Views in brief

April 25, 2008

Discrimination in Providence

DAVID RICHARDSON, merchant and proprietor of R.I. Refrigeration Supply Company Inc., received the surprise of a lifetime on March 1, 2008.

Richardson, a proud member of Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement (RIILE), asked to view the Social Security cards of two of his patrons when he heard them speaking Spanish. José Genao and his friend, both of whom are U.S. citizens, say that Richardson appeared to be bothered because one of the men seemed to need a translator, and that he accused them of being "illegal criminals" and responsible for all the economic and social problems of this country.

Genao respectfully told the man that he did not have the legal right to either ask for his Social Security card or about his immigration status, at which point Richardson flashed his RIILE membership card. He picked up the phone threatening to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and said that he could make a citizen's arrest and had every right to ask for documentation.

When interviewed by the local newspaper, the Providence Journal, Richardson said that anyone who breaks the law should be punished. The funny thing is, he's the one that broke the law. Richardson, a Reform Party member and former Senate candidate, has admitted that on 15 to 20 occasions, he has refused service to others who haven't displayed their Social Security cards to him. Only this time did he get caught.

The sad thing is that Richardson actually believes he has a legal right to demand to see people's Social Security cards. According to the ACLU, by demanding a Social Security number, he violated a state law related to unfair sales practices. Richardson also broke a civil rights law by prohibiting service on the basis of race or origin in places of public accommodation.

This type of infraction normally goes through the Human Rights Commission, which then imposes a fine, and recommends that better treatment of customers be a store policy and a public apology be made to the community.

Many Hispanic civic and religious leaders rallied near the store the day after the news broke to call upon authorities to conduct an investigation and close down the store, and for Richardson to issue a public apology.

Although he does not want any fame, José Genao was admired for coming forward and talking about the discrimination he and his friend encountered. Such action informs people that this sort of thing is happening and is illegal. And, if a person happens to be in a similar situation, it encourages them to speak out.
Mayra Paulino, Providence, R.I.

Time for us to take a break

AT MY workplace, my coworkers and I typically work nine-hour shifts standing on our feet without a formal break. Our supervisors allow us to "sneak in" a bite in between customers, but it is not the same as a formal break where we can sit down in a chair and rest for a few minutes.

Many of us knew that this was wrong, and against the law, but few of us had the confidence to speak up about it and demand a 15-minute break.

Over the last few months, I have been building political relationships with my coworkers, discussing such issues such as the continued occupation of Iraq, the presidential debates and health care.

I befriended one coworker in particular, and we got to talking about how unfair it is to not have a break. We got to talking about workers' rights in general, and I suggested that if we stand together as a team, and not as individuals, we may feel less intimidated and more confident in approaching management. She agreed.

We developed a strategy where, every morning at a certain time, we took turns taking a 15-minute break. While one of us was eating, we would cover for each other and then switch off. We did this for a couple of weeks. Not all of us were on board. Some of my coworkers bragged about being able to work up to 14 hours without needing a break like the rest of us. But most of us were on board.

Our efforts really paid off. Management eventually got the hint. We came in to work one morning, and there was a tiny table and chair set up for us for when we take our morning break. We were all pretty excited about this, and we learned how when we stick together as workers and fight for what we deserve, we can get it.
Jessica Carmona-Baez, Rochester, N.Y.

Obama doesn't offer a solution

BRUCE BURLESON makes a number of mistakes in his letter ("Socialists should vote Obama," March 28).

Firstly, Ralph Nader and his supporters don't deserve any ironic "congratulations" for 2000. Voter turnout was less than 60 percent in that election--which means there was a whole base of potential support Gore and the Democrats failed to muster. Gore also refused to build a grassroots challenge to the outcome of the election, relying instead on the tender mercies of the Supreme Court. It's pretty clear where the "congratulations" for 2000 should go.

Secondly, Barack Obama's positions on many of the leading issues of the day line up perfectly with Corporate America--from the war in Iraq (no withdrawal before 2013, if ever) to health care (keep privatized health care running) to the mortgage crisis (put the burden on the homeowners and let the banks off the hook).

He's not "better" than Hillary Clinton. He's Clinton's policies in a potentially more marketable package. As socialists and militant activists have argued in this paper's pages, those policies aren't solutions at all--they're snake oil that lets the crises deepen.

The job of revolutionary socialists is to mount a challenge to the crises of capitalism, not to help cause them. Voting Democrat--whether it's Obama or Edwards or Clinton--is doing nothing to challenge the problems, and everything to make them worse.
Jeff Skinner, Ankara, Turkey

Don't stereotype Iraqis

I FOUND the recent review of Patrick Cockburn's book quite useful and informative as to the historical context of al-Sadr's rise as a force within Iraqi politics ("The rise of Moktada al-Sadr," April 11).

I must admit, however, that the article's use of the word "tribe" was irritating. Specifically, the article referred to how during the genocidal UN sanctions regime in the 1990s, "Saddam was able to consolidate his police state around Sunnis from his tribe," and that during Bush's recent surge, the U.S. made peace with "the Sunni tribes."

The danger with characterizations like this is that they play into racist and colonialist Western stereotypes of Iraqi ethnic or religious groups as primitive, backward, irrational, monolithic or eternal. The recent outbreak violence in Kenya, for example, is often referred to as "tribal conflict," even though the roots of the instability are actually economic and political.

By contrast, no one would refer to the "Catholic tribe" or "Protestant tribe" in Northern Ireland, not only because those groups are primarily white people, but also because they are religious sects of Christianity. Similarly, "Sunni" is a sect of Islam and, like any religious sect, it is by no means monolithic even within itself.

Obviously, the purpose of the article was to offer serious and detailed analysis of a complicated modern resistance movement in Iraq--and to cut against the racism and stereotyping which pervades so much of the discussion about it. This purpose is better served if we dispense with misleading and insensitive language.
Brian Kwoba, Boston