Lauri Love is facing extradition, and potentially torture in U.S. prisons, if he is extradited from the U.K. for allegedly taking part in an Anonymous hacking operation in retaliation for the death of Aaron Swartz. On Wednesday, I appeared on Black Tower Radio to discuss the Love case, along with my coverage of the Green Party Convention and the need for electoral reform. I also briefly discussed an upcoming article for The Establishment about how veterans treat themselves with cannabis.
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected, in part, on a promise to change how the next government gets elected.
Although Canada’s electoral reform is very much a work in progress, activists and politicians alike are working to eliminate a majority-rule system in favor of a different, still-to-be-determined, but hopefully more representational form of voting.
“We want proportional representation,” said Kelly Carmichael, executive director of Fair Vote Canada, in an interview with Truthout, referring to one type of alternate voting system being considered.
“We never want to be stuck in a situation again where one person can take over the governance of our country,” she added, referring to Stephen Harper, Trudeau’s predecessor.
Although the US and Canada use very different systems, we can learn a great deal from this historic moment, particularly at a time when US voter turnout is plummeting and dissatisfaction with the available choices on the ballot is on the rise.
“A good 75 percent of us were arrested on the first day,” says disability rights activist Danny Saenz, laughing as he recalls a direct action he was part of in the early 1990s, soon after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Saenz and other activists with disabilities had traveled to Orlando, Florida, for the annual convention of the American Health Care Association, the most powerful nursing home lobbying group in the country.
“We went to their hotel and we took it over, and the whole bunch of us were rounded up and we spent three days in jail,” he told Truthout.
Saenz has been a member of the disability rights group ADAPT for over 25 years, and that day in Florida was just one of many times he’s been arrested while protesting for civil rights, often after having chained his wheelchair to other activists.
In our interview, Saenz — from Austin, Texas — is genial and soft-spoken, but he says that at protests, he and his allies are anything but quiet. “Our chant as we were fixing to get arrested was ‘We’d rather go to jail than die in a nursing home,'” he said.
More than two decades after that protest, hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities are still in nursing homes, where their movement may be highly restricted, even when they could be living more independent lives with the right support from their communities.
At a protest in downtown Denver, on April 29, 2015, a police officer stole Jessica Benn’s smartphone.
Benn had been filming her husband, Jesse, from the safety of the sidewalk as police arrested him. That was enough for her to be targeted and to have her property illegally seized.
“An officer just stepped up to me and grabbed it right out of my hand,” she told Truthout. “Right behind him was an officer in SWAT gear who then took me and pushed me up against a bus with a baton across my neck and held me there.”
Benn grew increasingly alarmed as the officer ignored her questions.
“It was very chaotic, people were yelling and getting arrested all around us, and the nature of the arrests were very violent. So at that point I was concerned about my safety and I told this officer that I was pregnant and could he please not hurt my stomach.”
Before his first phone interview, Tim Burgess, a former prisoner, sent Truthout an email describing his experience during transport from a state prison in Vermont to a private prison 1,000 miles away in Kentucky.
“Imagine being ripped from a sound sleep, told to pack your belongings,” he wrote. “Having orders shouted at you, and being shackled at 2 am, when you have not done anything wrong and were a model inmate. When you ask questions because you have a heart condition, the only answer is, ‘Quiet inmate!’ And that was the first 20 minutes…”
Prisoners are secretly moved through US cities every day by bus, van or even airplane. The longest trips can involve days in cramped seats with a limited range of motion; prisoners remain heavily shackled even on rest stops and during meals. Being transferred is already a disorienting experience for any prisoner, usually tearing them away from their families and friends. Prisoners are often forced to drop out of classes or lose some of their valued possessions like books or musical instruments.
However, an issue that is rarely touched on is the brutality of the transport itself: The journey between prisons can be a traumatic experience that lingers long after the hours spent on the road.
Jeremy Hammond has spent two birthdays in captivity now since his conviction, but his friends have promised to celebrate each one. As with many political prisoners, his supporters send him cards, but they’ve also invented a new tradition: turning his birthday party into political protest against his enemies.
Hammond was sentenced to a decade’s imprisonment in November 2013 for his part in the hack of Strategic Forecasting Inc., or Stratfor, an Austin, Texas-based private intelligence agency. As part of LulzSec, an infamous collective from the Anonymous movement, Hammond liberated 5 million emails and the credit card numbers of Stratfor’s clients, which included government and military officials. The emails became part of a searchable archive on Wikileaks called the Global Intelligence files, while Anonymous used some of the credit card numbers to charge donations to charity.