Thursday, December 22, 2005

Take the "A" Train to a New Worker Nation.

"I guess illegality is in the eye of the beholder. A confessed lawbreaker has the gall to lecture 34,000 hard working people whose only crime is standing up for their families and for dignity and respect on one of the toughest, most dangerous jobs in New York." Open letter from TWU's Toussaint to NYC Mayor Bloomberg. Dec 21, 2005.

Robert Toussaint will not have to appear in court this morning. He and other leadership were scheduled to face court proceedings today on criminal contempt of court for violation of the Taylor Law. Right now the strike may be ending with no agreement in place. The executive board of the TWU may be asking their workers to return to work as negotiations continue. Everyone is at the table again talking. There is also going to be a media blackout on the negotiations.

I'm writing this already feeling somewhat disappointed. I want the subway up and running just like the next person in New York. But I've taken it in stride. A job interview I wanted was postponed this week and rescheduled for January because the worksite was closed. However I was ready on Wednesday morning to do whatever it took to get there, even if it meant walking for two hours. (In my most lean days I have walked from 120th and Adam Clayton Powell Blvd in Harlem to 66th street and Park to attend college classes, because I had no money left over for carfare. During the black out a few years ago, I walked from 33rd street and Park Avenue in midtown Manhattan, to 155th and Amsterdam Ave in Harlem. I wasn't alone in my walking. People really do have the power when they are need it.)

I've enjoyed seeing so many people in the street here in Harlem these last few days walking to their destinations and taking care of their business be it work or school or errands etc. Even with temperatures in the 20's and feeling more like the low teens, I exchanged smiles and greetings with others walkers. I walked over to the bus depot nearest my home over on 132nd and Broadway, to show my support for the workers yesterday. This strike helped bring attention to a very important issue, which many of us probably were not focused on. As a worker, I have an interest in what happens as transit workers go back to the table to negotiate with the possibility of returning to work with no agreement, means for the future of workers. Yet, I am proud of the TWU for their fierce stand on seeking to maintain their rights as workers.

I'm proud of the fact that other unions have come out to support the workers because what affects one worker affects all. Thank you New York City Central Labor Council an organization Working For Working Families, the teachers union and others for stating their public support for the transit workers. Perhaps they recognize that a multi-tier system of benefits and or pension systems divide unions and divides workers. I hope all workers begin to learn more about the Taylor Law. What does a worker have if they don't have the right to hold back their work to fight back against situations that don't have their best interests at heart?

I find it disturbing that there will be a black out in the media on this issue. I've made a conscious decision to stay out of corporate media. It has changed so much from when I first stepped into the classroom as a journalism student 20 years ago. I've come to independent media (thanks to WBAI 99.5 FM) because it is the only place where voices of dissent are being heard. Due to the media blackout imposed this morning, the voices of those around the bargaining table won't be heard. This is exactly the kind of thing we don't need. The people need to be informed. The people need information of both sides of the issue so we can make an intelligent assessment of the situation. All this week much of what we've been fed by the media is a biased position of the transit workers as "Rats" (New York Post yesterday) and headlines like "Strike Cripples NYC" (Daily Challenge yesterday). Even with these portraits of workers as "ruining our Christmas" (said one caller into WBAI yesterday), many people in New York polled yesterday were in support of the strike.

Here are some suggestions to show your support for workers in this situation and beyond:

*Go to the demonstration scheduled this afternoon on the Manhattan side of the bridge at 4pm this afternoon.

*Take food or water or coffee to those on the picket line.

*Call the 311 hotline in New York City, and leave a message for Mike Bloomberg expressing your opinion in his role in this strike.

*Read up on labor laws.

*If you are in a union be an active participant.

*Go to to get the international union's position on the transit workers strike in NYC.

*Visit for labor news around the world as well as conditions in the United States.

*Read Herb Boyd's column on the Black World Today website for December 20th entitled "MTA: A Plantation"

*Wear a sign or a button saying you support workers. You can wear this even when the strike is over to continue to show your support for workers everywhere. We all want the same things. Food, clothing, shelter, health care and education. These are not just workers rights. They are human rights.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Standing with the Transit Worker's Union

My daughter left a frantic message this afternoon. She called to say that her friend had fallen out of the back door of the bus. To make a long story short, her friend tripped on the crowed M4 headed uptown and fell into the stairwell of the rear door. She said the doors didn’t open, but when he fell backward his head went through the doors first and then the rest of him went out. She said his body pressed against the rubber that keeps the door airtight. I always thought that if you fell against those doors they would stay shut.

Falling from a moving bus is traumatic, but what made this worse was that the bus driver didn’t stop. My daughter was horrified. She said a parent of another student had been driving behind the bus and saw the entire incident. She said another adult who had seen the boy fall came to help. She was cradling his head and comforting him. He had suffered a blow to the back of his head in the fall and was bleeding badly.

They were traveling with about seven other kids from school. They worked as a team, calling the police and giving their statement, calling the school to contact their friend’s parents, and even going to the home of the nearest kin (his grandma) when they couldn’t reach her on the phone.

Her friend is fine tonight. He is at home resting after a trip to Harlem Hospital. The area where the wound happened was shaved and sealed in a new method that they call liquid- skin.

My daughter and her friends use public transportation everyday. Sometimes she complains that the bus drivers have little patience with the school crowds, especially the junior high crowd. However shame upon the driver for not stopping.

On the eve of one of New York’s possible transit strikes, I’m pissed by this incident. I wish the driver stopped. I hope the parents report the incident to management.

The news has been on in our house for an hour now. All of the big three media pushing up the fear of how will commuters make it, the lost business (oh how will we get our Christmas shopping done?), icy rain and snow, a threatening Michael Bloomberg speaking through his usual tight lipped-New-Yorker-will-pull-together-we-will-get-through-this-together-crap.

I’m praying for a strike. I’m getting angry that workers are constantly losing the ground they’ve worked so hard to gain. Just a few weeks ago General Motors announced it’s need to cut back. According to Workers World, 30,000 hourly jobs were cut. Those cuts represent 22% of GM’s union workers in the United States.

It’s funny how the MTA can manage to raise fares one year, find a surplus the next year, and then give a bonus to the riders the next. This year special unlimited monthly cards were being sold for $76 bucks, which will be good for 41 days instead of the regular 30 days. For us poor folks From November 23rd to January 2nd subway rides on the weekends are only a dollar a ride. How many of you are willing to bet this tactic was timed, so the public would not back the workers in this fight for what is right and fair.

Call me corny, but “worker’s unite.” The Transit Workers are asking for a 24 percent raise over the next three years to match rising inflation. The MTA has a $1 billion dollar surplus. Why can’t some of that money be shared with the workers? The average worker makes $47,000 to $55,000 before over-time possibilities. That pay may be fine in other parts of the country, but the cost of living is rising. The new workforce may be asked to pay a higher rate for benefits than the current workers. If we don’t support each other we will all be working in Wal-Mart-like conditions.

Support the workers.The right to strike is being pulled out from under the worker. They are threated with a huge fine for exercising their right to complain about conditions. Mayor Bloomberg has the nerve to say that the workers are hurting working people. Is he listening to himself? Is he not the mayor of all of New York? Other major unions will be supporting the T.W.U. The head of the teachers union was standing on the podium with the head of the MTA during the last press conference. Make coffee for those guys and gals on the picket line. Make sure the transit worker's kids get to school tomorrow, by offering a ride if you have a car. If you can’t do that then join the picket line. Make a sign and hang it out your window. Do what you can, but make sure you do something.

To the bus driver this afternoon: Perhaps you were stressed. Did you have a decent lunch break? We're you stressing over late bill payments? Is your partner also working for transit and you haven't spent time together in a while. Were you sick and forced to come to work due to a limited number of sick days? Had you had a bathroom break in a few hours? I'm asking these questions because these are the questions I would have asked. What is it that you need and how can we support you? I'm asking because our media doesn't seem to be concerned about your side of the story.

The transit workers stand to loose out to a two-tier benefits system. We can’t let this happen. If they lose this one, we all lose eventually.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Another Redeemed Lost

So it is 15 minutes before 3 am on the east coast as we head into December 13, 2005. It is certain that the life of Stanley Tookie Williams will be changed. He is scheduled to meet death at 12:01 am California time. He will not write any more books or articles steering youth from a life of gang violence. He will no longer address listeners at conferences by telephone or grant interviews from prison. The injection will still his body, but his voice will not be silenced. It will ring out on the pages he leaves behind. His words will continue to be read. May his lessons, become our lessons.

He admits that he regrets his choices. Who of us don't admit that our choices have not always bought about benefits for our family, friends or neighbors? His life up to this moment has been a testament, not just for reforming gang members but also for any of us who wish to transform our lives.

I particularly found Amy Goodman's interview a few weeks ago something to ponder.

I grew up in the Baptist church and remember the duality of the biblical teaching of "eye for an eye” and the flip side,
“he who is without sin cast the first stone" doctrine. If I learned nothing else from the teachings of Jesus, it is that change is possible. This is such a simple teaching. Yet as our society increases the prison industrial complex and swallows more and more of the disenfranchised, poor, black and brown, change is far from what our halls of reform do.

Sending Stanley Williams to the death chamber will not keep people from murdering one another. Sending anyone to the death chamber does not change their past acts.

Do those who justify the death penalty really believe that death is a final act? Apparently some of us haven't read the bible far enough. And even if you don't believe in the bible, this is a country founded on justice, liberty etc. How many more examples do we need paraded in front of us to show that our system needs serious work? How many of us need to be Katrina'd into a wake up call? Will we be angry enough when a simple trip to the grocery store where a robbery takes place, ends up with another one of us behind bars because we looked like the perpetrator? How many people need to be found innocent after the fact, before we get rid of the death penalty?

So tonight, Stanley Tookie Williams will leave behind the physical chains that bind him. His spirit will live on in those of us who choose to be the light of his memory.

May the hearts and minds of those who believe in the death penalty be changed. May his death break the silence that binds us.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Movement: A Change In Position

Movement: An Act of Moving: a change in position. The activities of a group of people to achieve a specific goal.

My day begins with the task to record and document what is going on in the movement. What movement? If you don't know that today is The National Day of Absence Against Poverty, Racism and War, where have you been? What have you been paying attention to? Are you still moaning over the stolen election of the 2004 Presidential Elections in the United States? Are you still upset over the lack of response to the crisis in the Gulf Coast? Do you know that there are people in Broward County in Florida are still without electricity since Hurricane Wilma? Do you ever wonder if the media will return to telling the stories of the struggles of the people in the Gulf Coast, or those who suffered the earthquake in Pakistan on October 8, 2005?

The New Orleans Zoo reopened this week. ABC covered it on their nightly news program. You proabably did not know that volunteers are being harrassed for participating with the organization Common Ground. Common Ground is a grassroots organization in Algiers, Louisiana providing food, clothing, rebuilding, medical and legal assistance to citizens who never left and are returning to the city. Did you know that attention to the Native American communities along the Gulf Coast has been little to none? FEMA did not know they existed! The Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw of Louisiana needs your help.

These stories are but incidents of many in a moment of time. When something else happens, the next disaster, the next flood, the next shooting, the next kidnapping of a white woman, we will all forget.

Let's not forget 20 million people have died since the first World Aids day 25 years ago.

Let's not forget that Black women account for two-thirds of all the HIV cases according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Let's not forget about that Stanley Tookie Williams is scheduled to be executed on December 13, 2005. If he is put to death, who will continue the work he has been doing from a jail cell? Who will convince gang members that life beyond the gang is still worth living?

Kenneth Lee Boyd is a 57-year-old veteran of the Vietnam War. He does not deny shooting his estranged wife and her father. If the governor of North Carolina does not grant him clemency, he will be the 1000th person in the United States put to death since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

People are being disappeared and secretly imprisoned, tortured and put to death everyday by our government and other governments complicit in human rights abuses.

When a bomb is dropped in Iraq, real people die. Men, women and children are losing their lives on the battlefield. The battlefield is not some far off place in a field, but a home with photographs on the wall; where people used to eat, laugh, dance, work and love together. The battlefield is a grocery store. It is a school. The battlefield is seen in the eyes of a man running away with his baby in his arms, from the solider that shoots, because he is frightened for his life. The solider that continues to shoot, will do so because has lost touch with his own humanity.

Those troops are coming home eventually. They will come home with missing arms, eyes, hands, legs, and shattered hearts and impaired sanity. They will come home broken. They will come home and need so much.

I know this is a lot to think about. I know there is much to do. Don't get me wrong; this is not I pointing the finger at anyone. I have not done all I would like to do. All I know how to do is document. I write. I talk to people to hear their stories. Sometimes they allow me to tell their stories in their own words. I'm the one on the school bus who talks to young people when they start getting rowdy on the bus. I don't just ask them to be quite or to be considerate of other people; I ask them about their hopes and dreams. I ask them about themselves. It is amazing to feel the tension rise on the bus as some adults begin to fear I will be attacked or cursed out for minding other folks business. I'm doing the business I was put here to do. You should be there to feel the sense of relief and the lighter atmosphere on that bus when we begin to exchange ideas. I haven't been cursed out or attacked. You get what you expect.

Don't be afraid to move. Don't be afraid to change your position. Don't be afraid to develop a position. Stand. And remember you don’t have to stand all by yourself. A hand doesn’t work without the help of the fingers.

Here are some organizations/people that you may consider to help get you moving: Pastors for Peace

Melik Rahim, long time community activist,
Common Ground, New Orleans

Peace begins with action.