Category activism

One Man is Single-Handedly Standing in The Way of FOIA Reform: Outgoing Senator Jay Rockefeller Wants to Kill the FOIA Reform Act This Monday

[Washington, DC]  Outgoing Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia is single-handedly attempting to kill a critical governmental transparency bill. The FOIA Improvement Act of 2014 (S. 2520) is the product of over six months of bipartisan work that would enact desperately needed reforms to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The bill enjoys overwhelming support on both sides of the aisle and its passage is almost certain. Or at least it would be if it could only come up for a vote. Despite a very similar bill passing the House 410-0, and also passing unanimously out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Rockefeller placed an 11th hour hold on the bill this Thursday.

Senate Commerce Committee Holds Hearing On Domestic Violence In Professional Sports

Sen. Rockefeller refused to comment on his hold for more than 24 hours, and then finally issued a vague and equivocating statement Friday evening after most newsrooms had already closed. If Rockefeller doesn’t lift his ill-considered hold by Monday, the bill dies. Journalists, scholars, open government advocates, and watchdog organizations are decrying Rockefeller’s hold as a threat to the fundamental democratic principle of an informed citizenry.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is the landmark legislation that allows for public access to government records. But since its initial passage in 1966, many governmental agencies have routinely attempted to avoid compliance with FOIA’s provisions. As a result, Congress has repeatedly amended FOIA to better ensure the American people can learn what their government is doing and why. In light of continued systemic agency FOIA abuses, the FOIA Improvement Act of 2014 is designed to again further safeguard the public’s right to know.

What the FOIA Improvement Act of 2014 Will Do:

Critically, the FOIA Improvement Act of 2014 targets rampant agency abuse of FOIA exemption b(5), commonly derided as the “withhold it because you want to” exemption. As it currently stands, FOIA exemption b(5) is worded so broadly it allows an agency to withhold any “interagency or intra-agency communication,” as well as any document purported by an agency to be a “draft.” This language covers such a wide swath of records that agencies routinely invoke b(5) to prevent the otherwise required release of potentially embarrassing documents.

After Grand Jury Decision in Shooting Death of Mike Brown, Organized Communities Vow Nonviolent Protest in Ferguson & Beyond

[FERGUSON, MO]  At 8PM CT, Ferguson Action issued the following statement in response to the St. Louis County Grand Jury’s failure to levy charges against Darren Wilson for the August 9th killing of Michael Brown Jr.

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“We are devastated that the grand jury has failed to indict Darren Wilson in the killing of Mike Brown,” said Montague Simmons Chair of The Organization for Black Struggle.  “All this community wanted was simple justice. Wilson killed an unarmed man and should face a trial by jury. Instead, he benefited from a highly unusual grand jury process, led by a prosecutor with whom the local community pleaded to step down or be removed from the case. Mike Brown was a young man with his entire life ahead of him. He could have been any of us. In fact, since his murder, we have seen more police killings of unarmed Black people. In the last week alone, the killings of Akai Gurley in New York City and Tamir Rice in Cleveland have served as stark reminders that the problems with policing in Ferguson are rampant throughout the country.”

“In this moment, we all have a choice to make,” said Tef Poe, Co-Founder of Hands Up United, “We can stand by while police and their apologists in prosecutors’ offices and city halls continue to kill, harass and criminalize our communities – or stand up in this moment to demand that our elected officials lead and finally deal with our broken policing system.”

As The Ferguson Grand Jury Deliberates in Mike Brown Case, the Community Speaks Out About Systemic Change

[FERGUSON, MO]  A St. Louis County Grand Jury returned on Thursday with a possible decision whether or not to levy charges against Darren Wilson for the August 9th shooting of Michael Brown Jr..  St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch considered announcing the jurors’ conclusions this Sunday morning.  Area schools have responded by announcing closures for next week, and until the announcement is made, the media, who has once again descended upon Ferguson, MO, will repeat iterations of the same lede, variations of hysterical accounts, or ominous foreshadows of impending violence. Few will ask locals about their desires to create a more equitable Ferguson and fewer will provide a platform to those already laying the foundation for that prospect. We set out to fill this void.

Last week, with support from Hands Up United, Sparrow’s Andy Stepanian and Jeff Wirth of Burning Hearts Media created this video communiqué. This 9-minute clip provides a surreal temperature check of what it is truly like during these uncertain hours on the ground. In an effort to forego our own analysis and keep focus on the community of Ferguson, attached below are statements from community members and activists we interviewed. Please consider sharing their words this weekend in place of the hyperbolic headlines that will otherwise occupy your timelines:

“I’m not here to try to validate the justice system, because there’s a lot of changes that need to occur. But the indictment of Darren Wilson is the first step of many that need to take place. We got to get him indicted first.” — David Whitt, The Canfield Watchmen

“Until the Governor chooses to truly address the systemic issues that the murder of Michael Brown brought to the surface for many Americans, no press release or commission board will truly help this community move forward from this tragedy” — Ashley Yates, Millennial Activists United

Rolling Jubilee Announces Abolishment of Nearly Four Million Dollars of Student Debt, Launches New Debt Collective

[NEW YORK, NY]  On the third anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement, the Rolling Jubilee has, for the first time ever, bought and abolished student debt: $3,856,866.11 of student debt owed by 2,761 people across the United States.

strike debt

With the aim of building a broad-based debt resistance movement, the Rolling Jubilee relieves debtors by buying debt for pennies on the dollar. The project highlights the injustice of having to go into debt for things that should be publicly provided, like healthcare and education. This is the fourth announcement by the Rolling Jubilee, which has abolished over $15 million of medical bills for thousands of people across the United States since the campaign was launched and went viral in November of 2012.

While medical debt is widely available to debt collectors on secondary markets, most student debt is not, because it is guaranteed by the federal government. The debt purchased by the Rolling Jubilee is private debt from Everest College, which is part of Corinthian Colleges, Inc., a nationwide system of for-profit colleges that receives approximately 90% of its funding from federal student loans. Corinthian has been subject to numerous investigations by state and federal authorities for fraud. The company is on the verge of collapse and the Department of Education is aiding Corinthian in its quest to find a buyer for its over one hundred campuses and online operations. Strike Debt member Luke Herrine explains: “The Department of Education needs to stop acting as a debt collector for a predatory lender, and start discharging the debt of these students. It is fully within its statutory powers to do so.”

Activist Teams Enter Yellowstone Backcountry to Document & Protest Extralegal Montana Wolf Hunt

[BILLINGS, MT]  Americans outraged with the killing of wolves from Yellowstone National Park (YNP) have organized the Yellowstone Wolf Patrol, whose members have entered the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness to monitor and document Montana’s wolf hunt, which began on September 15th.

Yellowstone Wolf Patrol

Nine members of the Wolf Patrol are currently trailing hunters, who in the last two years, have killed wolves belonging to packs originating from YNP where hunting is prohibited. Wolf Patrol members are opposed to the sport hunting of wolves in Wolf Management Units (WMU) 313 & 316, and are asking Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MFWP) to immediately stop the hunt before more wolves are killed.

Yellowstone wolves cross over from the park into WMU 313/316 where since 2012, twelve have been killed by hunters. At least three of the wolves shot in the 2012/2013 season were of high social rank (alpha female or beta male), thus negatively affecting reproduction, hunting behavior, and territorial defense of these unique packs. 7 of 10 (70%) packs living primarily in YNP had at least one wolf killed by hunters.