Pennington, New Jersey - There was one minute left on Suzanne Horsley’s stopwatch and the atmosphere remained thick with carbon dioxide, despite the energetic efforts of her class of third graders to clear the air. Horsley, a wellness teacher at Toll Gate Grammar School, in Pennington, New Jersey, had tasked the kids with tossing balls of yarn representing carbon dioxide molecules to their peers stationed at plastic disks representing forests. The first round of the game was set in the 1700s, and the kids had cleared the field in under four minutes. But this third round took place in the present day, after the advent of cars, factories and electricity, and massive deforestation.
During the two years the cartoonist Joe Sacco and I spent on our book Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, written out of the poorest pockets of America, we invariably encountered heroic men and women who — against overwhelming odds — rose up to fight lonely and often losing battles on behalf of the oppressed. Bill Means, Charlie Abourezk and Leonard Crow Dog in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. Larry Gibson and Judy Bonds in the coal fields of West Virginia. Lucas Benitez, Laura Germano and Greg Abbot in the produce fields of Florida. The men and women in Zuccotti Park during the Occupy Wall Street movement. When set against the crushing poverty, environmental degradation, corporate abuse and despair they opposed, the victories they amassed were often miniscule.
Wharton, New Jersey - 240 workers at a Refresco bottling plant in Wharton, New Jersey won their election for union recognition May 21. After two years of intense struggle and against all of the dirty tricks the boss could muster, these workers have made it clear that they won’t back down until they get what’s right. Workers at the Wharton plant began organizing in February 2020. They had faced years of abusive supervisors, poor safety conditions, low wages, and an unforgiving attendance and scheduling system. Anthony Sanchez, an employee at the plant for 15 years, said he started organizing with his co-workers to stop the “despotic attitudes of our supervisors and the management.” The company had plans of their own though.
On September 5, 2013, I pulled my old Volvo wagon—a bumper sticker reading “This is the Rebel Base” stuck on the back by my wife, a Star Wars fan—into the parking lot at East Jersey State Prison in Rahway, New Jersey. I had taught college-level courses in New Jersey prisons for the past three years. But neither my new students nor I had any idea that night that we were embarking on a journey that would shatter their protective emotional walls, or that years later our lives would be deeply intertwined. I put my wallet and phone in the glove compartment, emptied my pockets of coins, and dumped them in the console between the front seats. I made sure I had my driver’s license. I gathered up my books, plays by August Wilson, James Baldwin, John Herbert, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Miguel Piñero, Amiri Baraka, and a copy of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.
North Bergen, NJ - Harold J. Daggett, President, International Longshoremen’s Association has a message to any shipping companies planning to utilize autonomous container cargo ships without crew: Don’t sail them into ILA ports from Maine To Texas, Puerto Rico, and Eastern Canada – they won’t be unloaded or loaded by ILA Members! Media reports in recent week have featured stories from Norway and Japan about companies and shipping lines developing and testing container vessels that will sail with no crew aboard – fully self-piloted,” relying on satellite guidance, onboard sensors, and artificial intelligence making decisions based on these inputs,” according to a Facebook posting by Seably, a European maritime on-line training company.
Environmental and public health advocates on Monday celebrated the demise of a proposed fracked gas pipeline across Pennsylvania and New Jersey after PennEast decided to cease development because of difficulties acquiring certain state permits. "This is a huge victory. Today, water, the environment, and people spoke louder than fossil fuels," said Jim Waltman, executive director of the New Jersey-based Watershed Institute, in a statement. "We congratulate and thank the many local, state, and federal officials of both parties and thousands of residents for their determined opposition to this unnecessary and destructive proposal." Joseph Otis Minott, Clean Air Council executive director and chief counsel, said that "PennEast's cancellation of this unneeded, dangerous fracked gas pipeline is a momentous win for the communities that have fought hard for years to defend their property and the environment."
The U.S. public school system is one of the most unequal in the industrialized world, and New Jersey is no exception, according to a new report by New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP). Due to racist housing practices such as “redlining” and “blockbusting,” many Black and Hispanic/Latinx students do not receive the resources they need to ensure equal educational opportunity in the Garden State. “We have long seen school funding and student outcome disparities that fall disparately by race, disadvantaging Black and Latinx communities in particular,” said Bruce Baker, Ed.D., report co-author and Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University.
Last weekend activists activists held an action at a port in Elizabeth, New Jersey, attempting to block an Israeli-operated cargo ship from unloading. The Haifa-based shipping company ZIM has been targeted by the BDS movement over its connection to Israeli apartheid and last month Bay Area protestors successfully stopped ZIM from offloading in Oakland.
Newark, NJ — Immigrant leaders and immigration justice organizers chained themselves together and blockaded the entrance of the Newark SAC office in response to escalating abuses by ICE. Protesters are calling this unidentified office located in a desolate industrial neighborhood in Newark, NJ an “ICE black site”; and are demanding #ReleasesNotTransfers as detainees continue to be transferred out of New Jersey jails to detention centers across the country and away from their families. Advocates say this Homeland Security Investigations office is where unmarked vans bring detainees and ICE processes all deportations and transfers in the state, a “transfer roulette” brought to a halt by the blockade today.
The Bergen County Jail in Hackensack, New Jersey has been the site of recurring actions in solidarity with detained immigrants. On Tuesday, June 8, one such action ended with cops arresting 14 protesters who were trying to peacefully stop a deportation. The 14 people arrested had camped out at the Bergen County Jail the previous night to try and stop the deportation of Marvin Jerezano Peña, a father from Red Bank, New Jersey who migrated from Mexico to the United States as a child. He had been arrested by ICE and was being held for marijuana possession, something now fully legal in the state. Nevertheless, ICE planned to deport Peña. Protesters at the jail Tuesday bravely blocked an ICE van that afternoon in an attempt to stop the deportation.
Just past midnight on December 14, 2020, Osamah Alsaidi walked near a police cruiser on a dark city street of Paterson, New Jersey’s third-largest city just outside New York City. Shortly thereafter, that very same police car cut off Alsaidi’s path and out jumped officers Kevin Patino and Kendry Tineo-Restituyo. They immediately accosted the 19-year-old, striking him numerous times and dropping him to the ground where they continued their assault. The police report they filed described Alsaidi as “acting belligerent” and “screaming profanities.” That report would remain the only evidence of the incident until surveillance footage surfaced from a store just across from where the beating took place. That footage, vindicating Alsaidi’s claims, would ultimately go viral at the beginning of 2021.
Newark, NJ - New Jersey Transit has backed off a plan to build a gas-fired power plant in northern New Jersey that drew opposition from environmental groups and surrounding towns. The agency announced at its board meeting Wednesday night that it will repurpose the project to focus on renewable energy sources. NJ Transit’s board approved the hiring of a renewable energy consultant and up to $3 million in stipends to project bidders. NJ Transit President and CEO Kevin Corbett called the project “a critical resiliency project that ensures we can maintain limited, but vital, rail service for our customers in the event of local and regional power interruptions.”
Two months into the pandemic-induced crisis at Rutgers University in New Jersey, the unions representing 20,000 of the university’s workers came together and held a car caravan to the university president’s house to protest layoffs. Protest signs reading #WeRNotDisposable and calling on the university to “protect the most vulnerable” decorated car windows; inside the cars, union members and their supporters wore red and their face masks. The coalition of unions includes AAUP-AFT, the Part-Time Lecturer Faculty Chapter of Rutgers AAUP-AFT, AFSCME Local 888, and the Union of Rutgers Administrators-AFT; together, the unions have proposed a work-sharing program where some workers would accept furloughs, allowing them to replace their income with CARES-Act mandated expanded unemployment benefits, in order to prevent layoffs. But so far, the workers say, the university hasn’t listened.
When New Jersey State Senator Ronald Rice roadblocked legislation to legalize adult use of marijuana in the ‘Garden State’ last year he cited a litany of long debunked theories and specious assertions like legalization will inundate minority communities with “marijuana bodegas.” The stance of Rice, an African American, helped stall efforts by New Jersey’s Governor and civil rights organizations to end racial inequities related to marijuana laws, like pot possession arrest rates for blacks being much higher than arrests for whites despite similar usage rates among the races. Ending documented racism in enforcement of marijuana laws is a key impetus for efforts nationwide to end the prohibition on pot. That prohibition is rooted in federal legislation initially approved in 1937.
Americans, generally speaking at least, think it is right and good that they and their neighbors have access to books. And magazines and newspapers. And internet access when you need it. And places to sit and read. And a trusted source you can call when you have a question you can’t figure out the answer to. These things cost money, and it’s unlikely the magic of the marketplace will find a way to make all of them universally accessible. So people in nearly every community nationwide have funded and supported these things called libraries. In many places, those libraries are funded by a special dedicated tax or fee, which goes to buy those books, pay for that internet access, keep the lights on, and so on.