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Family Gathering

Earlier this month, I attended the fourth Family Gathering of the Rosenberg Fund for Children (RFC). Although the RFC’s primary mission is to provide grants for the educational and emotional needs of the children of targeted activists, we’ve also held eight “Gatherings” for our beneficiaries. Carry it Forward Gatherings bring together 18 to 24 year-olds, and Family Gatherings are for targeted activist families with school-age children. The three-day programs are loaded with expressive arts workshops, facilitated discussions, and informal fun.

In general, these events have been emotionally intense and very successful at lessening isolation and fostering connection. This weekend was no exception. Activist families came from all over the country and from many different social change movements to share their stories and their concerns about parenting, and to realize that they are not alone.

This year’s Gathering was also an important milestone for me. While I had a lot of help from our staff and Board, I was the principle producer of our first six Gatherings. I co-produced the seventh event in 2011 with my daughter, Jenn, who was then the RFC Grantmaking Coordinator. By the time this year’s Gathering took place, I’d been retired as the Executive Director for almost a year. While Elli and I led a “politics and parenting” workshop for the adults, and Jenn and I facilitated the “tell your story” session for them, I played no part in its overall planning.

I am very proud of the organizing job done by Jenn as Executive Director and Julie, who has taken over as Grantmaking Coordinator. I should also mention the special support we received from Board Member Nina Lessin-Joseph. I think it was the best run Gathering we’ve had. That doesn’t mean it didn’t have its exciting moments (like the bat flying around the common room on Friday evening), but it was mostly smooth – although exhausting – sailing.

It helped that we had a terrific group of peer leaders and participants. We benefited from having families join us from multi-generational activist communities, which helped facilitate the rapid development of powerful bonds among all involved. Amazing bonding has been a feature at all these events, but I’ve never witnessed such 100% cohesion before.

This Gathering was such an affirmation of what the RFC seeks to accomplish. To have the power of multi-generational political communities demonstrated so clearly, so soon after handing off the leadership of the RFC project to the next generation was, for me, the icing on the cake.  Read More 
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Corporate Polluters, too Big to Jail

I wrote recently about Tyler Lang and Kevin Olliff, two animal rights activists charged with releasing 2000 mink from a fur farm, who face major prison time as terrorists. If jailed they will follow in the footsteps of dozens of other militant environmental and animal rights activists, some still imprisoned with “terrorist enhancements” after more than a decade.

At the same time the FBI and Department of Justice are preparing to throw the book at people who are viciously trying to save our planet’s animals, plants and minerals from corporate exploitation, they are failing to pursue over 99.5% of corporate violations of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. Carey L. Biron’s article about this, published online by Portside, reports “Both the EPA and the Department of Justice do continue to score high-visibility accountability successes for environmental crimes every year, but most of these are civil charges….”

The few corporate polluters who get caught only face fines. True, it is more difficult to obtain a criminal conviction because the prosecution must prove the defendants’ criminal intent beyond a reasonable doubt. But many corporations who are convicted and fined are repeat offenders whose agents have tried to cover up their illegal activity. Criminal intent is obvious in such circumstances.

Corporations don’t like fines, but they are treated as part of the cost of doing business and passed on to the purchasers of the company’s products. And unbelievably such fines are also tax deductible. Moreover, even the number of civil cases prosecuted against polluters is dropping.

We can conclude that the government is only interested in pursuing criminal environmental prosecutions against those whose actions threaten corporate profits. The actual polluters appear to have an unlimited number of Get out of Jail Free cards. No one even faces prison for BP’s Deep Horizon disaster which resulted in eleven human deaths and region-wide ecological devastation.

You could conclude that what I’ve written above demonstrates that the system is stacked against those trying to solve our cascading environmental problems. That’s true, but it goes deeper. America’s most powerful economic forces, from the military industrial complex to the fossil fuel industry to the manufacturers of disposable consumer goods, have the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the Federal and State governments in their pockets. Isn’t the juxtaposition I’ve described powerful proof that the system itself is the problem?

I’ve never met Tyler and Kevin, but to me their actions demonstrate that they know two things: 1. We must transform the nature of our interaction with the plants and animals with whom we share our planet. 2. Our profit-driven economy is rotten to the core. You may disagree with their tactics, but their analysis is light-years ahead of the mainstream environmental experts who argue we can engineer our way to a de-carbonized, sustainable economy within the confines of the current economic and political system. Such wishful thinking is a powerful lure, but in order to be effective whatever actions we take to hold off the approaching catastrophes must be based upon Tyler and Kevin’s understanding, not that of the so-called experts.
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For Love and Liberty

A collection of photographs of Tom Manning’s paintings was released last week. I was eager to see the finished product. I have a remarkably multi-faceted relationship with Tom Manning, given that we’ve never met.

Tom was one of the Ohio Seven (one single person and three married couples, each with three children), charged with conspiracy to overthrow the government. The trial took place in my then-hometown of Springfield, MA during 1988 and 1989. I became peripherally involved in their defense and saw him in court from time to time, but we never spoke.

The fate of the defendants’ nine children gnawed at me. I was most disturbed that Tom’s three children, aged three, five, and 11 at the time of his arrest, were confined and held in isolation from all family members for several weeks while the eldest was repeatedly interrogated. I was shocked to learn this. Bad as my childhood had been after my parents’ arrest, I had never been confined or interrogated. The treatment of the Ohio Seven children is what inspired me to start the Rosenberg Fund for Children, and two of Tom’s children became its first beneficiaries.

Since then, Tom and I have exchanged a few letters. I shared my memoir with him in 2003 and he reciprocated by sending me two of his oil paintings. They hung on my RFC office wall for over a decade. My favorite was of Cassandra Wilson. She stared out at me as she turned away from her piano with the sheet music of Strange Fruit, which she introduced to a new generation in 1990’s, in the background. Now a photograph of that painting, and some 80 others, fill this beautiful book.

The photographer, Penny Schoner, contacted me in late 2012 and asked if I’d write the preface for the collection. I was honored, but put her off until after I retired as the RFC Executive Director; it was the first project I completed after my daughter, Jenn, took over as Executive Director last September. My opening lines were, “I’m overwhelmed by the talent, indomitable will, and purity of heart displayed here. To say that I am awed by this book does not do it justice.”

Tom Manning helped begin and end my RFC leadership. He closes his autobiographical essay in the book with this quote “The revolution is never begun anew, only continued where others left off…”

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415.863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org

Tom Manning is a freedom fighter, political prisoner and prolific artist. His paintings are stories that jump off the page, revealing the outlook of people who struggle for liberation around the world. His paintings are about life and his landscapes recall times of importance. Tom is currently incarcerated at Butner Federal Correctional Complex in North Carolina as a result of revolutionary actions undertaken while a member of the United Freedom Front. You can read more about the book and purchase a copy at https://co.clickandpledge.com/advanced/default.aspx?wid=33028 Read More 
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