In today’s Hell World I talk below with a guy from GiveSmart a group who are trying to get Democrats to focus on smaller state legislative races where your relatively small donation money can actually make a real difference but first my dispatch from this protest against Amazon for collaborating with ICE that happened yesterday in Boston.
“My community is under attack,” Mateo Emanuel Alejandro Cox said. “Being targeted by ICE is like carrying an invisible backpack full of stones. Our backs are giving out.”
They were speaking inside the lobby of the corporate office of Amazon in Cambridge, Massachusetts which for about an hour or two on Thursday evening was occupied by hundreds of protestors under the banner of Never Again Action a group comprised of Jewish activists around the country calling for the closure of the camps along the border and demanding businesses like Amazon stop working with ICE among other things.
Previously workers at Amazon and other protest groups have demanded that the company stop contracting its technology services to aid ICE and DHS in the more efficient processing and identification of immigrants for deportation. It’s a situation that echoes the history of companies like IBM whose then revolutionary data processing technology made them complicit in the perpetration of the Holocaust.
Back in July a similar march and action outside of a detention facility in Boston ended with eighteen arrests.
“I see my reflection in the brown eyes of the children in cages,” Mateo who identified themselves as a Latinx transgender and disabled Jew went on. “I see myself in every headline describing the ongoing massacre of the transgender community. I see myself in every homophobic beating and every synagogue shooting. I see myself in every anti-immigrant protest. Moses once told the pharaoh ‘Let my people go,’ and here together as Jews and allies we say unto the system ‘Let our people go!” they said and then everyone joined in together chanting and it was inspiring I’m happy to admit. This is the second Hell World in a row in which I’ve confessed to feeling inspired and I’m sorry about that I don’t want to lose my edge but that’s just how it is at this particular moment I am sure it will not last.
Ah… ok just saw this. Not feeling so hopeful anymore.
Confused Amazon workers disembarked elevators into the lobby in twos and threes likely unsure of what all the commotion was about. Others reportedly waited upstairs scared to come down until the protestors dispersed although this was an extraordinarily peaceful crowd. Certainly the employees in question aren’t to blame specifically for the policies that have lead to Amazon partnering with ICE but you know the old saying about just doing your job.
Outside dozens of Cambridge police including campus officers from MIT and Harvard for some unknown reason huddled together trying to figure out what they should do like a football team who only has one play. Eventually they would force the majority of us out of the lobby and back out onto the streets in an intimidating show of force but not quite as menacing as you might think and certainly nowhere near the level of state sanctioned violence on display at last weekend’s “straight pride” parade.
Ultimately twelve members of the group would be arrested for trespassing which is an outcome they had planned for. You would think they will be let off easy with a warning like others have in similar recent arrests but considering how bad the situation involving the people arrested at the protest last weekend has gone under the fascist watch of Judge Sinnott — who refused DA Rachael Rollins’ request to dismiss charges against many of the protestors leading to a whole fucking thing — who is to say what will happen.
The heavy police presence did provide us with this moment of levity in the video below in any case when one cop tried to get the crowd to quiet down only to be met with the crowd singing “Which side are you on?” even louder.
Here’s the paragraph where I’m supposed to get a comment from Amazon to explain their side but since they have not as of yet announced they are discontinuing their collaboration with ICE who gives a fuck what they have to say.
“As Jews we have witnessed technology companies willfully partner with racist governments to support state violence,” a second speaker whose name I didn’t catch on account of the noise and packed crowd inside said.
A best-selling book titled “IBM and the Holocaust” by Edwin Black first published in 2001 then updated with new research in 2012 laid out much of the case against the company. Black wrote in 2012:
From the first moments of the Hitler regime in 1933, IBM used its exclusive punch card technology and its global monopoly on information technology to organize, systematize, and accelerate Hitler’s anti-Jewish program, step by step facilitating the tightening noose. The punch cards, machinery, training, servicing, and special project work, such as population census and identification, was managed directly by IBM headquarters in New York, and later through its subsidiaries in Germany, known as Deutsche Hollerith-Maschinen Gesellschaft (DEHOMAG), Poland, Holland, France, Switzerland, and other European countries.
“IBM in the 1930s was an American company but it had subsidiaries all over the world,” the Never Again Action speaker inside of Amazon went on. “In Nazi Germany IBM workers used IBM tools to process millions of census forms to compile the data for government use. Thanks to IBM the German government learned the name and location of every Jew in Germany,” they said to spirited boos and jeers. “What would have happened if IBM had refused to process census data for Nazi Germany,” they said and the crowd quieted.
“We might have had great grandparents” a man behind me said quietly to himself speaking what everyone else was thinking.
“IBM also maintained customer sites in almost every concentration camp. Customers like Buchenwald and Dachau and Auschwitz used IBM tools to keep track of all the prisoners. They used codes for different prisoner types: 3 meant homosexual, 9 meant anti-social, 12 meant Roma, and the number 8 meant Jew. The Nazis also used these IBM tools to track how they were killing people: 3 was death by natural causes, 4 was execution, 5 was suicide, 6 was ‘special treatment’ in gas chambers. IBM maintained and created those codes, helping with the slaughter of 11 million people.”
IBM also contracted with the U.S. government during World War II to identify and keep track of Japanese Americans in internment camps.
“Amazon is today’s IBM,” the speaker said. “Amazon is providing the tools for ICE’s raids and camps. Amazon contributes software systems and skills to prove the dehumanization of immigrants at the border and in our communities. Amazon makes millions and millions of dollars from the tracking, capture, imprisonment, deportation and dehumanization of our neighbors. How long before execution is on that list? Jeff Bezos, how bad would it have to get before you stop collaborating with ICE?”
And then they sang and chanted some more although by they I mean we because I was part of this protest too which is something really freeing to be able to do and say. When you’re a real journalist working for a serious publication with values and standards or whatever you’re not supposed to take part in things like this because it means you are biased and therefore not trustworthy I guess? You have to be able to see both sides when it comes to the issue of whether or not massively rich and powerful companies should profit off of technology that grinds immigrants into dust.
We did a lot of chanting and singing throughout the evening as several hundred of us marched through the streets of Boston on the way to Amazon in a protest that had begun earlier at the Holocaust Memorial in Boston. One song in particular goes like this and it’s just about the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard:
We've got ancestors at our backs.
We've got generations forward.
We've got land and spirit in our bones.
“We’re here today in particular to speak out toward private tech companies that are complicit with ICE,” Elizabeth Weinbloom a spokesperson for Never Again Action told me as we marched down Cambridge St. blocking traffic on the typically heavily congested streets. At one point an ambulance passed as we approached MGH Hospital — hey that’s where I watched my father die I thought — and one thing people often say when there are protests like this that fill the streets and block traffic is What if an ambulance needs to get by and when that happened on Thursday the crowd immediately an efficiently dispersed.
“These tech companies are collaborating by selling data tools, software systems, and cloud based storage, and data management tools,” Weinbloom went on. “They like to present these tools as being neutral — it’s just about data whatever you do with that is up to you! — but these tools are being sold to ICE and DHS specifically to track immigrants, to track activists, and to use that information across law enforcement networks to terrorize communities and split families apart.”
“When these tools are being designed specifically to be maximally efficient for the detention and deportation of people in our communities these are not neutral tools. And we’re here as Jews because this has all happened before… We’re telling these companies they need to face a moment of moral reckoning, they should take a moral stand. They’re some of the richest companies in the world they don’t need these contracts.”
This has all happened before nothing new under the sun as the book said and if you want to read a recent Hell World about that whole concept you can do so here.
“We’re here to say we remember what it was like to be persecuted during the Holucaust and we would’ve wished that Germans would’ve spoken up and not stood silently by,” Ari Fertig another spokesperson for the group told me earlier in the shadow of the memorial. “That’s what we’re doing right now. We’re standing up and not standing silently by.”
“We know that any company doing business with ICE is a shame. Whether you’re a tech company or any other big business, you don’t have to do this. They’re not struggling to get contracts, they have plenty of money, and this is a choice to be complicit with ICE.”
Amazon had something like 230 billion in revenue in 2018 and its owner Jeff Bezos is the richest person in the world if not in human history. One can’t imagine that the contracts with ICE are really contributing all that much to the company’s bottom line or to his personal wealth and even if they were would he even notice? It’s hard not to think given all of that that Amazon is doing this for any other reason than they really want to.
Speaking of Amazon my book is not available for purchase there and hopefully it won’t have to be but we’ll see how it goes!
The other day I spoke with my pal Dan Ozzi a very funny writer and one of the best music journalists working and the co-author of the great book Tranny with Laura Jane grace for his new newsletter REPLY ALT.
He was also my editor at Noisey for a while and he highlighted some of the stuff we worked on there:
Together, we published an interview with Dale Earnhardt Jr. about pop punk, an interview with the dude who plays the organ at Fenway Park, and an essay about his struggle to get his song “Punch a Nazi in the Face” on Spotify. (As well as some more serious investigative reporting, like his exposé on the Boston Police Dept using facial recognition technology at music festivals.) He and I were also kinda responsible for that whole Weezer/Africa thing. Sorry.
We talked about pop-punk and The State Of Media Nowadays and me being a bridge-burner who gets fired or quits all the time and a lot of other things so check it out and subscribe.
Some other stuff real quick and speaking of being fired I was also interviewed for Study Hall about how journalists balance trying to maintain good working relationships with fussy publications while also being true to themselves on social media.
He was also spoken to during his time at Esquire, where he had a title of “writer-at-large” but was still very much a freelancer. “I said, ‘Well, if you want to give me health insurance and give me a salary every week then we can talk about my Twitter, but until then I can do what I want.’”
One more thing before the interview with Give Smart below I’m sorry!!!
The latest installment of the Oral History of the Weekly Dig the alt-weekly where I got my start is out and it has some real Super Villain Origin shit on me.
O’NEIL: I’d go to bed at like five in the morning, and my roommate would still be up for a while. I’d be like, “Could you write an email to Jeff from my account saying I’m sick and won’t make it into work today? But don’t send it until 8 in the morning, because if you send it now, it’ll look like I was up all night partying.” I must’ve done that five or 10 times.
KEOHANE: Luke wasn’t super-duper into the job. He was hysterically funny, but gross … absolutely disgusting. He used squat like a baseball catcher in his office chair, and roll himself across the floor to rip a giant fart in someone else’s ear. He was depraved.
O’NEIL: When I was fired, I remember Keohane and Jeff took me down to Foley’s where they dropped the ax. Y’know how when you get fired, you’re usually pissed off about it? Even at the time I was like, “Y’know what? You’re probably making a good decision here.”
My friend and fellow Boy’s Chat dm buddy Aaron Kleinman has been doing great work for the past year or so raising money for state legislative races the type of thing that even those of us who consider ourselves Official Politics Knowers often don’t pay anywhere near enough attention to. Last year I talked to his sometime counterpart Sean McElwee about a similar effort the two had started in the lead up to the 2018 mid-terms that proved to be very successful. But now Kleinman has quit his job and decided to focus full time on working for Give Smart. Right now they’re working on raising money for a slate of candidates in Mississippi. I talked to him about the importance of state legislatures and how far a small amount of money can go in these races. Sign up for his newsletter here.
You’ve explained this to me before but I’m very dumb so tell me again about what it is you’re doing now.
To go back to the day after Trump was elected president, it was like What the fuck did we do wrong? A lot of people looked at the political landscape and they saw that in 2008 they got really excited about Obama and people turned out in droves and we elected all these Democrats. Then we all just kind of forgot about them and Republicans took over again. It wasn’t just the federal government, it was state governments where Republicans had taken over. When they did that they really set about making people’s lives miserable. They wouldn’t expand Medicaid and that literally cost people’s lives. There are plenty of studies showing that you are more likely to die if you have a Republican state legislature. If something bad happens to you, they’re less likely to make it so there’s someone who can treat you.
They make it so our kids don’t learn as much because they slash education funding. In Mississippi where we’re working right now there are stories of people literally dying because of potholes. It’s insane. The roads are in such bad conditions. So after Trump was elected it was like, Wow, our country’s in much worse shape then we thought, we need to do something about that.
What I cooked up was I went to my Twitter followers saying let’s raise some money for state legislature candidates and the districts where it will really make a difference. And it really resonated with people, so I turned that into a full time job.
This is separate from what you were doing with Sean McElwee last year?
I did that with Sean in October of last year, and I was still working at my day job, and it really took off. I thought I could really probably do this for a living. I decided to quit my corporate law job, and I work now at a state legislative organization called Future Now Fund that’s part of a larger progressive policy group that wants to make sure state legislators nationwide are doing things like making sure their constituents have safe drinking water and have their civil rights respected. And also making sure if legislators aren’t doing that we can elect people who are.
In your efforts so far how many campaigns have you highlighted?
There have been about sixty five campaigns. Forty six of those were in the 2018 cycle and we won exactly half of those. Almost all of those races, something like forty of the forty six, were within single digits. We really do good job of figuring out what the districts are where the election is going to be close, and finding the candidates who are worth supporting in those districts.
Do they tend to be all really progressive types or is just like unseat a Republican with whoever you can thing?
We’re not just going to endorse anyone. We have conversations with the candidates to make sure they are worth supporting as part of our process. You also have to look at the districts though, that they’re a good fit for their district, but will also support good things.
When I talked to Sean last year, we talked about how people don’t really understand how little an amount of money can go a long way in a state race.
In a presidential race the money you give to a candidate isn’t really going to do anything. They are going to have enough, even if you and 100 of your friends donate or not. Unless you’re like a billionaire or something, in which case talk to me. But small donations can really make a difference in these legislative campaigns. There was one candidate we sent $10,000 in 2018. Casey Weinstein in Ohio. I talked to him after the election and he said you guys literally made the difference. With that $10,000 we were able to hire someone to go to an ignored part of our district and knock on doors there, and on election night we did way better there than we thought we would. That’s just $10,000. That’s the difference between winning and losing.
Giving money aside, there are people who are super engaged in politics on the national level but probably pay little attention to what’s going on in their state or city right?
Yeah, absolutely. That was really the case in New York. You have all these New York people who thought, Oh we’re a blue state, an anti-Trump bastion. Then after the 2016 election they were like Wait a minute all these Democrats are basically supporting a Republican state senate. In 2018 you saw a lot of big victories in getting those turncoat Democrats out of power in New York.
It’s sort of a similar thing in Massachusetts.
Yeah, Massachusetts hasn’t supported a lot of progressive legislation that states like California have. You have Democrats in the Massachusetts legislature who have stymied that for years. Thomas Finneran, was the Speaker of the House for ten years, and he was more conservative than a lot of Republicans in the Massachusetts State House so he didn’t follow up with a lot of progressive legislation, he was able to box out liberal Democrats in his own caucus.
If you look at your local politics, and you see you’re represented by some scummy Republican who doesn’t give a shit anymore, or a Democrat who campaigns as a liberal but doesn’t govern as one, you can make a big difference in that race.
What are you working on in Mississippi?
We endorsed a slate of eleven candidates, nine of whom we’re raising money for through Give Smart right now. In Mississippi the big issues there are you want to expand Medicaid. There are hospitals in rural areas that are closing because the right wing government won’t expand Medicaid. So they have a Democratic gubernatorial candidate running on that, basically trying to save peoples’ lives. Making sure you don’t have to drive two hours to the hospital. There’s the road issue there like I said. Again you have this right wing ideology which is we are going to make life as easy as possible for the ruling class at the expense of everyone else, and wrap this in cultural conservatism, which has led to problems in peoples’ lives there. Teachers are the other big thing there. Making sure the people teaching your kids don’t have to work as an Uber driver after school. I don’t think it’s too much to ask — we don’t have to be Finland right away where teachers are some of the highest paid people in town — but that they only have to work one job and can focus on actually teaching kids.
Is there someone you’re particularly enthused about in this group?
One candidate that I really want people to pay attention to is Aisha Sanders, because she’s running against one of those turncoat Democrats. She’s running in a safe Democratic seat, but the incumbent, who ran as a Democrat, turned independent, and just so happened to get a committee chairmanship. It just goes to show you some of the dirty pool that goes on here. This is a district that should be represented by a Democrat in this kind of rural area that doesn’t have a ton of resources.
I understand the presidential race is going to take up everything, but I want people to realize that talking about the presidential race right now doesn’t have an impact. There’s very little that you can do right now months before people even start voting. There are a bunch of state legislative elections in 2019 where you can make a difference now. If you really care about politics you should be caring about these races, and you can put the presidential race on pause for a bit.
Ok one last thing. Who’s your favorite of all the boys in our group chat.
Luke! You’re the glue that holds it all together.