Turning Lemons Into Lemonade! Attacks on Unions & Fighting Back

Turning Lemons Into Lemonade!

Attacks on Unions & Fighting Back
Sun. Feb. 18 at 1 pm
Champaign Public Library
200 W. Green St., Champaign
Speakers from Wisconsin join local discussion about the
devastating impact of legal changes to workers’ rights,
soon to be nationwide,
and how our communities can fight back.
All are welcome. Free admission. Refreshments served.
Sponsored by Central Illinois Jobs With Justice.

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Our County Nursing Home for Sale

(Belden Fields is the Chair of Friends of Champaign County Nursing Home)

At its January 9, 2018 meeting, the Champaign County Board decided to put the Champaign County Nursing Home up for sale. All the Republicans voted in favor, and they were joined by three Democrats: Patsi Petrie, Shana Jo Crews and Board Chair Pius Weibel.

Many Republicans have pushed for the sale of the nursing home as far back as 2002, when there were two referenda, one to fund the construction of a new building and an additional tax for its operation. Both of those referenda passed. Unfortunately, during the construction of the building wood was exposed to rain, resulting in a mold problem that cost about $3 million to remedy. Only $1 million was recovered from the contractor. The other $2 million was levied by the Board against the nursing home itself! Of course, the nursing home and its management had nothing at all to do with that loss. So when one reads in the press that the nursing home owes “more than $2.4 million … to various county funds” (Tom Kacich, News-Gazette, 1/9/18), the $2 million is due to the Board’s decision to make the home pay for the construction deficiency that was the fault of the contractor and county officials who were supposed to oversee the construction.

It is true that among the problems the nursing home encountered were an ineffective administrator for several years, and then a less-than-stellar private management firm that was brought in to guide the home. But the big financial hit came when the state of Illinois fell so far behind in accepting and processing Medicaid claims. The county home has a disproportionate number of Medicaid patients who either came in with no financial resources or spent down all their finances as they resided there. That prompted a serious cash-flow problem for the home, putting it in arrears in paying vendors, and necessitating its borrowing from the county to fill in the state payment time gap. It is only recently that the state has hired about 1200 more people and opened a new office in Chicago to accept and process downstate applications. So there has been positive movement on that front, which was probably part of the reason that the home showed a $30,000 profit in November 2017, the last month for which figures are available as of this writing. Another reason is that last summer the county hired a different management firm, SAK, that has brought in more efficient management and financial practices.

Onslaught Against the Home

While some of us in the county have had direct experience with the home and prize it as a public asset with a very long history of caring for the most vulnerable and destitute, there has been an onslaught of negativity from the Republicans, the News-Gazette and County Board Democrat Patsi Petri. In April 2017, there was another referendum on the home. Voters were asked to raise the property tax rate, the proceeds of which were to go to the nursing home, but also to give the County Board the authority to sell the home. This was not a mandate to sell, just giving the Board the ability to sell without going to the public again for permission. Unfortunately, the property tax increase failed. It did so on an urban/rural split. Voters in Champaign/Urbana supported the tax, while rural voters opposed it in sufficient numbers to kill it. There was also an urban/rural split on the authorization to sell. A large majority of the urban voters opposed the authorization to sell (69% in Urbana), while 67% of the rural voters, overwhelmingly Republican, supported it.

There was a more recent attempt by Gordy Hulten, the Republican County Clerk who is now running to become the newly created County Executive, to demonstrate that opinion in the mostly Democratic districts had shifted since last April in favor of selling the home. So he commissioned a telephone poll in which people who answered were told:

“As you know from published reports, the Champaign County Nursing Home is losing hundreds of thousands of dollars every month, and two residents died this year due to alleged negligence. To remedy the situation, the county board must now decide between cutting services—such as laying off police officers and eliminating some early voting locations—or selling the home to a privately funded company prepared to provide better care. We’d like to know whether you support or oppose the sale of the Champaign County Nursing Home in an effort to solve the problems?”

According to Hulton, about 53% responded that they favored sale. Note that this is a push-pull poll, one in which you first feed responders a lot of good or bad information and then ask them to respond in a way that you want them to. Moreover, those cuts might not be the choices that would be made if there were no sale. And why privilege a private company over a nonprofit one? Indeed, the sale of the public Vermillion county home to a private firm has not resulted in better care. That home has a one-star Medicare rating, lower than the two-star rating of the Champaign County Nursing Home. That did not stop Tom Kachich from devoting a full-length article in the News-Gazette (11/12/17) to Hulton’s push-pull poll. Indeed, between Kacich’s reporting and the News-Gazette’s anti-public nursing home editorials, it would be hard for people who rely on this as their news source to avoid feeling that the sky is falling on the nursing home and that privatization is the only savior, despite all the research findings that not-for-profit nursing homes are better than private ones.

Stipulations for the Sale

The County Board has been advised by its broker that it can reasonably expect $11 million for the home. That is the base price in its request for proposals to buy. But money is not the only stipulation. There are others, including that the purchaser must agree to maintain a skilled nursing facility with 220 beds until 2028, a set-aside for 10 years of 50% of the beds for Medicaid residents, and some employee retention provisions. Another provision is that the buyer would assume the existing collective bargaining agreement with AFSCME until the contract terminates at the end of 2018, but with no obligation for union recognition after that.

It would be preferable if the county would also (1) seek out, or give priority to, non-profit buyers because of their better records nation-wide; (2) exclude from consideration corporations engaged in “related property transactions” that do business only with their own separate companies for services (according to Kaiser Health News, quality of care is worst among this kind of private company, New York Times, 1/7/18); and (3) exclude from consideration any buyers, private or public, whose nursing homes average less than a 2-star rating, which is the rating of our nursing home now.

We have to consider the welfare of the residents of our nursing home. Whatever the problems our home is presently confronting, we cannot in good conscience deliver the residents to a worse situation as a result of a sale. Fortunately, an actual sale would require affirmative votes by 15 board members, two more than just approved putting the home up for sale. If we reach a point where we advocates cannot prevent a sale, then at least we can pressure members of the board to act in the best interests of present and future residents.

Posted in Champaign County, Nursing Home, social services, the elderly | Comments Off on Our County Nursing Home for Sale


[DAVE-please put this announcement on the same page as the article on the artist Nika if possible]



500 S. Bartell Road, Urbana

SUNDAY, FEB. 25, 1-5 PM

Come to an exhibit by 13 talented local artists, as well as poetry readings, beer and wine tasting and making by Riggs Brewing and Wildwood Cellars, snacks, and music by Dorothy Martirano and the Almost “A” Trio.  All free!  For more information, call Kay at 708-417-2911.

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Poland: Following in Hungary’s Footsteps

Second of two parts.

On December 20, the European Commission—the executive arm of the European Union (EU), consisting of one representative from each of the 28 member countries—launched the “nuclear option” of EU politics against Poland: a proposed formal warning that “fundamental values” of democracy were at risk because of actions by the ruling Law and Justice Party government (PiS in its Polish initials). If corrections were not made within three months, it could lead to the deprivation of the country’s EU voting rights—never before attempted—under Article 7 of the basic EU treaty. The immediate trigger for the action was new laws facilitating government control over the Polish judiciary; but the European Parliament vote the previous month initiating the process was also based on moves against the independence of the media and the civil service.

New Polish Prime Minister Mazowiecki (R.) meeting Hungarian PM Orbán in January in Budapest, with backdrop of ceremonial “Hussars.”

In early January, the new Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki—who had taken office several weeks earlier as part of a PiS cabinet shake-up—made his first bilateral visit abroad, to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Hungary. He was looking for assurances that Orbán’s government would block any final Article 7 vote, which could be foiled by just one dissenting country. But the visit, greeted with great fanfare, including a Hussar band (the Hussars were legendary light cavalry soldiers, prominent in freedom struggles over the centuries in both Hungarian and Polish history and memory), also had strong symbolic importance. Since winning a “supermajority”—one large enough to make constitutional changes on its own—in the 2010 elections, Orbán’s conservative nationalist party, Fidesz, has gained and consolidated complete power in Hungary. Since then, with the help of a massive and virulent anti-immigrant campaign (see my article “‘Anti-Refugeeism without Refugees’ in Eastern Europe” in the November 2016 Public i) and constant propaganda against the EU’s allegedly anti-national, anti-Christian, even “anti-European” bias and policies, he was reelected in 2014, and is almost certain to be elected again this spring for four more years. PiS, elected by a narrower plurality of voters (37%) in late 2015, aspires to match that example of power and control, as well as securing a solid ally within the EU.

There is growing fear, in Brussels and across the Bloc, of what one observer has called an emerging “Authoritarian International.” Such a formation would be anchored in Hungary and Poland, but also potentially extend to Slovakia and Croatia, both sites of increasingly nationalist governments; the Czech Republic, where a Trump-like businessman, Andrej Babis, recently became Prime Minister and the fiercely anti-immigrant Milos Zeman was just reelected President; and even Austria, where the hard-charging conservative 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz took over as Chancellor in December. Orbán’s conception of “illiberal democracy,” with Turkey, Russia, Singapore or even China as models, rather than Germany, France or Scandinavia, has gained credence on the populist Right. He has been working through the Visegrad Group, a regional policy grouping that includes Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, to consolidate and strengthen anti-immigrant, “pro-(Christian) European identity” forces within the EU. But many doubt that the EU machinery, already confronting Brexit and the rise of the extreme Right outside of government (for the time being) in its core member countries, is up to the task of disciplining a determined member-state government, no matter how far it goes against “European values.” (Exhibits A and B are the failure to act effectively against the entry of the far-Right Austrian Jörg Haider into his country’s governing coalition in 2000, and against Orbán since 2010.)

A map of the Visegrad countries overlaid on the EU flag.

The concerns of the Eurocrats and Western punditry about the rule of law, media independence, democracy and all the rest are valid: in Hungary, over the past seven-plus years, I have seen the deterioration of public culture, cherished institutions, the educational system, and even individual freedom, in the case of, for example, teachers and nurses afraid to speak out or organize. But what they miss is the sense of dislocation and disappointment among many European citizens, not only in “the East,” who feel left behind and without a voice in the neoliberal “democratic consensus” of EU institutions.

Poland was the site of perhaps the most massive and dynamic union movement in history, Solidarnosc (Solidarity), which mobilized 10 million workers, out of a total population of 35 million, against a repressive and exploitative state within a few months in 1980. Jaroslaw Kaczinsky, the powerbroker within PiS, and his late twin brother Lech were both active in the movement; when the (US-made) “shock therapy” program of the 1990s devastated much of rural and working-class Poland, especially in the southern and eastern regions, and splintered the Solidarnosc forces, the brothers were able to reap the benefit by purveying a politics of cultural resentment to those many losers in the transition to capitalism. The Great Recession, though less severe in Poland than elsewhere in the region, only deepened this discontent, with the neoliberal orthodoxy, including labor concessions and government austerity, coming from Brussels and both Western and local elites. Over two million Poles, and hundreds of thousands of Hungarians, especially young college graduates, have left their home and families for better wages—working mostly in service, retail and construction—in Western Europe (an ironic development, given both governments’ hostility to economic migration from Asia or Africa). PiS’s measures against economic insecurity, including substantial child support payments, the bolstering of welfare payments and wages at the bottom, and the rollback of a previous raise in the retirement age, have been popular and strikingly effective. There is thus a surprising amount of union support, for example among steelworkers, for this program (less astounding is its wide support among farmers).


A PiS poster, superimposing the party’s logo onto a famous image from the 1980s’ Solidarity era, featuring Gary Cooper from the film High Noon.

Political scientist and Poland expert David Ost has looked back to the politics of the 1920s and ‘30s for models of the PiS phenomenon, calling it “Left fascism”: ultranationalist and authoritarian, but also attentive to the needs and insecurities of its core, grassroots constituents. Both PiS and Fidesz have successfully channeled legitimate resentment against the EU, and Western European domination of it, against a multi-culturalism and “political correctness” that they say threatens national traditions and identity, and leads to terrorism and never-ending migration crises.

Polish women demonstrating in 2016 against proposed new abortion law.

Although the party-level liberal political opposition, in Poland as in Hungary, is discredited, divided and weak, there are signs of hope at the grassroots. Massive protests and a daylong women’s strike in late 2016 by what became known as the “women in black” movement—mourning their loss of rights—managed to turn back an attempt to harden Poland’s abortion laws, already the most restrictive in Europe, into a total ban. Last summer, after more large protests, President Andrzej Duda, though he had been PiS’s candidate, declined to sign into law two of the most damaging measures against the judiciary (although he did sign equivalent laws in December). Counter-demonstrators to the November 11 rightist rally (see part 1) marched under the historic sloganFor Our Freedom and Yours,” showcasing the universalist side of the Polish independence movement. There is, according to Ost, a “small but growing new left in Poland,” exemplified by the new party Razem (Together), which gained 3.6% of the 2015 parliamentary vote despite having been founded only a few months prior.

Razem activists take to the streets.

But in order to really turn around the ship of state, PiS’s opponents will have to go beyond defending liberal causes and the rule of law. They need to recognize those left behind by the imposition of neoliberalism—by liberal elites, ex-Communists and EU institutions from the mid-‘90s on—on Poland. Resistance to PiS’s rightist consolidation must incorporate an economic vision—and a broader sense of inclusion—that reaches beyond the EU status quo.

Counter-protesters at the November 2017 nationalist demonstrations; their banner reads “For Your Freedom and Ours. History is Happening Today.”

Posted in International, Poland | Comments Off on Poland: Following in Hungary’s Footsteps


“Inspiration” by Nika

Local photographer Nika Lucks

A column curated by staff of the Urbana Public Arts Program

Nika Lucks is a local photographer originally from the Chicago Southside. Her most recent work, People of Speech: Part I, draws inspiration from parts of speech: nouns, verbs, adjectives, and so on. In this photography series, subjects were invited to embody the parts of speech that exemplify who they are. People of Speech: Part I is a series of images of Black and Brown people expressing the words that represent their unique identities. The People of Speech series will premier parts II and III in 2018.

For this issue, Public Arts Coordinator Rachel Lauren Storm met with local artist and photographer Nika Lucks, to learn more about her artistic process.

R: Tell me a little about yourself and your past creative work.

N: Well I’m from Chicago—the Southside. I went to four different high schools when I was younger. Which sucked! I was always the new girl. We moved a lot. Just being poor, we couldn’t afford things. I’ve always been into creative things. Art has been an outlet for me. It started with poetry in 5th grade. I was an odd kid and didn’t really have friends, so I read and wrote my own poems.

I did spoken word here in Champaign-Urbana at Speak Café [the poetry open mic at Krannert Arts Museum]. It was a great outlet for me. I still write but my poems can be too happy sometimes. Sometimes it feels like people don’t really want to hear about the happy life or the good times. I feel like I need to find another audience.

R: What inspires you as an artist?

N: Because we moved a lot we lost a lot. Baby photos, photos of the past, and things that really mattered. It really bothered me. I saw Sabrina, with Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. It changed my life! I saw myself in the main character. We had so many things in common. These two experiences inspired me to become a photographer.

R: What do you hope your work inspires in others?

N: I like to call what I do photo art. Not the “sit still, look pretty” kind of work.

With this collection People of Speech: Part I, my goal is to see more people of color and elderly people represented in art. And not in a “homeless,” “poor,” “depressing,” “thug life” representation. It sends a message that that is all there is to us.

 I want to do more upbeat, fun artwork—sort of like my poetry. There is sadness and depression all over the world and I’m not saying we shouldn’t acknowledge this, but this isn’t all we are.

R: What can we expect from you next as an artist?

N: Well, next you will see People of Speech II and III. The second series will feature Asian and Pacific Islanders and the third will feature people 60 and over. I’m working on photo greeting cards from the first installment of People of Speech.  

I’m definitely a Nerd girl! I volunteer at conventions, horror cons and comic cons—and I’m getting into it more. I think in the future that I’ll also make horror art!  I love the fake blood and gore and cosplay photos.

To view more of Nika Lucks’ photography work visit @NikaLucks on Instagram.

Editors note: Nika’s work is currently exhibited at the Independent Media Center at 202 S. Broadway, Urbana. Nika will also be one of the 13 artists exhibiting at the “Art Though the Generations” exhibit at the Champaign County Nursing Home on Sunday, February 25, 1-5 pm. Her work is also currently exhibited at the Independent Media Center.



Posted in African Americans, Arts | Comments Off on ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Nika Lucks

Cooperatives and Socialism

Colin Dodson is IT coordinator at the Common Ground Food Co-op.

The last two years have given us plenty of reason to grow weary of “politics” and lose faith in the political structures around us, but as a cooperative, Common Ground is inherently a political organization as much as it is an economic one, and, in my opinion, it’s high time that we engage politically with our owners.

As we look toward a new year amidst political and economic turmoil, I want to look back to our cooperative roots. Common Ground is a cooperative, but what does that really mean? Let’s start with a simple question with a not-so-simple answer.

Are Cooperatives Socialist?

To get an idea of what answers this question might have, I’ll provide a little bit more context. What is a cooperative? When and where do cooperatives come from? And how are co-ops related to socialism?

There are many kinds of cooperatives, rooted in several traditions, but I’m going to focus on the lineage that Common Ground and most co-ops come from.

For this purpose, I’m going to start right around 1800. Revolutions in nearly every aspect of human life marked the turn of the century as the Industrial Revolution, the dying years of monarchy and feudalism, the rise of capitalism, liberal democracy and the enlightenment dramatically transformed society.

While developing capitalism and technology were able to create an abundance of material goods, they also created their own new forms of oppression and suffering—artisans’ guilds (and skilled trades generally) lost a great deal of agency as human skills were replaced with automation, mass manufacturing and low-skill repetitive labor, and, at the same time, working conditions became more and more dangerous as working hours drew out ever longer in order to maximize the profits of factory, mine and mill owners.

At the same time, enlightenment-era idealists, philanthropists and philosophers saw this suffering, and a few tried to do something about it. This gets me to the intersection of socialism and the cooperative movement.

Robert Owen

Born in Newtown, Wales in 1771, Robert Owen came to manage textile mills in Lincolnshire, and eventually to co-own the textile mill in New Lanark, Scotland in 1799-1800. Working in and managing textile mills, Owen developed his own spiritual, social and economic approaches to labor and community, which ultimately led to reducing working hours, providing free education to all workers and their families and emphasizing the needs and well being of labor when he gained the power to do so.  Owens came to describe himself as both a socialist and a proponent of the cooperative movement, and later went on to found a planned utopian socialist/cooperative village in New Harmony, Indiana in 1825. This later experiment ultimately failed economically, in 1827, but the legacy Owen left continued into the Rochdale movement, and this is where socialism and the cooperative movement in Britain begin to part ways.

The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers

In 1844, a group of 28 people who were largely displaced skilled tradespeople founded a cooperative enterprise known as the Rochdale Society. In the beginning, it was a very small worker-owned and -managed retail business which carried only a few bare essentials such as butter, sugar, flour and candles. Over just a few years, business boomed, and their selection expanded to include most consumables, and even tobacco and tea. From such humble beginnings, they’d built a business that became renowned for its high quality, unadulterated goods.

What the Rochdale Society also produced was a set of guiding principles which has evolved into the Rochdale Principles that we still hold to this day. To put this into historical perspective with the development of socialism in the sense we know it today, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published the Communist Manifesto in 1848.

This is not to say that Marx and Engels held wholly positive views toward the emerging cooperative movement—indeed, both offered tremendous criticism of both “utopian socialism” and emerging cooperatives as largely out of touch with material history and as isolated experiments in a sea of capitalism which did not directly challenge the structure and order of the prevailing mode of production in their day. All of this aside, Marx and Engels did rightfully credit Owen and the Rochdale Pioneers  for their developments and recognition of the material conditions of the working (or proletarian) classes.

Okay, so what does all of this mean?

The cooperative movement and socialism are distinct from each other, but they are close cousins. Socialism demands a wholescale transformation of society’s productive forces, and to immediately end capitalism. Cooperatives are a little different: they seek to do the best they can democratically within whatever economic system is present. So, cooperatives aren’t necessarily socialist, but they share a common root and are, in some cases, fully compatible with a socialist society.

Cooperatives come in many different forms—from worker co-ops and consumer co-ops to producer-, secondary- and hybrid co-ops—but each form shares critical features laid out in the principles by which they operate and the general structure of decision making and governance within and between co-ops. For example, Common Ground does not have “shareholders,” but “stakeholders,” and decision-making power is ultimately rooted in a democracy of consumers. That means you, as the consumer/stakeholder, are in charge.

If you’d like to learn more about how to exercise power as an owner of Common Ground or how to become an owner, reach out to the Common Ground board of directors (board@commonground.coop) or marketing team (marketing@commonground.coop ). The co-op belongs to its consumer-owners, and their participation keeps our collective faith in a better business model alive.

Posted in Cooperative, socialism | Comments Off on Cooperatives and Socialism


The Red Herring Vegetarian Restaurant, a project of the Channing Murray Foundation, is celebrating its 50th Anniversary with a Golden Birthday Party on Feb. 17th.  The event will include live music, local food, storytellers, a memorabilia exhibit (LPs, poetry books, posters, etc.), a raffle, and musical performances by Paul Kotheimer, The Merry Travelers, Dewclaw, and other local folk and jazz groups. Founding participants Bill Taylor and Vern Fein are among the scheduled storytellers. The event runs from 4:30 to 10:30 pm at the Channing Murray Foundation, 1209 E. Oregon St., Urbana. There is a $10 suggested donation at the door, but the organizers will accept “more if you can, less if you can’t.”

The Golden Birthday Party is just one of a week-long series of activities running from Feb. 16 to Feb. 22, including contra dancing, cooking classes, and an open mic night.  For more information, call (217) 367-2340 or see www.channingmurray.org.


The Honduran Crisis: Not Quite Your Father’s Oligarchy…

 At first glance the political crisis in Honduras seems depressingly familiar: a military coup against a left-leaning President in 2009, continued repression of opposition groups, and now a Presidential election so full of irregularities that demonstrators refuse to leave the streets. But the crisis in Honduras is much more than a reprise of past injustices; it’s a new story of globalization in all its uncomfortable contradictions:  environmental and indigenous rights activists, War-on-Terror advisors, eco-tourists, miners, and tilapia farmers. This election scandal is a thoroughly 21st century event.

Days after the November 26 election Honduran protesters demanded the resignation of President Juan Orlando Hernandez

An “Irregular” Election Rooted in a Military Coup   

The protests that have engulfed Honduras since the November 26, 2017 election really began back in 2009, when the army deposed President Manuel Zelaya. His unanticipated turn to the left had alarmed his opponents. And it was that same Left that marched on and blockaded key highways, demonstrated in public squares, and sometimes was shot at or disappeared in the months and years after the coup.

Zelaya hadn’t created this movement so much as it had created him. During the early 2000s, activists in Honduras concerned with working conditions in maquiladoras, environmental degradation, and the loss of indigenous control over collective lands began to share concerns with a worldwide network of organizations fighting similar campaigns. Social media allowed them to share strategies for forcing investor and government compliance with community demands.  

The Honduran business and agrarian elite were themselves feeling the effects of a changing world. Older paths to wealth, like exporting coffee, were facing increased competition. Then, in 1998, Hurricane Mitch killed thousands, displaced more than 2 million, and destroyed 80% of crops. Mitch’s devastation led to a profound transformation of rural life and politics, as those with capital diversified into new fields such as tilapia, shrimp, palm oil, and mining ventures. Unfortunately, the regions they proposed to develop were held by communities resistant to the environmental degradation and land alienation that would result. Activist campaigns to attract international attention to the land grab also attracted Zelaya to ally himself with this new political base.

Land Grabbing in Post-Coup Honduras

The coup which removed Zelaya in 2009 moved quickly to reverse the environmental and community protections he had enacted. The moratorium on new mining concessions was lifted; aid for education, fuel costs, and food was reduced; and utility companies were privatized. Roads were carved across indigenous land, opening the way for export agriculture and mining investment.

One of the most insidious new developments was that of Charter Cities, legalized in 2011. Charter Cities were designed to spur investment by attracting foreign investment to undeveloped regions. They offered the familiar tax and trade incentives often found in Special Economic Zones, but also promised legal and regulatory incentives in the form of streamlined paperwork. Investors would be able to avoid onerous paperwork related to environmental impact statements, indigenous land tenure, labor conditions, and even the Honduran judicial and security systems. In short, investors could cease worrying about investing in Honduras because the Charter Cities would effectively be removed from Honduran government control.

While Charter Cities haven’t yet rolled out as expected, since 2009 the landscape of Honduras has become a battleground where land grabs by investors are met with community resistance. Mining, tourist enclaves, hydroelectric dams, and commercial agriculture ventures are all protected by legal structures that disenfranchise the traditional residents. Company paramilitaries abound: the Honduran NGO, Observatory of Violence, estimates there are 700 private security companies in the country. The units don’t just safeguard sites from vandalism, they also evict populations newly demoted from residents to squatters.

After the coup many activists gave up on formal politics and instead invested their energy in attracting international attention to Honduran human rights, labor, and land access issues. They opposed the 2014 U.S.-Honduran initiative to reduce gang violence, narcotics trafficking, and emigration to the U.S., in part because it relied on developing rural areas without consulting local views. Activists also publicized the danger of the plan’s reliance on the militarization of police in a country with a poor human rights record. The campaign to protect the Garifuna people of Honduras’ northern coast from the expansion of shrimp farms and eco-lodges is a good illustration of the contradictions in this era: connections with the global indigenous rights movement helped protect a local community from the global expansion of the tourist and food industries.

“A Death Trap for Environmental Activists”

Not surprisingly, violence skyrocketed after 2009, and Honduras is now one of the deadliest countries in the world. While the government blames the violence on narcotics-linked gang violence, Human Rights Watch notes that many victims have been opposition activists or farmers who were simply inconvenient to these new land grab initiatives.     

The 2016 assassination of well-known Honduran activist Berta Caceres shocked the environmentalist community around the world.  

The March 2016 murder of Berta Caceres, recipient of international awards for her work opposing the construction of a hydroelectric dam in the territory of the Lenca people, was the most famous example of the lethal conditions activists face. In frustration, Amnesty International called Honduras a “death trap for environmental activists,” and Global Witness lamented that Honduras was “the most deadly place on the planet to defend the environment.”

Global Witness recorded 120 murders of environmental activists in Honduras since the 2009 coup.

The Surprisingly Competitive 2017 Election

The indignation following Caceres’ murder contributed to the unexpected outcome of the 2017 presidential election. The opposition candidate, Salvador Nasralla, ran on an anti-corruption platform and pledged to shut down Charter Cities and defend community land rights. Nasralla is charismatic, but expectations were low and few expected the incumbent, Juan Hernández, (a key architect of the 2009 coup) to permit a serious challenge to his reelection.

And then, on election day, Nasralla unexpectedly pulled ahead with a five-point lead. The election committee suspended the count completely for 24 hours, and after two weeks of irregular updates declared Hernández the winner with 42% of the vote to Nasralla’s 41%.

By the time the results were announced, several protesters had already been killed. The government imposed a curfew but it did little to calm the situation, and two months after the election opposition groups continue to face off against riot police in the streets. Several countries joined the OAS in calling for new elections, but the U.S. congratulated Hernández on his victory instead. The U.S. State Department had already certified on November 28th (in the midst of the election scandal) that Honduras was compliant with anti-corruption and human rights requirements, clearing the way for continued U.S. security assistance to the same units confronting the ongoing protests.

Protesters have been confronted by Honduran police and military units who have benefitted from U.S. financial assistance and training.

An Environmentalist Spring?

Overall, the political crisis in Honduras does sound familiar, but it’s firmly grounded in the inescapable globalizations of the 21st century. Environmental activists are using new technologies to access like-minded groups across the globe and share strategies for preserving community control against outsiders. The chaotic streets of Tegucigalpa resemble scenes from the Arab Spring for similar technology and strategy reasons. The globalization of food has made Honduran land suddenly desirable for those who would farm shrimp or tilapia for U.S. consumers, while the ease of travel allows outsiders to vacation in scuba villages that advertise proximity to exotic local culture while simultaneously dispossessing it. And the military aid that allows Hernández to keep his administration afloat? It’s a byproduct of the U.S. pursuit of security from refugees, drugs, and extremists through the militarization of far borders.  

Hernández, with his ham-handed election fraud, may try to resurrect the ghost of an older oligarchical world, but his opponents are as globalized as he is now, albeit with different visions of the future. What kind of world will be built, and who will control the corners of it, is something that won’t be determined in the aftermath of one election, but it’s clearly something Hondurans are willing to fight for.

Posted in Economics, Environment, Honduran Election 2017, Human Rights, International, Land, military | Comments Off on The Honduran Crisis: Not Quite Your Father’s Oligarchy…

The Power of a Word

(Eleanor Clark Ray is a 93-year-old resident of Champaign who taught school in Monterey, California.)

Having a very long past to remember, I find that bits of that past rise into conscious memory unbidden and usually not welcome. For example, . . .

A question from a boy in my third grade classroom reminded me of how profoundly we Homo sapien types are led, and often misled, by language.

In the Christian calendar the Wednesday 46 days before Easter is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. On the Ash Wednesday of this incident, Jerry had been to Mass and on his forehead was a streak of ashes. One of the other boys said “your face is dirty,” and tried to wipe it off. Jerry avoided the attempt and announced that the ashes were because the Jews were going to kill Christ. He followed that with a nine-year-old’s screed against Jews.

I jumped in with what you might expect: acknowledgment that a few Jews are not good and kind just as a few Catholics and Methodists and Baptists are not good and kind. But almost all Jews, like almost all Christians, are very kind and good and would be sure to help you if you were having trouble.

And Jerry asked me, “If they are not bad, then why are they called Jews?”

Posted in anti-Semitism, bigotry, children | Comments Off on The Power of a Word

New Bill Takes Effect Cutting Cost of Calls from Illinois Prisons


January 8, 2018


Brian Dolinar, Program Director, Independent Media Center, (217) 621-5827, briandolinar@ucimc.org

The Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center (UCIMC) is proud to announce that as of January 1, 2018, a new state law took effect reducing by half the cost of phone calls from Illinois prisons. We would like to express our deepest gratitude to State Representative Carol Ammons for championing HB6200, The Family Connections Bill, passed in mid-2016.

The bill sets the cost of phone calls from Illinois prisons at a maximum rate of seven cents per minute. A 30-minute phone call, which used to cost four dollars, will now be about two dollars. This bill is already having immediate impact for thousands of people with a loved one in prison.

Wandjell Harvey-Robinson, whose parents were incarcerated when she was in the third grade and who grew up talking to them on the phone, is pleased to see the new rates in place: “We did it! I’m elated with the joy this victory brings to families who might be burdened with the expenses of phone calls from a loved one who is incarcerated. We must work together to make policies that help these families―they are a part of our community!”

State Representative Carol Ammons reacted to the passage of HB6200: “In a time where private companies are pushing more and more into our public services, I am proud to sponsor a bill that ensures profit does not take precedence over basic human dignity.”

Brian Dolinar, UCIMC Program Director, who provided educational support for the bill, said: “The campaign for prison phone justice in Illinois shows that reform is possible even as we see the rollback of industry regulations by the FCC under Trump. With implementation of HB6200, Illinois becomes a leader in providing affordable phone calls for those incarcerated and their families.”

UCIMC continues to work with national partners in the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, and their assistance has been essential to this victory for those living in Illinois. We are also grateful for funding provided by the Media Democracy Fund to support our efforts. Lastly, we want to thank those incarcerated and their families for being willing to advocate on their own behalf.



Posted in Justice, Prisoners | Comments Off on New Bill Takes Effect Cutting Cost of Calls from Illinois Prisons