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PIEDMONT LEFT REVIEW The Triad's Socialist Magazine

Jan 2018 • Issue 2 • Volume 1


CONTRIBUTORS:Â Writers: Taylor Briggs Garrison Clark Alex Macmillan Joel Sronce Editors: Garrison Clark Alex Macmillan

Piedmont Left Review is a Triad based magazine dedicated to providing socialist and leftist perspectives on politics and culture in North Carolina and beyond. We are striving to build a forum that allows NC and Triad voices to be heard and supported. This issue was made completely with donated labor- writing, editing, design, and everything in between. For submissions and contributions please email piedmontleftreview@gmail.com.


EDITORS' NOTE:Â

Piedmont Left Review will be switching to a quarterly format to give our writers and editors more flexibility in bringing high quality socialist writing to the Triad. With the launch of our new website, piedmontleftreview.com, we will be adding pieces often to cover a variety of topics. As always, if you would like to have a piece published in the magazine or on the website, just shoot us an email at piedmontleftreview@gmail.com. In Solidarity, -PLR


CONTENTS:

Essays North Carolina and the Price of Neoliberalism: Pt. 2 by Garrison Clark Bits & Pieces The Tax Scam by Alex Macmillan Out in the Cold by Taylor Briggs Culture Wearing the Immigrant Uniform by Joel Sronce

6 11 16

20


ESSAYS


NORTH CAROLINA AND THE PRICE OF NEOLIBERALISM By Garrison Clark This is the second installment in a multi-part series that will cover the ways in which neoliberalism has affected NC. Part 1 appeared in the December issue  The Opioid Crisis After the opioid crisis broke into the consciousness of mainstream America in 2014 and 2015, it quickly became folded into the narrative of the 2016 presidential election and the decline of the “white working class.” The quickly metastasizing epidemic was framed in Trumpian terms- that these “deaths of despair” were the result of economic warfare inflicted by China and Mexico upon the United States. Yet this story conveniently left out the role that the capitalist class and neoliberal policies had in creating, sustaining, and ultimately ignoring the opioid crisis. So how did we get to the point that 3 North Carolinians die every day from opioid overdoses? Two fundamental trends emerged in the 1990s that helped to create the worst crisis of drug overdose deaths in US history: the flooding of the drug market by opioids and the late 90s deindustrialization of large swaths of the US. These two trends occurred in the long shadow of the US drug war which brought a vicious carceral 

approach to dealing with drug addiction. Pharmaceutical companies began pushing opioids heavily in the 1990s as a solution to physical pain through marketing campaigns to the public and directly to doctors. The increasingly commodified healthcare system responded accordingly. Doctors, concerned about dealing with pain in “customers” and with producing quick, effective solutions, found opioid pain medications to be a fantastic method to avoid the lengthy, intensive, and costly options (to the patient)  of physical rehab, etc.


Pharmaceutical companies saw their markets expanding at an explosive rate and doused on the ads to tell the public that their pain had a quick and easy solution. The companies tended to avoid the underlying evidence that these drugs were highly addictive and not at all an easy solution for every patient. Deaths from drug addiction were long a crisis in the most economically exploited communities in the United States: indigenous communities in the Southwest, Appalachia, and poor inner-city communities. As the late 90s wave of deindustrialization hit the Rust-Belt, the South, and wide areas of the US, manufacturing workers soon found themselves out of work. As explored in Part 1 of this series, the social ills arising from the late 90s decline in manufacturing jobs cannot be simply attributed to NAFTA and free-trade policy. The lack of a meaningful social safety net or jobs program, combined with an economic system that places profit first, left the working class out to dry. As manufacturing jobs began to decline and workers moved to lower paying service sector jobs, they found themselves without healthcare coverage or lower quality insurance plans. Manufacturing work takes a huge toll on the bodies of workers who often find themselves with chronic pain due to years of physical labor. Due to the loss of health insurance or lower quality insurance plans, comprehensive pain management that went beyond opioid pain medication was generally not available or affordable. It was simply easier for doctors to prescribe a large batch of opioids to a patient. Given the highly addictive qualities of

these medications, it is not difficult to see how these strands began to intertwine into the crisis we know today. The neoliberal paradigm of healthcare-as-commodity helped to shape both the beginnings of the crisis and the systemic failing to provide meaningful options for those struggling with addiction. Healthcare is not a right, simply a service provided to consumers under this view- as such care is commodified. The sort of intensive and expensive pain management options like physical rehabilitation are shunned in favor of more profitable and “quick” options as a prescription. There is little room in the working day for workers to take the time for caring for their bodies and the ever more downwardly mobile working class couldn’t risk the loss of pay. As the crisis began growing, the US healthcare system was woefully inadequate in providing care. Much like how comprehensive pain management was out of reach for those with no or low quality health insurance plans, rehabilitation for addiction was not an option due to its lack of coverage and cost. And if you could manage the cost of treatment, you still had to deal with time off of work. Compounding costs and a healthcare system unable to provide options meant that the US turned to its favorite tool for dealing with social ills: the carceral state. As it became clear that opioids carried a much greater risk of addiction than previously thought, doctors pulled back the size of prescriptions and were less willing to prescribe opioids to patients dealing with chronic pain. This led to those struggling with


opioid addiction to seek out options in the illegal drug market, whether it be simply illicit opioid medications or other substitutes like heroin. This “switchover” represents a clear carceral demarcation- what is legal for a pharmaceutical company to sell through the healthcare market is not legal for others to sell. And the individual who was simply following a drug regimen under doctor’s orders now enters the category of the transgressive, the addict, the criminal. The carceral system in the United States has long been used to deal with drug addiction, whether it be during the rise of heroin use in the 1970s or the 1980 crack cocaine “epidemic.” And in these instances, by marking drug use as transgressive and worthy of punishment, the system only serves to further suffering and harm. Individuals are not provided meaningful options for addiction treatment during incarceration and then after release are marked with another transgressive label, felon. This leads to worse job prospects, worse health care options, and a higher likelihood of relapse and recidivism. So how did this process play out in North Carolina? We have looked at the broad view of the crisis as it unfolded nationally, but there were critical components at the state level that exacerbated the underlying issues. It cannot be overstated how rapid the manufacturing contraction of 19972002 was and the effects that contraction had on health insurance availability and quality for the working class of NC. While this laid a foundation for the crisis, critical decisions made by politicians in the state served to deepen and further the crisis. Throughout the 2000s the NC

Department of Health and Human Services, the state’s agency that oversees Medicaid, found itself at the heart of scandals over fraud and waste. While fraud did occur in many instances, these were often the result of companies billing the state for services they never provided. The draconian measures employed by the state in the late 2000s to deal with fraud led to residents being forced to wait a month or more for care under Medicaid. WRAL and Disability Rights NC reported that many patients died waiting for care. This occurred in a period where the state had all three branches of government under Democratic Party control. Medicaid covers limited sections of the state population- mostly children and mothers in poverty and disabled state residents. But critically, many drug rehabilitation programs are covered in the state by Medicaid. By making these services difficult to obtain and setting up hoops for recipients to jump through, it only made it more likely for individuals suffering from opioid addiction to seek out illicit opioids. When the GOP won back control over the state senate and house in 2010, DHHS found itself under assault. The state Democratic Party had done much of the groundwork for this attack by invoking the right wing canard of “fraud and waste” in the years before and tightening services as a result. In the first budget created under GOP control, the legislature mandated a $356 million cut to DHHS. Such a deep cut would threaten the state’s ability to pay for a wide variety of adult health services, such as drug rehabilitation. This began an annual attack by Republicans on the state’s health services, which continues to 


In 2017, a report from Castlight Health found that North Carolina had 4 of the top 20 cities for opioid abuse in the country, including the number one spot occupied by Wilmington. These four cities (Jacksonville, Fayetteville, Hickory, and Wilmington) all saw decreases in real median household income between 2000 and 2016. Hickory, with the 5th highest rate of opioid abuse in the country, saw its real median household income shrink by nearly 1/5th or 19.6%. Fayetteville saw a 14.2% decrease. All four cities saw increases in poverty levels for residents, with Hickory seeing its poverty increase from 9.1% to 15.9%. Wilmington’s reached 17.7%, Fayetteville 17.6%, and Jacksonville 13.9%. Nearly a quarter of Hickory residents lack health insurance of any kind and the other 3 cities have uninsured rates of over 10%. These statistics are presented here to show one thing: that material conditions sustained this crisis. In the media discourse, drug addiction is spoken of as the cause of social ills, not the symptom of a broader failing of neoliberal capitalism to provide for society. Drug addiction is presented as a personal failing, simply bad behavior to be punished. This individualization of social crises is a product of neoliberal thinking that posits the free market as fully capable of providing for all needs- if you stumble it is because of you and not any sort of flaw in the system. Yet the broader story of the opioid crisis shows very clearly that the system left behind many North Carolinians in the wake of deindustrialization. There were options on the table for the state and the federal government. A jobs guarantee, universal healthcare, investment in rural healthcare, better 

addiction treatment facilities. Hell, even a robust jobs retraining program would have provided something for our communities. But our leaders didn’t pursue those options then and they won’t now. Capitalism provides no incentive to do so. Their choice only came at the cost of the lives of the 12,000 North Carolinians who have died from opioid overdoses since 1999. Part 3 of North Carolina and the Cost of Neoliberalism will focus on the carceral state and will appear in Issue #3 of PLR. Garrison Clark is an organizer in Greensboro and a member of DSA


BITS & PIECESÂ


THE TAX SCAM By Alex Macmillan The Party On December 20th, 2017, the Republican Party delivered what Donald Trump referred to as a “big, beautiful tax cut” for the American people.  Trump gathered the who’s who of the Republican-led Congress in the White House Rose Garden, and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan congratulated Trump, saying, “Something this big, something this generational, something this profound could not have been done without exquisite presidential leadership. Mr. President, thank you for getting us over the finish line, thank you for getting us where we are.” The irony of congratulating a president who has failed to execute a coherent political program cannot be overstated; from his failure to push through a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, to his botched transgender military rule, the endless overturn of press secretaries and cabinet members, to his repeated failure to implement the Muslim travel ban, Trump’s inability to lead even the swamp creatures he’s surrounded himself with has been a monumental embarrassment both for the Republican Party, and for the American state’s prestige internationally.

Nonetheless, simply by passing the largest tax cut since the Reagan era, and redistributing $1.5 trillion to the top of the income bracket, Trump has earned his stripes as a leader of American capital, however fleeting these stripes may be. Such praise from the same congressmen who have been working to distance themselves from the comb-over catastrophe in the White House illuminates the core values of the Republican party: step on the poor, lavish the rich. More than any other executive order or bill passed through congress in 2017, the Republican tax bill is the most devastating attack on the working class in decades. The Bill The Center on Budget Policy and Priorities predicts that workers making less than $75,000 will see their taxes increase within the decade, while those making more than $3.4 million will see tax cuts up to $193,000 each year.  Furthermore, the bill caps the state and local tax deduction (SALT) at $10,000, and reduces the mortgage interest deduction from $1 million to $750,000 while eliminating the deduction for home equity loans.  Together, these changes will have a catastrophic effect both on home-


-owners and public education by driving down property values, and pinching a key source of revenue for schools. While initial versions of the tax bill would have turned graduate school fellowships and tuition into taxable income and eliminate teachers’ school supplies deductions up to $250, public outcry and grad student mobilization ultimately prompted Republicans to remove these measures.  This, however, does not mean that education will escape unharmed: the bill allows for parents to use up to $10,000 of their 529 college savings accounts towards private or religious schools while the reduction in SALT deductions means many school districts will be under increased funding pressure.  (Property taxes are the main way schools get funding, so reducing the deductions means taxpayers will be hit harder, and less likely to agree to higher taxes to cover the losses).  The effects could be devastating on public schools already under incredible stress. If the impact on income, housing, and education wasn’t enough to bring working people to the edge of the abyss, the bill also included a repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, which required Americans to purchase insurance.  This repeal could result in as many as 13 million people losing their healthcare by 2027. Beyond these large-scope impacts, the tax bill also removes a host of small tax benefits many workers rely on, such as deductions for union dues, work clothes, work-related education, medical examinations required by an 

employer, and tools and supplies used at work. All tax cuts with the potential to benefit workers will be cancelled out by the elimination of such deductions. Removing all of these provisions that tend to help workers prepared the ground for the real meat of the bill: tax breaks for the wealthiest individuals and corporations.  The top tax rate for American companies will be reduced from 35% to 21%, and the bill proposes for American companies’ income abroad to not be taxed by the U.S. and instead by the country where the income originated.  Trump’s claim that the bill will bring companies pouring back into the U.S. really means that the largest corporations will get richer no matter where their income originates.  And the richest Americans who own many of these companies will now be able to pass inheritances of up to $5.49 million as individuals and $10.98 million as couples to their heirs tax free. In short, the Republican tax bill is Robin Hood in reverse, with the wealthy stealing from the poor in perhaps the most sudden redistribution of wealth in the United States in decades.  The top 1% of income earners will see 83% of the tax benefits, while many Americans will end up paying higher taxes by the end of the decade. What’s Next? The Trump administration has boasted that the tax bill will be like jet fuel for the U.S. economy, while Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell and other congressional 


eaders expect that the tax cuts will be revenue neutral due to the economic growth expected. It’s worth noting that historically, tax cuts do not end up paying for themselves. The Joint Tax Committee predicts that only $400 billion of the $1.5 trillion in tax cuts will be recouped by economic growth, with the Washington Post reporting that even private research firms found similar results in their analyses.  Reagan’s 1986 tax overhaul led to a massive deficit that was not balanced until the economic boom of the 90’s and Bill Clinton’s “ending welfare as we know it.” With this in mind, the next step will likely be an all out assault on entitlement programs that benefit low-income Americans.  There are already bills in both the House and Senate that will gut Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Social Security, and Pell Grants which help low income families send their children to college.  The likes of Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) are already sounding the alarm of the deficit, placing the blame on these vital programs that benefit workers.  Furthermore, the Democrats will be ill-suited to respond and put up a credible resistance to what’s coming.  Since the Clinton administration, the Democrats have branded themselves as being the fiscally responsible party, and we must not forget that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (DNY) was among the first to say that the top priority of 2017 would be tax reform. 

With a ballooning deficit and only the most deluded ideologues believing that the $1.5 trillion handout to the rich will be recouped by a growing economy, the next priority for Congress will be to move towards a balanced budget by eviscerating social programs that are already strapped to respond to the needs of the poor. Three out of five Americans spend more on their essential needs than they earn, and homelessness is already on the rise for the first time since the Great Recession. Where do we go from here? Perhaps the most outrageous piece of the whole tax nightmare has been the inaction of liberal institutions from these attacks.  The Democratic Party called no coordinated mobilization against the bill, nor did organized labor, or progressive institutions like MoveOn.org, Our Revolution, or Indivisible.  At the local level, many activists organized small demonstrations, but without the support of their national affiliates.  The most prominent dissent came from graduate students, both union and non-union, who organized walkouts, grade-ins, and marches across the country in the weeks leading up to the bill’s passage.  The Communications Worker of America (CWA) followed an interesting line of dissent when they took Trump’s comment that American families would see an additional $4,000 in income to task, and demanded that AT&T agree to give their workers a raise.  AT&T settled with an average of $1,000 bonuses, and touted the idea as their own.


Unlike resistance to the proposals to “repeal and replace” the ACA, which saw Medicaid recipients, people with disabilities, and other sectors of civil society launch mass resistance, liberal institutions made no coordinated effort to beat back the tax bill, despite it having equally catastrophic results for their constituencies. It’s also worth noting that the ACA, above all else, ensures government money is transferred to private insurance companies, so sectors of the capitalist class also had a stake in defeating its repeal. The theme of this meager resistance to the tax bill seems to lie in the Democrats’ electoral strategy for 2018 which will likely be along the lines of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential run: “look at how bad those other guys are.”  Democrats will capitalize on pointing to the Republicans’ legislative record without offering anything substantial for working people.  We shouldn’t forget that Obama, who campaigned in 2008 to end the Bush-era tax cuts, preserved the vast majority of the corporate handouts. What the whole debacle indicates is that at this point in time, we do not have substantial movements or institutions in the United States willing to fight for working people.  Any illusions that the Democratic Party is the vehicle to improve the lot of the working class should be shattered due to their complete ineptitude and unwillingness to act on behalf of the constituency they claim to represent.  A party that is willing to see people lose their healthcare, their ability to buy a home, and their access to social programs just to use popular discontent as cannon fodder in 

elections must be abandoned outright. In the short term, the goal of the Left needs to be to build links between the groups of workers most negatively impacted by this bill, including people who get their healthcare through the ACA, public school teachers, union members, SNAP recipients, and students, to prepare for the next wave of attacks on social programs. We need mass education on the impacts of the bill, and coordinated action in the streets to channel public rage into sustained activity in our communities.  In the long term, we need to begin fighting now to peel the institutions that are supposed to represent the interests of workers (labor unions, Planned Parenthood, and community organizing institutions) away from the Democratic Party.  Independence from both the party who attacks us, and the party who sells us out is a necessary precondition for mounting a meaningful opposition to the robber barons of the 21st century. We need movements focused squarely on the interests of the working class and oppressed, and aimed at positive programs such as universal healthcare, divestment from the carceral state into social programs, reduction of the military budget, union rights, social housing, and free education as an alternative to the cynical visions of Democrats and Republicans alike who are more beholden to their funders than their voters.  This cannot be done without the democratic participation of an activated mass of people aware that their only means to attain a better future is through struggle.


This is no easy task, but if there’s one lesson we can take from 2017 it’s that struggle works. Between the airport occupations against the Muslim travel ban, to the civil disobedience that squashed the repeal of the ACA, to the mass demonstrations following Charlottesville that forced alt-righters across the country to cancel their events, we should take confidence in the fact that we can win these battles.  Due to our current atomization and lack of independence, we can expect to lose much more than we win at the beginning, but the steps we take now to build an independent opposition will clear the road for future victories for our side. Alex is a member of the ISO and an organizer in Greensboro


OUT IN THE COLD By Taylor Briggs For many, snow represents a muchappreciated day off work, clunky men comprised of three snow balls in the front yard, and a warm cup of coffee with a view of the winter season outside the window – but for Greensboro’s roughly 900 homeless residents, snow represents discomfort, illness, and potential risk to personal health and safety. This week, many people experiencing homelessness in our city sought emergency relief in facilities supported through Greensboro Urban Ministry and the IRC (Interactive Resource Center). These programs offer support to people experiencing homelessness in the form of food resources, shelter, and community. I sat with local advocate and philanthropist Brantley Grier for more insight into what’s being done to support our homeless population. “About ten years ago we started what’s called the Winter Emergency Shelters here in Greensboro. A group of different non-profits came together. We decided that something needs to be done over the winter months, because there is not enough space here in Greensboro Urban Ministries. So, a group of churches and us decided that we were going to have different spots open during the winter, and that’s been going on for ten years now…”

I spoke to Grier at the Greensboro Urban Ministry facility on Eugene Street at around 3:30 in the afternoon. He had just gotten off a third shift at West Market Street Church, and was continuing to push through the afternoon, providing assistance to the facility’s many visitors, who were congregated in the lobby. “…and the different churches are West Market, Grace, Mount Zion, and New Jerusalem which is at Summit House. ” Alongside Greensboro Urban Ministry’s Winter Emergency Shelters program, the IRC provides emergency relief through its White Flag program. Grier and his colleagues in Greensboro Urban Ministry and the IRC work tirelessly to provide support and relief to our community’s homeless population; but these organizations are supported almost entirely through monetary donations from the community and volunteered time and resources.Last year, only about 2% of Greensboro Urban Ministry’s annual revenue was provided through government grants, while 47% was provided through contributions and bequests. Although the financial support of private citizens is generous, the organization still struggles to balance revenue with expenses and provide adequate support for the entire homeless population in


Greensboro. Which begs the question – what is the City of Greensboro doing to help its residents who lack secure housing? Outside of funneling money donated to the city in the form of federal grants to local agencies through Partners Ending Homelessness, very little. For what it’s worth, greensboro-nc.gov’s entire webpage for Homeless Prevention Services is fewer than 150 words, and includes a redirect link to the Partners Ending Homelessness (a state AmeriCorps program) website and a phone number for United Way. What’s not included is any information on how the City of Greensboro can directly provide support to residents experiencing homelessness, or any line of communication for people to reach city government to talk about issues regarding homelessness in our city. “It seems like a couple years ago, there was more being done,” explains Grier. “There were more people to be involved…from both the city and the community. It’s just – things happen, because of funding issues, or maybe some churches just couldn’t handle it, or some organizations might have dissolved…but the need is still there – it’s definitely still there. ” Grier goes on to describe the need for family shelters as perhaps the most pressing concern for our city’s homeless population: “Right now only the YWCA hosts women and children. Pathways hosts families, but it’s not a shelter – it’s transitional living. So in the winter time, let’s say a husband and wife and children are out in the cold – we

might be able to get the mom into somewhere; might be able to get the dad into somewhere; but where are the children going to go if the YWCA is filled? There needs to be more shelters that can accommodate families at the drop of the dime, even if it’s not snowing, even if it’s the summer. I see that as our biggest need.” I went onto ask Grier if he believes the city will find a way to fund shelters that can accommodate homeless families: “I would hope so. I think a bigger emphasis needs to be placed on that. I believe that there are some things the city, if given the opportunity and maybe shown how to do things…I believe that they want to, but I don’t think the need is brought up to them as much and is not pushed towards them as much as it could be.” Still, Grier maintains a sense of optimism for the City of Greensboro’s involvement in supporting people experiencing homelessness in our community, especially with some of the recent changes in City Council: “If something’s brought up repeatedly over, and over, and over – then you see the need. I think now with certain peoples’ ears on there, all they need to do is hear it once or twice. Now with Michelle (Kennedy) on there and Sharon (Hightower)…you know, people who are on the streets, talking to people, seeing them face-to-face.” The City of Greensboro has a responsibility in supporting its homeless residents; and we as the public have a responsibility in letting 


the city know that this issue is important to us. Let’s take Grier’s advice, and play our role in holding our representatives accountable by bringing up the need for homelessness relief “repeatedly over, and over, and over.” Taylor Briggs is a member of DSA and a contributor for PLR.


CULTURE


Wearing the Immigrant Uniform BY JOEL SRONCE

A young boy from Alabama, maybe

jersey for the Mexican national

eight years old, rode east across the

soccer team. He hadn’t seen the man

state into bordering Georgia. He went

they were all going to visit, the man

with his mother and his sister, who’s a

who he calls Dad, since Mexico

couple of years older. Maybe it was

qualified for the 2018 World Cup.

quiet in the car. Or maybe the siblings

Even as a young kid, he was eager for

were fighting, or laughing, playing car

the look in Dad’s eyes: A bright

games. Maybe the mother stole looks

human moment that waited at the

at them through the rearview mirror.

end of their road.

His sister wore a small shirt, nothing

David Fraccaro saw the boy and his

out of the ordinary. Maybe it was a

family when they arrived.

little tight on her; maybe there were no sleeves.

“He was as country as you get,” Fraccaro told me in an interview. The

But the boy’s shirt thrilled him, filled

boy, his mother and sister were

their journey with meaning. It was the

white, each with as thick a southern


accent as you could find.

Why’s my dad inside? Why did I just get turned away? And I have all this

The family had arrived before

fear. And I’m hearing the terror in my

Fraccaro, but all were now stalled in

mom’s voice. I really wanted to show

the area between a parking lot and a

my dad and just have one bright

gated entrance. Maybe the boy

human moment with my dad inside,

tugged at his jersey self-consciously;

and now I’m being told I can’t even

maybe his mother held his hand, or

wear this uniform?

busied herself with his tousled hair. It was a moment that broke Fraccaro “Guys, help them figure out what to

completely.

do here,” a man’s voice growled. “They can’t go and visit like this in these

This is dehumanization. It’s the

clothes.”

process by which state oppression functions. It allows for divisive,

The instructions came from one of the

excruciating, and intolerable

guards at the Stewart Detention

systemic practices that we should all

Center in Lumpkin, Georgia. His orders

rail against.

referenced the siblings, who like Fraccaro, were waiting to visit

It’s having your possessions taken

someone inside.

away, being put in a uniform, thrown inside and barked at by guards. It’s

Fraccaro watched the mother, who

not having enough money in your

had driven for hours from Alabama.

commissary account to afford the

He witnessed her panic, her

prison’s peanut butter and oats — the

desperation and anger. And he

only food that gives you the energy

watched the kid, his young face

to want to exercise, or to bother

broken with the impossible attempt

going out for your two hours of

at making sense of what was

sunlight. It’s receiving solitary

happening.

confinement for speaking up. It’s being shipped back to the poverty

Helplessly, Fraccaro began to imagine

and violence you fled.

the child’s thoughts, staring at the barbed-wire fence and the terrible,

Dehumanization is the incalculable

impenetrable distance between

mental-health toll on children who

himself and the man he considers his

don’t understand, and on the adults

father:

who are unable to explain it to them.


It’s the for-profit prison companies

Fraccaro now serves as the director

that hold in horrible conditions black

for the FaithAction International

and brown citizens by the millions,

House in Greensboro, NC.

the same companies that order tens

Throughout their twenty-year history,

of thousands of new mother-child

the organization has worked

beds to be shipped to their detention

alongside new immigrants and

centers near the southern border. It’s

refugees each year, hoping to

the writing on the wall: The plaques of

educate and connect them to others

leading white men in the visitation

across lines of culture and faith.

room of a detention center with a mostly African-American staff,

Back in the centers in New York and

underpaid and trapped in a

New Jersey, Fraccaro saw the

depressed economy dependent on

number of detentions rise

jobs from the center. It’s the

exponentially throughout the post-

company’s annual revenues

9/11 Bush presidency. He saw

exceeding one-billion dollars.

numbers continue to grow under Obama, then take on a new form

These are the realities that can only

under Trump.

be executed through dehumanization, through normalizing

“What [Trump] was throwing out in

a crimmigration system upheld by

terms of threats around immigration

racism, xenophobia, and a lack of

— that wasn’t just a bark; the bite has

unified, uncompromising opposition.

come,” Fraccaro said. “There’s been a 25% increase from 2016 in terms of

**

immigration arrests — what they call ‘inland,’ not necessarily including

This wasn’t Fraccaro’s first time at a

border arrests, which are actually

detention facility. Far from it. He

down because supposedly less

worked as an actor in New York City in

people are trying to cross — and

the years leading up to September 11.

there’s been a 42% increase in the

After the towers came down, he

amount of people that had no

began to go to a church that had a

criminal histories. We’re definitely

program to visit immigrants inside

seeing that played out here [in North

detention centers. He went one

Carolina].”

Saturday, then he went every weekend for eight years. The course of

It’s not only the number of detainees

his life changed.

that has grown in recent years. As


mass incarceration and deportations

(CCA), who operates the

have spiked simultaneously over the

aforementioned Stewart facility

last several decades — restructuring

along with many other detention

the legality of the discrimination of

centers and private prisons, was co-

black, brown and working-class

founded by the former chairman of

people — the accompanying

the Tennessee Republican Party,

neoliberal policies have permitted

Thomas W. Beasley. On CoreCivic’s

systemic privatization. Private prisons

website, Beasley writes that the

have been welcomed with open arms.

company’s founding in 1983 (on the immediate heels of Ronald Reagan’s

Fraccaro explained:

war on drugs) was not due to exploiting the exploding

There are only about 10 federally-run

incarceration rates, but due to the

detention facilities nationally of the

government-operated prisons’

200 that are out there. And they’re

“absolute lack of competition.”

saying… ‘Why not look at the prison

Beasley writes, “We became

model and privatize companies that

innovative competition in an arena

we can then pay to run these

that had never before had

detention facilities?’ And that’s the

competition.” He describes their

whole idea of criminalizing the

standards as “the Bible of proper

immigrant who’s put inside for a

prison management in this country.”

misdemeanor crime… run by folks who are trained to run prisons…

The Stewart facility alone has been

We have in our policies that a certain

targeted for closure for years.

number of immigrants are to be

According to Detention Watch

detained on any given day. That’s put

Network, problems at the Stewart

into a budget, and so there’s a certain

center include, “physical and verbal

amount of money, then, that is given

abuse, spoiled food and nonpotable

to these private prison companies. Of

water, lack of recreation time,

course, those same companies

minimal access to legal materials,

sometimes will give back to the

substandard medical care, little

campaigns of either state or federal

oversight or accountability and the

representatives that are going to push

absence of any meaningful grievance

for certain policies that keep them in

procedures.”

business. Yet in all their Bible-like propriety, CoreCivic, formerly the

CoreCivic locked in a total revenue of

Corrections Corporation of America 

$1.85 billion in 2016, up from $1.79


billion the previous year.

When he looks at the bouquet today, Fraccaro still asks himself, “How was

**

somebody able to hang in there and create that kind of beauty in the

In his years of experience, as for

midst of that kind of hell?”

anyone working among populations assailed by mass incarceration and

It’s a rhetorical question for which

mass deportations, Fraccaro has seen

Fraccaro doesn’t have an answer. No

hate, desperation and loss. But to no

one does. But he searches for the

surprise, he has seen unassailable

personal, for the compassion and

humanity and beauty, too.

hope necessary to help keep someone afloat.

In New Jersey, Fraccaro worked with an organization that sent phone cards

**

to immigrants at a detention facility, among them a group of Tibetan,

Back at the Stewart Detention

Colombian and Somali women. (For

Center in Georgia, as the young boy

the record, you can’t do that at

stood broken and bewildered,

Stewart; you can only use the

Fraccaro wondered about him. A

expensive phone card company with

white kid from a mostly-white town

which the center has a financial

in Alabama: How much does he wear

agreement.)

his Mexico soccer uniform? How much does he talk about it? How

The New Jersey facility permitted no

much pride does he have in it?

scissors and no books, but it allowed construction paper, which Fraccaro’s

Whatever the case, on this day, he

organization sent as well.

proudly wore the jersey for the Mexican man who Fraccaro believed

The women would sharpen the phone

was the boy’s stepfather. And he was

cards and use them to cut the paper.

turned away.

The result, Fraccaro described, was “the most beautiful bouquet of

At a loss, Fraccaro began talking to

colorful paper flowers you’ve ever

the eight-year-old.

seen in your life.” A soup can from the commissary held it together at the

“Oh wow, Mexico’s your team, huh?”

bottom. (The bouquet sits in the

Fraccaro asked. “That’s awesome;

FaithAction House in Greensboro.)

they’re my team as well.”


This kindled a conversation. Soon

Like the bouquet, Fraccaro has seen

Fraccaro brought up a different kind

astonishing humanity across

of football. As it turned out, neither

languages and cultures in the midst

could believe that Auburn had just

of the hell of detention. Like with the

beaten Alabama.

young boy, many times all it took was soccer.

“It brought a little bit of relief to the gravity of the moment,” Fraccaro

In New Jersey the detainees didn’t

explained.

have outside-time, only recreationroom time. They would crumple up a

It helped them bond; it helped the

ball with a bunch of rubber bands.

boy feel safe with Fraccaro’s group, as

They would connect with those from

they took them to a detention

other nations and cultures without

visitation center nearby to get new

the same language, yet who would

clothes.

still knew the same rules of soccer. Their terrible conditions were

Fraccaro doesn’t know for sure, but he

ballasted, for a moment, with the

said he believed the guards found a

evanescent retreat of sports.

problem with the shirt of the boy’s

Connected they were some of the

sister, so they ordered both of them to

tiny moments of transcendence that

change.

made their condition endurable.

Maybe it was a little tight on her;

“If you shared a soccer ball,

maybe there were no sleeves.

celebrated a goal, had a funny moment — even without knowing

She was 10 years old.

the same language you have a common goal,” Fraccaro

“There was nothing wrong with the

remembered.

clothes,” Fraccaro fumed during our interview, his voice faltering.

Occasionally, in Georgia as well as New Jersey, when detainees didn’t

He thinks, or maybe he hopes, that

want to talk about what was going

eventually, the kids got in. He hopes

on in the facility, they would talk

the boy was able to simply put

about their soccer games inside. And

something on over the uniform, still

they wanted to know how their

able to lift it up to show his dad their

favorite teams were doing in the

jersey.

outside world. (Stop and think about that.)


Sometimes there were TVs in certain

connected someone to a president, a

detention centers. When some of the

senator or CEO. Because an injury to

West African teams played in the early

one is an injury to all.

2000s, Fraccaro remembers how much hope and pride the games

So many immigrants and refugees

carried for the many of the detainees.

who have not been detained have

In that kind of hell, watching their

had the courage to establish their

team was a chance to reclaim a sense

agency and enact change. The

of dignity.

mega-marches in 2006 brought down the proposed mass-

**

criminalization of the undocumented, and relentless sit-ins

These are nice images, but they do

and political pressure by the

not display “good immigrants”

DREAMers won DACA in 2012.

mistaken for “bad” ones, nor do they suddenly reveal a humanity that the

Without revitalizing and amplifying

detainees might not otherwise have

these movements and the active

possessed.

solidarity that brings larger systemic challenges into the same fight,

And our empathy is not action.

international systems of oppression aren’t going anywhere.

We should not fight for due process, for safety from detention and

Finding empathy with detainees is

deportation, for amnesty, and for

important to their struggle, their

revolutionary systemic change

sustenance and their humanity. But

because they are “good immigrants,”

without turning that empathy into

nor because they are exceptionalized.

action, the physically detained will

We should not fight because they are

not achieve their freedom, and

DREAMers, but because they are

neither will anyone who fights for a

human beings. Because they flee

better world.

some form of a US-backed hell in their home-country to enter an over-

Joel Sronce is a contributor at PLR

policed neighborhood in a new land.

and an organizer in Greensboro

Because they share more in common with the working class across the world than some fabricated shared value or interest or flag ever


Jan18 vol1 iss2  

January Issue of PLR! The Triad's Socialist Magazine. Pieces by: Taylor Briggs Garrison Clark Alex Macmillan Joel Sronce

Jan18 vol1 iss2  

January Issue of PLR! The Triad's Socialist Magazine. Pieces by: Taylor Briggs Garrison Clark Alex Macmillan Joel Sronce

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