NTFC Local #6546: Work Actions Lead to a Settled Contract

For the last nineteen months, NTFC Local #6546, the union that represents about 500 non-tenure-track faculty at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, fought for our first contract. When we started bargaining, in October 2014, we heard from our colleagues and union comrades that such a fight would be a slog, that the University would resist our efforts and slow the pace of bargaining, and that we might eventually have to decide when and why we would go on strike to see our demands met. They were right—we did encounter roadblocks in bargaining, and we did have to ask our members when and why they would be willing to strike. And strike we did. It was the only way to win a contract whose terms met our members’ demands.

2016 05 11 NTT Strike_Donovan_5

Photo by Susanne Donovan

If you follow local news, you most likely know that NTFC struck for two days in a pre-announced strike on April 19 and April 20, then began a five-day strike on April 28 that would have encompassed the five remaining class days of the semester. After two days of that second strike, we were finally able to settle a collective bargaining agreement, our first, with firm protections for long-term employment and a better system of appointment and reappointment. Further, we secured clearer language on academic freedom and governance, while also raising the salary floor for those in our unit on the lower end of the pay scale over the next few years. But we couldn’t have gotten these results without action.

During our first two-day strike, I stood on a bench in front of the English Building—the building I work in every day—and reminded our members, solidarity partners, gathered students, and community members of the difference between rhetoric and action. The previous day, the University’s Interim Chancellor and Interim Provost had sent out a massmail to the entire campus community alleging that several “key” provisions had been settled in our negotiations, and implying that we weren’t giving the mediated bargaining process a fair chance. I stood to counter these assertions, noting that none of our true “key” concerns had been settled, and that our actions demanded a response. I called for direct action in response to ours. Instead of a 600-word massmail, we wanted something of substance: administrative involvement in our bargaining to move things forward.

And yet, none was immediately forthcoming. We were promised that at the next bargaining session (a week later), we might see movement. So, we chose another form of action, a work-in, first outside the Henry Administration Building, then outside the President’s office, to demonstrate what our labor looks like. Faculty met with students, graded papers, prepared lessons. A lot of us had work to catch up on, after our two-day strike. To his credit, President Killeen was cordial and met with some of our members, but would not commit to involvement with our contract negotiations.

2016 05 11 NTT Strike_Donovan_4

Photo by Susanne Donovan

So, we asked our supporters to contact the Chancellor and Provost, urging them to take our concerns seriously. And importantly, these forms of pressure complemented our work actions. A unit of our size, even with many of its members on picket lines at any given moment, cannot do it alone. Our brothers and sisters from partner unions like SEIU, AFSCME, AFL-CIO, CFT, GEO combined their efforts with the Campus Faculty Association, state-wide support from other Illinois Federation of Teacher locals and officers, as well as faculty support from many other universities, including University of Illinois at Chicago and at Springfield. All of these supporters, on the line, via phone and email, on facebook, with solidarity donations, and most important, with conviction, helped us win.

By the last three mediated bargaining sessions, it was clear that the tide was turning in our favor. Key administrators, including the Interim Provost and an Associate Provost attended bargaining, and proved instrumental in the substantive discussions that led to our final agreement. But, to be clear, we still had to strike a second time. Our members chose to do so after a full day of bargaining that led to no new results. I convened a membership meeting to ask them how to proceed—the vote was overwhelmingly in favor of a second strike, which we began the next morning, April 28.

And, then, on April 29 and April 30, we finally hashed out the remaining issues of the contract. The implication of this pattern is clear: only by direct actions and indirect pressure were we able to force movement. The long final bargaining session, on April 30 was really the first day in which we had an audience for our issues. Before then, it had been months of the administration saying it was “not interested” in our core issues or denying the provisions we put forward to try to address issues of stability and professionalism. We even brought forward language from the University of Illinois at Chicago non-tenure-track faculty contract and were told that while it might suffice in Chicago, it would not work here. And yet, though our contract differs from UIC’s in some key ways, we were finally able to see issues like long-term employment protections addressed.  What had changed?

2016 05 11 NTT Strike_Pajeau

Photo by Deneen Pajeau

It’s clear that none of this would have been possible without direct action—strikes and pickets—and indirect support, in the form of pressure from all angles. These pieces only work in combination, and no one action was directly responsible for our success. We owe a great deal to our partners and their efforts. They were there for us and we will be there if and when the time comes. Solidarity and action are what forces movement at the bargaining table, but it can be done. And now, as we move into implementing our first collective bargaining agreement, we stand ready to help the next of us down the line. Action does lead to results.

2015 08 18 Shawn Gilmore

Shawn Gilmore is a Lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and President of the Non-Tenure Faculty Coalition (NTFC) Local #6546, a union representing nearly 500 non-tenure-track faculty at the University of Illinois, affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT), and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).

[Caption 1st photo: Photo by Susanne Donovan]

[2nd photo: use as cover photo of issue. If want a caption: NFTC faculty on strike]

[Caption 3rd photo: Photo by Deneen Pajeau]

Posted in Labor/Economics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign | Comments Off on NTFC Local #6546: Work Actions Lead to a Settled Contract

The Reality of the Worker: May Day Speech

by Gus Wood

May Day speech inspired by the activism and speech/words of the legendary Lucy Parsons

Brothers and sisters, the objective is clear today: We need workers to unite.

Workers! Unite!

Brothers and sisters, we have reached the point of no return. Our very existence, our very essence as humans, our very livelihood as workers is being viciously assaulted by a white supremacist, ruling class onslaught of hatred. This underbelly of grotesque, cancerous malignancy festers in a racialized capitalist system that continues to not only destroy the communities that we built, but also to divide us along racial, class, and gender lines.

WE SAY NO MORE! Workers Unite!

Workers, we must understand our material conditions in this system: We live under a superficial, commodified pay system in which if you can’t pay, you can’t have. Everything has a price set upon it; earth, air, light and water, all have their price. And those that cannot work, they starve. Love, honor, fame, ambition, all the noblest aspirations that you and I hold dearest to our personal and social spaces, are also now commodified; they are all bought and sold daily. Those that cannot afford, they are isolated, ridiculed, oppressed.  Everything is upon the market for sale: all of humanity under capitalism is merchandise and commerce. Our land, which is the prime necessity of existence, is held for a price, and the millions of working poor perish physically, mentally, and emotionally because they cannot pay. Food, water, clothing, and shelter exist in super abundance, but are withheld from the masses for that price.

The productive and distributive forces of nature, united with the power and ingenuity of the working people, are reserved for a price. The mental, moral, intellectual, and physical qualities are dwarfed, stunted, and crushed to maintain that price. And the working masses perish from the horrific effects of day after day of exploitation. This system is antagonistic to our very health as it relentlessly stresses our bodies and our minds. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the age-adjusted suicide rate in the US jumped 24 percent between 1999 and 2014, from 10.5 per 100,000 people to 13 per 100,000 people. In total, 42,773 people died from suicide in 2014 compared to 29,199 in 1999. This exploitative system also created and now facilitates the resurgence of explicit, overt racism that contorts our class consciousness. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the average white family in the U.S. has a net worth of more than $100,000, compared to less than $27,000 for African American and Latino families. More than 25 percent of blacks and Latinos languish below the official poverty line, and more than a third of black and Latino children live in poverty. Over half of African Americans between 16 and 24 cannot find the livable wage jobs that continue to disappear. In this system, our labor, our time, and our bodies are superfluous. The Labor Department notes that over 250,000 working people have been laid off while 362,000 people have stopped looking for work in the first four months of the year. That is over half a million lives thrown into volatile chaos and possible demise at the expense of this exploitative system. Yet, when we fail to find employment that will provide the basic necessities, or a sheriff throws us out of our homes for missing a loan payment with a ballooned interest rate, or our children suffer horrific medical catastrophes because of unaffordable medicines and procedures, Neo-Conservatives tell workers that we are lazy and do not work hard enough. Neo-Conservatives tell us that we do not deserve to make a living wage that correlates with the skyrocketing cost-of-living. Neo-Conservatives tell us that $7.25 an hour is more than enough to provide basic necessities for a household in 2016 America. Brothers and sisters, only our agency will silence those fraudulent voices for good!


And for what reason do we allow this abuse? Our bodies to contort, our blood pressure to rise, our mental stability to deteriorate? What rewards do we reap as exploited workers? Not wages! Based on wage statistics from the Social Security administration, over 50% of all American workers make less than $30,000 a year as the cost of living skyrockets. It’s not for some unrealistic goal of “opportunity” or “freedom.” According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, among the 10 jobs projected to grow the most over the next ten years, five of the 10 jobs pay less than $25,000 and seven of the 10 jobs pay less than the average annual wage of $35,000. And where will the majority of our children be working after going into hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt attending private universities like the University of Illinois, attempting to exercise this “freedom” and “opportunity”? As dishwashers and restaurant cooks! As janitors and fast food servers! As personal aids and retail store cashiers! Sub-working class labor that does not pay the basic bills nor put basic food on tables nor put basic clothes on children, nor keep decent water in homes! Capital has not only devastated communities by depleting our housing and social resources, but it also destroys opportunities and genuine democracy by taking away the ability for people to determine our own destiny.

We say NO MORE! Workers Unite!

Can it continue? NO it will not continue, because capitalism works in dialectics, meaning that it does create these horrific conditions and divisions in society, but it also creates the conditions for workers to organically develop a collective consciousness against their oppression.

How? Workers Unite! Workers Unite!

Thus, any serious discussion of the fight for fair labor and workers’ rights with the NTFC, SEIU, and GEO, any discussion of ending wage theft and sub-working class employment, any discussion of eliminating debt peonage and student loan armageddon, any discussion of destroying racial, gender, and sexual discrimination in employment practices has to take up not only a critique of capitalism, but also a credible strategy for abolishing it! For all workers, that strategy hinges on the revolutionary potential of a unified, multiracial and multi-ethnic working-class front that does not challenge only one law, only one politician, only one administration, only one chancellor, only one president, only one racist, only one policy, only one police murder, only one employer…but the ENTIRE SYSTEM!!!

Workers Unite! Workers Unite!

Brothers and sisters, when labor is no longer for sale, when our bodies and time are no longer owned and determined by employers, when our workers across industries and crafts have multiyear contracts that give wages that match their labor, employment that does not corrode the body, mind, or community, and education that centralizes our social and material conditions, society will produce free men and women who will think free, act free, and are FREE. Brothers and sisters, for our liberation, for our very survival, we must unite through organizing, not mobilizing; we must develop relationships with our working class brothers and sisters across identity lines; we must use political education in our communities to create agents and develop autonomous cultural institutions that emphasize our lives, our communities, our media, our education!

Workers Unite! Workers Unite! Workers Unite! Workers Unite!

Posted in Labor/Economics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign | Comments Off on The Reality of the Worker: May Day Speech

May Day Rally on Quad

May Day 2016

“This is what solidarity looks like.” May Day rally on the U of I Quad.

Posted in African Americans, Human Rights, International, Israel/Palestine, Labor/Economics | Comments Off on May Day Rally on Quad

The Myron Scruggs Case and the Champaign Police Department

by Belden Fields

An  Ugly Image From the Past

In the late 1960s, I joined the newly created chapter of the Champaign County ACLU and became the chair of its investigations committee. I received a call from a woman member of the Champaign City Council asking me to come to her home to discuss an issue. I went and she told me I had to promise that I would not reveal where I got the information that she was about to tell me. It was about the police, who she said were very violent and might hurt her if they found out she had talked with me. I agreed and she proceeded to tell me that some of the police officers were obtaining guns with their serial numbers filed off.  The object was, of course, to plant them on people so that they could claim that people they arrested or shot were armed. She told me that an African American man who knew and talked about this too publicly was grabbed by officers, taken to the station, and beaten so badly that he lost the sight in one eye.

That image of that black man beaten so badly that he lost the sight of an eye always stayed with me as I participated in C/U Citizens for Peace and Justice (CUCPJ), as one after another of Champaign police excessive force cases came before us, and as we would try to convince the Champaign City Council and the City Manager to take them seriously and punish the rogue officers. Until this past year, it was in vain.

The Beating and Charging of Myron Scruggs

The case that has occupied most of my attention over the last two years was the beating and charging of Myron Scruggs on September 15, 2012. Mr. Scruggs came to CUCPJ where he described what happened to him. Since then, I have heard his story a number of times, and he has always been consistent.

Mr. Scruggs, an African American veteran, is a dialysis technician who is sent all over the country to service dialysis clinics for diabetics. He has also taught dialysis to other aspiring technicians. He was sent to Champaign in September 2012. While he was here, a fire broke out in the hotel in which he and another dialysis technician were staying. When the firefighters let people back into the hotel, they prevented the other technician, a black woman, from entering her room. A verbal dispute ensued between her and the firefighters. Mr. Scruggs, observing this from outside of his room down the corridor, intervened and told her to just come to his room where she could have the bed and he would sleep in the chair. He thought that would resolve the issue.

Instead, when they had both been ensconced in the room, the police came and knocked on the door and demanded entry. Mr. Scruggs says that when he opened the door just a bit to look at who was knocking and claiming to be the police, he was immediately sprayed in the face and effectively blinded for the duration of the events that occurred in the room. Both he and the police reports agree that he was struck three times by the police officers. He was hit by one officer, sprayed again in the eyes, and then hit twice even more forcefully by a second officer. That beating was so severe that it caused an orbital fracture over his eye, again bringing back to me the image of the severe beating and resultant blinding by the police of the black man in the 1960s. Mr. Scruggs claims that every time he was struck, he was already down and handcuffed behind his back, and that he could not see the officers and what was happening to him. The police claimed that he assaulted them and that he resisted arrest. There was no other charge against him that justified the police entry into his room in the first place. And the state’s attorney agreed to drop the felony assault charge if he would agree to plead guilty to the misdemeanor resisting charge, which he agreed to do. If he had not done so, it would have been his word versus that of the police officers and he would have almost certainly been convicted, meaning loss of his liberty for years and loss of his professional license.

At this early stage, people in CUCPJ did two things. First, we helped him locate a skilled private attorney, Steve Beckett. He could only afford a private attorney because he had a sister with the financial means to help him. Without that he would surely be in prison today. Second, I called then-Champaign Mayor Don Gerard and asked him to meet with Mr. Scruggs and hear his story. The Mayor agreed to but said that he thought Councilman Tom Bruno, who was the deputy mayor, should also be there. I agreed, especially since Mr. Bruno had claimed that Champaign did not need a police civilian review board because people could just bring their complaints to the at-large council members, of which he was one.

Mr. Scruggs, CUCPJ member Barbara Kessel and I met with Gerard and Bruno. I  demanded that the charges against Mr. Scruggs be dropped and that the police officers be criminally charged. Mr. Bruno, who is also an attorney, said that only the state’s attorney could bring such chargers against the police and that she would not do that because she would lose in court. They made no commitment on the part of the city to deal with the case. On October 27, 2015, I brought the case to the full city council and remarked how Mr. Bruno’s contention that the at-large council members could deal with complaints against the police was blowing smoke in our faces. At that time, I did not know the identity of the officers who had beaten Mr. Scruggs.

That lack of knowledge bothered me. Finally, in March of this year, 2016, I managed to obtain a complete copy of the case file, including the reports signed and filed by the officers. They were David McLearin, who first struck Mr. Scruggs in the face, and Matt Rush, who delivered the last two crushing blows to Scruggs’ head and face. Officer Rush was the officer whose violent behavior had resulted in complaints, lawsuits, and three large cash settlements from the city to his victims. The city has attempted to fire him twice and the state’s attorney has declared that he has been so untrustworthy in his reports that she will no longer use him as a witness.

I went before the city council once again and asked the city to do three things. First, to financially compensate Mr. Scruggs even though the time for him to sue the city had elapsed. Second, to investigate Officer McLearin’s role in this. And third, to ask the state’s attorney to expunge Mr. Scruggs’s resisting arrest plea, especially since the state’s attorney herself has questioned officer Rush’s truthfulness and refuses to accept his testimony in court. It should be noted that she rejected a recent request by Mr. Scruggs’s lawyer to do just that, but perhaps the city would carry more weight.

What Must Be Done

This case is one more example of why Champaign needs a civilian review board with subpoena power, why the binding arbitration system that makes it impossible to fire or severely  discipline police officers who use excessive force must be changed, and why we need a state’s attorney who will either be willing to prosecute such officers or to call in a prosecutor from outside of the county to do so–as well as a prosecutor who is willing to acknowledge his or her mistakes and remedy the injustices caused by them.

Myron Scruggs    Myron Scruggs

Matt Rush

Matt Rush


Posted in African Americans, Justice, Policing | Comments Off on The Myron Scruggs Case and the Champaign Police Department

Jail is Not Drug Treatment

Toya FrazierIf you were to believe those like Champaign County Board Chair Pattsi Petrie, who spoke recently at a meeting of Champaign County’s Racial Justice Task Force, those in the local jail are dangerous people that shouldn’t be let out on the streets.

Yet the tragic story of Toya Frazier, who recently died in the jail, is the more common case of someone who was no violent criminal, but struggled for years with drug addiction and needed treatment. What she got instead was a death sentence by the Champaign County court system.

Toya Frazier was found dead December 1, 2015 at 5:11 p.m., alone in a cell at the Champaign County Satellite Jail. Guards were supposed to conduct checks every 15 minutes for those on medical watch like Frazier. She was screaming in pain throughout the previous night from what was apparently heroin withdrawal. According to video viewed afterwards, Frazier lay dead in her jail cell for nearly an hour and a half before she was discovered.

Her death would be blamed on the pills she snuck into the jail. But Frazier should not have been there in the first place. There is a lengthy waiting list at the Prairie Center, one of the few options for drug treatment in Champaign County. Those with private insurance can check in at Pavilion. For people who can’t get into either, there is the emergency room. For Frazier, it was a prison sentence.

This is one of two jail deaths within a four month period. On March 27, 2016, Paul Clifton was found dead after an asthma attack. He was in for a traffic offence. Both are African American. While they make up only 13% of the county population, Blacks are at least 60% of those in the jail. Anti-Black racism, whether in the veiled language of those like Petrie or the cruelty of jail guards, continues to snuff out Black lives.

Toya loved cooking and spending time with her nieces and nephews. No longer will the children be able to enjoy her home-cooked meals.

A Cry for Help

In July 2015, Frazier was sentenced to 42 months in the Illinois Department of Corrections for a guilty plea of felony theft. In exchange for dismissal of another theft and a burglary, Frazier pleaded guilty.

Frazier’s sentencing was delayed three times due to her poor health―she had a mild stroke in July, and knee surgery in August. She didn’t run, but turned herself in the morning of November 30, 2015. She was found dead the next day.

Champaign County Coroner Duane Northrup concluded Frazier’s death was “accidental.” The Illinois State Police conducted an investigation, interviewing guards, nurses, and other people in the jail that witnessed Frazier in pain. The state police produced a 300-page report, which I obtained through a public records request. I reconstruct Frazier’s unnecessary death below.

Correct Care?

When Frazier went through booking, she was screened by Beth Novak, a nurse that works for Correct Care Solutions, the Nashville-based private company that recently won the contract for medical services at the jail. Upon entering the jail, Frazier reported being a heroin user and having high blood pressure. In the police investigation, Novak recalled, “During the screening, Toya appeared to be sad and had a watery tear on her face.” She was given medication for heroin withdrawal and kept in the medical area of the jail.

At midnight, Benjamin,* who was in a cell next to Toya, was “awoken by a cry for help.” He told police she was “screaming” and complaining that her stomach hurt. After a few hours, a guard came in and asked Toya “what she wanted them to do for her.” She was told that the nurse would be in in the morning. After breakfast, Benjamin heard Toya screaming again and kicking on her door. There was such a commotion he thought someone was assaulting her, and he asked one of the guards to check on her.

She Was Just in a Lot of Pain

A woman who was Toya’s cellmate, Shawn, was also interviewed by police. She was woken up by Toya’s yelling, “Oh Lord takes this pain, the beast, the beast, oh Lord takes this pain.” Toya said she was experiencing heroin withdrawal. She apologized and asked her to “bear with me.” Shawn said the guards threatened Toya that “if she keeps it up,” the nurse would not give her medicine. Around 3 a.m., guards moved Toya to a 7-foot by 11-foot solitary confinement cell. The screaming still continued all morning until the “officers were getting pretty tired of it,” Shawn told investigators. “She was just in a lot of pain.”

This account was confirmed by Sgt. Arnold Mathews, a 14-year Sheriff’s veteran, who also reported that around 3 a.m., Frazier was “yelling, moaning, and groaning really loudly.” Sgt. Mathews ordered that Frazier be moved to a medical holding cell for women where she was kept by herself. A guard was to check on her every 15 minutes, and there was a video camera monitoring her in the cell.

Toya Frazier cellThe morning of December 1, nurse Beth Novak didn’t get to the satellite jail until 9 a.m. Shortly after, Frazier received medication for her withdrawal symptoms. At 2:15 p.m., Novak spoke with Frazier who she said had a “happier” appearance than the previous day. Frazier asked “if she was getting her withdrawal medication,” but her request was denied. Novak said she was about to give her another dose when Frazier was found dead two hours later.

The Highest Highs Bring the Lowest Lows

In the police investigation that followed, video from the cell was reviewed by an “independent” multi-jurisdictional team. Champaign Police Sgt. David Griffet completed a report at 10 p.m. the night it happened. According to the report, Champaign County Sheriff’s Deputy Lieut. Robert Cravens had observed video from the cell and noted that the “last movement observed for Toya was at 1550 hours (3:50 p.m.).”

Illinois State Police Sgt. Windy Westfall also watched the video and recorded her findings. According to a report filed by Windfall, at 3:23 p.m., Frazier pulled out a tissue apparently with pills, put them into her mouth, and put the tissue into her sock.

At 3:50 p.m., Westfall wrote in her report, “Frazier is laying on her mat, and she made some small movements that appeared to possibly be a seizure. Frazier never moved again after that.”

Dinner was delivered at 4:43 p.m. by a guard who left a food tray on the sink.

A guard returned at 5:11 p.m. to pick up the tray and found Frazier “unresponsive.” CPR was performed, but Frazier had been lying there for nearly an hour and a half, and was already dead.

A toxicology report found that Frazier had died due to excess levels of Diphenhydramine, an ingredient contained in over-the-counter Aleve PM. Sheriff Dan Walsh claims she had hidden them in a walking cane she brought with her into the jail for her bad knee. The Coroner said that Frazier was likely self-medicating for the pains of withdrawal.

For anybody who has experienced, or witnessed someone who has experienced, heroin withdrawal, it is an excruciating sickness. The highest highs bring the lowest lows.

Toya Frazier didn’t need a jail cell to break her addiction. She needed community-based treatment, and the support of family and friends.

What are we willing to do for people like Toya who need to overcome a drug addiction? Can we provide treatment? Or will we send them to jail, and wait for a million-dollar lawsuit for neglect to convince us we need another solution?

*Full names have been withheld to protect the privacy of individuals involved.

Posted in Prisoners | Comments Off on Jail is Not Drug Treatment

Racism and Mass Incarceration in the US Heartland: Historical Roots of the New Jim Crow

If asked what state had the highest rate of incarceration rate of black men, most people would likely cite somewhere in the old Confederacy, perhaps Mississippi or Louisiana. They would be about 1000 miles too far South. According to labor analysts John Pawasarat and Lois M. Quinn, the answer is Wisconsin, which has the nation’s highest per capita incarceration rate of black men and juveniles. Neighboring Iowa has the country’s highest ratio of black to white incarceration. Illinois, from available statistics, has the greatest disparity between blacks in the general population (15%) and blacks in the state prison population (58%). Across the region blacks are incarcerated up to 13 times the rate of whites and three to five times the rate of those labelled “Hispanics.”

No single factor seems to explain this intensely punitive anti-black thread in Midwestern criminal legal circles. Rather, racially skewed outcomes result from a unique set of historical forces and structural changes in the regional political economy coupled with what happens in courts, prisons and in the streets.

Historical Forces: Sundown Towns

While the history of segregation in the South is well-known, the Midwest had its own version of Jim Crow: sundown towns. A sundown town operated under one basic rule of thumb: no blacks were allowed inside the city limits once the sun went down. Jim Loewen has researched sundown towns for many years. His work unearthed more than 300 likely sundown towns  in Illinois, more than 200 in Indiana, and over a hundred in Wisconsin and Ohio. By contrast Loewen told this reporter he could only confirm three in Mississippi. These urban exclusion zones spread extensively from 1890 to 1940, though many endured past World War II. Residents of one such town, Anna, Illinois, claimed the anagram of their town name stood for “Ain’t No Niggers Allowed.”

In many Midwest towns, the imposition of a Sundown regime required the removal of existing black populations, a process Loewen refers to as “ethnic cleansing.” Major “white riots” aimed at removing blacks occurred in medium-sized cities such as Akron, Ohio, Lincoln, Nebraska, and Springfield, Illinois. Numerous small Illinois towns with few black residents, places like East Alton, Auburn, Thayer,  Girard, and Pawnee, as well as Evansville, Indiana made major efforts to rid themselves of their African American population. These purges did not always come easily. Decatur, Indiana accomplished the task by forming an “Anti-Negro Society” at the turn of the 20th century. A Ku Klux Klan rally which attracted nearly 10,000 to West Frankfort, Illinois in 1923 put the stamp on that town’s sundown status. In 1931, it took a lynching in Maryville, Missouri to spark the flight of the town’s entire black population.

While sundown towns were proliferating in the rural areas of the Midwest, big cities followed suit by creating sundown suburbs. Wilmette, an upmarket North Shore suburb of Chicago requested residents to fire all black domestic workers who did not have housing on their employer’s premises. Apparently their presence as pedestrians in the area contributed to a fall in “real estate values.” Edina, now one of the wealthiest suburbs in Minneapolis, chose to expunge its black population in the 1930s to fully establish an elite space. Remnants of this exclusion policy remained until the 1970s

The Midwest–Heartland of Anti-Black Racism

If sundown segregation laid the ideological groundwork for racialized mass incarceration, the deindustrialization of inner cities created an urban geography that facilitated the capture of bodies for the prison industrial complex. University of Illinois historian Lou Turner told me that deindustrialization came in two waves. The first began in the late ‘60s in response to urban black rebellions in places like Detroit, Cleveland and Chicago. The second phase of relocating production heated up in the late ‘70s as part of the global economic restructuring which sent manufacturing to low-wage countries overseas. The disappearance of factories robbed African American workers of some of the few well-paying, secure employment opportunities available.

The scale of this deindustrialization process in other Midwestern cities is staggering. While the decline of Detroit’s auto industry is well-known, the entire region endured a similar process. Between 1961 and 2001, the city of Milwaukee lost 69 percent of its manufacturing positions. Overall, seven counties in southeastern Wisconsin saw a loss of 83,000 positions. Chicago suffered a similar fate, losing 29% of all manufacturing employment in the 1970s. From 1969 to 1989 Cleveland’s manufacturing sector workforce declined by 40%. Even smaller industrial sites like one-time steel production center Youngstown, Ohio felt the brunt of restructuring. Steel plant shutdowns in the late ‘70s, precipitated the loss of 40,000 manufacturing jobs, and 400 satellite businesses in Youngstown.

The absence of manufacturing jobs also contributed to white flight from the inner cities. In the 1970s, Wayne  County (Detroit) lost 26.6% of its white population, with Cleveland (20.1%) and Chicago’s Cook County (15.5%) experiencing similar out migration.

Not surprisingly, the spatial result has been increasingly segregated cities. In a 2010 survey, five of the ten most racially segregated cities in the U.S. were located in the Midwest: Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Milwaukee and Cincinnati. This segregation converted economically barren African American communities into ideal targets for high-tech, militarized policing. Detroit was the first to go down this path with the formation of the STRESS (Stop Robberies, Enjoy Safe Streets) unit in 1970. While STRESS was abandoned after four years and 20 civilian deaths at the hands of police, the spirit of militarized policing lived on―influencing law enforcement methods throughout the region as the War on Drugs.

The War on Drugs and Million Dollar Blocks

The War on Drugs transformed inner city black communities in the region. African American men in Milwaukee County went from having four times as many annual admissions for drug-related offenses as white men in the early 1990s to having 11 to 12 times as many from 2002 to 2005. Two thirds of those incarcerated came from just six zip codes in the inner city. Chicago’s West and South Sides, once home to substantial manufacturing production and the fabled stockyards, became ground zero for massive offensives by an increasingly militarized police department. A 2011 study revealed 851 “million dollar blocks” in Chicago. A million dollar block is one where the criminal justice system spend more than a million dollars a year incarcerating its residents. The vast majority of these blocks were areas with an overwhelmingly black population.

Alan Mills, Executive Director of Uptown People’s Law Center in  Chicago, told me that this created a “perfect feedback loop. We arrest people in poor black communities, these arrests destabilize the communities, leading to more violence. We then send more police into those communities [and] increase arrests even further, thus further destabilizing the community.” The feedback loop continues even after people are released from prison. In Illinois, 60% of those on parole in 2014 were black. .

Fighting Back: Racial Justice Task Force

Given this history, perhaps it is no surprise that in Champaign County the jail population is consistently more than 50% Black, in a county with a 13% Black population. These racial dynamics sparked a year-long struggle led by Black Lives Matter and Build Programs, Not Jails to establish a racial justice task force. The Task Force began its work in February and hopefully will be a catalyst to reverse decades of Midwestern style, anti-Black racism in our county.

(This article originally appeared at Truthout. Reprinted with Permission.)

James KilgoreJames Kilgore is a writer, activist and educator based at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign). His most recent book is Understanding Mass Incarceration: A People’s Guide to the Key Civil Rights Struggle of Our Time (The New Press, 2015). He is also the author of three novels, all of which were drafted during his six and a half years in state and federal prisons in California. Follow him on Twitter @waazn1.

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From the Arab Spring to the Syrian Civil War: Looking Again at the Modern Middle East

It’s tempting to put the Arab Spring and the Syrian Civil War in separate boxes, but like other forms of compartmentalization, that only hides but doesn’t resolve the underlying problems. The dynamics that helped the Syrian War erupt into one of the greatest humanitarian catastrophes since World War II are the same dynamics that filled the streets with jubilant activists demanding access to closed political systems. Looking at the two together does a better job of highlighting the global changes that are affecting not just the Middle East, but the world we all live in.

Looking Past the Arab Spring to the Years of Discontent

2016 05 13 Jayes 4

Queuing for limited supplies of subsidized bread in Cairo

In 2011 Americans watched spellbound as the streets in Middle Eastern capitals filled with young demonstrators demanding political change, and who, we should admit, reminded us of our younger selves with their marches, sit-ins, and impassioned, impromptu speeches before euphoric crowds. In the U.S. we focused on the “Facebook activists” at the center of the evening news videos and told ourselves a comforting story of the spread of Western values. We cheered the young, tech-savvy protesters with their English-language signs and interpreted the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere as a vote for the American Way and a testimonial to our role in bringing democracy to the region. We wanted to place them, and ourselves, on the winning side of history and wipe out the stain of Abu Ghreib.

If we hadn’t been so invested in seeing the protests as a flattering endorsement of ourselves we might have been better prepared to understand the enormity of the challenges of 2011 and less likely to dismiss the sorry sequel of wars, crackdowns, and terrorism as a detour on the path to democracy. The current condition of the post-Arab Spring region certainly is not one in which humans can pursue their lives, liberty and happiness, but it is perhaps a logical outcome to the forces that drove the Arab Spring protesters into the streets in the first place. Looking back at the context of the Arab Spring helps to explain the regional strife we see today.

2016 05 13 Jayes3

Egyptian Textile Workers Strike in el-Mahalla, 2008

There were a lot of people discontented with Middle Eastern regimes in 2011, and they had been for a long time. In the previous decades growing populations and shrinking state budgets had been causing a drop in services like education, health, and food subsidies, services that had once bought the region’s states needed legitimacy. The end of the Cold War accentuated the problem, as development aid was redirected from the region to Eastern Europe and Russia, and neoliberal convictions tied remaining aid to privatization and budget cuts. Outside investors loved the restructured economies, but within the Middle East normal people saw a corrupt sell-off that benefited only the well-connected. The Cold War was no picnic for the Middle East, but the post-Cold War was a free market free-for-all. Then came 9-11, and the ensuing War on Terror provided a new name for Western support for unsavory allies. The West made a little noise about promoting democracy, but what drove military and financial support for regimes was their cooperation with U.S. goals, not their treatment of their own citizens.  The War on Terror provided a handy excuse for governments across the region to imprison, threaten, or even eradicate citizens and organizations that dissented from the official story.

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Sefrou, Morocco, 2007

2011 was the year the world noticed Middle Eastern anger, but long before the marchers filled the streets of Tunis there were other protests, such as the waves of wildcat strikes in the Egyptian industrial sector in 2006-2008. In one strike in 2008 at Mahalla in the Nile Delta, 27,000 Egyptian textile workers swarmed into the streets to demand increased pay. In Morocco, Jordan and other countries the reduction of subsidies for bread led to violent confrontations with the State in 2004, 2007 and 2008, even before the Global Economic Crisis of 2008 hit the Middle East and worsened state budgets. Perhaps the saddest protest movement of all, however, is the unseen refugee crisis of the modern age–impoverished migration (both within and between countries), which multiplied when the drought of the early 2000s came like a biblical punishment. According to the D.C.-based Center for Climate and Security, the 2006-2010 drought in Syria caused 75% of farmers to suffer total crop failure and wiped out 80% of livestock.  People who cannot feed their children in their home towns have little reason left to support the state.

2016 05 13 Jayes2

The Other Refugees: Immigrant Workers in the Gulf

The 2005 “Kefaya” movement in Egypt said it all—“Enough”

Among the urban middle class of the Middle East tension was brewing as well over the gap between the international rhetoric of rights and the reality of governments that operated shadowy interior ministries. Election workers were beaten or disappeared. Bloggers were tortured. Everyone suffered the indignities of whimsical and arbitrary decisions about the lines that could not be crossed in speech, justice or association. And the anger at governments which acquiesced to a violent U.S. occupation of Iraq and seemed more responsive to international investors than its own people  became untenable. The 2005 “Kefaya” movement in Egypt said it all—“Enough.”

The rural migrants, the strikers, the hungry, the civil rights protesters, were all there long before 2011, but local governments were largely successful at controlling media coverage and even internet access until recently. And then the iPhone, YouTube, and Facebook tipped the balance. In the Spring of 2011 protesters shared stories and videos of police brutality as readily as maps of police blockades and methods for washing tear gas out of one’s eyes. The new opportunities for publicity also provided some protection from state retaliation, and the English-language signs of the protesters revealed that they knew the drama was playing out for international audiences as well as local and regional eyes. Middle Eastern regimes were caught in an unflattering spotlight as the older methods of controlling dissent failed. The protests went viral on social media and on the street, and the region was suddenly deafened by cries for change.

The Arab Spring was no sudden political awakening, it was discontent made visible to the rest of the world

It’s not surprising that the international media sought out interviews with English-speaking participants in the marches, or even that journalists clustered in capitals and filmed the English-language signs for their English-speaking audiences, but in limiting ourselves to watching one fragment of the ways in which the state-citizen bargain was falling apart we in the West largely ignored the many other ways in which humans had lost faith in the ability of the state to meet the needs of its residents. This both blinds us to the enormity of the challenges facing the region, but also to the complexity of the issues. These are not problems that are the fault of any single state – drought and food security, globalized labor and capital markets, unfettered technologies of communication, and even the limiting parameters of the War on Terror…and yet we prefer to see the failures of the Arab Spring as separate national stories that fit a familiar narrative of underdeveloped state bureaucracies and inconveniently-drawn borders imposed by outsiders. Even given perfection in these areas — brand new rule-of-law governments, transparent policymaking and organic borders (not that there are such things) — it would be impossible to quickly address the causes that led so many to take to the streets in the past years. This isn’t really a story about tinkering with the state for improved efficiency; it’s a story about the state, and the state-centered world system, coming apart. The Arab Spring was no sudden political awakening, it was discontent made visible to the rest of the world.

First in a series

2016 05 13 Janice Jayes

Janice Lee Jayes, Ph.D. teaches Modern Middle East history at Illinois State University. She has worked in Morocco, Latvia, Kyrgyzstan, and was a Fulbright scholar in Egypt.

[Caption 1: Queuing for limited supplies of subsidized bread in Cairo

[Caption 2: Egyptian Textile Workers Strike in el-Mahalla, 2008]

[Caption 3: Sefrou, Morocco, 2007]

[Caption 4: The Other Refugees: Immigrant Workers in the Gulf]

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African Liberation, Socialism, and Ghana Today

What do most Americans know or think they know about Africa? A number of stereotypes come to mind. African countries are unsafe and unhealthy, always at war, unstable, and poor. People are uneducated and lazy, and live in rural villages among wild animals. But there are 54 countries with an incredible variety of conditions. There are civil wars and coups, but many countries are very stable. Only about half the population lives in rural areas. Wild animals are now mostly confined to parks and reserves. Many countries have significant middle classes. I spent most of my academic career helping people become more knowledgeable. This article attempts to provide some perspective about African history, politics, and current affairs, with some attention to Ghana.

The mechanisms of neo-colonialism. In order to halt foreign interference in the affairs of developing countries it is necessary to study, understand, expose and actively combat neo-colonialism in whatever guise it may appear. For the methods of neo-colonialists are subtle and varied. They operate not only in the economic field, but also in the political, religious, ideological and cultural spheres. Faced with the militant peoples of the ex-colonial territories in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, imperialism simply switches tactics. Without a qualm it dispenses with its flags, and even with certain of its more hated expatriate officials. This means, so it claims, that it is ‘giving’ independence to its former subjects, to be followed by ‘aid’ for their development. Under cover of such phrases, however, it devises innumerable ways to accomplish objectives formerly achieved by naked colonialism. It is this sum total of these modern attempts to perpetuate colonialism while at the same time talking about ‘freedom’, which has come to be known as neo-colonialism. Foremost among the neo-colonialists is the United States, which has long exercised its power in Latin America. Fumblingly at first she turned towards Europe, and then with more certainty after world war two when most countries of that continent were indebted to her. Since then, with methodical thoroughness and touching attention to detail, the Pentagon set about consolidating its ascendancy, evidence of which can be seen all around the world. From Kwame Nkrumah, Neo-Colonialism, the Last Stage of imperialism, 1965.

Restaurant Mural

Decolonization and Socialism

With some exceptions (Egypt, Ethiopia, and Liberia), most African countries won their independence from the French and British colonial empires in the 1950s and the first half of the 1960s. Some fought liberation wars, and others benefited by a peaceful transfer of power because of their neighbors’ sacrifices. The Portuguese colonies of Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, and São Tomé and Príncipe won independence in 1975. Zimbabwe followed in 1980, Namibia in 1990, and South Africa won majority rule only in 1994. Perhaps half of these states adopted ideologies and government structures based on some form of “socialism,” a term with a wide variety of meanings in various places and contexts throughout the world. The term “African Socialism” encompassed, for example: Kenneth Kaunda’s vague “humanism” in Zambia, Muammar al-Qadhafi’s Jamahiriya (“state of the masses”) in Libya, Julius Nyerere’s Ujamaa (“familyhood”) in Tanzania, and Leopold Senghor’s Négritude in Senegal. Other countries adopted a more Marxist or Marxist-Leninist orientation, such as Kwame Nkrumah’s Consciencism in Ghana, and revolutionary governments in Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Many included a strong emphasis on Pan-Africanism, the idea that Africa must unite to reach its true potential. Pan-Africanism includes people of African descent, especially people in North America, the Caribbean, and parts of South America descended from enslaved Africans.

Political Experiments

As an undergraduate student in the late 1960s, I became fascinated with the independence struggles and political experimentation in the new states. It was a time of political ferment in the US, and young people like myself were looking for alternative ideas and models. We saw that capitalism fostered racism and war. Similarly, many African countries rejected the political systems of their capitalist colonizers, and adopted alternatives based on some notion of socialism. The Cold War between the West, Soviet Union, and China also played a role. Most African countries joined the Nonaligned Movement, but all took aid and assistance from one side or the other, and in some cases all sides at the same time in order to balance these influences. For example, Tanzania managed to get the US to build its main north-south road while China built a parallel railroad. The Scandinavian countries also provided much material assistance. Liberation movements in countries still fighting for their independence often received material aid and weapons from the Soviet Union or China, the most logical places to find assistance against the Western imperial powers. In some cases as in Zimbabwe, rival liberation movements were aided by either China or the Soviet Union within the same country.

The Failure of Socialist Models

But declaring socialist models and successfully implementing such development were two different things. African countries were “underdeveloped,” meaning that the imperial powers had systematically exploited African people and resources in order to make themselves rich. Africans did not have the means to accomplish their goals, and new elites were often more concerned with enriching themselves than national development. Countries had to turn to benefactors in the East or West, as well as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The disintegration of the Soviet Union left countries and movements no alternative to capitalism. Fine rhetoric about democracy and equality often turned into corruption and despotic rule, as well as dependence on former colonial powers. Furthermore, the World Bank mandated Economic Structural Adjustment Programs that only made conditions worse. In effect, all these countries eventually became thoroughly integrated into the world capitalist system.

“I would like to show how we are changing lives.” Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahana, State of the Union Address, February 25, 2016


Gold Coast colony became Ghana with its independence from Britain in 1957, the first in the wave of decolonization south of the Sahara after World War II. Its first President was Kwame Nkrumah, a prominent visionary socialist with a Pan-Africanist agenda. He envisioned a democratic and prosperous United States of Africa. Although his government accomplished much, socialist development was overturned by a coup in 1966.

Nkrumah Statue after Coup with Recently Returned Head

I recently travelled to the country to learn more about the history of the transatlantic slave trade and see for myself how things are going. The slave trade was organized from numerous European castles along the West African coast. These castles represent the first European-built and -occupied spaces on the continent. They were originally fortresses and trading posts, but soon included dungeons to house captive Africans, churches, and the offices and living quarters of colonial rulers. About 6.5 million enslaved people were forcefully transferred in the most horrific conditions from just the Gold Coast slave castles to the Western Hemisphere. Many African Americans traveled to Ghana after independence, and some stayed. W. E. B. DuBois is perhaps the most famous African-American scholar who settled in Ghana (at age 93!). As an activist and socialist, DuBois was a pioneer in researching African history. Nkrumah had invited him to attend the independence celebrations in 1957, but the US had confiscated his passport at that time. About 65,000 Americans visited Ghana last year, and about one-third of them were African Americans on an emotional quest to reconnect to an unknown ancestral homeland. There are several thousand African Americans living in the country today.

Elmina Castle

Ghana is now a multi-party democracy, with a high degree of freedom of speech and press. It is classified as medium in the UN Human Development Index. It is designated as medium for inequality, has a fast-growing middle class, and is ranked as a “lower middle income” country by the World Bank. The party in power, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), defines itself as social democratic. The New Patriotic Party (NPP), the main opposition, has a liberal capitalist orientation. Interestingly, one Ghanaian told me he thought that the policies of the NPP when they were in power were actually more social democratic than the policies of the current government. The socialist Convention People’s Party, Nkrumah’s party, was revived in 1996, but has only one seat in the current Parliament. The next presidential and parliamentary elections will take place on November 7, 2016.

Shop at Elmina Castle

Travelling in Ghana is fascinating and fun. It is sobering to tour the slave castles, interesting to see DuBois’ house and library, and educational to visit museums explaining various ethnic groups. The food is tasty and delicious, and Ghana is known for its beautiful Adinkra and Kente cloth, and expressive woodcarvings. Contemporary Ghana shatters all the stereotypes noted above.

Amazingly for grey-haired folks like myself, recent US polls show that around half of people under 40 now have a positive view of socialism. Perhaps we need to experiment more, just as African countries tried to do half a century ago. And significant progressive change in the US might provide new possibilities for countries around the world.

Al Kagan is African Studies Bibliographer and Professor of Library Administration Emeritus from the University of Illinois.



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Black Lives Matter C-U Summer Activities

BLMCUSocial justice collective, Black Lives Matter, the Champaign-Urbana chapter, has been gaining further traction within their outreach. From demonstrations and panel meetings, to youth involvement and local radio shows, Black Lives Matter’s efforts continue to make striving progress throughout the local area. Approaching the summer, Black Lives Matter will continue to volunteer at the Douglass Community Center once a month, take part in community neighborhood canvassing, and participate in Champaign-Urbana Day. You can stay posted on the Black Lives Matter Champaign-Urbana Facebook page or website for more events in the future.

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Incarceration figures

Some figures compiled in the Coalition for Prisoners’ Rights Newsletter (April 2016). Reprinted with Permission.

I. Number Incarcerated in U.S., 2014

1.5 million people at an annual per person cost of $80 billion–approximately $51,250 each. (A “free world” minimum wage of $15/hr would come to $30,000.)

II. Number Affected by ”Felony Drug Ban”

Approximately 180,000 women in the 12 most impacted states have been banned from welfare benefits for life.

III. Number Disproportionately Imprisoned

In 2014, 6% of all African American men aged 30-39, 2% of Latino men and 1% of “white” men, were imprisoned.

IV. Disproportionate Numbers of Youth

In 2013, the commitment rate for African American youth was four times higher than for “white” youth, an increase of 10% over ten years.

V. Amounts of Prison Guards Salaries

The 29,000 members of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association will receive a 9% salary increase over the next three years. The base salary currently starts at $63,000 annually and can range to nearly $80,000. Guards can earn over $100,000 a year with overtime at the state’s 34 prisons.

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