activist defense

on the intersection of activism and legal systems

Category: laws championed by activists

year-end wrap-up: updates on 2013 posts

Natan Blanc: After petitions and demonstrations, Natan Blanc was released in June, after spending six months in jail for refusing to be inducted into the Israel Defense Forces.

Food Not Bombs: Although state health officials in New Mexico threatened in June to seek a court order to stop Food Not Bombs from serving free meals without a permit, Keith McHenry reports that “the state never returned and the meals continue without incident.”

Uriel Alberto: After beginning a hunger strike in front of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Charlotte on July 4, to protest his deportation, Uriel Alberto was approved within two weeks for a one-year stay of removal.

California Prisoner Hunger Strike: Following legislators’ announcement that they would hold joint public hearings on the conditions in California prisons that led to another prisoner hunger strike in July, hunger strikers suspended the strike in September, 60 days after it began.

Washington Ballot Initiative: The GE labeling initiative in Washington, which would have required retail food products and seed stocks that had been genetically engineered to be labeled, was defeated by a small margin in November. Corporations spent $22 million, more than in any prior campaign in the state’s history, to defeat the initiative. Monsanto was the largest single contributor. According to a Grist blog post by Nathanael Johnson, the money made a difference, just like it did in a similar attempt to pass a labeling bill in California last year:

In each case the labeling bills started out with big leads. In each case those leads shrank as the food industry and agribusiness paid for massive amounts of advertising. The moral of the story seems to be that money really can change the outcome of elections.

Tyler Lang and Kevin Olliff: On November 6, Tyler Lang and Kevin Olliff had their second pretrial conference. Lang accepted a plea deal and was released. Olliff attempted to accept a plea deal, but the judge rejected it; so he remains in Woodford County Jail. He was in court again today in front of a different judge.

Jeremy Hammond: On November 15, anarchist hacker Jeremy Hammond was sentenced to 10 years in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release. In response to the sentence, WikiLeaks released all of the remaining Stratfor files.

Reverend Billy and Nehemiah Luckett: At a court hearing on December 9, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office reduced the charges against Reverend Billy and Nehemiah Luckett, dropping the more serious charges and reducing the remaining offenses to misdemeanor criminal trespass, disorderly conduct, and unlawful assembly.

Kimberly Rivera: On December 12, Iraq war resister Kimberly Rivera was released early for good behavior and performing extra work. She had been scheduled for release in early January 2014.

Jerry Koch: On December 20, attorneys for Jerry Koch filed a motion asking U.S. District Judge John Keenan to release the 24-year-old philosophy student, because Koch has shown he has no intention of cooperating with the grand jury to which he’s been subpoenaed.

Pussy Riot: On December 23, the two women from Pussy Riot nearing the end of their two-year prison terms were released under a new amnesty law. The law was also expected to bring about the release of many people arrested after an anti-government demonstration in May, and close the cases of the 28 Greenpeace activists and 2 journalists arrested in the Arctic Sea in September while occupying an oil rig to call attention to the threat of oil drilling and climate change. According to a December 19 New York Times editorial,

In pardoning these prisoners, Mr. Putin gave no indication that they may have been wrongfully tried and imprisoned, nor that more people will not be treated similarly in the future.

ballot initiative in washington regarding genetically engineered food and seeds results in litigation

Up to 80 percent of non-organic products on grocery store shelves include genetically engineered (GE) ingredients. Connecticut recently became the first state to pass a GE labeling law. In Washington state, residents will vote in November on a GE labeling initiative that would require retail food products and seed stocks that have been genetically engineered to be labeled. According to yesterday’s Bellingham Herald article, the upcoming Washington initiative has led to litigation:

More than a week ago activist lawyer Knoll Lowney made the first move. Acting on behalf of a newly formed group calling itself Moms for Labeling, Lowney filed a lawsuit against the No on 522 campaign committee, which was created with financing from national agribusiness interests to oppose Initiative 522. The suit sought to force No on 522 to disclose how much of the $2.2 million it got from the Grocery Manufacturers Association came from specific food-industry companies so that information would be put on the no campaign’s television ads.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association and No on 522 campaign responded by filing a counterclaim seeking $10,000 in sanctions against Moms for Labeling. Thurston County Superior Court Judge Chris Wickham is expected to hold a phone conference with the parties this morning.

The No on 522 campaign has already raised $11.6 million from half a dozen out-of-state donors, including $4.8 million from Monsanto. Last November, a similar initiative failed in California after large chemical and pesticide companies spent more than $45 million to defeat it. Yet outside the U.S., 64 countries require labels for food or ingredients that have been genetically engineered.

after ten years, federal communications commission votes to rein in prison phone rates

On Friday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to reduce interstate phone call costs for prisoners and their families. Many civil rights groups, including the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Human Rights Defense Center, have been pushing the FCC to lower these exorbitant rates. The FCC has been weighing the issue for approximately 10 years.

On December 26, the FCC proposed new rules to reduce the cost of interstate phone calls from inmates. The deadline for initial comments was March 25. According to the ACLU’s press release,

Previously an unregulated part of the phone industry, prison calling costs have reached as high as $20 for a 15-minute call in some states. Beginning immediately, the FCC will cap rates at 25 cents per minute [for collect calls], meaning that the cost of a 15 minute long distance call will not exceed $3.75. The FCC also banned extra fees to connect a call or use a calling card.

More than 2 million families communicate with incarcerated family members via long-distance phone calls. The proposal approved Friday caps rates at 21 cents per minute for debit and prepaid calls. It also prohibits companies from penalizing customers with hearing loss or limitation for using relay services.

hawaii is second u.s. state to implement basic labor protections for domestic workers

Domestic workers are excluded from many of the most basic federal labor protections, such as overtime pay and meal and rest breaks. In 2010, after six years of organizing, New York became the first state to implement basic labor protections for domestic workers. In California, domestic worker organizations also started organizing approximately nine years ago, but last year Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a bill of rights for domestic workers that would have enacted major protections for tens of thousands of people.

Today Hawaii will become the second state to pass a domestic workers bill of rights. The protections will take effect immediately. The National Domestic Workers Alliance, a membership organization of housekeepers, nannies, and home health assistants, most of whom are undocumented immigrant women, praised Hawaii for passing the law and is demanding similar legislation in other states. According to a May 2 article on ThinkProgress,

survey by the National Domestic Workers Alliance found that 20 percent of housekeepers and nearly a third of nannies and caregivers make less than the minimum wage. In fact, nearly three-quarters of the domestic workforce is paid less than $13 an hour. Forty percent of nannies and caregivers work more than 40 hours, yet 85 percent aren’t guaranteed overtime pay. About 20 percent of domestic workers report being threatened, insulted, or verbally abused by their employers, a figure that rises to 36 percent for live-in workers, yet they have little recourse to report and address abuse.

new resource available for making comments regarding the cost of prison and jail phone calls

On December 26, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed new rules to reduce the cost of interstate phone calls from inmates. The FCC is now seeking comments on the cost of such calls. The deadline for initial comments is March 25.

For people who are interested in reining in prison phone rates, the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice recently released a guide to the FCC’s request for comments. The guide suggests topics and talking points. It also contains sample testimony:

I understand you are looking into the high costs of inmate phone services and the monopoly that allows them. Maintaining contact with my husband via phone calls is the biggest coping method for both of us. … You have the authority to help the families of inmates by lowering the amount per minute the companies are able to charge, and by giving us a choice in services so maybe that will bring the fees down. 

Finally, the guide includes instructions for how to file comments online or via mail. Please share this new resource with your friends and file comments before the deadline.

federal communications commission proposes new rules to rein in prison phone rates

Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, has said that “challenging mass incarceration requires that civil rights advocates do something they’ve long been reluctant to do: advocate on behalf of criminals.”

On Wednesday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) finally proposed new rules that would reduce interstate phone call costs for prisoners and their families. In some states, a 15-minute call costs as much as $20. The reason prison phone rates are so high is that phone companies pay commissions (or legal kickbacks) to state government agencies for exclusive contracts at prisons, and then pass these additional costs on to inmates and their families.

Many civil rights groups, including the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Human Rights Defense Center, have been pushing the FCC to regulate prison phone rates. According to a September 23 New York Times editorial,

The time is long past for the F.C.C. — which has been weighing this issue for nearly a decade — to break up what amount to monopolies and ensure that prisoners across the country have access to reasonably priced interstate telephone service. … Overcharging inmates is not just unfair but also counterproductive, because it discourages inmates from keeping in touch with a world where they will be expected to fit in.

Several states have already lowered such rates by barring their corrections departments from requiring commission arrangements in telephone contracts. Federal prisons apparently use a less expensive, computerized system, though the federal system also makes a profit off of prisoners and their families.

year-end wrap-up: updates on 2012 posts

NDAA: On January 13, a group of journalists and activists sued President Obama regarding the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, which Obama signed on December 31, 2011. Four months later, U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest granted a preliminarily injunction barring enforcement of the NDAA section that allows indefinite detention of anyone who has “substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.” Another four months passed before Judge Forrest granted a permanent injunction barring enforcement of that section; but the U.S. government appealed, and in October the Second Circuit Court of Appeals granted the government’s motion for a stay of Forrest’s injunction pending a decision on the government’s appeal. Meanwhile, the NDAA of 2013 could further expand the government’s power to hold people in military detention indefinitely.

RNC: The 2012 Republican National Convention protests were surprisingly calm. According to an August 31 New York Times article, no one broke windows, no tear gas filled the air, and only two people were arrested:

The lack of disturbances stood in stark contrast to the last three Republican conventions, when street battles between the police and protesters resulted in numerous arrests and prompted a flurry of court fights about police actions.

The number of protesters at this year’s RNC was smaller than expected due in part to Hurricane Isaac, the storm that caused Republican officials to cancel most proceedings scheduled for the first day of the convention.

Domestic Workers Bill of Rights: California Governor Jerry Brown displayed a lack of empathy predictable only among politicians by vetoing a bill of rights for domestic workers on September 30. Michelle Chen, a contributing editor at In These Times, describes what exactly Brown axed:

The highly anticipated Domestic Workers Bill of Rights would have enacted major protections for tens of thousands of housekeepers, nannies and other caregivers and closed loopholes ignored by federal labor law. It would have extended California’s policies for overtime pay and workers’ compensation, and helped ease in-house workers’ arduous, sometimes-abusive work routines by providing for a set amount of sleep and the ability to cook one’s own food.

Tim DeChristopher: After serving 15 months in prison, Utah climate activist Tim DeChristopher was admitted to a halfway house in Salt Lake City at the end of October. The local First Unitarian Church offered him a job with its social justice ministry. Yet a Bureau of Prisons official said he couldn’t work at the church because the job involved social justice, which was related to DeChristopher’s crime; so he accepted a job at a bookstore instead.

Pussy Riot: Two of the three infamous members of the punk collective Pussy Riot are now serving the rest of their two-year sentences at some of the harshest women’s penal colonies in Russia. (An appeals court released the third woman on bail in October.) They were transported there around October 23. According to an October 29 New York Times post by Masha Gessen, discussing several recent incidents of political repression in Russia,

Anyone can be arrested for legal, peaceful protest — and any one of those arrested can be chosen, at random, to spend days, months or years in prison.

One month later, on November 29, a Moscow court ruled that videos of Pussy Riot performances fell under a law meant to control hate speech. The New York Times reported the following:

The court called for limiting public access to Web sites and blogs displaying the videos. But the ruling is unlikely to cut off access to them, since it applies only to servers in Russia. … Thursday’s ruling cited “psycho-linguistic research” proving that the videos “humiliate various social groups based on their religious beliefs” and contain “hidden calls to rebellion and nonsubmission to authority.”

Jeremy Hammond: After anarchist hacker Jeremy Hammond was put in solitary confinement for five days around the time Hurricane Sandy hit New York City, U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska denied him bail. He has been incarcerated for more than nine months. A release from Anonymous subsequently reported that Judge Preska is married to a client of Stratfor, the very intelligence contractor whose servers Hammond allegedly gained access to, costing the company millions and focusing “worldwide attention on the murky world of private intelligence,” according to a November 2012 Rolling Stone article. Hammond’s attorneys are trying to get Preska removed as the judge in his case, because of her apparent bias.

bill of rights for domestic workers set to succeed in california after years of organizing

Society does not look at our work as important, but we know how important our work is. We take care of children from early in the morning to late at night. We clean houses from top to bottom. This is hard work, and it takes real skill.

This statement by Antonia Peña alludes to the exclusion of domestic workers from many of federal labor law’s protections, such as overtime pay and meal and rest breaks. For a large number of female migrants, domestic work is the only work available. The women who do this work become sophisticated, if they weren’t already, regarding exploitation and how to struggle against it. National Domestic Workers Alliance director Ai-jen Poo explains:

The people who are at the frontlines of the impact of neoliberalism – sectors like migrant workers, domestic workers, the people who are being displaced from urban centers, unemployed workers in the rust belt – these are the people who really understand neoliberalism. Because of their experiences, they have a lot to say about what kind of movement we need to build.

In 2010, after six years of organizing to shed light on rampant abuses, New York became the first state to implement basic labor protections for domestic workers. In California, domestic worker organizations also started organizing approximately eight years ago, and they attempted to pass bills in 2006, 2011, and again this year. Yesterday the California bill passed the state Senate and today it passed the concurrence vote in the Assembly, putting it very close to success.

Even if you don’t live in California, please call Governor Jerry Brown at (916) 445-2841 and ask him to sign the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.