It was my great honor to participate yesterday in the profound and important MLK commemoration: “Hope in an Age of Crisis: Reclaiming Dr. King’s Radical Vision for Economic Equality.” On a cold Sunday afternoon, an SRO crowd of 2,000 participants streamed into St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church on Chicago’s South Side to reaffirm King’s unfinished work: the dream of economic equality for all Americans.
While few of us would deny the importance of devoting a National Holiday to the life and work of Dr. King, I believe this day too often sanitizes his legacy into meaninglessness. Even worse is the way corporate America has co-opted his name for its own profit and gain. (This morning, I opened the morning paper and was greeted by ads that invoked King to sell everything from cars to Macy’s merchandise.)
It’s worse than ironic, when you consider how often King railed against corporate greed in this country – particularly toward the end of his life. Here’s but one example – a pointed MLK quote that was read aloud at yesterday’s gathering:
You can’t talk about solving the problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying proﬁt must be taken out of slums. You’re really tampering and getting on dangerous ground then. You are messing with captains of industry. Now this means that we are treading in difﬁcult water, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong with capitalism. There must be better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.
Our keynote speaker, Reverend Dwight Gardner, of Trinity Baptist Church in Gary Indiana, put it very, very well:
Today in this celebration we will not lift up the toothless, scrubbed and anesthetized Dr. King as created by the mainstream media and ruling elite but we will uncover the real Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and his radical vision for economic equality.
In 1963 during the March on Washington, Dr. King gave an address that included a short section about a dream, but in the same speech he also declared that America had written the Negro a bad check that had come back stamped insufficient funds. To paint him with only the hope that we could all just get along does his legacy a disservice and confuses Dr. King with Rodney King.
And so our event, organized by the People’s Lobby and IIRON, brought together a wide range of citizens to reclaim King’s radical and unfinished legacy of economic equality. And more: to commit to creating a new movement to make it so.
Speaker after speaker spotlighted local Chicago and Illinois legislation that addressed issues ranging from corporate financial accountability, a living wage, public sector jobs, the prison industrial complex and environmental protection. One by one we invited elected officials to the stage and asked them tell us if they would support these legislative initiatives. Then we ended with a pledge to continue organizing to make this dream a reality.
One of our speakers, George Goehl, Executive Director of National People’s Action, correctly pointed out that the unprecedented inequities currently facing our nation are the product of a “masterful forty year plan hatched by CEOs and right wing politicians who were clear that they had to aggregate power to expand profit.” Goehl noted that those of us who believe in a more equitable system will now have to develop our own long term plan for the “New Economy” with the following core goals:
- Everyday People Controlling the Economy
- An End to Structural Racism
- Corporations Serving the Common Good
- True Democracy – People in, Money Out
- Ecological Sustainability
The power of these kinds of public meetings resides in their modeling of a system that is generated by people power. Unlike most political events, in which elected leaders or candidates drive the agenda, this gathering was driven forward by the people themselves. The politicians who participated were not allowed to give stump speeches but were rather asked to say aloud to the community whether or not they intended to support these legislative efforts. As King himself taught us, our elected leaders are not change agents – it is rather the popular movements that lay their demands at their door.
I encourage you, this MLK Day, to resist the corporate co-opting of King’s name – and to support efforts in your community to create true economic justice to our nation. Click here to learn about organizing initiatives near you.
Since my previous post on the SodaStream boycott, I’ve received a number of questions regarding which specific campaign/s to support. While there have been a number of great local actions around the country, I’m happy to announce that a new interfaith coalition has just launched a national boycott effort that includes a petition as well as a spoof ad contest. I hope you will join me in signing on to this important campaign.
For more information on SodaStream, here is an excellent point by point response to the claims made by the company, courtesy of Stop SodaStream – Italy:
1. “SodaStream is headquartered in Tel Aviv, Israel, and manufactures its products in 12 production plants distributed in many countries, including factories in China (2), Germany, Sweden, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Netherlands, the US and two in Israel, one of which is Mishor Adumim … “
Even if there were hundreds of “production facilities” all over the world, it would not change the fact that the factory in Mishor Adumim is built on land stolen from the Palestinians and thus violates human rights and international law.
In any event, Sodastream’s annual report clearly demonstrates that the factory in Mishor Adumim is also the company’s main production facilities:
- At 15,256 m2, the plant is four times larger than the headquarters in Tel Aviv, and eight times that of the other Israeli plant at Ashkelon, which produces only flavors for soft drinks.
- The plant in China produces only “certain components”.
- The “production facilities” in Germany, Sweden, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, the Netherlands and the USA are mere sales and marketing offices and refill stations for CO2 cylinders.
Source: Sodastream International Ltd. Annual Report for the Fiscal Year Ended December 31, 2010, “Manufacturing and Production,” p. 37 and “Facilities,” p. 40.
2. “… where approximately 160 Palestinians receive full social and health services in accordance with, and exceeding, Israeli law, including pension contributions and insurance. Labor law in Israel requires an employer to pay wages and contributions 4 times higher than those required by the Palestinian Authority. If you consider that, on average, each employee is responsible for 10 Palestinian dependents, considering the rate of unemployment in the Palestinian Authority (estimated at 30%), the company provides food and shelter to 1,600 people. In addition, SodaStream also provides benefits that include: daily hot meals, clothing, transportation and overtime pay for up to 200% as required by Israeli law. “
The fact that a company such as SodaStream, which profits from the Israeli occupation regime, considers itself a benefactor of the Palestinians is downright bizarre. Even if working conditions for the Palestinians at the Mishor Adumim factory were as described (something that has been proven false in the past by the Israeli organization Kav LaOved), the fact remains that, as subjects an occupation regime, these workers do not enjoy civil rights (including the right of workers to organize) and are under constant threat of having their permits to work in the settlement revoked by the company at any moment.
Palestinian workers often have no choice but to work in the settlements, with high unemployment rates that are a direct result of the Israeli occupation. The 2011 United Nations Conference on Trade and Development report explicitly links the decline in Palestinian agricultural and industrial sectors and the dire humanitarian conditions with Israeli government policies, in particular the confiscation of land and natural resources, restrictions on movement of people and goods, and isolation from international markets. Only a colonial mindset could claim to provide jobs to the very same people whose land and freedom have been stolen.
– Kav LaOved, “Palestinian Workers in Israeli West Bank Settlements – 2009″; “Employees at Soda Club fired without wages (follow up report)”
- Report on UNCTAD assistance to the Palestinian people: Developments in the economy of the occupied Palestinian territory
3. “Among the 700 employees at the Mishor Adumim factory are Jews, Palestinians, Christians, Russians, Ethiopians, Bedouins, and Americans. In SodaStream’s view, this is a splendid example of peaceful coexistence that will lead to economic prosperity on which everyone benefits. The company regularly celebrates the holidays of all and has fostered cultural exchange.”
To speak of “peaceful coexistence” between people who do not have equal rights and equal social, economic and political opportunities is absurd. Among Sodastream employees, there is a marked difference between the conditions of the occupiers and those who suffer under occupation. For example, just as in Apartheid South Africa the black majority was allowed to enter areas reserved for whites only in order to work, so do the Palestinians depend on the occupying power for work permits.
Furthermore, the Jahalin Bedouin, who had already been driven from their lands in the Negev in the 1950s, were then expelled from the very area where the Sodastream has its factory.
– Kav LaOved, “Palestinian Workers in Israeli West Bank Settlements – 2009″;
– Human Rights Watch, Separate and Unequal, “Jahalin Bedouin and Ma’ale Adumim”
4. “As you know, Sodastream recently decided not to expand the factory at Mishor Adumim, but rather to build one inside the Green Line. The construction is already underway, as decided by the Board of Directors.”
Committing to not to expand an illegal activity, which according to the company website, Sodastream has been carrying out since 1996, counts for very little. The fact remains that the main production facilities are located in an illegal Israeli settlement in violation of international law.
Source: Sodastream web site, History of the Sodastream Group
5. “SodaStream does not currently benefit from low rents and could rent other facilities in the uncontested territories of Israel for much less. The same applies to incentives, the company enjoys the same tax incentives as any other industrial area of Israel, regardless of whether it is located in the disputed territories or not.”
Sodastream’s annual report lists among its “risk factors” the possibility, due to negative publicity and boycotts, of having “to transfer a significant portion of manufacturing activities to a location outside of the West Bank” that would “limit certain of the tax benefits for which we are currently eligible”.
In fact, according to the web site for the Mishor Adomim Industrial Park, it is designated as “Development Zone ‘A'”, which enjoys the highest tax incentives from the Israeli state.
And finally, the Palestinian territories are occupied, not “disputed”, as recognized by the International Court of Justice, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Conference of High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, among others.
– Sodastream International Ltd. Annual Report for the Fiscal Year Ended December 31, 2010, “Risks related to our Location in Israel,” p. 17
– Adumim Industrial Park, Business Benefits
- International Court of Justice: Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory; International Committee of the Red Cross; Conference of High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention: Declaration,
6. “With regards to Coop Sweden, yes it is true that on July 19 they decided to suspend sales of these products, however it is also true that, after a brief investigation, they then decided to put them back on the shelves.”
Swedish activists inform us that COOP Sweden claims to have the results of an investigation that justify, in their view, the marketing of Sodastream products. COOP Sweden has refused, however, to share the report with the Swedish activists. If Sodastream would like to provide us with the report, we would be happy to comment on it.
7. “SodaStream is also under tight control by the Office for Environmental Protection of Israel, leading to surprise inspections, and the company adheres to the highest environmental standards.”
It is well known that Israeli and international companies consider Israeli laws on environmental protection inapplicable with regard to factories in the occupied West Bank. According to 2009 report by the Israeli organization B’Tselem, Israel does not enforce environmental laws in the settlements and industrial areas in the occupied West Bank.
As for surprise inspections, according to Bloomberg Businessweek and the Corporate Watch website, the Sodastream Factory in Mishor Adumim is “the most heavily protected in the area, with multilevel electric fencing protecting its perimeters and cameras monitoring everything going on outside of them.”
– B’Tselem, “Foul Play: Neglect of wastewater treatment in the West Bank“
– Corporate Watch, “Occupation Industries: The Israeli industrial zones“
– Bloomberg Businessweek, “EU Eyes Exports from Israeli Settlements“
8. “Following the publication of false reports, the company also decided to host visits and inspections, in particular social audits, including the internationally accepted BSCI (Business Social Compliance Initiative) audit, with the conclusion that they no corrective actions are necessary.”
Clearly, an auditing organization that certifies a factory located in the occupied Palestinian territories has no credibility whatsoever.
The Stop Sodastream campaign will continue to challenge the deceptions of Sodastream, organizing initiatives to reveal the truth that the company wants to hides and promoting a boycott of its products.
Israel’s settlement juggernaut continues at full speed, creating apartheid conditions on the occupied West Bank while making a mockery of any hope of a two state solution. Since no nation or institution seems willing to hold Israel accountable, it seems to me the least any concerned citizen can do is to refuse to patronize companies that directly profit from this brutal and unjust occupation.
At the moment, Exhibit A is SodaStream – a company that produces home carbonating devices. Promoting its product as eco-friendly, SodaStream is sold in 39 countries in 35,000 stores worldwide, including Macy’s, Bed Bath and Beyond, Bloomingdale’s, Sears, and Kmart.
It is also manufactured in the Israeli settlement of Mishor Adumim.
A bit of history: Mishor Adumim is the industrial park section of Ma’aleh Adumim, the largest settlement in the West Bank. The land for both of these settlements originally belonged to the Palestinian towns of Abu Dis, Azarya, Atur, Issauya, Han El Akhmar, Anata and Nebbi Mussa, but was expropriated by Israel in the 1970s. Today, Ma’aleh and Mishor Adumim are a key part of the Israeli government’s plan to create Jewish facts on the ground around Arab East Jerusalem.
The SodaStream boycott is a particularly instructive action since the company actively promotes itself as an environmentally concerned enterprise. This is a tactic known as “greenwashing” – a cynical attempt to hide behind liberal environmental values in order to divert attention away from egregious violations of human rights. On this subject, I was profoundly saddened to read a post today by Rabbi Jason Miller, who sang the environmental praises of SodaStream and encouraged folks support Israel (and celebrate the Jewish festival of Tu B’shvat) by buying their product.
And what about the fact that the company says its product is “Made in Israel”, yet is based in the West Bank? By way of answer, Rabbi Miller approvingly quoted the company CEO Daniel Birnbaum, who he claims is “a strong proponent of human rights”:
(Birnbaum) said that thanks to SodaStream thousands of local Palestinians in Mishor Adumim have good paying jobs. Those workers, he explains, would not be able to support their families without their jobs in SodaStream’s manufacturing plant.
Wow. My jaw nearly hit the floor when I read that one. I’m not sure that resorting to a colonial “white man’s burden” argument is the surest way to defend entrepreneurial activity in occupied territory.
It’s also patently untrue. I strongly recommend this report by “Who Profits” for an important and in-depth expose of SodaStream, including the manner in which it exploits Palestinian laborers who come from the villages surrounding Mishor Adumim.
Jordan Ash, writing in the Twin Cities Daily Planet has also recently addressed this issue:
As with the Maquiladoras along the U.S.-Mexican border, the high unemployment rate means that many Palestinians are forced to try to earn a living through jobs in the settlements, despite the low pay and harsh working conditions.
Palestinian workers in the settlements do not enjoy the full protection of Israeli labor laws. They must get special permits and security clearance just to be able to enter these factories. Involvement in a labor dispute constitutes a security risk and can result in the loss of not only a worker’s current job but their ability to work in settlements in the future. Thus, many Palestinian workers do not demand their legal employment rights due to fear of losing their work permit.
At the SodaStream factory, when workers protested that they were being paid less than half of the minimum wage and were forced to work 12 hour days, they were fired. On another occasion, when workers who were fired and were still owed a month’s wages went to the factory to request their pay, SodaStream had them removed from the factory and banned from the entire industrial park.
As with all business in the illegal settlements, SodaStream pays taxes to Israel, not to the Palestinian Authority. The municipal taxes that SodaStream pays are used exclusively to support the growth and development of the settlement through things such as roads, education, and sewage treatment.
While I certainly don’t have any illusions that this boycott will bring the Israeli economy to their knees, I do believe it provides us with the means to take a public moral stand against the injustices Israel is committing in the occupied West Bank – and to stand in solidarity with those whose lives are impacted by this oppression.
It is a particularly timely action since the company has spent $3.8 million on a 30-second spot during next month’s Super Bowl. Apparently the commercial advocates “setting the bubbles free”. Those concerned with human rights should know that freedom for real, living breathing human beings is what is truly at stake here.
Lots of pundits are cautioning Obama and Romney against “playing politics” with the tragic aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. I disagree. I’d say if there was ever a time to play politics, now is it.
As far as I can tell, neither candidate has broken their “climate silence” in relation to Hurricane Sandy – that is, explicitly connect the dots and say in no uncertain terms that Hurricane Sandy was, as George Lakoff so accurately described it, systemically caused by global warming:
Global warming systemically caused the huge and ferocious Hurricane Sandy. And consequently, it systemically caused all the loss of life, material damage, and economic loss of Hurricane Sandy. Global warming heated the water of the Gulf and Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, resulting in greatly increased energy and water vapor in the air above the water. When that happens, extremely energetic and wet storms occur more frequently and ferociously. These systemic effects of global warming came together to produce the ferocity and magnitude of Hurricane Sandy.
The precise details of Hurricane Sandy cannot be predicted in advance, any more than when, or whether, a smoker develops lung cancer, or sex without contraception yields an unwanted pregnancy, or a drunk driver has an accident. But systemic causation is nonetheless causal.
If we do believe that, in the wake of this devastation we must redouble our efforts to prevent future tragedies such as this from occurring, then the most important thing we can do is to play politics. And the first step is to break climate silence. Even if our leaders are unwilling, it is time for us to speak up and face down the deniers.
Please watch and share the clip above to everyone you know. Then help those who are advocating in no uncertain terms for public policies that will curb carbon emissions and promote alternative energies worldwide.
On Sunday, we headed northwest, winding our way through a long, gorgeous mountain pass, to Volcanoes National Park, where we spent an incredible afternoon at the Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village. Iby’Iwacu was founded by Rwanda Eco-Tours, the visionary tour agency that has shepherded us along our trip (as well as our last one in 2008). During the course of our tour, we’ve been so appreciative of RET’s skillful readiness to help us organize such a complex and unorthodox tour of Rwanda’s NGO world. The real bread and butter of their organization, however, is their eco-tourism mission.
From their website:
Rwanda Eco-Tours was founded and is run by native Rwandans who are passionate about their country, their people, their natural resources and providing you with the highest quality yet educational tourism experience that responsibly contribute to the conservation of Rwanda’s beautiful natural resources – her parks, lands and indigenous animals, most notably the endangered mountain gorillas – as well as the development and socio-economic well being of local people.
The Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village, one of RET’s signature projects, was founded to allow ex-poachers the opportunity to embrace conservation and cultural preservation, while still being able to make a living and strengthen the economic sustainability of their local community. It is quite remarkable to consider that this effort has allowed these local Rwandans, whose existence previously depended upon poaching and bush meat, to become transformed into environmental and cultural conservationists.
Immediately upon exiting the bus at the village, we were greeted by a wave of local children selling original crayon-drawn pictures of gorillas, elephants and other local species (above). The compound itself was built to resemble a traditional Rwandan native village. We then met our guide, John, who started our tour in front of the King’s hut. In a semi-solemn ceremony, Rich was elected king, I was made King’s Advisor, and Katia Waxman, Queen. After the three of us were dressed in Rwandan royal finery, were were all walked through an interactive simulation of Rwandan social/political/cultural protocol.
When we emerged from the royal hut, we were joyfully greeted by singing, drumming, dancing Rwandan “tribesmen.” After joining in the celebration (above), we were treated to a demonstration in a medicine man’s clinic and honed our native archery skills (below).
Then the real celebration began. (See bottom pic and the fabulous clip up top).
For anyone contemplating a trip to Rwanda, I can’t say enough about Rwanda Eco-Tours – an important agency that truly embodies the best of the eco-tour movement. And I highly, highly recommend a stop at Iby’Iwacu Village, a place that definitely hits the sweet spot between local community development, environmental conservation, cultural preservation and joyful abandon.
The following post was written by JRC member and current trip participant Rich Katz, who also participated in JRC’s Uganda/Rwanda delegation four years ago. Before joining us in Rwanda on our current trip, he returned to Uganda to visit many of the people and NGO’s with whom we’ve been partnering. Below, he offers thoughts on his experience visiting our good friends at the Peace Kawomera interfaith coffee cooperative.
Visiting East Africa for the first time with JRC in 2008 was a remarkable experience. We made many new friends and we were able to work with and support several grass-roots organizations in Rwanda that provide direct service to alleviate conditions of poverty, HIV-AIDS, and the plight of widows and orphans in a country scarred by genocide. We also visited eastern Uganda to learn more about how the Peace Kawomera Cooperative Society is working to improve the lives of coffee farmers in the region. I returned there for a week before flying to Rwanda. The changes I witnessed were astonishing.
Four years ago, the co-op numbered about 500 farmers who were producing and shipping one container of high quality Arabica coffee to the Thanksgiving Coffee Company in Fort Bragg, CA, where it was roasted, packaged and distributed. They had just received a significant grant from USAID to purchase and install a central “washing station”, which is used by the co-op’s farmers to remove the outer pulp of the ripe coffee “cherry”. The money was also used to begin the construction of a warehouse & office building on the same site (below). Importantly , agronomist Johnbosco “JB” Birenge had been hired to train the farmers in more productive methods of growing coffee.
Today, I’m happy to report that the PK membership has grown to nearly 3,000 farmers, and they now ship four containers of organic, fair-trade certified coffee to Thanksgiving Coffee. The warehouse/office building (below) is functioning—although the office space is not quite finished—and the farmers have expanded their crops to include vanilla, cocoa and cardamom. The staff now includes a credit union manager, an entomologist and a seed development specialist.
However, not all is as rosy as it appears. The co-op is facing some unanticipated problems that require innovative solutions. First, the region is experiencing dramatic climate change that has pushed the harvest forward into July rather than late August, forcing changes in their other farming activities. Also, many farmers are increasing the land planted in cash crops by cutting down the shade trees necessary to grow good coffee and using them for firewood, charcoal and to fire bricks. Fortunately, JB, who is now PK’s managing director, was successful in securing a grant from the Stichting Progreso Foundation, a Netherlands-based organization that supports small holder producer organizations. The money is being used to purchase and raise seedlings (see below) that will be distributed to farmers for reforesting their land. In combination, the climate change and the loss of trees have meant that the annual rains are washing away the topsoil at an alarming rate.
On the bright side, PK has obtained a letter of agreement with Natural Flavors (Newark, NJ) to buy all of their vanilla and cardamon once the growing and drying processes have been perfected. A second USAID grant application has been submitted to purchase a washing station large enough to handle the increased volume of coffee that is being brought in by the farmers. Among other things, the grant will also be used to establish a small “cupping laboratory” in the office building so that farmers can actually taste the coffee that they grow and learn how their farming practices affect the quality; increase the number of women-led producer organizations in PK from 15 to 20; hire six field facilitators, who will visit the famers more frequently for purposes of training and problem-solving; and establish a nursery to test different variety of coffee trees for quality and yield, resistance to pests, etc.
All in all, the future looks bright for our friends at Peace Kawomera. Incomes are steadily rising, women are being given greater independence and authority, democratic institutions are being strengthened, products are expanding, and the quality of their coffee is outstanding. If you live in the Chicago area, head over to JRC and buy a bag of delicious Mirembe Kawomera coffee. You can also support their efforts by buying their coffee at the Thanksgiving Coffee online store.
Have you been following the Tar Sands XL Pipeline Sit-In at the White House? This still-ongoing protest is being described as the biggest environmental civil disobedience action in a generation. It began on Saturday, Aug 21 and will continue until September 3. This action has already led to the arrest of almost 600 protesters to date, with crowds increasing every day.
Some background, courtesy of Friends of the Earth:
The Canadian oil and gas company TransCanada hopes to begin building a new oil pipeline that would trek close to 2,000 miles from Alberta, Canada to Texas. If constructed, the pipeline, known as the Keystone XL, will carry one of the world’s dirtiest fuels: tar sands oil. Along its route from Alberta to Texas, this pipeline could devastate ecosystems and pollute water sources, and would jeopardize public health.
Giant oil corporations invested in Canada’s tar sands are counting on the Keystone XL pipeline to make the expansion of oil extraction operations profitable: The pipeline would double imports of dirty tar sands oil into the United States.
Pollution from tar sands oil greatly eclipses that of conventional oil. During tar sands oil production alone, levels of carbon dioxide emissions are three times higher than those of conventional oil, due to more energy-intensive extraction and refining processes. The Keystone XL pipeline would carry 900,000 barrels of dirty tar sands oil into the United States daily, doubling our country’s reliance on it and resulting in climate-damaging emissions equal to adding more than six million new cars to U.S. roads.
Before TransCanada can begin construction, the company needs a presidential permit from the Obama administration (no Congressional approval is needed.) Alas, Secretary of State Clinton is already on record as being “inclined” to approve the project and Obama has been ominously silent on the issue. Hence, this incredible, inspiring mobilization in DC.
All honor to my friend and colleague, Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb of Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Bethesda – one of the leading rabbinical heroes of the environmental movement – who was among those arrested today (see above.) In a subsequent press release, he was quoted thus:
We must turn up the heat in a sustained effort against the scourge of climate change, which harms not just our land and water but people here and now, our human future and all earthly creation.