Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat viewed as a national leader in voting rights, has received 67 death threats and over 900 threats of online abuse within just three weeks, according to a system used by her office that tracks harassment and threats against election workers.
In 2020, Griswold’s office launched a “rapid response” election security unit, a team of election security experts tasked with protecting Colorado’s elections from cyber-attacks, foreign interference and disinformation campaigns. A year later, her office set up a tracker to monitor the growing number of threats against election workers.
Griswold told Salon that “if anybody understands” what election workers around the country “are going through, it’s me.” She continued, “Everything that we have done for my security, we have had to fight tooth and nail for. State and federal governments have largely abandoned election workers. I understand what these county clerks are going through and I’ll do anything I possibly can to ease their burden and make sure that they feel safe and supported.”
Election workers in many states and counties are leaving their jobs in large numbers due to an increase of harassment and threats, the proliferation of conspiracy theories and heightened workloads, according to a new report released this week by Issue One, democracy-focused nonprofit group.
The group’s research focused on 11 states in the American West and found that roughly 40% of counties in those states have had a new chief local election official since the 2020 presidential election. In four states, that number exceeds 50%.
These turnover rates, experts say, pose a distinct threat to American democracy, since election administrators with decades of knowledge and experience are leaving their roles and being replaced by individuals with vastly less experience not long before a pivotal presidential election that is likely to see near-record voter turnout.
“Election workers across the country are dedicated to keeping our democratic processes secure, fair and safe,” Michael Beckel, research director at Issue One, told Salon. “When experienced election officials leave their positions, they take with them years of institutional knowledge and expertise. Our leaders have an obligation to protect our nation’s election workers and make sure they have what they need to keep our elections strong.”
According to Griswold, Republicans allied with Donald Trump’s MAGA movement are doing everything they can to “destabilize” elections and convince local election officials to quit, up to and including harassing workers and threatening them with violence.
“There is a coordinated national effort to undermine American elections,” Griswold said, pointing to the example of Trump supporters showing up to county clerk’s offices in 2021 and threatening them if they didn’t provide access to voting equipment.
The turnover rate among local election officials since 2020 is far higher than it was previously, particularly in battleground states where local election officials have faced a heightened level of death threats and harassment, the Issue One report found.
Making matters worse, the report found, new election officials are grappling with a shortage of resources to staff other vital roles essential to ensure that elections run smoothly.
More than 160 chief local election officials have departed from their roles since November 2020 within the 11 Western states tracked by Issue One tracked. Those 11 states includes two perennial battleground states and a mix of Democratic-leaning and Republican-leaning states, where elections are typically managed at the county level by a single official.
As these threats have surged and election officials have left their positions in droves, Griswold said, not enough has been done to safeguard the integrity of the electoral process.
“State and federal governments have abandoned our quest to safeguard democracy, to a large extent,” Griswold said. “With that said, people in my office — we are very scrappy and dedicated, and we’re going to get the job done.”
Griswold said she has implemented specific measures to address likely issues ahead of next year’s elections. She has expanded her team to offer direct support to Colorado’s counties and, within the past year, has contracted with former election officials to increase much greater on-the-ground presence.
She has also spearheaded changes in the Colorado state legislature, such as criminalizing retaliation against election workers and providing a process to shield their personal information and to make “doxxing” — or revealing a person’s home address and phone number without their consent — a punishable offense.
Colorado has also enacted a law prohibiting the “open carry” of firearms close to drop boxes, voting centers and areas where ballots are being processed, in an effort to ensure that election workers are not intimidated by armed individuals. Her team has also prepared for hypothetical “disaster scenarios,” including such potential instances as a “deepfake” video showing Griswold spreading false information.
“We’ve overcome a lot of challenges with a great outcome,” Griswold said, “including armed men filming people at drop boxes to county clerks that breach their own security trying to prove the Big Lie. “There has been massive disinformation, and we continue to have incredibly well-run elections. I think 2024 will be no different.”
The Brennan Center released a poll in April that surveyed local election officials and found that 12% of workers were new to their jobs since the 2020 election, and that 11% said they were likely to leave their jobs before the 2024 election.
Nearly one in three election officials have been harassed, abused or threatened because of their jobs, the survey found, and more than one in five are concerned about being physically assaulted on the job during future elections. Nearly half the respondents expressed concern for the safety of other election officials and workers.
The Justice Department under Attorney General Merrick Garland has created a task force on election threats, but so far it has been quiet. Just 14 cases have been prosecuted involving threats against election officials and workers, leading to nine convictions, according to an August press release.
For many years, local election officials were relatively anonymous figures, working behind the scenes with little controversy to ensure the integrity of democratic processes.
But the spotlight was turned on many of them unexpectedly during the 2020 presidential election, largely due to a coordinated disinformation campaign led by then-President Donald Trump and his supporters. Most officials say the surge in harassment and threats came as a direct result, prompting numerous officials to retire or resign.
Josh Daniels is a former county clerk of Utah County, the second-largest county in its namesake state. He says he faced this dilemma personally. He initially joined the county’s election team in 2019 as chief deputy after being recruited by a friend who had been elected clerk.
Then the 2020 presidential election happened.
“People came out of the woodwork in our community to spout, parrot and share these sorts of national election-denying conspiracies,” Daniels said. “It became quite exhausting,” Daniels said.
His office was inundated with phone calls from individuals accusing election officials of being untrustworthy. They were subjected to what he called “Cyber Ninja-style audits,” similar to the one conducted in Arizona’s Maricopa County.
Daniels was forced to spend many hours in public meetings with “angry” individuals who made baseless allegations drawn from internet conspiracy theories.
Utah County is predominantly white and predominantly Republican. Donald Trump won nearly two-thirds of the vote there in 2020. Nonetheless, Daniels said, the “political dynamic” of the community changed in the wake of that election, thanks to a “loud faction” of the community that spread distrust about how the election had been conducted.
“We didn’t get a lot of help from other political leaders in our community,” Daniels said. Instead, some “would almost accelerate” the tension, creating “forums for more of these concerns to be shared and create further political chaos.”
Daniels decided not to seek re-election in 2022, but he says the conspiracy theories and threats against election workers have continued.
In Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah — the four states with the highest turnover rates among election officials — Issue One’s research found that twice as many local election officials had left their positions than had done so in Washington and Idaho.
Among the 161 counties in Western states that have new chief local election officials since November 2020, the report notes a significant decline in the average years of experience held by these officials, going from a previous figure of about eight years to roughly one year. The “brain drain associated with this exodus is real,” the report finds, calculating that departing election officials in those counties have taken with them more than 1,800 years of combined experience.
A federal judge in Ohio on Friday blocked an attempt by corporate interests to stop Medicare’s historic negotiation of certain drug prices with pharmaceuticals.
Medicare gained the power to negotiate drug prices as part of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), but the several industry groups and drug makers have sued to forestall the program, arguing that it is unconstitutional, CNN explained. One of those groups was the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which filed its lawsuit in June. The Ohio judge Friday rejected its request for a preliminary injunction to block the program before October 1, the date by which pharmaceuticals must agree to negotiate or not.
“This is the first major blow to Big Pharma in its legal battles to block the drug price negotiation provisions under the Inflation Reduction Act,” Peter Maybarduk, director of the Access to Medicines program at Public Citizen, said in a statement.
“The Chamber’s lawsuit lacks merit,” Maybarduk contined. “The court made the right decision not to grant the injunction, which would have caused needless patient suffering and treatment rationing.”
Judge Michael Newman of the Southern District of Ohio, a Trump appointee, ruled that the chamber “demonstrated neither a strong likelihood of success nor irreparable harm,” as CNBC reported.
“Consequently, their request for immediate preliminary injunctive relief… is denied,” Newman concluded.
Newman also rejected the Biden administration’s request to dismiss the case. Instead, he gave the Chamber of Commerce until October 13 to answer some questions about its argument and the administration until October 27 to renew its motion to dismiss.
While the chamber had argued the negotiation program was unconstitutional for multiple reasons, Newman pointed out that drug companies are not forced to participate in Medicare.
“As there is no constitutional right (or requirement) to engage in business with the government, the consequences of that participation cannot be considered a constitutional violation,” he said.
The Biden administration celebrated the news.
“Today’s ruling from the Southern District of Ohio affirms that Medicare will move forward with negotiating lower prices for millions of seniors,” Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement. “And, the Biden-Harris Administration won’t stop fighting for what we know to be true: that nothing in the Constitution prohibits Medicare from negotiating drug prices.”
The administration announced the first 10 drugs to be subject to negotiations in August. They included the blood-clot treatment Eliquis, Jardiance, Xarelto, Januvia, Farxiga, Entresto, Enbrel, Imbruvica, Stelara, and several Novo Nordisk insulins, according to CNN.
With the injunction blocked, “drug companies should agree to participate in the negotiation program in good faith,” Maybarduk said. “The program is an important first step in ending the exorbitant prices charged to Medicare enrollees. It’s time for Big Pharma to drop their lawsuits and drop their prices.”
A FEMA task force uses dogs to search debris and destroyed buildings for survivors in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, October 4, 2022 in Matlacha Isles, Florida.Jocelyn Augustino/Fema/Planet Pix via ZUMA Press Wire
Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.In the midst of hurricane and wildfire season, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is preparing to withhold billions in disaster funding until Congress passes a budget bill that refills its dwindling cash stock, according to a footnote in a FEMA document first reported by E&E News.
In November, FEMA had roughly $23 billion in its disaster relief fund. As of September, that funding was down to about $4 billion.
As a faction of far-right House Republicans hold up the congressional appropriations process and stonewall efforts by more moderate Republicans and Democrats to at least pass a temporary budget package before most funding for federal agencies runs out on Saturday, FEMA has begun freezing funds dedicated to long-term recovery projects to preserve its ability to respond to future catastrophic events.
The $8 billion FEMA expects to freeze includes $376 million for recovery projects stemming from Hurricane Laura, which hit Louisiana in 2020, and Hurricane Ida, which hit multiple states in August 2021. FEMA also plans to freeze $265 million in funding for continued recovery from Hurricane Ian, a Category 4 storm that ravaged Southwest Florida last September.
Puerto Rico, beleaguered by earthquakes and hurricanes in recent years, will be particularly affected by the pause. According to the Biden administration, 188 projects on the Caribbean island will be delayed. E&E News reports that Puerto Rico could have “up to $2.6 billion withheld for projects such as rebuilding critical facilities like hospitals and the electrical grid.”
Across the country, the looming shutdown will delay nearly 2,000 long-term recovery efforts. A school district in Wilson County, Tennessee, for example, will see a freeze on construction funding after a 2020 tornado left 1,000 students without classrooms. A senior center in New Jersey will also see funding paused for damage related to Hurricane Ida.
President Biden has requested Congress provide FEMA $16 billion to restock the agency’s disaster relief fund as part of an appropriations package, but whether or not to continue assisting Ukraine in its efforts to fight Russia’s invasion remains a major sticking point of budget negotiations on the Hill.
“As the Administration has continued to call on Congress to provide disaster relief funding, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund (DRF) continues to dwindle and is now forced to prioritize only immediate lifesaving and life sustaining operations,” a White House press release says.
Without a budget deal, the $8 billion projected pause on disaster relief could just be the start. “The number could grow the longer [the freeze] is put in place,” a senior FEMA official told E&E‘s Thomas Frank.
The Kentucky governor’s race has been nothing short of a financial juggernaut, with gubernatorial candidates collectively raking in more than $36.8 million in contributions, a new OpenSecrets analysis found.
The booming fundraising puts the race on track to set a new record in the state. The most ever collectively raised by gubernatorial candidates in a prior election year was $37.1 million in 2007.
As money continues to pour into this year’s gubernatorial race, incumbent Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has a hefty cash advantage after raising over three times as much as his Republican rival in the general election, Attorney General Daniel Cameron.
Beshear is leading the pack in fundraising with an eye-popping $17.3 million raised so far this election. About $10 million of that was raised for the general election, new campaign finance disclosures filed Sept. 12 show. The incumbent governor’s campaign has already spent more than $10.7 million on the general, with $4.2 million cash on hand at the start of September.
After winning the Republican primary in May to become the first major-party Black nominee for governor in Kentucky’s history, Cameron raised about $2.8 million for the general election. His campaign’s total fundraising this cycle has topped $4.6 million, according to new campaign finance filings submitted Sept. 12.
During the general election period, Cameron has spent about $1.4 million and had about $1.4 million cash on hand at the start of September.
While incumbents and top fundraisers are often at an advantage in elections, Cameron has won races where he was outraised before.
The top fundraiser in the 12-candidate Republican primary field was Kelly Craft, who served as United Nations ambassador in former President Donald Trump’s administration, though her campaign was heavily self-funded. Craft’s campaign brought in over $12.3 million ahead of the May primary including the candidate’s self-financing — over $10 million more than Cameron raised during the primary. But Trump ultimately endorsed the Kentucky attorney general, and he went on to win the nomination.
Both Beshear and Cameron took money from political action committees. But Beshear has benefitted from more than twice as much PAC money as Cameron, with the candidates having taken $134,000 and $69,900 respectively
The bulk of Beshear’s political action committee contributions during the 60-day pre-general election period have come from PACs affiliated with unions. He has also taken from several corporate PACs affiliated with companies in the healthcare industry including $2,100 from Eli Lilly And Company’s PAC, $1,000 from Genesis Healthcare Corp PAC, $2,000 from Molina Healthcare’s PAC, $2000 from Centene Corp. PAC and $2,000 from Elevance Health PAC.
Beshear also took $2,000 from a PAC affiliated with WalMart, $2,100 from Duke Energy’s PAC, $2,100 from Deloitte PAC, $2,100 from CSX’s PAC, $2,000 from Dell Technologies’ PAC, $2,100 from Atmos Energy Corp’s PAC and $2,100 from a PAC affiliated with Nucor, a steel company.
Kentucky’s identity is intrinsically linked to bourbon, and the alcoholic beverage industry wields influence far beyond barrels of booze. Beshear’s campaign tapped into this, securing financial support from key industry players including $2,100 — the state’s campaign contribution cap — from Beam Suntory’s PAC, $2,100 from the Kentucky Distillers’ Association’s PAC and $2,100.00 from Diago North America’s PAC.
Cameron also enjoyed his share of corporate PAC support. His campaign’s top corporate contributors include PACs affiliated with Koch Industries, Home Depot and Lifepoint Health, which each gave $2,100 to his campaign — the legal limit in the state.
Cameron also received $2,100 from Save America, Trump’s PAC.
Some PACs played both sides. For example, the Kentucky Land Title Association gave $2,100 to each candidate.
Political Ads Flood Kentucky Governor’s Race
Political advertising has flooded the airwaves in Kentucky as a part of the hotly-contested gubernatorial race with abortion emerging as a key issue.
On Sept. 20, Beshear’s campaign released an attack ad targeting Cameron on abortion rights.
“Anyone who believes there should be no exceptions for rape and incest could never understand what it’s like to stand in my shoes,” the woman in the ad says, sharing a story about being sexually assaulted by her stepfather.
Earlier this month, Beshear launched another ad campaign describing Cameron’s previously stated opposition to exceptions for rape as “extreme” and “dangerous.”
While Cameron previously expressed opposition to exceptions to abortion bans, he indicated on Sept. 18 that he would sign legislation that allows exceptions for rape and incest. Cameron also announced that he supports birth control.
Planned Parenthood Action Kentucky, a PAC largely funded by the political arm of Planned Parenthood’s national organization, also launched a six-figure ad campaign attacking Cameron over his anti-abortion rights stance.
While Beshear has an edge over Cameron when it comes to campaign fundraising and the support of several PACs, outside groups have poured big money into the race supporting both candidates.
School Freedom Fund, a super PAC allied with the conservative Club For Growth, is one group that has been heavily involved in opposing Beshear with spending reaching around $3 million.
The super PAC recently launched an ad claiming that Beshear’s decision to release some prisoners early during the COVID-19 pandemic allowed a man convicted of sodomizing a child to “roam free” — a claim that has been debunked. Multiple ads bankolled by School Freedom Fund have raise questions and been debunked.
School Freedom Fund was almost entirely bankrolled by Jeff Yass, the billionaire founder of Susquehanna International Group, during the 2022 cycle. The School Freedom Fund super PAC is also affiliated with Club For Growth, a pro-free market group co-founded by billionaire GOP megadonor Harlan Crow – whose close relationship with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has received recent scrutiny – and largely funded by Yass and Republican-aligned billionaire shipping magnate Richard Uihlein.
Bluegrass Freedom Action, another PAC supporting Cameron’s run, spent more than $4.4 million to help Cameron in the Republican primary and has continued to spend during the general election — racking up more than $1.43 million in ad buys by the first week of September, according to Lexington Herald-Leader reporting using numbers from ad tracking firm Medium Buying.
The largest contributor to the pro-Cameron PAC has been the Concord Fund, a “dark money” group previously named Judicial Crisis Network that does not disclose its donors. Concord Fund is part of a shape-shifting network of secretly-funded conservative nonprofits working to reshape the federal judiciary. It is connected to Leonard Leo, a powerful leader in the conservative legal movement who helped shape Trump’s unprecedented effort to stack the federal judiciary with conservative judges.
Defending Bluegrass Values, a PAC tied to the Democratic Governors Association, has also raised and spent big money on the Kentucky gubernatorial race. The PAC has reported more than $4 million in contributions in campaign finance filings and has made $13.7 million in ad buys supporting Beshear’s reelection campaign as of the first week of September — more than every other PAC spending on the race combined, according to Lexington Herald-Leader reporting.
Seven thousand Auto Workers at two more assembly plants walked off the job on Friday, UAW President Shawn Fain announced in a Facebook Live appearance this morning. Joining the strike are Ford’s Chicago Assembly Plant and General Motors’ Lansing Delta Township Assembly in Michigan.
Fain announced that Stellantis would be spared this time. The union had been expected to expand the strike today at all three companies, but, said Region 1 Director LaShawn English, three minutes before Fain was scheduled to go on Facebook Live, the UAW received frantic emails from company representatives.
According to Fain, Stellantis made “significant progress” on the cost-of-living adjustment, the right not to cross a picket line, and the right to strike over product commitments and plant closures. “We are excited about this momentum at Stellantis and hope it continues,” Fain said.
Fain made clear that negotiations with all three companies are ongoing. “I’m still very hopeful that we can reach a deal that reflects the incredible sacrifices and contributions our members have made over the last decade,” he said to 60,000 viewers on Facebook. “But I also know that what we win at the bargaining table depends on the power we build on the job. It’s time to use that power.”
“See You Next Week — Maybe?”
Thursday afternoon, UAW Local 551 member Marcelina Pedraza said her co-workers at the Chicago Assembly Plant were anxiously awaiting the news of the next targets.
“Everybody’s on edge,” said Pedraza, who is also a member of the reform caucus Unite All Workers for Democracy (UAWD). “It’s like the NFL draft picks. Are we going to be called next? Are we going to get a tentative agreement?”
She said workers were looking forward to Fain’s Facebook bargaining update, crediting the reform leadership with greater transparency and information-sharing.
“My last two contracts were, ‘bargaining is going fine,’” she said, repeating what previous administrations said. “Then eventually, ‘here’s a shitty contract, we want you to vote yes on it.’”
When Pedraza clocked out Thursday, she and her skilled trades co-workers joked with the supervisor: “See you next week—maybe?”
The addition of two more plants will make 25,000 auto workers now on picket lines as part of the union’s escalating Stand-Up strike, out of 146,000 UAW members at the Big 3.
“These guys wanted to go out a long time ago,” said Cody Zaremba, a Local 602 member at the Lansing GM plant, after the news broke that his plant would be joining the strike. “We’re ready. Everybody, truly, I believe, in the entire membership. They’re one with what’s going on.”
Five thousand workers at 38 parts distribution centers across 21 states have been on strike since September 22, along with 13,000 at three assembly plants in Michigan, Ohio, and Missouri who walked out on September 15. (See a map of all struck facilities here.)
The UAW is now calling on community supporters to organize small teams to canvass dealerships that sell and repair Big 3 cars and trucks. On Tuesday, the union issued a canvassing tool kit with instructions, flyers, press releases, and talking points.
In negotiations with Ford and GM, auto workers have clinched some important gains. Among them is an agreement by both companies to end at least one of the many tiers in current contracts, putting workers at certain parts plants back on the same wage scale as assembly workers. The top rate for Big 3 assembly workers is currently around $32.
Ford, GM, and Stellantis have all proposed to shorten the time it takes workers to reach top pay from eight years to four. The UAW is still demanding workers receive top pay after 90 days.
Ford was spared in last week’s escalation, because bargainers there had made further progress on gains for workers.
But today the UAW once again called out workers at Ford and GM, putting some muscle behind its bold demands—a big wage boost, a shorter work week, elimination of tiers, cost-of-living adjustments tied to inflation, protection from plant closures, conversion of temps to permanent employees, and the restoration of retiree health care and benefit-defined pensions to all workers.
Keep Them Guessing
Previous UAW administrations had decoupled striking from winning—in 2019, 46,000 GM workers struck for 40 days but ended up with only paltry wage gains to show for it.
“Together we’re putting the fight back in the UAW and in the entire labor movement,” said Fain. “A union that’s not prepared to strike to win is like a fighter with one hand tied behind his back. Without the strike weapon, the war on workers is a rigged fight. For decades, it’s been the same story: unchecked corporate power, and disappearing worker power. The result is massive inequality across our society. To restore the balance of power we have to restore the strike.”
This year, for the first time in recent history, the union has played the three auto companies against each other with its strike strategy, departing from its tradition of choosing one target company and patterning an agreement at the other two.
The Stand-Up Strike strategy draws inspiration from an approach known as CHAOS (Create Havoc Around Our System), first deployed in 1993 by Alaska Airlines flight attendants, who announced they would be striking random flights. Although they struck only seven flights in a two-month period, Alaska had to send scabs on every plane, just in case. The unpredictability drew enormous media attention and drove management up the wall. Meanwhile the union was able to conserve its strength and minimize risk.
The companies miscalculated where the UAW was going to strike first, stockpiling engines and shipping them cross-country to the wrong facilities. Auto workers relished the self-inflicted supply chain chaos on UAW Facebook groups and other social media platforms.
Non-strikers’ morale on the factory floor has gotten a boost from rank and filers organizing to refuse voluntary overtime. With support both from Fain and the reform caucus UAWD, workers have been encouraging each other to “Eight and Skate,” meaning to turn down extra work and decline to do management any favors.
“We’re hawking every little change they’re making, like job assignments or parts moves,” said Luigi Gjokaj, Local 51 vice president at the Stellantis Mack plant. “Anything out of the ordinary, we’re pushing back. We’re paying attention to discipline; are they giving a written warning or time off when they would have done a verbal warning before? Our stewards are on high alert. Our committee people are being very diligent.
“Management has been real quiet this week. They’re a little gun-shy now.”
Majority Public Support
A majority of Americans support the UAW strikers, and the Big 3 have taken a P.R. hit since the strike began, according to a new survey conducted by the business intelligence firm Caliber.
“Eighty-seven percent of respondents told us they were aware of the strike,” Caliber CEO Shahar Silbershatz told The Intercept. “It’s clear the strike is not just causing commercial repercussions, but reputational repercussions as well.”
These reputational repercussions will only worsen. Five strikers were hit by a vehicle leaving a GM parts center in Swartz Creek, Michigan, on the afternoon of September 26. Strikers in Massachusetts and California have also reported incidents of violence against them on picket lines.
GM deployed scabs at its parts depots this week—the only company that has done so, as far as we know. Stellantis has lined up scabs to swoop in and keep parts flowing, but it’s not clear whether they’ve actually started working at struck locations.
When Labor Notes reached out for comment the day before scabs were reporting to work, GM said that it was dispatching salaried employees to perform their normal duties. The company didn’t say it had put a job listing on recruitment websites paying $14 an hour for scabs to do the work of striking auto workers.
One GM non-union employee told Labor Notes that the company is circulating a questionnaire among salaried employees to prepare to deploy them as scabs at parts distribution centers. Questions reportedly include, “Can you work out-of-town for two weeks/three weeks/duration of the work stoppage?,” “Are you trained and certified in Mobile Equipment?,” and “Are you comfortable working at heights up to 30 feet?” At least some salaried workers are counseling each other on how to turn down the request.
Government Help or Hinder
On Tuesday, President Joe Biden walked the picket line with auto workers—the first time a sitting U.S. president has walked a picket line. While to Labor Notes readers that might sound like a low bar—last December, Biden and Congress intervened to block a national railroad strike—Biden’s latest decision surely must have rankled the corporate elite.
Former President Donald Trump was also in Michigan this week, speaking at a non-union auto parts plant. “Coming to Michigan to speak at a non-union employer and pretending it has anything to do with our fight at the Big 3 is just more verbal diarrhea from the former president,” said UAW Vice President Mike Booth.
Those with government power can make or break unions. During the UAW’s Flint sit-down strike in 1936-37, Michigan Governor Frank Murphy declined to use the National Guard to crush the 44-day sit-in—which went on to force GM to recognize the UAW. By contrast, Ronald Reagan’s decision to fire air traffic contractors in 1981 had a chilling effect—dubbed the “PATCO Syndrome”—on workers organizing strikes throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
Labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein credits the expanding strike with pressuring Biden in the run-up to the 2024 election, challenging the common canard that social disruptions would hurt the re-election prospects of Democrats. “Lyndon B. Johnson told Martin Luther King, Jr. in the months before the 1964 election, ‘Don’t have any more demonstrations. That’s going to be bad in getting me re-elected,’’’ Lichtenstein said. “But LBJ was wrong.
“Today, you need a demonstration of worker power and solidarity,” Lichtenstein said. “If Biden knows what’s good for him, he’ll continue to support the auto workers as he did when he visited their picket line. This strike has become a social movement with the capacity to mobilize enormous numbers of working-class people on behalf of the trade unions and those politicians who demonstrate their solidarity with the UAW and other unions.”
Workers are seeing employers make money hand over fist while they work harder for wages that are worth less and less. That not only drives the shift in expectations that we are seeing but also creates the chance for pitched battles—like the one at the Big 3—to become national referendums on capitalism.
“We Can Unmake It”
Fain didn’t pull any punches in his speech after Biden, drawing a historical parallel between the auto workers who built B-24 Liberator bombers during World War II and those on strike today.
Eighty years later, “it’s a different kind of war we’re fighting,” Fain said. “Today, the enemy isn’t some foreign country miles away. It’s right here in our own area. It’s corporate greed.
“And the weapon we produce to fight that enemy is the liberators—the true liberators. It’s the working-class people.
“And the difference between them and us is, just as our theme song ‘Solidarity Forever’ says: ‘Without our brain and muscle, not a single wheel would turn.’
“That’s what’s different about working-class people. Whether we’re building cars or trucks or running parts distribution centers; whether we’re writing movies or performing TV shows; whether we’re making coffee at Starbucks; whether it’s nursing people back to health; whether it’s educating students, from preschool to college—we do the heavy lifting. We do the real work. Not the CEOs, not the executives.
“And though we don’t know it, that’s what power is. We have the power. The world is of our making. The economy is of our making. This industry is of our making.
“And as we’ve shown, when we withhold our labor, we can unmake it.”
This story was originally published at Labor Notes.
Storm Daniel was recorded as one of the most lethal Mediterranean cyclones in the history of the world. It initially formed as a low-pressure event in early September 2023, significantly flooding Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey. The pressure system then developed into a tropical storm and moved toward Libya’s coast where it caused disastrous flooding. Daniel’s severe rainfall led to flooding that caused more than €2 billion in damages. Libya felt the worst of rains that caused the destruction of two separate dams nearby Derna, resulting in thousands dead and missing.
In this exclusive interview with Truthout, international relations scholar Richard Falk discusses the flood and Libya’s vulnerability to disaster due to internal and external forces. He explains the region’s political and environmental vulnerabilities, and breaks down how international precedents contributed to a decline of critical infrastructure.
Unprecedented flooding has been occurring in very different parts of the world, strengthening widespread beliefs that climate change underlies the near simultaneity of such extreme weather events and the prospects for their increased frequency and severity in the future and beyond. The recent flash floods that descended on a Himalayan community in the Mustang district of Nepal, for instance, is powerfully illustrative of this pattern, Falk asserts.
The following transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Daniel Falcone: Can you comment on the flooding of Libya and the overall region, and explain how other vulnerable locations in the world are analogous to this area of increased vulnerability both environmentally and geopolitically?
Richard Falk: Weather specialists agree that Storm Daniel was the worst storm to affect Libya within living memory and indeed the worst to sweep across much of the Mediterranean. It possessed qualities usually associated with hurricanes, or what are variously called typhoons or cyclones in most regions of the Pacific. In the Mediterranean, stormy weather with this intensity is rare, and when such storms occur they are known by weather people as “medicanes.” A fragile consensus of experts who study storms believe that in the future, they will come with even less frequency due to global warming, but when they do, will come with greater intensity and a wider path of devastating effects.
On broader geographical scales, there is gathering evidence and awareness that natural disasters, because of global warming, are exacting a heavier toll on poorer and least-developed countries, and having similar differential impacts within many countries. This is partly due to less strict building codes, as well as regulatory tendencies toward looser standards of implementation in poorer urban and rural areas. The terrible damage caused by the recent earthquakes, wildfires and floods in many countries are confirmatory, although the earthquakes themselves cannot be blamed on climate change. In Turkey, Syria and Morocco, the 2023 earthquakes resulted the high death and devastation statistics that were allegedly magnified by poor building practices, corruption at the state and local levels, and incompetent disaster responses. These deficiencies also worsen the impact of climate changes involving desertification, flooding, drought temperature rises, wildfires and extreme weather events.
Hopefully, the weather of 2023 responsible for great harm from both human and natural causes will lead many governments to invest more heavily in insulating physical structures, logistic infrastructures, electric grids, dams, and medical facilities from both natural disasters and human caused climate change. The precautionary success of such undertakings will be tested by the doing, and whether global warming is perceived in years to become as responsible for more frequent and severe forms of extreme weather. A lot will depend also as to the containment of the harmfully distracting spillover effects and stresses generated by major conflicts such as the ongoing Ukraine war that continue to capture most of the available political oxygen.
How has climate change contributed to this natural disaster in your estimation? Does the climate crisis stand as a major foreign policy concern for countries around the world in your view?
It seems clear that natural disasters of the sort that caused the Libyan dams at Wadi Derna to collapse were aggravated by the extraordinarily dense and heavy rainfall that accompanied the storm, but this is not the whole story. It was long known in Libya that the dams needed major repairs, and an appropriate amount to do this had been budgeted prior to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) war of 2011, but was then deferred, and in the atmosphere of strife and chaos that followed the intervention, the repair project was never undertaken. Of course, it is conjectural whether, if repairs had been made prior to the medicane, the dams would have held and the torrential flooding avoided.
The degree to which foreign policy is responsive to the challenges being posed by climate change is difficult to be precise about or to provide a responsible basis for generalized assertions. It seems clear that on a systemic level, governments acting collectively and individually to curb carbon emissions and the release of other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere have not been doing enough to prevent further warming. Although there is a widespread rhetorical recognition of the urgency of addressing climate change in an effective and equitable manner, there is little evidence on the level of policy and behavior that the current quality and quantity of responses will prove capable of addressing the challenge, thus leaving future generations in an increasingly precarious situation.
Has the pursuit of natural resources, influence over territory, and Western hegemonic impulses played a role in making the tragedy worse in your view?
Yes, certainly historically during colonial and imperial relationships, and even recently, given that neoliberal trade and investment practices have been predatory. The recent series of postcolonial military coups in West Africa in the last few years have exposed extreme exploitative fiscal and resource relationships imposed by France that have undermined many of the material benefits of formal political independence granted to Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger in 1960. This pattern of “colonialism after colonialism” had permanently consigned the peoples of these countries to impoverished lives and made their states awkwardly dependent on their former colonial masters. The plight of this group of countries, which are in the news because of their anti-colonial challenges in the last several years, is illustrative of broader patterns of persisting predatory and hegemonic practices throughout the Global South, including in the Latin American backyard of the United States.
In the face of such realities, the failure to address climate change reflects two mutually reinforcing tendencies: 1.) the control of the economy of such countries by foreign and collaborating domestic elites with a primary interest in commercially profitable arrangements with respect to resource development and import/export marketing; and 2.) the absence of a national leadership empowered and motivated to act independently with respect to interests, public health and well-being and in service to global public interests.
The revolts against the French role in its former African colonies, including the demand that its troops be withdrawn, gives hope that these postcolonial abusive economic and political relations are finally being challenged. After all, 63 years have passed since the West African French colonies achieved national statehood. Also hopeful is the emergence in Latin America of a few progressive governments (Colombia, Chile, Brazil) dedicated to economic nationalism which might presage the existential weakening of U.S. hegemonic control and exploitative economic relations throughout the hemisphere.
Some on the left were quick to place blame on the bipartisan consensus in regard to the Libyan intervention, especially on former President Barack Obama and NATO. How valid is this critique and how do you gauge the press coverage of the disaster? Is it reasonable to say that misusing the United Nations to uphold the Libyan intervention weakened the UN Security Council?
I tend to agree that the Libyan intervention in 2011, led by NATO and backed by President Obama, played an important yet somewhat indeterminate role in the magnitude of the recent natural disaster. As already mentioned, the Muammar Gaddafi government was aware of the perilous condition of the dams in Wadi Derna and had budgeted for their repair. Then came the regime-changing intervention in March of 2011, throwing the country into a condition of political chaos from which Libya has yet to emerge. During such a prolonged national emergency, the preoccupation with the internal conflict prevailed, and the dam repairs were never undertaken.
The NATO war, with Obama “leading from behind” epitomized the regressive failure of U.S. foreign policy following the Vietnam War. Humanitarianism (or democratization) was substituted for anti-communism, and ground combat on the NATO side was avoided to reduce casualties on the intervening side to near zero. The UN Security Council was cynically induced to give its blessings by disguising the NATO mission, as spelled out in Security Resolution 1973. This UN decision pretended to do nothing more by way of UN authorization to use force than establish a “no-fly zone,” and even this, for the sole protection of the civilian population of Benghazi.
Micah Zenko, writing in the mainstream Foreign Policy, convincingly argues that from day one of the military operation, it was designed to be a regime-changing intervention of a hostile government in a resource-rich country. Beyond this, the postintervention state-building efforts were as disappointing for the intervenors as for the targeted society, as in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.
In my judgment, it’s not fair to blame the left for critically recalling the NATO war and Obama’s role. It would be unfair to condemn the intervention on the ground that it would make Libya more vulnerable to future national disasters. It is correct, as argued here, to conclude that an unintended side effect of the intervention was the failure to follow through on plans to repair the dams responsible for the worst flooding and loss of life.
What I do find rather surprising, and a reflection of poor foreign policy advising, was the importance attached to obtaining Security Council authorization for the use of force in Libya, perhaps trying to overcome the weight of the Kosovo and Iraq precedents in which the U.S. circumvented the Security Council because it had no prospect of avoiding vetoes by opponents of the interventions. Yet the shortsightedness of bearing the costs of obtaining this authorization for Libya was to undermine the trust of China and Russia that had induced these veto powers to abstain from vetoing Resolution 1973 based on strong reassurances by NATO countries of the limited scope and humanitarian purpose of the intervention. Throwing the UN under the bus in this way has led, quite predictably, to an atmosphere of mistrust in the Security Council, preventing genuine UN humanitarian activism in Syria and elsewhere, and further marginalizing the organization at a time when it is most needed to achieve global and human security.
In terms of Libya, what are the physical, social and economic costs of climate change and flooding overall that are perhaps instructive in other regions and parts of the world?
As with Libya its unprecedented severity was a wakeup call for the Nepalese people, especially for climate change experts and disaster risk managers. Anil Pokhrel, who heads Nepal’s risk management team for the government used these words to describe the recent flooding of Himalayan Mountain villages: “The extreme events in Mustang this year surprised us because it was unusual and beyond our imagination. Now we are trying to comprehend what happened and what we can do to avoid such events in the future, but we are certain that the risk of unexpected disasters is increasing.”
We should also not forget that terrible monsoon flooding did great damage to Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, and in case of Pakistan, was the worst flooding in the country’s history, causing damage estimated at $14.9 billion and reconstruction with an eye toward future catastrophe prevention at $30 billion. In these several cases, the severity of near-apocalyptic flooding is attributed to the global warming of historic proportions of nearby oceanic waters leading to greatly increased rainfall over shorter time intervals.
Part of the Series
Human Rights and Global Wrongs
The 2023-2024 Supreme Court term will begin on Monday, October 2. Dominated by six right-wingers, the court has agreed to review cases in which voting rights, consumer protection, and the regulation of health and safety, workers’ rights and the environment are in jeopardy. The cases present the issues of gerrymandering and the power of administrative agencies. In light of its recent conservative rulings, we should be wary about how the court will rule on these critical matters.
Besides the cases already on the Supreme Court’s docket, the court will add more cases by mid-January. Their decisions will be issued by the end of June or beginning of July 2024.
Here are three impactful cases that are already on the court’s docket for its forthcoming term:
Survival of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
On October 3, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Consumer Financial Protection Bureau v. Community Financial Services Association, in which the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals declared the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) unconstitutional.
Congress created the CFPB two years after the Great Recession of 2008 to shield consumers from the excesses of the financial industry that upended U.S. lending markets and the U.S. housing market. Established by the Dodd-Frank Act, the CFPB was intended to “promote the financial stability of the United States.” Since its creation, the CFPB has played a significant role in regulating the mortgage industry to protect consumers.
The Fifth Circuit struck down the CFPB, claiming that its funding source violated the Appropriations Clause of the Constitution, which says, “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” Congress enacted a funding stream for the CFPB when it created the agency in 2010. Before the Fifth Circuit decided to abolish the CFPB, no court had held that any act of Congress violated the Appropriations Clause.
If the Supreme Court affirms the Fifth Circuit’s decision, the mortgage market could be thrown into chaos. Although it should overrule the dangerous appellate court decision, the high court has several conservative members gunning for the “administrative state.” Destroying the CFPB would serve that right-wing agenda.
Racial Gerrymandering vs. Partisan Gerrymandering
In 2019, a 5-4 conservative majority of the Supreme Court decided in Rucho v. Common Cause that although excessive partisan gerrymandering is “incompatible with democratic principles,” the federal courts were powerless to strike it down. Partisan gerrymandering occurs when one political party intentionally manipulates district boundaries to bolster its voting power. Most partisan gerrymandering is done by Republicans.
The high court has, however, struck down racial gerrymanders because they violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. Racial gerrymandering transpires when race constitutes a predominant factor in drawing congressional districts.
Last June, the court overturned a racial gerrymander in Alabama in Allen v. Milligan and ordered the GOP-controlled legislature to draw a second map with an additional majority-Black district. Thumbing its nose at the Supreme Court, however, Alabama drew new maps that once again had only a single majority-Black district. A panel of three federal judges found that the new map probably violates the Voting Rights Act and ordered a special master to redraw the map. On September 26, the Supreme Court rejected Alabama’s request to reinstate its map with only one majority-Black district, thereby affirming the lower court decision which requires that a special master redraw the map.
Alexander v. South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, now pending in the Supreme Court, involves a redrawn congressional map that the Republican-controlled legislature adopted after the 2020 census in South Carolina.
In January, a three-judge federal court ruled that South Carolina’s first congressional district amounted to an unconstitutional racial gerrymander because GOP legislators deliberately moved tens of thousands of Black voters into a different district to ensure that the first district would elect a Republican. The court ordered South Carolina to draw a new congressional map.
The CFPB has played a significant role in regulating the mortgage industry to protect consumers.
The court said the GOP legislators used race as a proxy for Democratic voters, and found that the map was essentially both a political gerrymander and a racial gerrymander.
Alexander provides the Supreme Court with its first opportunity to distinguish a racial gerrymander from a political gerrymander. We will see whether a majority of the court follows its 2017 case of Cooper v. Harris, which held that “if legislators use race as their predominant districting criterion with the end goal of advancing their partisan interests,” the use of race is presumptively unconstitutional, even if the drafters were motivated by partisan considerations instead of overt racism. “The sorting of voters on the grounds of their race remains suspect even if race is meant to function as a proxy for other (including political) characteristics,” the Cooper court said.
One of the five members in Cooper’s 5-4 majority was the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose seat is now occupied by Amy Coney Barrett. It remains to be seen whether there’s still a majority to uphold Cooper.
The future of voting rights is at stake in Alexander, which is scheduled for oral argument on October 11.
Executive vs. Judicial Power to Regulate Health, Safety, Labor, Environment
The Supreme Court created “Chevron deference” in the 1984 case of Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council. The doctrine requires that courts defer to a federal regulatory agency’s reasonable construction of a statute when a law is silent or ambiguous on a certain matter. For example, courts have used Chevron deference to uphold the National Labor Relations Board’s decision that certain workers are employees entitled to protections of the National Labor Relations Act; affirm the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) rule requiring states to reduce emissions from power plants; sustain the Department of Labor’s interpretation of the Black Lung Benefits Act to allow coal miners with black lung disease to receive compensation; and accept the EPA’s revised regulations under the Toxic Substances Control Act to provide additional protection from lead paint exposure.
John Paul Stevens wrote for the unanimous court, “With regard to judicial review of an agency’s construction of the statute which it administers, if Congress has not directly spoken to the precise question at issue, the question for the court is whether the agency’s answer is based on a permissible construction of the statute.”
On the docket this term is the case of Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo, which the court may well use to overrule Chevron deference.
In Loper Bright, a divided panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals relied on Chevron to overrule the commercial fishing companies’ challenge to a rule promulgated by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). It requires the fishing industry to pay the costs of observers who monitor compliance with fishing management plans.
The statute says the government can require fishing boats to carry monitors, but it doesn’t indicate who must pay for them. The appellate court in Loper Bright held that the NMFS’s interpretation that the federal fishery law authorized the industry to fund the monitors was reasonable, so the court should defer to that interpretation.
When it agreed to review the case, the Supreme Court said it would decide: “Whether the Court should overrule Chevron or at least clarify that statutory silence concerning controversial powers expressly but narrowly granted elsewhere in the statute does not constitute an ambiguity requiring deference to the agency.”
The way the court framed the issue strongly suggests it is likely to limit the scope of Chevron even if it doesn’t overrule it.
Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh have appeared eager to overturn Chevron deference. John Roberts and Samuel Alito have criticized the doctrine but haven’t suggested overruling it. Barrett has not weighed in on the issue. Unfortunately, Ketanji Brown Jackson has recused herself from the case since she participated in Loper Bright when she was a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Overruling Chevron deference would serve the right-wing agenda of “deconstruction of the administrative state.” Conservatives favor deregulation to protect corporate profits.
The court’s six-member supermajority recently took a significant step toward overruling Chevron when it invoked the “major questions doctrine” to strike down a proposal by the EPA to limit carbon emissions from power plants. The major questions doctrine allows five judges on the Supreme Court to rescind actions by federal agencies that involve “decisions of vast economic and political significance.”
It appears that Chevron deference is on its last legs. Former Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer said that ending Chevron deference would be a “judicial power grab.”
The future of voting rights is at stake in Alexander,which is scheduled for oral argument on October 11.
If the court overrules the doctrine, right-wing federal judges can overturn decisions of federal agencies to regulate our food, water, health, safety, work and the environment. Unelected judges would trump agencies with special expertise that are appointed by the elected executive branch.
The Stakes of the 2023-2024 Supreme Court Term
These cases on voting rights, the powers of administrative agencies and the survival of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau present only three examples of the matters the Supreme Court will rule on this term. Although the legal issues involved in the cases may seem obscure and remote to many people, the court’s decisions will affect our lives in significant ways.
We have already seen the right-wing majority of the court decimate long-standing precedent, such as its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that overruled Roe v. Wade. We can expect the court to handle other precedents, such as Chevron deference, in a similarly cavalier manner. This is not the time to bury our heads in the sand. We must carefully track what the court does this term — and act in response.
This story was originally published by the Grist and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, who died on Thursday evening at the age of 90, leaves behind a long and complex legacy on climate and environmental issues. Feinstein represented California as a Democrat in the US Senate for more than 30 years, becoming the longest-serving woman in Senate history, and during that time she brokered a number of significant deals to protect and restore the natural landscapes of the West. In recent years, as politics shifted, she found herself on the receiving end of criticism over her approach to tackling the climate crisis.
After taking office in 1992 following a decade as the mayor of San Francisco, Feinstein established herself as a champion for conservation. She worked to pass legislation that would protect millions of acres of California wilderness from development and extractive industry, using her deft skills as a negotiator to bridge disputes between competing interests. She succeeded in that conservation effort where her predecessors had failed, spearheading a 1994 bill that created the Death Valley and Joshua Tree national parks, which encompass millions of acres. She later passed bills to protect Lake Tahoe, the California redwoods, and the Mojave Desert.
Feinstein also supported action to reduce carbon emissions for much of her Senate career, and she was a key backer of a cap-and-trade bill that failed to pass the Senate during the first years of the Obama administration. She also authored successful legislation on automobile fuel economy standards, and pushed forward new regulatory standards for oil and gas pipelines following a 2010 gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno that killed eight people.
Even so, as a compromise-oriented legislator from California, she often had to weigh the competing interests of farmers, ranchers, and environmentalists, and at times she angered all of them. This tendency toward centrism was evident in her legislative work on water in the state’s Central Valley. She brokered a monumental restoration agreement on the valley’s overstressed San Joaquin River in 2009, but then helped override species protections for fish on that same river in 2016.
“That is wrong, it is shocking,” her colleague Senator Barbara Boxer said at the time, according to E&E News.
Even so, as the pace of the climate crisis advanced, Feinstein attracted criticism from the left for not supporting more ambitious policies to tackle climate change, and her reputation as a broker of compromise came back to haunt her. In early 2019, a group of activists with the Sunrise Movement confronted Feinstein in the Capitol building, urging her to support progressive calls for Green New Deal legislation.
Feinstein rebuffed the protestors.
“I’ve been doing this for 30 years. I know what I’ve been doing,” she said in a viral video. “You come in here and say it has to be my way or the highway.” Her office later released a statement on the incident that mistakenly referred to the protestors as part of the “Sunshine Movement.”
In the following years, following reports that Feinstein was experiencing a loss of her mental faculties, some politicians called for her to step down from the Senate. She resisted those calls and instead said she would retire at the end of her current term, which would have lasted through next year’s election.
The senator’s death will create even more turmoil in Washington, DC, as lawmakers tangle over a looming government shutdown. The Senate has moved closer to passing a resolution to fund the federal government over the course of the week, but it’s unlikely to pass the House of Representatives thanks to a revolt from hardline Republicans.
Feinstein cast her final vote on Thursday morning on a procedural item relating to the Federal Aviation Administration, but she didn’t vote on an environmental bill later that afternoon. In the vote she missed, Republican lawmakers tried to override President Biden’s veto of a bill that would have rolled back endangered species protections for the prairie chicken. The final vote total was 47 Republicans to 46 Democrats, not enough to override the veto.
Farm Aid 2023 took place on a beautiful Saturday afternoon on September 23, at Ruoff Music Center in Noblesville, Indiana, with a sold-out crowd of more than 22,000 people. The event benefits Farm Aid, a non-profit organization that has put on legendary annual concerts to benefit family farms since the first Farm Aid event in Champaign, Illinois in 1985.
Throughout its thirty-eight year history, Farm Aid has raised more than $70 million to support “programs that help farmers thrive, expand the reach of the Good Food Movement, take action to change the dominant system of industrial agriculture and promote food from family farms.” According to their website, “Farm Aid’s mission is to build a vibrant, family farm-centered system of agriculture in America.” Last year, Farm Aid gave out more than one million dollars in grants.
Farm Aid is more than just a concert. Its HOMEGROWN Village was buzzing with activities, educating and empowering festival goers. Dozens of exhibits filled the tents with topics ranging from organic certification to farmers’ stress. The HOMEGROWN Skills Tent held workshops on topics like making tools from plants, and distilling essential oils. On the FarmYard stage, farmers and performers discussed family farm issues and solutions like climate-resilient farming, soil and water health, and equity in the farm and food system. The day before the concert, Farm Aid also hosted a day-long discussion with local Indiana farmers and farming and food advocates around the 2023 Farm Bill.
This year’s lineup featured an all-star cast of music legends and Farm Aid board members, Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, and Dave Matthews (with Tim Reynolds). Other musicians included new Farm Aid Board member Margo Price, Bobby Weir & Wolf Bros featuring The Wolfpack, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Lukas Nelson, Allison Russell, The String Cheese Incident, Particle Kid, Clayton Anderson, The Black Opry featuring Lori Rayne, Tylar Bryant and Kyshona, and the Wisdom Indian Dancers. None of the artists performing at the event received any payment for their performances—100 percent of their work is donated to the cause of Farm Aid.
Just before the final set by Willie Nelson, after almost eleven hours of music, murmurs spread through the crowd of a surprise guest. After a brief intermission, Bob Dylan appeared unannounced on a dimly lit stage playing electric guitar with a band, belting out a punky version of “Maggie’s Farm,” a song he had not played live since 2009. The crowd erupted in a roar and Dylan continued with “Positively 4th Street” and “Ballad of a Thin Man,” before Willie Nelson and his band took the stage.
Other highlights from the day included an impressive set by artist Allison Russell, which had her jamming on banjo. Kyshona of The Black Opry’s soulful singing, Dave Matthews and Tim Ryenolds inspired, almost spiritual, acoustic set, Bobby Weir performing “Dark Star” in the late afternoon with his band and country music star Sturgill Simpson, Neil Young’s short set performed with only an acoustic guitar and a harmonica. Young’s version of “Comes a Time” was magical. Young told the crowd “you are Farm Aid!”
The ninety-year-old Willie Nelson’s closing set, was sweet—flanked by his two sons, he sang and played guitar beautifully. Nelson ended by throwing several of his iconic red bandanas into the audience. A fitting end to a transformative event.
Here are some of the images from this year’s Farm Aid festival:
The morning press conference before the start of Farm Aid 2023 included Farm Aid Board members Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp, Willie Nelson, and Neil Young.
The press conference included farmers telling their stories. Indiana farmers DeAnthony Jamerson and his mother Denise Jamerson with “Legacy Taste of the Garden” in Lyles Station, Indiana, get emotional telling their story. Denise is fifth generation and DeAnthony is a sixth generation farmer. Lyles Station is the last remaining African American settlement in Indiana. DeAnthony and Denise started Legacy Taste of the Garden to pass on generational knowledge of sustainability and entrepreneurial lifestyles. “Farm Aid has allowed me and the rest of the farming community to have a voice,” DeAnthony said after the press conference.
Farm Aid Board member Neil Young made a passionate speech during the press conference “we are all together in this,” he said, “The farmers are doing everything they can do but without the people behind the farmers it’s not going to work.” Board members Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp, and Willie Nelson all made statements during the press conference.
The Wisdom Indian Dancers got this year’s show off to a festive and colorful beginning.
The Black Opry featuring (left to right) Tylar Bryant and Kyshona.
Joon Kim from the group “Share a Seed,” gives out seeds in the HOMEGROWN village to “encourage more people to grow.” Share a Seed is based in Washington D.C. “Everybody has the capability to grow food, we want to encourage that.”
Allison Russell performs with bass player Ganessa James at 2023 Farm Aid.
The sold-out crowd on the lawn at the Ruoff Music Center was packed from edge-to-edge and top-to-bottom.
Bobby Weir & Wolf Bros featuring The Wolfpack were joined by special guests Sturgill Simpson, Lukas Nelson, and Margo Price during their three song set which included Grateful Dead classics “Truckin’ ” and “Dark Star.” They closed with “Not Fade Away.”
Farm Aid board member Dave Matthews performs at Farm Aid 2023.
Farm Aid co-founder John Mellencamp performs at Farm Aid 2023.
Farm Aid co-founder Neil Young opened his short set with his song “Comes a Time,” and closed with “Heart of Gold.”
At the end of the evening many of the artists who performed came out and sang a few more joyous songs led by Willie Nelson to conclude Farm Aid 2023. With the stage packed with artists Nelson led them in “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” before closing the show with “It’s Hard to be Humble.”
Co-founder and board president Willie Nelson blows a kiss to the audience before leaving the stage at the end of Farm Aid 2023.Read More
A flooded street due to heavy rain in Hoboken, N.J., on Friday, Sept. 29, 2023.Stefan Jeremiah/AP
New York City is underwater. As heavy rainfall hits the northeast, making the city’s roads impassable and halting train and subway service, social media videos show flooding through holes in subway walls and water rushing into buses and cars—as well as sewage pushing up into homes. Twenty-three million people in the area are on flood watch, with New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, Mayor Eric Adams, and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy all issuing states of emergency and deploying rescue teams.
New York’s battle with rain and floods isn’t new. The city has a devastating history of flooding in disasters like 2021’s Hurricane Ida, which broke city records for amount and intensity of rainfall. Friday’s floods mark the wettest day in New York City since Ida—from 1958 to 2016, Climate Central reports, the northeast saw the country’s biggest increase in heavy precipitation events.
Rainfall and floods are only expected to worsen due to climate change, and the city’s wastewater and drainage infrastructure isn’t equipped for the pressure. A FEMA report from this summer concluded that most cities’ drainage systems “were not built to handle the amount of runoff from increasingly intense storms.”
Those infrastructure problems are set to worsen, compounding the impact. Erika Smull, a municipal bonds analyst at Breckinridge Capital Advisors, is a water utilities expert and former environmental engineer. She explained to me earlier this year that US water infrastructure “is reaching or has reached the end of its usable life. It’s been there for longer than it should be. We are entering into a new era.”
Ida also led to scrutiny of New York’s illegal basement apartments: thirteen residents trapped in the unregulated dwellings were killed by its floods. “Ida will not be the last flash flood that puts the lives and homes of basement-dwellers at risk,” city Comptroller Brad Lander wrote in a 2022 report, highlighting the fact that such apartments are generally occupied by low-income people, people of color, and immigrants.
Climate disasters of all kinds disproportionately harm marginalized communities, studies have repeatedly found. In New York City, flood risks are greater in historically Black neighborhoods than in white ones. Across the country, communities of color are less likely to receive funding to fix failing or broken water infrastructure that may exacerbate flooding, and disabled people are two to four times more likely to die or be critically injured during disasters like floods.
The floods come a week after Gov. Hochul signed a bill requiring flood risk be disclosed by home sellers in the state, and two weeks after 75,000 people marched through New York’s streets to demand climate action.