Volume 21, Number 5
March of the Dead
Direct Action Changes
Winter Soldier Rules of Engagement
Gabriel San román
If the Left Debated the Campaign Issues
Radar, Star Wars, & the Czech Republic
A Dutch Letterbox
"Good News," Iraq & Beyond, Part II
Roberto j. González
Karen Nadder Lago
NOTE: Z Magazine subscribers and sustainers have access to all Z Magazine articles here and in the archive. The latest Z Magazine articles available to everyone are listed in the Free Articles box at the top of the table of contents, and are starred in the list below. Questions? e-mail Z Magazine Online.
Protesters rally at ASARCO in El Paso, Sept. 2007—photo by Robert Ardovino, gettheleadout.net
Despite the opposition of community organizations, city officials, residents, and neighboring New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) granted an air permit that allows the copper smelting company ASARCO to resume operations in El Paso, Texas. The controversial unanimous vote took place in the state's capital of Austin on February 13 and was the latest episode in a six-year struggle over the company's fate. The owners of the copper smelter, which has been a fixture in the border town of El Paso since the 19th century, claimed that approval of the air permit should allay community fears of air pollution, while resumption of operations, which have been largely closed since 1999, would bring good paying jobs and boost the local economy.
Those opposed to the re-opening of the smelter point to ASARCO's long and sordid history of pollution as well as the bankrupt company's outstanding and unsettled environmental liability claims. Backed by a University of Texas at El Paso study, they also rebuffed ASARCO's assertion of job creation, stating that, to the contrary, resuming operations would have a negative net impact on El Paso's economy.
The decision by Texas regulators, though pivotal, is not likely to settle the dispute once and for all. City officials have filed a petition asking TCEQ to revoke the air permit. There's even a dispute within ASARCO as the company, after being sold to Grupo Mexico in 1999, was split into multiple subsidiaries, one of which has publicly stated that should it assume managerial authority it would seek to keep the copper smelter shut down.
According to local historian Fred Morales, Smeltertown was established over 120 years ago by Mexicans who migrated there. The community quickly defined itself along race and class lines. Anglo employees of higher positions enjoyed better living conditions including proper sewage and electricity while the Mexican laborers lived in unequal and frequently unsanitary conditions. When the American Smelting and Refining Company, as ASARCO was originally known, established control of the smelter in 1899, the plant was remodeled and opened with nearly 1,000 laborers. The task of upgrading the squalid conditions fell to the city of El Paso which, at the turn of the 20th century, constructed water pipelines to the few homes with compatible plumbing.
If the living conditions in Smelter- town were deplorable, so too were the working conditions at ASARCO. The Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa was working at the plant in 1913 when Mexican workers struck for increased wages and shorter working days. The smelter was guarded at the time by the notorious Texas Rangers as violence broke out between picketers and scabs.
As the workers voiced their demands from below, the city of El Paso warned ASARCO about smoke emissions polluting the horizons above. Emboldened by record profits in the year 1949, the copper smelter constructed the world's tallest smokestack, towering 610 feet tall. The smokestack served the lead smelting department of the plant and the company claimed that it would improve the air quality in and around the city. Nevertheless, in 1951 residents complained about the thick smog and respiratory problems. After having been outdone by two previous companies, ASARCO once more sought and attained the distinction of having the world's tallest smokestack in 1966. Again, as in the previous occasion, the company's record holding smokestack was touted to bring improvements to the level of pollutants. However, four years after its construction, a class action suit seeking billions in damages was filed against the company for contaminating the environment and being a public nuisance.
ASARCO continued to face environmental scrutiny. In 1972 the focus turned from what was being emitted into the sky to what was seeping into the soil. El Paso County Health District tests showed high levels of lead in the blood of a significant portion of children residing in Smeltertown. The results of the tests also found dangerous levels of lead in the dirt streets and yards in the surrounding areas. With such damning revelations, ASARCO was ordered to pay settlements to afflicted families, cover their medical costs, and improve pollution control. For its part, the city of El Paso wanted the residents of Smeltertown to be moved from the area as a result of the test's findings. Neighborhood committees that were formed did not want residents to leave their homes and the sense of community they had cultivated. Though distrustful of the city's reports of lead contamination, many left Smeltertown, albeit begrudgingly. By 1973, ASARCO purchased the land that was once a historic community and leveled its lead-laden top soil.
Resisting ASARCO Today
For many in El Paso, giving ASARCO yet another chance is a mistake. Daniel Arellano, a third generation laborer at ASARCO, worked at the plant for 24 years before being laid off when operations ceased in 1999. Just before that, he had been diagnosed with a form of leukemia, which he blames on the smelter. He explained, "Through a Freedom of Information Act request we found out that ASARCO was running hazardous waste through the plant. That's something we never agreed on as employees. A lot of us are sick, myself included, as I have a blood disorder because of it."
Arellano got involved in the El Paso chapter of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) years after losing his job and being bedridden with the pain caused by his medical condition. This neighborhood organization began educating the public about ASARCO through its Sunset Heights chapter. The issue became citywide as news of the smelter's desire to re-open surfaced.
Other grassroots organizations in the community have been fighting alongside ACORN-El Paso to prevent the smelter from re-opening. The Get the Lead Out Coalition has been instrumental in bringing to light the previously confidential illegal incineration of waste at the plant, which resulted in a $20 million clean-up and penalty for ASARCO. The coalition cited that incident along with many others as reason enough to deny the company an air permit when members descended on the TCEQ hearings in Austin in February. One activist with the group, Debbie Kelly, spoke of how numerous city officials and even El Paso Congressperson Silvestre Reyes had pledged support to their efforts. Get the Lead Out faced challenges at the top, however, as Kelly explained, "We do not have the support of the governor of Texas, Rick Perry. He is definitely pro-corporations and doesn't care much about the environment nor do the commissioners he appointed to do his dirty work."
Among youth, the campaigns against ASARCO have inspired new activism. A student organization was formed at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). Priscilla Moreno, a sophomore and political science major, was motivated to start Students for Reform when she heard that the plant wanted to re-open. Moreno, who is the group's president, considers issue especially critical to students. "ASARCO is actually less than one mile away from the campus. Even without the wind blowing, all the contamination from the smokestack would go directly to UTEP," she explained. Students for Reform quickly organized charter buses for students to protest at the hearings.
None of the members of the those opposed to ASARCO seemed deflated by TCEQ's February decision to grant ASARCO an air permit to resume operations. Kelly says her group will carry on. "We're not going to give up hope. We are going to keep fighting. We are not just going to sit back and do nothing. We will continue to do everything we can to keep it from re-opening." Towards that end, Students for Reform will try new strategies: "Local elections are coming up fairly soon here. What we want to do is find out where the politicians stand on ASARCO," Moreno said. "From that we will then educate the public. That's one way we will continue, through the political track of legislation and voting."
ASARCO's many offenses mean other fronts exist in the struggle to hold the company accountable. "The only way we can get this corporation out is to send their corporate leaders to jail," Arellano says. "That's our next step. As employees ASARCO doesn't want to deal with us. They don't want to cover our medical bills. The only step left for us is to put criminal charges not only on them, but also on TCEQ for allowing them to pass these hazardous materials through." Other ex-ASARCO employees will be joining Arellano in seeking accountability from their former employer for the physical harm caused to them. "My dad and my grandfather didn't have the education to say anything," Arellano recounts, "but I'm going to take this all the way down to my death."
Despite having demonstrated a reluctance to abide by environmental regulatory standards without a fight, ASARCO, in the lead up to its recent securing of an air permit, has tried to publicly re-invent itself. The company was the title sponsor for the city of El Paso's first Go Green Environmental and Recycling Expo late last year. Protesters with ACORN-El Paso and Students for Reform picketed outside the convention center, calling the move a cynical public relations ploy. Upon learning of ASARCO's sponsorship, El Paso's city officials withdrew from participating in the expo.
In another example, Robert Litle, the plant manager for the El Paso smelter, accused ACORN of hyping fears and manipulating facts. Litle claimed scientific data showed that lead emissions from ASARCO's resumed operations would not negatively affect the health of people in the plant's vicinity. In its criticism, ACORN noted that the smelter's figures were based on faulty averages and lacked a proper margin of safety—so compliance with the EPA's new lead standard would not be possible.
TCEQ's decision to grant ASARCO an air permit has now cleared the way for the smelter to emit nearly eight thousand tons of pollutants per year. Perhaps the most telling indicator as to whether or not ASARCO is as green as its public relations sponsorship would like people to believe was the company's decision to file for chapter 11 bankruptcy protections in 2005. With billions of dollars in yet to be settled environmental lawsuits, the company hopes the move will shed them of their liabilities and shift the debt to taxpayers. Now that's downright dirty.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; email@example.com; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; firstname.lastname@example.org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: email@example.com; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; email@example.com.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; email@example.com; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: email@example.com; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.