Amid Freezing Classrooms, Baltimore’s Teachers Fight to Democratize City’s Schools

When the government didn’t step in, teachers organized to demand better conditions for their students.

When a photograph of bundled-up students in a frigid Baltimore classroom recently spread on social media—with temperatures in schools as low as the mid-30s—the city became a focal point of public attention. But two organizations of Baltimore teachers say such situations, far from isolated, are the latest examples of why educators are pushing to radically democratize the city’s school system.

“It wasn’t until we started sharing pictures in our classrooms showing 30 and 40-degree temperatures and speaking out together in a unified way that it got anyone’s attention,” says Kimberly Mooney, a teacher and member of the Baltimore Caucus of Educators for Democracy and Equity (CEDE), a caucus of the Baltimore Teachers Union (BTU), which is itself part of the American Federation of Teachers.

Last year, Mooney and CEDE ran a nearly successful insurgent campaign against the BTU’s entrenched President Marietta English, calling for the union to be more transparent and proactive around key issues, including reducing class sizes, rolling back standardized testing and advancing social justice issues relevant in the city. That mobilization developed into a fresh organization of teachers that is helping lead the fight for a new approach to Baltimore’s school system.

Alongside CEDE is another grassroots teacher-run effort and BTU caucus, the Baltimore Movement of Rank-and-File Educators (BMORE). Inspired by the 2012 Chicago Teachers Union strike, BMORE describes part of its mission as “working to transform the BTU from a service union to a social justice union.”

Both groups launched petitions this week in light of the freezing classrooms. “Baltimore City children attending decrepit school facilities without functioning heat and drinkable water is a tragedy that the state of Maryland created over decades of underfunding,” reads BMORE’s statement and list of demands. “They have repeatedly neglected their own definition of adequacy by 3 billion dollars over the past two decades alone, much of which would’ve prevented these circumstances before they happened.”

CEDE and BMORE presented their petitions to Baltimore’s Board of Education in a Tuesday board meeting where crowds of teachers, students and participants of numerous racial and social justice organizations gathered in such large numbers that two overflow rooms were needed to host them.

Behind the issue of Baltimore’s freezing classrooms is the poor condition of the city’s education system in general. The fight to radically change those conditions, led by groups like BMORE and CEDE, is happening on many levels. Above all, it is a fight against power-holders in the richest state—in the world’s richest country. Secondly, it’s a fight against a city school board that has inadequately dealt with its budget realities and too-often ignored or pushed aside needed changes. And finally, it’s a struggle to make the BTU a more community-focused, grassroots-driven union.

“We came across these national stories where people wanted to see unions become more democratic, less top-down, and advocate on behalf of the entire community, says teacher and BMORE member Corey Gaber. “And we said, ‘Why can’t we transform the BTU to be more like these unions we are seeing elsewhere that are pro-active unions?’”

“We started as a study group reading about what the Chicago Teachers Union did back in 2010 and 2012,” says teacher Natalia Bacchus, one of BMORE’s founders and a teacher at Moravia Park Elementary. She explains that Chicago teachers built grassroots power in order to take control of their union and push it in a new direction that mobilized its members, while inspiring teachers from around the country with a working model.

BMORE took the initiative on their own to start that process while, unknown to them at the time, CEDE was doing the same thing. Often in collaboration, the two groups have since been pursuing strategies and campaigns to radically change their union and, through those efforts, change the way the education system functions in Baltimore.

While Mooney says CEDE has definitely been inspired and informed by the Chicago Teachers Union as well, the inspiration for the group really grew out of the conditions of Baltimore’s schools. “I think it was more of a frustration with the way things were in our district and the lack of urgency about those issues from our union,” Mooney explains.

Both groups have taken similar approaches to their missions: putting power in the hands of teachers who see the school system as a part of a much larger community—one that was under siege by the State of Maryland long before this winter. And they see the grassroots mobilization of their fellow union members as necessary conditions to affecting greater changes at the city and state level.

“We exist in a backdrop where cuts have been happening for decades,” says teacher and BMORE member Cristina Duncan Evans. “Baltimore City has never had adequate funding. It’s like the frog in the boiling water, and the frog doesn’t notice.”

“We’re in a situation,” Evans continues, “where a problem that has grown over decades has now reached a point where, for some reason, we don’t have communication plans to parents or a set policy about what is the minimum accepted temperature in a school building.”

BMORE sees the role of racial discrimination against a predominantly black student body as an inextricable part of the problem, says Evans, explaining that the group launched with a focus on building capacity with teachers of color. “We believe in elevating teachers’ voices and putting more power in the hands of people in Baltimore City who are closest to educational issues,” Evans says, ”and we do that in a way that recognizes that this is a racial justice issue.”

While BMORE and CEDE are both pushing immediate demands this week, they are more focused on the long-term work of building grassroots power. BMORE has launched an inter-union campaign to change what they say is an unfair voting process in which teachers must cast ballots in person, on a school day, in a small window of time. They have gathered more than 800 signatures calling for a mail-in process to increase turnout. They are also pushing for changes to the state’s mandatory testing process, including a revision of the interpretation of the Every Student Succeeds Act and the test-burden it carries.

While pushing for these changes, BMORE is also hosting its own study groups, building coalition with other social justice groups in the city and working with a national network of similar groups to share knowledge and ideas.

Mooney says that grassroots organizing within the school system is essential. “People fail to act because they are afraid of the repercussions,” she emphasizes. “I think that what we have seen is that if we act together, they can’t single out individuals as easily. It’s important to find those people willing to stand with you in solidarity.

“We didn’t ask anybody permission to do what we’re doing right now,” Gaber says of BMORE’s organizing campaigns. “We got together, talked about it, and made a list of demands. And now our demands are becoming a lead narrative. That started with teachers talking.“

Following Tuesday night’s meeting, the Board of Education will hold a town hall meeting to focus specifically on issues related to facilities and maintenance.

The Baltimore Teachers Union did not respond to a request for an interview. 



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‘Presidency for Sale’: Report Details Big-Buck Spending by Influence Seekers at Trump Properties

“Business is booming at the Trump International Hotel in D.C., not because of the décor, but because corporations and foreign governments want to curry favor with the president.”

President Donald Trump’s first year in office has been a “year of unprecedented conflicts of interest,” according to a new report that documents how dozens of political candidates, foreign governments, interest groups, and other private entities have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars at the president’s properties since his inauguration.

The 64 patrons identified by Public Citizen—through government filings and news reports—in Presidency for Sale range from the private prison company GEO Group and the American Petroleum Institute, to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Society and the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a contingent of lobbyists and state officials that work to advance a corporate agenda in legislatures across the country.

The Saudi Arabian government is also on the list, and as Public Citizen noted in a tweet about its report, “The Saudi effort to curry favor with the Trump administration stands out above all: A PR firm spent $270,000 on behalf of the Saudi government at the Trump International Hotel in D.C. on an undisclosed date.” 

The full list, detailed in a public spreadsheet, includes:

  • 35 political candidates or political organizations;
  • 16 trade or interest groups;
  • 4 charities, including one run by Trump’s son, Eric;
  • 4 foreign governments;
  • 3 religious groups;
  • 2 individual companies; and
  • 1 college football team.

Among the political organizations listed are groups supporting Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the House Majority Leader.

The most popular Trump properties frequented by the corporate and political powers that be, according to the report, are the Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida—the so-called Winter White House, which Trump visits often—and the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. 

“Business is booming at the Trump International Hotel in D.C., not because of the décor, but because corporations and foreign governments want to curry favor with the president,” said Public Citizen president Robert Weissman. “Donald Trump entered office with the most blatant and potentially corrupting conflicts of interest in the history of American politics, and things only got worse from there.”

Although Trump has turned over control of day-to-day business operations to his sons, while serving as president, he has maintained close ties to his empire, which includes hotels, golf clubs, restaurants, and real estate developments. 

“Donald Trump is a man who is easily flattered,” noted Alan Zibel, the report’s author and research director of Public Citizen’s Corporate Presidency Project. “Corporations and foreign governments know the best way to get on his good side is to open up their wallets at one of Trump’s many businesses.”

Public Citizen’s report is just the latest to raise concerns about the administration’s ethical conflicts. Last year, watchdog groups filed a lawsuit to force the government to release the visitor logs for Trump residences and Mar-a-Lago, and a USA TODAY investigation published in September revealed how “top executives, lobbyists, and contractors are buying access” to Trump through memberships at his numerous golf clubs.




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Nazi Website Daily Stormer Is ‘Designed to Target’ Kids

“Our goal has to be to give this [ideology] to teenagers and even before teenagers.”

The editor of the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer acknowledged on a white supremacist radio show that the true purpose of the conspiracy site is to radicalize children as young as 11 into holding extremist beliefs. “My site is mainly designed to target children” for radicalization, the editor, Andrew Anglin, said Saturday on Radical Agenda, a radio…{C}


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Jim Hightower: What’s Killing America’s Middle Class?

The American economy in 2018 is plutocracy in action.

It is said that the rich and poor will always be among us—but nowhere is it written that the middle class is a sure thing.

Even in this country of grand egalitarian aspirations, where the common yeoman (neither rich nor poor) has been hailed from 1776 forward as America’s greatest strength, the U.S. actually had no broad middle class until one was created in the 1930s and ’40s. Before then, most Americans either lived in poverty or right next door.

And, yes, “created” is the correct term for how our middle class came to be, with two historic forces of social transformation pushing it. First, the widespread economic devastation of the Great Depression created a grassroots rebellion of labor, farmers, poor people, the elderly and others against the careless moneyed class that caused the crash. These forces produced FDR and his New Deal of Social Security, worker rights and protections, consumer laws, anti-monopoly restraints and other policies that put government on the side of the people, empowering them to counter much of the corporate greed preventing their upward mobility.

Second, the government’s national mobilization for World War II created an explosion of new jobs, growth and opportunities for millions who’d long been blocked from sharing in our nation’s prosperity. The war effort opened people’s eyes, boosted confidence and raised expectations, leading to a post-war rise in unionism, passage of the GI Bill, a housing boom and a doubling of the median family income in only 30 years. In short, by the late 1970s, we had created a middle class that included nearly 60 percent of Americans.

Then—pffft—the momentum was gone. Beginning in the 1980s, right-wing Republicans and Democratic comparatists switched sides, and ever since they’ve increasingly allowed corporate lobbyists and campaign donors to disempower America’s workaday majority, further enrich themselves and impose an abominable, un-American culture of inequality across our land.

Just as progressives deliberately pushed public policies to create the middle class, so are today’s economic royalists deliberately pushing plutocratic policies to destroy it. That is the momentous struggle that calls us to action this political year.

As the royal triumvirate of Donald Trump, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell continue their perverse quest to turn our America into a gold-plated Trumplandistan (an exclusive realm ruled by and for the billionaire class), they keep proclaiming that their blatantly elitist schemes will magically elevate the middle class and even the poor. We’re giving a seven-course dinner to everyone, they loudly ballyhoo!

Oh sure, and as we now see from the details of their regressive rewrite of America’s tax law, the 1-percenters got a perpetual feast of foie gras, chateaubriand, bouillabaisse and other rich gourmet delights, while our seven-course dinner turns out to be a six-pack and a possum. In fact, as the non-partisan Tax Policy Center reports, 10 years from now, 83 percent of the benefits in the Trump-Ryan-McConnell tax act will be flowing to the wealthiest families, while more than half of America’s middle-income and poor people will actually see their taxes rise over the next decade.

Meanwhile, this egregious giveaway to undeserving corporate elites will add between one and one-and-a-half trillion dollars to the federal deficit. No problem, says the slap-happy triumvirate, for we have a plan to cover the cost of lavishing these mega-tax cuts on the royals (including cuts for the gilded Trump family, which just happens to be one of the act’s top beneficiaries). As Trump himself explained the plan: “We’re going to go into welfare reform.” Yes, the plan is to cut such essential safety net programs as children’s health care, food stamps, jobless programs, and—as Ryan and McConnell now publicly admit—they intend to cut Medicare and Social Security.

What we have here is plutocracy in action—the precious few are intentionally knocking down and locking down the many to further enrich themselves. This is the reason that the social cancer of inequality is spreading so rampantly in America, devouring the very middle class that Trump & Company are using, ironically and cynically, as an Orwellian rational for passing their plutocratic agenda.



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‘When They Call You a Terrorist’: The Life of Black Lives Matter Co-Founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors

An account of survival, strength and resilience.

We turn now to a powerful new book, released today [Tuesday], that tells the story of one woman as she fights back against the impacts of social and racial injustice in America on her family. That woman is Patrisse Khan-Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter. The book, titled “When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir,” is both an account of survival, strength and resilience, and a call to action to change the culture that declares innocent black life expendable. Patrisse’s story follows her childhood in Los Angeles in the late 1990s and early 2000s, as her mother worked three jobs, struggling to earn a living wage. And it puts a human face on the way mass incarceration and the war on drugs hurt young black men, including her relatives and friends. Patrisse’s father was a victim of the drug war. He died at the age of 50. Her brother spent years in prison for nonviolent crimes stemming from his battles against mental illness. He was once even charged with terrorism after being involved in a car accident. The police would target Patrisse, too—raiding her house without just cause. In 2013, after George Zimmerman was acquitted for the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, Patrisse co-founded Black Lives Matter along with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi. The movement began online but soon spread across the country. We speak to Patrisse and her co-author, asha bandele. ashaisauthorof five books, including the best-seller “The Prisoner’s Wife.” She is a senior director at the Drug Policy Alliance.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to a powerful new book, released today, that tells the story of one woman as she fights back against the impacts of social and racial injustice in America on her family. That woman is Patrisse Khan-Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter. The book, titled When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, is both an account of survival, strength and resilience, and a call to action to change the culture that declares innocent black life expendable. Patrisse’s story follows her childhood in Los Angeles in the late 1990s and early 2000s, as her mother worked three jobs, struggling to earn a living wage. And it puts a human face on the way mass incarceration and the war on drugs hurts young black men, including her relatives and friends.

AMY GOODMAN: Patrisse’s father was a victim of the drug war. He died at the age of 50. Her brother spent years in prison for nonviolent crimes stemming from his battles against mental illness. He was once even charged with terrorism after being involved in a car accident. The police would target Patrisse, too, raiding her house without just cause.

In 2013, after George Zimmerman was acquitted for the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, Patrisse co-founded Black Lives Matter along with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi. The movement began online but soon spread across the country. “Black Lives Matter” became the rallying cry at protests decrying the police killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Eric Garner in Staten Island, and many others, including Sandra Bland, who died in a Texas jail after a traffic stop.

Patrisse Khan-Cullors joins us in the studio today, on the day of the publication of her new book, When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir. She wrote the book with the award-winning journalist asha bandele, who also joins us. asha is the author of five books, including the best-seller The Prisoner’s Wife. She’s a senior director at the Drug Policy Alliance. Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele will join us after this break to talk about Patrisse’s remarkable life story. Patrisse Khan-Cullors, a survivor. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Music recorded last spring at Judson Memorial Church at a gathering for Ravi Ragbir ahead of one of his check-ins with ICE. Last week, he was detained, and he is now in deportation proceedings in a jail in Florida. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

Our guests are Patrisse Khan-Cullors, talking about her new book, released today, When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, written with the award-winning journalist asha bandele.

Patrisse, congratulations. This is an astounding book.


AMY GOODMAN: This weekend, I flew to Colorado and then came back yesterday through Chicago’s snowstorm, and everyone on the plane knew I had misplaced my book, because I said, “I must finish reading this book,” until asha kindly sent me the manuscript on the plane, right? And then I said, “OK,” to the pilot, “we can now take off.” And I read aloud on the—no, not exactly—on the loudspeaker. But the story you have told of growing up against all the odds—


AMY GOODMAN: Tell us where you were born and place us in Los Angeles, in your community, one—next to one of the richest and whitest in the United States.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Yes. I was born in Van Nuys, California, which is not known, but it’s a suburb outside of Los Angeles inner city. And it was literally in between multiple white neighborhoods, including Sherman Oaks, Studio City, Northridge. And I witnessed consistent policing, militarized policing. I witnessed the impact mass incarceration had on my family members. And the most early memories for me were my home being raided by LAPD and LAPD lighting up my siblings and their friends, at 11, 13 years old, stopping and frisking them. And this became our normal in our neighborhood, even though I knew it was not normal.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you know?

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Because I could feel the humiliation in every stop, in every moment LAPD was around. I could feel the impact it had on my mother. I could feel it in our community. And I knew that we shouldn’t be living this way. I knew that there was more for us. And then I ended up going to a mostly white school, and I got to see the very real difference between how they were treated, and never actually witnessing police in their neighborhoods, and then how my family and my community was treated.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, I wanted to ask you about that. You write so eloquently about the differences. This was in the middle school that you went there. And the—talk about some of the examples of the difference in treatment between that mostly upper- and middle-class white community, so close to yours, and the way your own neighborhood was being dealt with.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: I mean, it was just in the school itself. It was not policed. There were no cops on campus, compared to the middle school that I went to for summer school, which was the first time I was arrested, at 12 years old.

AMY GOODMAN: You can name your schools.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Millikan Middle School was in Sherman Oaks, which was the upper-middle-class middle school with mostly white folks. And Van Nuys Middle School was mostly working-class, poor, immigrant communities and black folks. And it was just literal. I mean, one looks like a prison, and one looks like a university.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And one had metal detectors. And could you talk about the experience of one time you were arrested in the—in that summer school?

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Yes. I was arrested because I was—had been smoking weed in the bathroom. And at Millikan, you could do that, and no one was checking for you, worried about you.

AMY GOODMAN: You mean the white school.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: At Millikan, the white school in Sherman Oaks, yes. It just sounds like a white school: Millikan. And at Van Nuys—

AMY GOODMAN: And lots of girls did it.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Yeah. I mean, all the white girls did it. I mean, that’s actually who introduced weed to me, was the white girls. And Van Nuys Middle School was mostly, like I said, working-class, communities of color. And I was—a cop came into my classroom. It was my science class. And when I—as a younger person, when I saw law enforcement, I feared them. There was already sort of that emotional response. The entire classroom got kind of tight. And the science—you know, the cop whispered in the science teacher’s ear, and the science teacher called me up to the class. He handcuffed me in front of my classroom and then walked me down a hallway.

AMY GOODMAN: You were 12 years old.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: I was 12 years old. And all I can think about—because when you’re 12, I wasn’t thinking about the political, you know, analysis of the moment. I was thinking about: What is my mother going to say? What am I going to tell my mother? Which I lied through my teeth. But it wasn’t until I got older that I realized the impact of that moment and the impact that would have on me for the rest of my life.

AMY GOODMAN: You also describe your brothers and the places you all had to hang out, very limited—you didn’t have the playgrounds of Sherman Oaks, rec centers, arts programs—and the police moving in on them when they were kids. You were right nearby. You were like what? Nine?

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Yeah, 9 years old. I was 9 years old, yeah. And once again, when you’re a child, you just pick the places that are most convenient. That was alleyways. That was the front of our building. Sometimes it was in our homes. But it was—you know, when you’re a child, you’re playing. You want to play outside.

And because of the war on gangs, because of gang injunctions, the boys, specifically, in my neighborhood, were labeled as gang members. And my brother will tell the story, which is, they never considered themselves a gang, until the police called them a gang, that that’s not how they related to themselves. They were a bunch of boys hanging out. And those—and at 9 years old, bearing witness to that type of humiliation has an impact on you.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, asha bandele, what made you decide that you thought this was an important story to tell, if you could talk about that, as well, and how you first came together?

ASHA BANDELE: So, Patrisse and I had known each other for a good number of years as organizers. And I thought it was monumentally important to go behind the statistics and unpack the real-world story of the impact of the drug war and mass incarceration on people’s lives. It’s sort of what I’ve dedicated my life to, as, you know, someone who had family members in prison and as somebody who has seen the human cost of mass incarceration. I wanted Patrisse to tell her story in a full, complete way.

And I was especially enraged that Black Lives Matter and the leaders of Black Lives Matter had been called terrorists, when I knew that these were people dedicated deeply to peace in our communities, peace for our children. I knew the impact Patrisse had on my own daughter, of love and of peace. And I wanted people to see that. I don’t think that you get to misname people. And I think that the history of who we are needs to be told and needs to be documented. And that’s my dedication as a writer and as an organizer.

AMY GOODMAN: Patrisse, I want people to meet your family the way you introduce them to us, because that’s really the point of this book, is people speaking for themselves, your unique experiences and the difference in how you grow up in this country from other communities. Can you introduce us to your mothers, your fathers, your brothers, your sister?

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Yes. Cherice Foley, who is my mother, a brilliant woman who literally raised four children on her own in the middle of the ’80s, ’90s, she is powerful. I mean, she’s literally powerful.

Monte Cullors, who was my first best friend, who was criminalized very early on—Monte’s first time in juvenile hall was 13 years old, and he would spend from 13 ’til 36 in and out of juvenile hall, prisons and lockdown facilities, simply because of his mental illness and the war on drugs.

My brother Paul Cullors, who was a parent to us, as my mother worked three, sometimes four, jobs, and also has become my security—he’s a security guard, so he does my security in Los Angeles. He’s pretty much my first protector.

My sister Jasmine Cullors, who—in a lot of ways, we kind of kept her from so much of what we witnessed and experienced. We protected her.

And my two fathers—my biological father, Gabriel Brignac, who I met when I was 11 years old, that I detail in the story and always kind of knew someone else was out there, always asked questions of my mother, but got to meet his brilliance at 11 and learned so much about myself because of him and my family. And Alton Cullors, the father who raised me, who is—used to work at the GM Van Nuys plant, and was shut down and was forced into taking jobs that were not so meaningful, and now owns a mechanic shop in Las Vegas.

AMY GOODMAN: If you can talk about Monte and your experience—well, first, he’s—after he’s arrested, before he’s diagnosed, what this all means, and then this unbelievable moment where you decide to call in the police, after he’s back from jail?

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Yeah. Monte—we didn’t know Monte was suffering from mental illness. Unfortunate reality is many communities of color, working-class poor communities, we don’t have people coming in and educating us about the crisis of mental health. And so, we just thought some—we didn’t know what was wrong. We didn’t. And when Monte was arrested for a robbery and when he was 18 years old, broke someone’s window, he said the voices told him to do it, and ended up going to prison for three years. In his stay in prison, he was tortured by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, brutally beaten. And—

AMY GOODMAN: Your mother first seeing him—she couldn’t even find where he was.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: No, no, they disappeared him. And this is actually—was a common practice of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department. It’s disappearing prisoners. And when she finally saw him, two months later, he was emaciated. My brother is 6’2”, almost 300 pounds. They had completely overmedicated him. And we would learn, later on, years later, just what he endured in that jail cell.

When he was released, when he was 23 years old, it was one of the most exciting days of my life. I get to see my brother. I hadn’t seen him in years. We didn’t know that we could visit people. You know, they don’t give you sort of what are the steps when your loved one is incarcerated. We didn’t realize that we could go visit him, so we didn’t see him for four years. We just wrote a lot of letters. And the first thing that I noticed when I picked him up from the bus stop is they let him out in flip-flops, an undershirt and boxers. And I just—I was—I was so disturbed, like I couldn’t—

AMY GOODMAN: He was at the bus station in boxer shorts?

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: He was in boxer shorts and a white T-shirt and flip-flops, which—shower shoes, essentially. And I ushered him in the car. And he was acting very different. It was not the brother that went inside and that I knew. And the minute he got into the house, my mother said, “This is—something’s wrong with my son.” And, you know, as every child, I was like, “Mom, be quiet. He just got out of prison. Like just give him some time.”

And over a week, he slowly—he quickly deteriorated. And I didn’t know who to call. And eventually I called the ambulance, and I made the unfortunate choice to tell them that my brother had just been released from jail. They said, “Well, that’s not our problem; you have to call the police.” And I said, “I can’t call the police on my brother. You have no”—you know, this is before Black Lives Matter, before we’ve seen, you know, black people be killed at the hands of law enforcement, especially black people with mental illness. But I just knew that that was not the right choice.

But I didn’t have anybody else to call, and I did call the police. And I talked them through, and I let them know what was happening. And the first thing they said to me—I said, “What happens if my brother happens to get violent?” And they said, “We’ll just taser him.” I mean, just like flat-faced—

AMY GOODMAN: These are two young cops who came.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Two young rookie cops, clearly scared out of their minds. And I said, “You cannot taser him. Like, that’s not—that’s unacceptable.” They walked into my house, and the minute they walked in, my brother just put his hands up and went on his knees and just started begging them. You know, he just started begging them. And I just knew I made a mistake. I just knew I made a mistake. And I, you know, held my brother. I said, “It’s OK.” And I told them to leave. And it was in that moment that I realized that we’re on our own, that we are literally on our own, and there is no infrastructure for black poor families when dealing with mental illness. There’s just none. And we had to piece the infrastructure together.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the—talk about the time that he was charged with terrorism.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Yeah, it was in those years, as he was off and on his medication. He was in a fender bender. And he was in the middle of a manic episode. And he might have cursed at the woman, might have not. We don’t know. We weren’t there. But the woman claimed that he had cursed at her. And because my brother was a second striker, then because they said that the cursing was threatening, they—

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you mean by “second striker.”

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: He has had two strikes on his record, which is part of the three strikes law, and was—

AMY GOODMAN: In California.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: In California—and could end up getting—if he were to receive his third strike, end up in jail for life. And—

AMY GOODMAN: Even if that third strike is stealing a candy bar.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Stealing a candy bar, getting in a fender bender. So, we went to court, when we finally found where my brother was. We went to that first court date, and the lawyer said, “You know, your brother is being charged with terrorist threats, and that is a felony. And they will probably be putting him away for the rest of his life.” And he was 24, 24 years old. And I said, “That’s not—not on my watch.”

AMY GOODMAN: And you’re a kid.


AMY GOODMAN: You’re a kid through all of this.


AMY GOODMAN: You describe a scene where you’re in the white school, and so you’re making some white girlfriends, who you really cared about. And you describe going to one of their homes and the lovely, unbelievable scene that unfolds at dinner and the way they respected you. Describe what happened. Describe the dad of the family and how he treated you.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Yes, this is—was one of my closest friends, growing up, in middle school. And you become friends with the people that are in proximity to you. So, it was a significantly white program, significantly white school. Those are my friends. And I went back to this friend’s house and what looked like a mansion to me. It’s probably not that big of a house, but compared to our neighborhood and tiny apartment, this house looked like a mansion.

And we were all at dinner. And the father is jolly. I mean, honestly, like probably—he looked like the original Santa Claus, like big, jolly white man with a beard and super sweet and a smile on his face all the time. And we’re talking, you know, and I’ve never been in a scenario like this, where you sit around and have dinner, and people pass things and ask questions of you. And he’s, you know—and we get to a point in the conversation where he—I don’t know how. Maybe he asked me, because oftentimes, you know, middle-class parents ask what your family does. And I’m talking about my mother, and he says—you know, repeats my mother’s name, “Cherice. Where do you live?” And I tell him my address. He says, “Oh, I own those apartments.”

And my heart dropped, because it was the apartment that I lived in that we didn’t have a refrigerator for a year, that sometimes appliances didn’t work, that we—I realized very quickly that that was our slumlord. And the contradiction in that moment, it was hard to settle, and a tension in that moment started to develop.

AMY GOODMAN: Because he was the first person who said to you, “Patrisse”—before you learned he was your slumlord—”what do you want to do with your life?”


AMY GOODMAN: “What are your plans?”


AMY GOODMAN: “How are you going to execute them?”

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Exactly, exactly. And yeah, what do you do with those moments, when the person who clearly has investment in you doesn’t actually have investment in your entire family and an infrastructure that your family is living in? It’s hard to manage.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: You also described, at a point, inviting a friend from that other world to your house, and him coming into your house, and the ambulance in the background—


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —that you just took for granted.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And he suddenly remarks, “I didn’t know you live like this,” or something like that.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Could you talk about that?

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: That’s exactly what happened. And, you know, I think what’s interesting about growing up black and poor is you don’t actually realize how bad it is until you see what else someone else has. And my mother was very particular about who we let over. And I begged her. I begged her to let my friend over. He was my best friend. You know, I didn’t think there would be any judgment. I didn’t assume there would be any judgment. And there definitely was.

And he walked in my home. And I remember that day so vividly, because there was the ambulance in the background. I was like, “Why does the ambulance have to be here today? Why the sirens today?” And I was nervous about him coming in. And he walked into my living room, and I was sitting on the couch. And he said—kind of looked around. He was like, “I didn’t know you live like this.”

And I got that—I got that a lot from other middle-class children, because they only know their world, and they don’t have to actually enter the world of communities of color and of poor communities, in particular.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you also describe that Van Nuys was a racially mixed neighborhood, a large Mexican-American community.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: There were Korean Americans. There were even a few white folks who lived in the neighborhood. Talk about that experience, as well.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Yeah, I grew up mostly around Latinos. And my community—my experience with both law enforcement and witnessing what was then INS, Immigration National Security, was really prominent. And I think it was important, you know, to grow up in such a multiracial environment. Many of us, our family members were getting, you know, social welfare. Many of our family members were getting food stamps, when they actually looked like stamps and they looked colored. And like, we grew up in this environment, and we really raised each other, and we really took care of each other. And it colored—I think it really colors how I am in this movement. We have to take care of each other. We didn’t have local government taking care of us.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, and when we come back, what it meant to come out in your community, with your family, with your friends; your response to Trayvon Martin’s death and George Zimmerman being acquitted; how you came up with that hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter. And we want to talk with asha about how this story shows us the stories about the effects of drug policy and mass incarceration. Today is the day that a remarkable book has just come out, When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir. It’s by our guests today, Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele. This is Democracy Now! Back with them in a moment.


AMY GOODMAN: “Forgive Them, Father” by Lauryn Hill. Our guests today are Patrisse Khan-Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, and asha bandele. Together, they have written the book, the memoir of Patrisse’ life; it’s called When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

Patrisse, why don’t you just read from your book? Aside from the astonishing story you tell, it is so beautifully written.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Chapter 11, Black Lives Matter.

This was a teenager just trying to get home. Sybrina Fulton.

“It is July 13, 2013, and I have stepped away from monitoring events at the trial of the man who killed Trayvon Martin, 17, a year and a half before. I had learned about Trayvon one day while I was at the Strategy Center in 2012 and going through Facebook. I came across a small article from a local paper. Was it Sanford’s? I read that a white man—that’s how the killer was identified and self-identified until we raised the issue of race—had killed a Black boy and was not going to be charged.

“I start cursing. I am outraged. In what … world does this make sense? I put a call out: have people heard about 17-year-old Trayvon Martin? I have loved so many young men who look just like this boy. I feel immediate grief, and as my friends begin to respond, they, too, are grief stricken. We meet at my home. We circle up. A multiracial group of roughly 15 people dedicated to ending white supremacy and creating a world in which all of our children can thrive. We process. We talk about what we’ve seen and experienced in our lives. We cry.”

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Patrisse Khan-Cullors, reading from her book, released today, When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’m wondering, Patrisse: Were you surprised by the enormous reaction, as you began to develop the Black Lives Matter theme? And also, talk about the Strategy—you mention you had come out of the Strategy Center. What was the Strategy Center?

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Well, I’m a trained organizer. And so, I think sometimes people think that because Black Lives Matter is the biggest thing, that that’s the first thing I ever did. And it’s not. I was trained knocking on doors, you know, getting on buses and passing out flyers and getting people to join organizations. The Labor Community Strategy Center is my first political home. It’s where I would be a part of what it’s famous for, which is the Bus Riders Union.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Started by an old friend of mine, Eric Mann.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Yes, Eric Mann. That’s my mentor.

AMY GOODMAN: And that hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter, explain how it came to you, your relationship with Alicia Garza and how the three of you—I mean, I remember when we had you on our show, the three of you, these towers of strength—Patrisse Khan-Cullors, Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi—


AMY GOODMAN: —right when you were just going into a major conference that weekend.


AMY GOODMAN: But this was before.


AMY GOODMAN: How did it come to you? Why were you talking to Alicia? Did you know her before?

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: I did. I had known Alicia for at least six years by the time we started Black Lives Matter. And George Zimmerman had just been acquitted of Trayvon Martin’s murder, and I was furious, and I was grief-stricken. And I went onto social media, as many of folks in our generation do, to go commiserate with the people that I love and know. And I found Alicia Garza’s post, and she wrote a love note to black folks. And she closed that post off with “Black Lives Matter.” And I put a hashtag on it. And I said, “We’ve got to make this go viral, that those are the three words.”

And literally, within the next 24 hours, her and I would be talking about a project that we wanted to create, and we were going to call it Black Lives Matter. Opal Tometi called Alicia a few days later, saying, “I want in. I want to be a part of this. I want to help develop it. I want to build up the communications infrastructure so that it can go viral.” And that’s the very beginning of Black Lives Matter. And it would become a phrase, into a hashtag, evolve into a political platform and evolve into what’s now a global network and an organization with over 40 chapters worldwide.

AMY GOODMAN: And before this, coming out, coming out, because so much of the power is this—it’s the personal story you tell.


AMY GOODMAN: And then, of course, there are the global political implications. But it starts with a kid. It starts with Patrisse.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Yeah, Patrisse, the—I was very weird and a self-proclaimed weirdo, just super excited about life. You know, I’m an artist, and so I had been to a lot of art schools and performance schools. And at 14 years old, my cousin actually came out first. And she was the brave one. She was the trailblazer. And she got—she got a lot of backlash from her mother, in particular, so much so that they got in a physical fight on our high school campus, and she—

AMY GOODMAN: Your mother—her mother came to school and beat her up.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Yes, her mother came to school and physically fought her and then pulled her out of the school, that was so nurturing to her and where really all our family was, and put her in a totally different program. But it was that—it was my cousin’s courage that really shaped me being clear about why I needed to come out. And I would come out the very next year. And—

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And your family’s reaction?

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: It was very hard for my mother. We never talked about it, but—

AMY GOODMAN: She was a Jehovah’s Witness?

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: She is a Jehovah’s Witness. My whole family on my mother’s side is Jehovah’s Witness. But I knew that it was a “sin.” And we—by that last year of high school, my senior year of high school, many of us had come out. And we were houseless. We roamed people’s homes. We went to the families who were accepting of us. We stayed in cars.

AMY GOODMAN: You lived with a teacher who saved—helped to save your life? There are so many.

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: Donna Hill. Yes, Donna Hill. The day I graduated, I moved in with her. And I propositioned her, you know, early on. I said, “I’d like to live with you.” She said, “I can’t legally have you live with me. You’re a student.” But she said, “The moment you graduate, you’re welcome to come live with me.” And myself and my close friend, Carla Gonzalez, who’s still one of my best friends, moved in with her and lived with her for a couple years, while we got ourselves on our feet.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, asha, I’d like to ask you—you’ve been active in the movement against American drug policy. Can you talk about that involvement and how that shaped your decision to get involved in writing this book?

ASHA BANDELE: Well, first, in terms of doing the book, it was to support Patrisse in telling her story. And I think that as a journalist and being trained to sort of deeply listen, it was clear that what Patrisse was actually telling was a story of someone who grew up at the epicenter of the drug war in Southern California. And I thought that was particularly important to unpack, because even many of us who oppose mass incarceration don’t feel comfortable challenging drug policies. Drugs, you know, we understand them—U.S. drug policy has been—we’ve used it against ourselves. We’ve been embarrassed, ashamed. Black people haven’t stood up. You know, we can say Killer Mike and embrace Killer Mike as a great rapper, but we would never do that with Crackhead Mike, right?

And so, we’ve participated in a stigma that was directly created at a moment when black people were at the top of the moral mountain, the civil rights movement, but you could no longer use race as a reason to exclude people from society. Nixon’s administration uses drugs as a proxy for race and goes after them. We know that now. We know what John Ehrlichman has said. Did they know they were lying? He says of course they knew they were lying about black people and drug involvement. But they’ve so demonized it that we don’t even want to talk about it.

And whole communities, meanwhile, are targeted under the guise of keeping children safe, when they’re actually making children less safe. It’s been the reason for—in any case you look at, in Trayvon Martin’s case—right?—the first thing the lawyer said was, “Oh, he had marijuana in his system,” as though that was some justification. They said the same thing about Sandra Bland. Eric Garner is selling loose cigarettes, they claim—and the family disputes that, by the way, but they claim he’s selling loose cigarettes. So, all of these drug products are used as a justification to kill people, to roll tanks into Ferguson. That comes from drug war dollars. And when they don’t—what they talk about are people dying of drug use, but what’s actually more harmful is the drug war.

AMY GOODMAN: It is clear in this book that nothing in Patrisse’s life would indicate who she would become. I’m saying “she,” but she is right here, but I’m talking to you, asha. Your life now—I mean, you wrote, in a remarkable book, The Prisoner’s Wife, about your husband, who was imprisoned, then deported to Guyana in 2009—


AMY GOODMAN: —instead of coming out and being able to live in this country. And then you meet Patrisse, whose life story so intertwined with the drug war, yet if people were to look at Patrisse’s story, they wouldn’t necessarily know that, how it’s U.S. policy that is shaping this young woman’s life.

ASHA BANDELE: Right. And I think that’s true for many of us. We see the immediate action in front of us, right? The immediate police officer who has a gun in your face. But we don’t think about: How is that police officer empowered to do this? And how can we disempower them? We don’t think about the fact that moneys are set aside in every police department for us to be able to sue them when they do harm us. I wonder, if all the money police departments pay out to people who are harmed by law enforcement came out of their pension funds, how much we might reduce police violence. We don’t think about what it means to have civil asset forfeiture, that takes away primarily poor people’s homes and minimal assets—right?—that disrupts incomes and makes people homeless. And then they take that money and buy tanks and buy other kinds of militarized equipment that harm our communities.

So, there’s a direct line, and I want people to see that and no longer feel the shame and stigma of either drug use, drug involvement or oppression, because oppression is embarrassing. It shames us. It humiliates us to say, “This happened to me,” rather than, “I was the arbiter of my own destiny.”

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: It’s interesting you mention especially the racial character of the war on drugs, because we’re now through a new drug epidemic in America, the opioid epidemic.


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But no one’s calling for a crackdown—


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —on the rural communities and locking them up and throwing the key away, for the victims of the opioid epidemic, like they did over the crack epidemic or they did over the heroin epidemic in the ’60s and ’70s. It’s a whole different approach now to helping people.

AMY GOODMAN: Of understanding and mental health help.

ASHA BANDELE: You know, it is, and it isn’t, right? So, we have this very public face, with Chris Christie on East Coast saying a lot of things about it. But in truth, if we look at the cocaine use in the ’80s and ’90s, first of all, white people used and sold more crack and used more powder cocaine—they’re pharmaceutically the same drug, right? So, they used it more than we did. And the response to them was employee assistance programs. It was “We’re going to take care of you.” It was Betty Ford Center. It was any number of things to ensure their communities didn’t fall apart.

And the response to our communities was incarceration and demonization. In very many ways, that’s the same thing that’s happening. It’s just more public. So, white people, embraced, and black people, 80 to 90 percent of those now going to prison for heroin involvement.

AMY GOODMAN: We just have 30 seconds. Patrisse Khan-Cullors, this is the story of your life. You coined the term, with two of your sisters, “Black Lives Matter.” Black Lives Matter under Trump, your comment?

PATRISSE KHAN-CULLORS: I think we are living under a really grave administration that is really challenging our moral compass in America. I think Black Lives Matter is in a moment where we get to stand up to Trump, but also the white nationalists that he’s powered. And it’s in this moment that Black Lives Matter gets to forge a new path for this country, where we can honestly see and live in a democratic America.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us and recommend, everyone, your next book should be this one. Patrisse Khan-Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, and asha bandele, award-winning journalist and author, have written a new book—it’s out today—When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir.



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This GOP Congressman Could Very Well Be the Worst of Trump’s Enablers

GOP House leader Kevin McCarthy, who once accused Trump of being on Putin’s payroll, is now his candyman. This won’t end well.

On the eve of the Martin Luther King holiday, President Donald Trump visited Trump International Golf Club for his usual weekend promotional appearance at one of his properties. He stopped off to assure the gathered press that he is not a racist.

President Trump: “I am not a racist”

— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) January 15, 2018

Standing next to Trump in that clip is his newest BFF and chief enabler, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. McCarthy was present in the infamous White House “shithole” meeting, but has not weighed in on what exactly he saw and heard. Unlike the Hawaii state government Trump extols in that comment, the president has refused to take responsibility for the international furor resulting from his reported actions. Trump needn’t worry that McCarthy will tell the truth because of personal integrity or lack of loyalty. But he ought to be a little bit concerned that his pal will let something slip inadvertently. They don’t call him Kevin “Loose Lips” McCarthy for nothing.

McCarthy first came to national attention when John Boehner resigned from the speakership and he was assumed to be the heir apparent. He is a prolific fundraiser and had worked his way up through the leadership hierarchy the old-fashioned way — by doing favors for his fellow Republican congressmen. Unfortunately, McCarthy is not as well known for his judgment or intellect, and he made one of the most memorable gaffes in congressional history. He appeared on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show and said that he was developing a “fight and win strategy” and used this as an example:

Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened, had we not fought.

Setting aside the neologism, McCarthy effectively admitted that the endless Benghazi investigations were political. Not that everyone didn’t know that already, but you can’t have the prospective speaker of the House admitting that he is persecuting a rival for political gain. It’s a bad look, and it cost McCarthy the job.

More recently, McCarthy was reported to have made a stunning gaffe in June of 2016, telling a group of fellow congressmen: “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump.” The first name mentioned refers to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a fellow California Republican who is known to be a vocal Putin apologist.

When word of this comment was leaked to the media last May, McCarthy at first denied saying it — until he was played a recording of the event, which also featured Speaker Paul Ryan swearing everyone in the room to secrecy. Here is The Washington Post’s account:

Before the conversation, McCarthy and Ryan had emerged from separate talks at the Capitol with Ukrainian Prime Minister Vladimir Groysman, who had described a Kremlin tactic of financing populist politicians to undercut Eastern European democratic institutions.

News had just broken the day before in The Washington Post that Russian government hackers had penetrated the computer network of the Democratic National Committee, prompting McCarthy to shift the conversation from Russian meddling in Europe to events closer to home.

Some of the lawmakers laughed at McCarthy’s comment. Then McCarthy quickly added: “Swear to God.”

Like Trump, he doesn’t seem to have learned discretion. Unlike Trump, he knows how to curry favor with important people. Indeed, that seems to be his one talent.

Trump either doesn’t know about that Putin comment or has chosen to forget about it, because McCarthy has become one of the most powerful Trump enablers on Capitol Hill. He apparently decided that being in league with a man he suspects of being on Putin’s payroll is just part of the job of majority leader. According to a new profile by Josh Dawsey and Robert Costa in the Post, he has taken to it with relish.

They recount the astonishing little anecdote that McCarthy once observed that Trump, like many six-year-olds, only likes the pink and the red Starburst candies, but none of the other colors. So McCarthy got a staff member to buy some in bulk and put the president’s favorites in a jar with McCarthy’s name on it. They apparently have been chatting on the phone regularly since the campaign and often watch movies together where they both talk all the way through. Trump calls him “my Kevin.”

At the recent GOP Camp David retreat to talk about the impending midterm elections, McCarthy was lauded for his ability to communicate with Trump using colorful pictures and big charts to show him the lay of the land in this crucial year. He urged the president to do all he can to raise money for Republicans. There is no word about whether McCarthy also whispered in the president’s ear that no Republicans actually want him to campaign for them, but it’s unlikely. If there’s one thing that sycophantic courtiers understand better than anyone, it’s that you never let on that the sovereign is unpopular.

There are more and more Republicans joining Trump’s court these days, apparently operating on the assumption that their own parochial interests are best served by making him successful, or at least by manipulating him for their own ends. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is tying himself in knots trying to pretend that he hasn’t become a fawning yes-man. in a naked attempt to manage the unmanageable, and that has not completely betrayed the independent truth-teller image he’s tried to build over the last few decades. It’s not working for him.

Meanwhile, McCarthy is actually helping Trump destroy the GOP’s chances of holding on to its majority by forcing his own California delegation to vote the party line, in a state that is itching to unseat as many of its remaining Republicans as possible. In just the last few weeks, two longtime GOP congressmen from rapidly diversifying districts in the Southern California suburbs, Reps. Darrell Issa and Ed Royce, announced they would not run for re-election. Both districts are now viewed as likely Democratic pickups, and they’re not alone.

Trump has a 22 percent approval rating in California, so you might think Golden State Republicans would be more vocal in their condemnation of Trump and the draconian policies he’s proposing. So far they haven’t been. Tara Golshan at Vox calls this “The McCarthy Factor,” meaning that the fundraising powerhouse constantly assures his delegation that he’s got their backs, no matter what. Issa and Royce lost their faith in McCarthy’s ability to protect them from a big blue tsunami next fall. Of California’s 53 House seats, only 14 are now held by Republicans, seven of those in districts that Hillary Clinton won in 2016.

McCarthy’s seat may not be in danger, but his delegation — like the entire Republican caucus — could be a lot smaller next year. Unless his strategy of feeding pink Starbursts to a historically unpopular president turns out to be genius.



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Is Climate Change Impacting Your Mental Health?

Climate change can create stress, which can exacerbate or trigger psychological problems.

We already know that climate change comes with major public health implications, like the spread of disease as climate refugees flee their homelands and live in close-packed conditions with inadequate sanitation. What we’re now growing to understand is that this includes not just physical, but also mental health. If world governments don’t rise to the challenge, they could face a human-made mental health crisis on a very large scale.

On the most superficial level, the connection is probably pretty easy to make: Climate change can create stress, which can exacerbate or trigger mental health problems. In addition to depression, people may experience anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and a variety of other intense emotional responses to changing conditions.

In 2017, severe hurricanes highlighted the fact that surviving a major storm can leave people with a significant psychological legacy. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, for example, people developed anxiety, PTSD and survivor’s guilt in response to living through the historic storm. Meanwhile, in Puerto Rico—which had a poor public health infrastructure before Hurricane Maria—the psychological challenges posed by survival also took a heavy toll. Katrina, too, left a wave of mental health problems in its wake.

It’s not just storms or severe flooding that comes at a cost, though. Climate change can cause extreme heat, which may increase stress and aggression. It can also contribute to drought, with some researchers arguing that the wave of farmer suicides in India may be connected to climate change. When your livelihood is closely connected with the environment around you, changes to that environment can be devastating—especially when it’s also tied to your personal or cultural identity.

Even in developed nations with good infrastructure, treating people who suffer from the psychological aftermath of traumatic climate events can be challenging. In Australia, for example, farmers are reluctant to acknowledge or talk about climate change, even as they discuss its effects, and this can hinder efforts to provide them with the care they need. Especially in the aftermath of a major event, like Sandy, it can be difficult to get psychiatric services up and running again to handle the volume of patients that may emerge after the storm waters recede.

Because low-income communities are often more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, managing mental health may be even more challenging. Residents may lack insurance coverage or the ability to pay privately for care, while stretched public health resources often struggle to reach everyone who needs help.

A failure to recognize and address community-wide mental health challenges can expose people to increased risks—even when simple steps, like identifying at-risk students in school and providing psychological screening for people receiving benefits, could help communities care for their own.

But when it comes to under-resourced regions—like Puerto Rico—or countries, the mental health challenges of climate change are even scarier. Communities in dire need of mental health services may not be able to obtain them even in the best of possible conditions. And when communities are faced with climate challenges, it can be nearly impossible to meet everyone’s needs. People with existing mental health conditions may have unstable access to care, while those with emergent problems in the wake of major natural disasters may be left out in the cold.

There’s a long history of viewing mental health and physical health of two separate issues—and of regarding psychological implications of major events as “less serious.” But that would be a mistake in the case of climate change, which is taking a tremendous mental toll. Governments should be collaborating to explore what works, what doesn’t and how to get resources to the neediest communities.



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