Demand Justice for Trayvon Martin

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On the evening of Saturday July 13th, Trayvon Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman, walked away acquitted of all charges. Chapel Hill Students for a Democratic Society demands justice for Trayvon. We condemn the court system that frees Zimmerman, but incarcerates Marissa Alexander: a woman of color and mother of two who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a single warning shot against her abusive husband. George Zimmerman murdered an unarmed teenager and now he will get the weapon back.

We demand an end to mass incarceration of people of color. We demand an end to police brutality and racial profiing.

We stand with the Martin family. Justice for Trayvon!

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Rally in Tallahassee, FL

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March in Chigcago, IL

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March in New York City, NY

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Rally in Durham, NC

We Demand an End to All Wars and Occupations

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April 11th is the SDS national day of action to demand an end to all wars and occupations.  On March 20th, the 10th anniversary of the war in Iraq, SDS came together with Young Americans for Liberty to put on an anti-war/anti-drone event.  Prashanth Kamalakanthan of Duke SDS gave a great talk on the dangers of the American war machine and the text is posted on our website here.
More recently, SDS members attended a community meeting on April 6th with Veterans for Peace to help raise an anti-war consciousness at home.
It is easy to distance ourselves from the effects of war when it is fought on foreign soil, but the United States continues to fuel the military-industrial complex while wreaking havoc on the lives of civilians overseas.  Today, Chapel Hill SDS stands in solidarity with the oppressed and occupied peoples of the world.  We demand:
  • an end to the war agenda of both political parties;
  • an end to the ongoing sanctions against Syria and Iran as well as the constant threats of war;
  • the immediate withdrawal of troops from foreign soil;
  • an end to murderous drone strikes and crippling sanctions.
Drop tuition, not bombs!

Don’t Derail Our Futures: Speak-Out Against Art Pope’s Right-Wing Takeover of NC

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Yesterday, Governor McCrory’s notorious budget director Art Pope came to UNC’s campus to give a talk. Several SDS members took part in an alternative educational event to provide accurate information about the right-wing takeover of North Carolina.

Today, the N&O released an article saying the Senate has decided to remove any mention of campus closures in their budget.  In the wake of a victory such as this, it is important to contextualize our student movement in history, and across the world.

Comrades Dylan Mott and Alanna Aviva delivered a great talk at the teach out doing just that:

“Sixty five years ago on this day, the Journey of Reconciliation, the first interracial Freedom Ride, began through the upper South to take a stand against recent legislation now known as Jim Crow laws. After making their way through Virginia without incident, the group arrived in Chapel Hill on April 13, 1947 and were met with violence. Four of the men, of mixed races, were arrested for sitting together at the front of the bus; a white Presbyterian minister drove them to his home for protection after the NAACP posted their bail. After receiving death threats from a local angry mob, the Freedom Riders were forced to leave town in order to avoid bloodshed. The Journey of Reconciliation is an early example of non-violent direct action organizing, one which inspired the better known Freedom Rides of 1961. Both events are part of a longer history of successful resistance against Jim Crow laws and segregation.

We’re here today because we see that the North Carolina General Assembly is trying to turn the clock back to the days of Jim Crow. And what we must realize is that the actions of our State law makers are part of a larger trend. Around the world, political leaders are responding to the failures of global neoliberal capitalism. Rather than address the structural problems inherent to this system, we see the widespread privatization and cutting of social support programs. Here in North Carolina, we see these austerity measures in the form of attacks on students rights to live in a safe environment, threatening to close down UNC-system campuses, disenfranchising their own constituents, and catching students between the dual pincers of rising tuition costs and decreased financial aid.

When student activists of the past saw their political leaders making decisions on their behalf that actively marginalized them and their communities, they organized to fight back. Today, in North Carolina, we find ourselves in a similar position. If you want to see the relationship between the University and the community, look around you. It’s not found in redistricted, resegregated public schools; it’s not found in higher rates of student debt and it certainly isn’t found behind the closed doors of backroom meetings between the University’s leadership and North Carolina corporate elite. It’s here, with the students. Between each and every one of us is a bond that remains unbroken by the attempts of the powers that be. Showing up today doesn’t take away power from the event going on behind me. It creates its own power. Student power.

By showing up today, we are proving to them that we are stronger than their attempts to steal away our futures. We see the cut and gut response of the NCGA and state leadership and know that it is parallel to the responses of austerity measures taken by leadership across the globe. But don’t let this scare you. What we must not forget is that our resistance is global too. Here in North Carolina, students are organizing to fight back against these cut backs. And you know what? They’re also doing this is Ohio, in California, in Quebec, Puerto Rico, Chile, Spain, Greece, Japan, Egypt. And it’s not just students. The impacts of these policies and cuts are felt by everyone: workers, women, people of color, undocumented immigrants, members of the LGBTQ community, individuals struggling with mental illnesses, the list goes on.

So why here? Why now? Why us? What makes this moment so special? Nothing. Nobody chose the 1947 Freedom Riders. Nobody asked them to be pioneers of the early civil rights movement. And over the past sixty some years, each generation has responded to injustice in their own way. Today we are here to build upon the legacy of our State’s rich history of change making. We are here to build a student movement.”

To Mr. Pope: We Have Heard Enough!

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By now word has spread around campus: Politicians in the N.C. legislature have initiated a full-on attack against students, workers and people of color in North Carolina.

Behind this push to radically alter our state is billionaire political kingmaker Art Pope.

On a national talk show this weekend, panelists called North Carolina’s GOP the “Pope Party”, a deserved title given that Mr. Pope has spent $40 million during the past decade manipulating North Carolina’s elections.

This money buys influence. Mr. Pope has been appointed as Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget director and senior adviser.

Today, Mr. Pope is speaking at UNC — an insult to a University community he aims to dismantle.

Students will counter by speaking out in front of Gardner Hall at 12:30 p.m. and educating our peers on the impact of his vision.

Some, including Mr. Pope himself, will question why we refuse to “hear him out.”

The answer to this is clear: We have heard enough!

Lawmakers backed by Pope have already moved to repeal the Racial Justice Act, eliminate the estate tax for the wealthiest 23 NC families and begin offshore drilling; additionally, they are proposing to ban gender non-specific housing, slash voting rights for students and cut $185 million in funding for UNC-system campuses.

These are the actions of Pope’s empire, and they speak louder than any words he will say today.

Instead of hearing more from him, let us hear from each other — let us lift our voices as a University community. We demand a future.

NC HEAT: Stop the School-to-Prison Pipeline!

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On Monday, April 1, SDS had the great pleasure of sitting down with several members of NC Heroes Emerging Among Teens (NC HEAT) to learn about the school-to-prison pipeline.  The start of this pipeline can be found in zero tolerance policies, which punish students without regard to individual circumstances.  Students of color are disproportionately affected and increasingly, police presence is used to enforce punishments.  This perpetuates problematic power dynamics and creates an environment of fear and hatred, not an environment that fosters learning.
 
This is a broken system and policies that disproportionately affect marginalized groups should always be questioned!  NC HEAT is currently organizing around a campaign calling for a moratorium on out of school suspensions.  A moratorium would hopefully create a space to reevaluate, and in the mean time prevent students from being put on the pipeline to prison.
 
As college and university students, we must understand that these struggles are not separate from our own.  Being an ally means listening and understanding.  It means uplifting the histories of the oppressed.  It means remembering the amazing work NC HEAT has done and continues to do!
 

UNC Students for a Democratic Society and UNC Young Americans for Liberty disagree on many issues, which makes it all the more telling when our views do converge.  Tonight the two groups co-hosted a teach-in on campus on the atrocities of drone strikes and the military-industrial complex.  Prashanth Kamalakanthan, a writer and activist with Duke University SDS, opened the event with the poignant speech reprinted below.  

Thank you all for letting me speak tonight. I’m glad to see so many people interested in the resistance in a time when living in the heart of empire makes it particularly hard to learn about, let alone feel, the visceral damage American foreign policy does on the global scale every moment.

So we find ourselves in the shadow of a decade of war still unfolding in Iraq, many of us not fully understanding how we got here, or even what “here” looks like to most of the world.

The unholy trinity of the U.S. foreign policy establishment, a bought-off, embedded corporate journalism culture, and private defense contractors bring us through lies and secrecy ten years after March 19, 2003, to an entire region embroiled in cross-border conflict. Anywhere from 190,000 to 2.4 million Iraqis, at least 70% of them civilians, are now dead. The initial invasion comprised about 30,000 strikes, using cluster bombs, white phosphorus, highly carcinogenic depleted uranium, and a new kind of napalm dropped in dense urban areas. What we might call weapons of mass destruction.

Two trillion dollars were spent, a number that will double when paid with interest, and more than a half trillion is still owed to veterans. For context, the UN thinks $30 billion dollars a year would end world hunger. That’s 150 years of no hunger.

The occupation actually introduced al-Qaida for the first time into Iraq, and women’s rights and access to healthcare have been set back centuries. Since 80% of Iraq’s teachers fled it now leads the region in illiteracy. The leading cause of death among U.S. military personnel, meanwhile, is suicide. About a quarter of recent veterans come home injured either physically or emotionally, and 18 veterans commit suicide every day.

Yesterday’s anniversary was marked in Iraq with 65 people dying and over 200 seriously wounded in the bloodiest single day of 2013.

Despite all this, you have Tony Blair recently telling the press it was a “balanced decision,” the right thing to do. Dick Cheney says he’d “do it all over again.” The inability to learn lessons from the U.S.’s catastrophic failed interventions I think points to a deeper psychosis at the heart of empire, which is instructive for those in the resistance. It can’t be negotiated or reformed. It must collapse entirely. When U.S. sanctions in Iraq killed more than a half million children, a higher number than those that died in the bombing of Hiroshima, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said simply “we think the price is worth it.”

We think the price is worth it.

I think first off, historically speaking, she’s amazingly, incredibly wrong. None of it has been worth it. But her statement also introduces the question of who is “we” if not us, the common American and definitely not the common Iraqi? I also want to introduce the added premise that war as perpetrated today is indistinguishable from terrorism insofar as it seeks to create political change through the mass murder of civilians. The only difference is whether or not the violence is state-sanctioned, and if it is, you get the additional bonus of governing.

Who would have guessed that arming violent Islamic militants against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s would lead to the 9/11 attacks and a never-ending occupation? Or that equipping and training similar militants in Libya, where the oil sector was slowly being nationalized, alone among Arab Spring countries to be bombed in the name of democracy, would lead to a civil war in Mali, where the West is now fighting? Who could have predicted that forcing open the Kingdom of Japan at the point of U.S. Navy guns would eventually lead to bombs falling on that same navy at Pearl Harbor? That helping out French colonialists in 1950s Indochina would end in tripartite U.S. failures in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos twenty years later? But over and over, the price is apparently worth it.

So we have to view the current shift to drone warfare through the same lens of failed interventions and naked imperial geopolitics. The U.S. has used drones to kill people in at least six Muslim countries, including at least four U.S. citizens, without trial or charge: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. Pakistan, an official U.S. ally, has withstood the brunt of these, with as many as 3,500 killed, more than 800 civilians, nearly 200 of them children. The Pakistani government has told the U.S. repeatedly to stop, and the U.N. says they’re an illegal violation of sovereignty. The Constitution doesn’t allow the Executive Branch acting through the CIA as a paramilitary to do this without congressional authorization. In fact Obama himself defends the surgical precision of the strikes publicly while the CIA continues to claim in court it can’t “deny or confirm the existence of the program” because that would be a security threat. In other words, we do what the hell we want, no questions asked.

Testimony from actual terrorists and reports from the ground shows us moreover that war is the real security threat. Reports from the countries we’re drone-bombing sound like sci-fi future colonialism if that ever were a genre. Drones flying overhead 24/7 in tribal Pakistan so, as the landmark Stanford/NYU report showed, “children are afraid to go to school” and community life has been totally eviscerated, that’s the real security threat. The tribal regions of Pakistan are now ripe recruiting grounds for terrorist cells, and it’s not hard to see why. While we moralize on what types of resistance are allowed, the CIA conducts signature strikes on unnamed targets based on suspicious “patterns of life,” that we know nothing about, and carries out double taps, or repeat hits on initial targets, so even paramedics and journalists are afraid to approach for up to eight hours. There are repeat documented instances of funerals for drone victims, weddings, being hit like this. Zero accountability. The CIA considers all military age males in the radius of a drone strike to be suspected combatants, which is just a pure distillation of violent racism. High-value targets comprise less than 2% of those killed in drone strikes, meaning 98% are either low-level insurgents or civilians. The few named, high-level operatives are judged, sentenced, and summarily executed all within the White House’s imperial presidency, where on “Terror Tuesday” meetings Obama meets with top intelligence staff and insists on approving names personally.

We have to ask what war does to societies on both sides of the equation. At home, the post-9/11 NCTC and NSA continue to coordinate broad, dragnet surveillance on all communications in contravention of the law, while the FBI conspires with the NYPD to spy on regular Muslim shopkeepers, cabbies, and students across the northeast, coordinating plans to diffuse antiwar and Occupy protests alongside banks and college administrators. Maybe more disconcertingly, drones in the post-9/11 era signal moves to institutionalize war as a permanent feature of our lives, which we must resist at every step. We’re not officially at war in six countries, but we are actively bombing them. U.S. special ops forces are now deployed in 120 countries, over 60% of the world, a number that has doubled under Obama. And there is no end-game, because the end-game is what we have now: a state of imposed globalized control, enforced by history’s most violent military empire.

But I wanted to end with some notes on the resistance. We recently learned how the U.S. exported leadership and tactics from its dirty wars in Central America to Iraq in the mid-2000s. Programs endorsed at the highest levels used “all means of torture to make detainees confess … using electricity, hanging [them] upside down, pulling out their nails.” Interrogation rooms were stained with blood, according to official reports; children in extreme stress positions were beaten until their bodies became discolored. The U.S.-trained ISOF, the Iraqi Special Operations Forces, also known as the dirty brigade, carried out summary executions, searches, and kidnappings a lot like the U.S.-trained death squads in Cold War-era El Salvador and Guatemala.

Also recently, the Open Society Initiative documented how the CIA recruited 54 countries to participate in its sprawling post-9/11 torture regime of secret prisons and interrogation sites, with the wholesale exception of Latin America, where public opinion is fiercely opposed to American interests and no countries participated. Latin America has long been abused by Washington’s military interventionism, and after 9/11 its leaders stood together to firmly rebuff the United States. To me this looks like a promising symptom of the global community gaining strength in anti-American solidarity.

But it’s not enough, and we have to do more at home, where the policy is made. John Brennan, an outspoken proponent of Bush-era torture and wiretapping, also known as Obama’s assassinations czar and drone architect, was recently rewarded with the CIA directorship. Before his time at the CIA he made $760,000 a year as CEO of a McLean, Virginia-based private intelligence contractor called The Analysis Corporation, and after that he raked in $30,000 for an hour’s worth of work a week as chairman of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, the industry mouthpiece for private war contractors.

So the figure of Brennan alone shows us where the goods are. There is a noxious revolving door spinning the foreign policy establishment and political parties around immensely powerful private interests that deserve equal infamy as direct action targets. In that vein, there’s a march on the White House and a war contractors’ headquarters in DC in April that I’d be happy to share information about after this. The other most powerful node of domestic resistance — outside of the totally feeble federal judiciary, which should be enjoining every single thing I’ve been talking about — is the watchdog press. Interestingly, Rand Paul’s recent drone filibuster heavily cited independent investigative journalists and outlets doing the reporting the commercialized mainstream media has not. So we also need to support the work of the Freedom of Press foundation and others fostering real, adversarial journalism in our country.

War waged in our name, with our money and labor, is the greatest affront to humanity I can imagine. And I think the struggle for peace is in the end a struggle to prove our worth as human beings.

More of Prashanth’s work can be found on his website: http://www.prshnth.com/.

SDS NATIONAL CALL TO ACTION: March 14th National Day of Action for Education Rights

March 14th marks the 4th annual Spring National Day of Action for Education Rights.  UNC SDS stands in solidarity with other SDS chapters across the nation today in protest of tuition hikes and budget cuts.  We believe education is a right and something worth fighting for.

Governor Pat McCrory and his Deputy Budget Director Art Pope will soon be releasing their new budget, with promises of cuts in the public sector.  Budget cuts affect everyone, and students are no exception.

Lower funding for higher education means raising tuition rates.  Higher tuition rates makes education at the college and university level unaccessable for many people.  Students must take on more and more debt.  This disproportionately affects low income students and students of color.

Comments from Governor McCrory in February indicate our state’s view of higher education as some sort of job factory.  Liberal arts programs such as Women’s and Gender Studies or African American Studies are clearly not valued in this climate.

Undocumented students in North Carlina currently have to pay out of state tuition in order to attend universities.  This makes higher education unaffordable for many people.

We believe education is a right.  North Carolina needs to prioritize funding for its public universities to ensure that they are accessable and affordable to all students.