Actual History: Refusal 10 (May Day)

May Day as International Workers’ Day has its origins in the Haymarket Affair of 1886, a double display of state violence: on May 3rd, the third day of a general strike for an eight-hour work day, police protecting strikebreakers fired into a crowd of striking workers. At a mass meeting the following day, someone threw a bomb into a group of arresting officers, and the ensuing police raids and arrests ended with eight men sentenced to death. The state hanged four and later pardoned two; one took his own life in prison. Meanwhile, labor organizers continued their work, and in 1889 the Second International declared May 1st International Workers’ Day.

I also want to talk about another day in May.

Starting–but more about that in a minute–on May 1st, 1867, striking workers in Chicago shut down the economy of the city for a week to close loopholes in a law calling, already for the eight-hour workday. Industries in and around Chicago at that time included meatpacking, garment manufacturing, shipping, lumber processing, iron molding–so we can guess that fewer components were poured and fewer cuffs and collars sewn, that cargo ships sat at their moorings and that meat rotted on the packing lines. A week of people earning no money, drawing from the strike fund if they could. A week in which a city that bragged about how much it could produce, how fast it grew, couldn’t hold onto that pride and had–if only for a week, after which the strike collapse–to admit who made that pride possible.

The strike itself started on May 1st, but the work of making it possible started long before: in conversations, in the nurturing of loyalties, in meetings, in the gathering of resources, in the asking of questions, in the distribution of knowledge, in arguments, in shared meals, in the washing of clothes and the tending of children, in corners, in quiet, under the cover of machine sounds.

The fight for the eight-hour workday is a fight to be owned less than entirely. It says: we won’t let you use us up. It says: we are more than fuel.

*

My attention keeps turning to the failures to refuse in the May Day origin story: the police who, on May 3rd, didn’t have to but chose to fire into a crowd of striking workers. The jury. The hangman. Someone would probably have punished them, or tried to, if they refused, but that’s not identical with not having a choice. Examine your promises: who do they require you to hurt?

The May Day march in Providence starts at 3pm today, in Burnside Park. I’ll be walking with the Climate Justice and Just Transition bloc. Come too.

Actual History: Refusal 6

Last night, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance called for a work stoppage–no JFK Airport dropoffs or pickups between 6 and 7pm–in solidarity with people being detained via the president’s “Muslim Ban”. Here is their full statement.

This is how we need to act, and how we can act, together.

*

If you have money to share, you can share it with the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, or with the National Lawyers Guild, who provide legal observation and monitoring to protect protestors’ rights.

If you live in Rhode Island and have time to spare, come to the State House today.

Here’s a list of protests in other places in the US.

Alternate History: Refusal 5

The next day, truckers spoke over the radios, recalculating their routes, passing the word along. Air traffic controllers refused to let planes land. No one who drove a truck or flew a plane or ran container shipping in the Gulf would bring any concrete or rebar or wire or cable or steel or cement or construction equipment or surveillance electronics to anywhere at all in California, Arizona, New Mexico or Texas.

Companies in these states that made or used or sold these materials and tools made haste to sell their products, at a discount, to people and companies building anywhere else–other states, overseas. Ann Arbor and Vladivostok both took big deliveries of cranes, for some reason, and a lot of materials went to Haiti and Georgia.

People who worked large-scale construction in those states knew that the government would probably bring in prison labor anyway, but just in case, they went to visit relatives in other states if they could, or picked up work far from home. The unions passed the word along.

On the border, men with guns and men in suits stood with no power to move or build anything more than a handful of dirt.

*

Rhode Islanders can see if Dorcas International needs volunteer help. Anyone can call their city’s or town’s mayor and ask what they are going to do to protect and accommodate their immigrant and refugee neighbors.

This refusal is for everyone who was murdered trying to make the crossing, and for my students, who are still alive.

 

Providence City Council Meeting TONIGHT: No Burrillville Power Plant

UPDATE: The committee voted to send the resolution described below to the full city council for a vote (this is good). Watch this space to learn when that vote is–we’ll want to show up for that, too.

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The Providence City Council Special Committee on Municipal Operations and Oversight meets tonight to vote on a resolution opposing Invenergy’s fracked-gas power plant in Burrillville, and investigating Johnston’s sale of water (which comes from the same source as Providence’s water) to the plant.

25 Dorrance St (3rd floor), Providence

TONIGHT (January 25th) at 6pm

If you can, please come and support the resolution against the power plant. If you can’t, but one of the people below is your councilperson, please call them and urge them to pass this resolution, which could help keep Rhode Island healthier–its human and nonhuman people, its ecosystems–and lower its contributions to climate change.

Jo-Ann Ryan, Ward 5
401-595-8604, 401-464-2046

Kevin Jackson, Ward 3
401-286-4223

Luis Aponte, Ward 10
Council President
401-781-6861

Sabina Matos, Ward 15
Council President Pro Temp
401-383-3814

Nicholas Narducci Jr, Ward 4
401-497-1430

A good thing to say: “I’m NAME, I live at ADDRESS in WARD #. I’m calling to ask Councilman/Councilwoman NAME to vote in favor of Councilman Yurdin’s resolution against the Invenergy Power Plant. The deforestation and pollution from the plant will affect all Rhode Islanders in the long term, and Burrillville itself has said they don’t want the plant. Please tell the Councilman/Councilwoman that I’d like them to support Councilman Yurdin’s resolution.”

If you can’t do phone calls, you can email your councilperson by ward number–like, “ward10 AT providenceri DOT com.”

Alternate History: Refusal 4

The next day, the students came into the well-appointed classroom, with its big windows and its new desks and its variously computerized boards and screens, and I sat there and said nothing.

I refused to teach them and my colleagues refused to teach them and the people who worked in the offices refused to explain anything to them or process their paperwork or even help them withdraw, and the custodians refused to empty the garbage cans and the groundskeepers refused to shovel the snow, and the people who ordinarily cooked for them refused to cook for them and turned the delivery trucks away, or unloaded them and then gave the food directly to their own and their neighbors’ families.

I lost my job and I went home, frightened, sick to my stomach, with less to lose–less status, less money, less safety–and free to do more, or do differently. They all did, we all did.

(There’s another version of this story where I was the only one to refuse, but I like this version better.)

*

I actually feel like teaching is one of the areas where I can be useful, but I could be wrong about that. The founders of the institution that employs me made some of their money by buying and selling human beings (which they have acknowledged) and they built it on land stolen from the Narragansett Tribe (which, as far as I know, the institution has not acknowledged).

The proposed “track straightening” of the Amtrak Northeast Corridor would pass through Narragansett tribal land and sacred sites, and members of the tribe have voiced their opposition to it. (It would also damage or destroy forests and wetlands, both of which can help Rhode Island weather climate change.) You can see the environmental impact statement here, and via email you can tell Amtrak/NEC Future not to build this track: info AT necfuture DOT com. They are supposedly taking comments until January 31st.

You can also call the office of Senator Jack Reed, who is in favor of building the new track, at (401) 943-3100, and tell him why you’re opposed to building it. I’ll post some words later today that you can use, if you want.

Alternate History: Refusal 3

The next day, everyone who worked at the Alyeska Pipeline Operations Control Center in Anchorage locked the doors, typed in the codes that would stop the flow of oil at every pump station within four minutes, and sat on their hands.

That’s not entirely accurate. Someone had brought a Sudoku book with only half the puzzles done. They played the game of who could ignore the most phone calls, emails, texts. They’d laid in a stock of food and bottled water, but someone also found it necessary to microwave a box of stale Peeps left over from last Easter. Someone had brought a carving he was working on. They sat and waited for–who would come? There was a betting pool: riot police? Hostage negotiators? Tanks? Most of them had left a letter, just in case.

About half of them had rifles, because they hunted on the weekends, and one person had brought her compound bow because she thought it would be funny, no matter how many times someone else told her that none of this was funny. “Sure it is,” she said.

*

Share what you can spare with the water protectors fighting the Sabal Trail Pipeline, the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Trans Pecos Pipeline.

This refusal is dedicated to all of them, past, present and future.

Alternate Histories: Refusal 2

The next day, everyone who could walk, walked in the street, and everyone who could roll, rolled in the street. At first, they would do it until someone yelled at them, and then when that person was gone they’d get back in the street. In later days, when there were more of them, they just kept walking and rolling.

When drivers or police asked them where the fuck they were going, at first they said, “Work,” or “The store,” or “My girl’s house,” or “School.” Later, sometimes, they said, “Boston,” or “The ocean,” or “The future.”

They got where they were going whenever they happened to get there. So they made other refusals possible: their supervisors had a choice as to whether to mark them late, cops had a choice of whether to harass and threaten and hit them, drivers had a choice whether to honk or keep quiet. People on either side of a desk or checkout counter–social worker and client, checkout clerk and customer–got where they were going at the same time, just later. The number of cars abandoned by the side of the road increased, incrementally.

Sometimes there were just a few people, strung like beads in ones and twos along a road in a small town. Sometimes hundreds, thousands of people were walking and rolling, all the mobile people in a city.

Over at the feedlots, the stockmen opened the gates and turned off the electricity and the cows stumbled out to walk among the humans and eat the bitter grass by the side of the road.

*

In honor of this refusal, please write to the North Dakota Legislative Assembly, especially the transportation committee, and tell them that House Bill 1203–which would allow drivers to hit protesters with their cars with impunity–is disgusting and inhumane. If you, too, get on a roll, there are similar bills proposed in Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa and Washington State.

This refusal is in memory of Mark Baumer.

House Bill No. 1203 in North Dakota

Here is the text of North Dakota House Bill No. 1203, which would make it legal for North Dakota drivers to hit people with their cars if those people are walking in the road. The articles I’ve seen about this state that the bill is a response to the civil disobedience of water protectors at Standing Rock.

Here is the email I just sent to the members of the Transportation Committee, through whom (if I understand correctly) the bill would have to pass:

Dear [Representative]:

I’m writing to ask you to refuse to advance Mr. Kempenich’s House Bill No. 1203, which would protect North Dakota drivers from the consequences of injuring or killing pedestrians with their cars.

I saw on the legislature page that you have children and grandchildren. Imagine saying to your child, or imagine your constituents saying to their children who they were teaching how to drive, “If you hit and kill someone, if it’s under such-and-such circumstances, you won’t get in trouble.” Once you’ve said that, does it really matter what the “such-and-such circumstances” are? Wouldn’t you then be saying that when they’re driving, they don’t need to care about other people’s safety–or that they can be the person who decides who lives and who dies, who’s widowed or orphaned,  who’s disabled for life? Are those the drivers you want on North Dakota roads, or any roads?

Although I don’t live in your state, I was moved to write to you because it’s possible that this bill could set a precedent for others. It is inhumane and dangerous. When House Bill No. 1203 comes before you, I urge you and the other members of the Transportation Committee to stop it from going any further.

Thank you,

Kate Schapira

Providence, RI

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The Transportation Committee meets on Thursdays and Fridays. If you have a moment tonight or tomorrow, please call them or write them a letter–feel free to use mine or to create your own.Please let them know that people outside the state are watching this, and reject it utterly and with disgust.

Support Providence City Council’s Anti-Power Plant Resolution, 1/19/17

The Providence City Council is meeting TOMORROW (Thursday), 1/19, to consider a resolution in opposition to the proposed fracked-gas power plant in Burrillville, RI–a power plant that Burrillville has already said it doesn’t want, that Woonsocket and Pascoag have already refused to supply water for, that would disrupt or destroy even more of the natural systems that sustain our lives.

The resolution would also enable the City Council to begin blocking Providence Water from supplying (through Johnston, who agreed to sell it to the power plant, but gets their water from Providence Water) the water that the power plant would need.*

If you’re free between 7 and 8 pm TOMORROW (Thursday), 1/19, please come to Providence City Hall, 25 Dorrance St., and show your support for this resolution and your rejection of the power plant.

Here are more details, including a link to the text of the resolution, and you can RSVP here as well.

*I know–it’s complicated. But worth understanding!

Rally TODAY for free public transit for people on low fixed incomes

RIPTA’s no-fare bus pass for elderly people and people with disabilities allows people to get to appointments, see families, buy groceries without impacting their fixed–and often limited–incomes. RIPTA has been trying to eliminate this pass, even though doing so would make many people’s circumstances more strained and their lives more isolated. Today, there’s a rally at the State House (82 Smith St, Providence) at 10:30am to protect it.

I’ve posted here before about why this is important: far-reaching, well-used and well-supported public transportation is an important tool in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, and sustaining each other is an important practice in both fighting and living with climate change. This is a good time to form the habit of noting and meeting vulnerable people’s needs when we can, because more of us may be vulnerable very soon.

There is also a petition, which for small-scale local issues like this may be helpful.

Hope to see some of you at the rally today.