other civil society organizations in pressing the Mexican government for several years to end impunity for killings of journalists and provide effective protection for those still working, but the measures put in place are largely ineffective.’

Since December 2006, at least 49 print journalists, writers and bloggers have been murdered and at least nine others have disappeared. Few of these attacks have been thoroughly investigated.

Impunity for crimes against journalists is estimated to stand at around 90 per cent and whilst some of the attacks are perpetrated by organized crime groups, many come from government agents at a state and local level.

Despite the introduction of two mechanisms aimed at protecting journalists under threat, and the creation of the office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE), fewer than 10 per cent of attacks against journalists and writers result in convictions.

‘Frankly, the Mexican authorities are paying mere lip service to these pervasive impunity issues,’ said Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

‘Mechanisms and promises do not constitute action. Many journalists are dying, and others are intimidated into silence.’

Other legal reforms such as the decriminalization of slander and libel, which should have decreased the risk of journalists facing prison for their reporting, have had little effect. Thirteen of Mexico’s 32 states continue to criminalize defamation; these laws are used to intimidate journalists who uncover corruption.

PEN International has long campaigned for freedom of expression in Mexico. In 2012 a large <>PEN International delegation assembled in Mexico, led by its full executive team and including representatives of all seven North American PEN Centres. PEN put forward specific recommendations, met with key government figures and held public events.

In late 2012, PEN International published the anthology <>Write Against Impunity, a literary protest highlighting the escalating violence against journalists, writers and bloggers in Latin America – in particular Mexico, Honduras and Brazil – and the impunity enjoyed by those who commit these crimes.

During <>a follow-up visit in March 2013 PEN found that progress to protect writers and journalists had been slow. In a submission to the UPR process, PEN International joined PEN Guadalajara to outline its concerns for the safety of journalists and made the following recommendations:

Ensure that the 49 murders and nine disappearances of writers and print and internet journalists that have taken place since December 2006, as well as any other unsolved murders and disappearances from previous periods, are properly investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice;
Provide public information on the state of the investigations into the murders of writers Miguel Ángel Gutiérrez Ávila and Guillermo Fernández García;
Ensure that all attacks against writers and print and internet journalists alleged to have been carried out by government entities at any level are fully and promptly investigated as a matter of urgency;
Ensure as a matter of urgency that FEADLE is allocated sufficient financial, material and human resources in order to carry out its work, and support the office to make use of its newly strengthened powers to investigate and prosecute crimes against journalists and freedom of expression;
Address criticisms of the current protection mechanism for journalists and human rights defenders in consultation with these groups;
Ensure that steps are taken towards the complete decriminalization of defamation in all 32 Mexican states;
Ensure that the Article 33 Regulatory Law is enacted as a matter of urgency and to provide assurances that foreigners are not being expelled from Mexico in violation of their right to freedom of expression.

To see the full UPR submission click <>here.

Hire Scabs to Replace Congress! by Jill Charles

The Scab Government

[Jill Charles is a member of the Bezazian Library cohort of the Neighborhood Writing Alliance.  She read this piece at an open mic before the featured themed reading, Poetry to Change the World, sponsored by Occupy Rogers Park, the Guild Complex and the Chicago Consortium for Working Class Studies (Oct. 6, 2013).  We are pleased and honored to be able to offer this to the on line multitude].

By Jill Charles

During the government shutdown this October, the American public made the radical decision to hire scabs to replace the US Congress.

“I’m tired of not getting food for my children because Newt Gingrich feels pissy about health care reform,” said Georgia mother of five Clara Davis, who

The "Fight for 15" movement is made up of people like Clara Davis, who, in the text of the piece by Jill Charles, has to work 2 jobs and still is eligible for WIC.

The “Fight for 15″ movement is made up of people like Clara Davis, who, in the text of the piece by Jill Charles, has to work 2 jobs and still is eligible for WIC.

works two jobs and still relies on WIC to get by.

She and fellow Georgians hired Mabel Louis, a laid-off Head Start teacher, in Gingrich’s place.

Louis said “Like all of the scab Congress, I’ve recently lost my job due to the recession and government cutbacks.  I’ve done my absolute best teaching preschool for 27 years and am ready to work on health care and education reform to assist everyone in my state.”

The scab representatives come from all 50 states and a variety of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, but all were chosen for their skills at compromise and living with a limited budget.

“Congress never balanced their budget and kept voting to give themselves raises,” said

Joe Whalen, formerly a park ranger from Wenatchee, Washington. “That will never happen again.  Also we ended the nuclear missile program, stopped drone warfare and brought all US troops home from the Middle East earlier today.”

“We’re working on a plan to set up windmills in every county for electricity,” said Panika Atuat, a new representative from Alaska. “I don’t believe any nonsense about global warming not being real because I watched my village – Newtok, Alaska – sink in the mud when the permafrost melted.”

“She’s darn tootin!” added Bob Gunderson, scab rep and Wisconsin organic dairy

farmer. “I’ve struggled with droughts for the last ten years.  I’m determined to make disaster relief quicker and put fresh produce in every school lunch.”

Despite their differences, the scab Congress has passed a record number of laws.

“We won’t let our religious differences slow down health care reform,” said scab rep Maria Avila, a Catholic school nurse from Texas.  “After all, every major world religion believes in helping the poor and the sick.”

Former members of Congress such as Ted Cruz and John Boehner are picketing outside the Capitol, but no one pays them any attention.

“Listen, I never imagined I would be a scab,” said Detroit union electrician Jay Thomas. “But Congress and their corporate sponsors took my job first. At least we’re not a shadow government.”


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