Going to APHA?

The American Public Health Association holds its Annual Meeting October 29-November 2 for over 13,000 members.  Blog editors and other anti-racist public health workers will support 2 resolutions on police violence and cholera in Haiti.  If you belong to APHA, come to the hearing on Sunday, October 30 from 3:30 to 6:00 in the Convention Center.

Here are some excerpts:

United Nations’ Accountability for its Role in the Haitian Cholera Epidemic

Decades of neglect of water and sanitation infrastructure have left the Haitian population vulnerable to outbreaks of waterborne illness.  Despite the vulnerability of the population, United Nations’ forces (troops of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, or MINUSTAH) failed to take adequate precautions with their sewage, allowing human waste infected with cholera to contaminate the Haitian water supply.  Since the cholera outbreak began in Haiti in October 2010, there have been at least 9,229 deaths and 789,242 Haitians infected (more than 1 in 16 citizens), as of August 27, 2016.  Given the role played by United Nations’ (UN) troops in the Haitian cholera epidemic, the APHA urges the UN to take leadership in guaranteeing that the National Plan for the Elimination of Cholera in Haiti (National Plan) is properly funded.  The United Nations’ own special rapporteur released a report in August of 2016 urging the secretary-general to take responsibility for the introduction of cholera in Haiti and advising the UN to make financial restitution for this mistake.  Following this report, the spokesperson for the UN secretary-general acknowledged the UN’s role in causing the cholera epidemic, however there has been no commitment on the part of the UN to take financial responsibility for the crisis.  Without a long-term plan for building a national water and sanitation system, Haiti will remain vulnerable to cholera outbreaks annually during the rainy season and whenever a natural disaster occurs.  Hurricane Matthew, which struck Haiti on October 4, 2016, has already led to a surge in cases—more than 1400 new infections in the 2 weeks immediately after the Hurricane.

Police Violence as a Public Health Issue

Harassment and violence by law enforcement officers result in deaths, injuries, trauma and stress, which disproportionately affect people of color and other marginalized populations including immigrants, homeless individuals, members of the LGBT communities, and individuals with mental illness. Officers are rarely held accountable for acts of violence and harassment for several reasons, including an insular police culture, laws that interfere with investigation and prosecution around misconduct (e.g. Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights), and insufficient civilian oversight. Numerous laws and policies have the effect of promoting and intensifying harassment and violence towards specific populations by police, including those associated the “war on drugs,” criminalization of sex work and of behaviors associated with homelessness such as loitering, and anti-immigrant legislation. While some argue that rates of violence and harassment can be reduced by implementing strategies such as community-based policing or through technological tools such as body- or dashboard-mounted cameras and conducted electrical weapons (CEWs), limited evidence supports the effectiveness of these approaches. Instead, a public health strategy for preventing police violence and harassment should include four main elements: decriminalization, robust police accountability measures, increased investment in policies promoting racial and economic equity, and community-based alternatives for addressing harms and preventing violence and crime, such as community-run restorative justice and violence intervention programs.

Union Organizing

Racism often characterized and determined the success or failure of union organizing and strikes.  The Knights of Labor, formed in the 1880s, included black and white skilled and unskilled workers while the trades oriented AFL refused to admit black or unskilled workers.  The IWW, the Wobblies, led by leftists, organized multiracial struggles in the mines and other industries.  In the 1930s as the Depression deepened, the communist led CIO recruited black and white skilled and unskilled workers.  However, its inclusionary practices didn’t often extend to fighting the extra exploitation black workers faced in more dangerous and lesser paid jobs.  The labor movement reveals how workers overcame or capitulated to the racism the capitalists nurtured to maintain their own wealth and power.

Here are some select examples. More to come.


The Sharecroppers Strike of 1939sharecropper-strike


In the 1930s, cotton prices plummeted so the government paid the landowners to stop planting.  This money was to be shared with the sharecroppers.  Instead, over 900,000 lost their cropping jobs.


Faced with starvation, the croppers organized and went on strike in 1939 setting up camps along the highway in the southeastern Bootheel area of Missouri.  Over 250 families joined the strike led by black workers, supported by the Southern Tenant Farmers Union, religious leaders and Lincoln University students.


sharecropper-strike-childrenWhite sharecroppers joined as well.  Many were members of the Klan but rejected the false promises of superiority in exchange for an opportunity to win real change.  They stuck together through the brutal winter until they were able to secure land.  After many government reprisals against them, the government moved many to housing but segregated it.  Conditions did not change.  Planters used the croppers as day laborers, which maintained poverty and instability.


The strike leaders built an integrated cooperative called Cropperville.  Everyone contributed what they could; they farmed and worked collectively, putting their products from food to clothing in a warehouse where people could take what they needed.


This little known struggle demonstrates the power of multiracial solidarity, grassroots black leadership, militancy, and a collective outlook.  See the excellent DVD, O Freedom After While, by California Newsreel for the story and images of black and white families camping together.


  1. The Southern Tenant Farmers Union- STFU


The STFU organized black and white farmers in the deep South during the 1930s, playing a leading role in sharecropper strikes, such as the 1939 strike described above.  Black and white Communist Party and Socialist Party members helped organize and lead it.  Its integrated membership and militancy drove the Southern planters, politicians, and the feds crazy.  They used the Klan to attack Union meetings, beating up and killing its members.  Many Klan members did join the STFU as they lost their jobs and income.


Evictions and unemployment shaped the lives of black and white sharecroppers in the 1930s.  New Deal programs excluded and shortchanged most African Americans.  In 1934, croppers in Tyronza, Arkansas established the Union as an integrated organization, declaring that blacks and whites had the same problem and same enemy: “let’s starve together” was their slogan during the 1935 strike.  The planters used anti-communism to try to break the union, but many members followed their leadership.


The Union’s multiracial solidarity, the involvement of women, and partnerships with local churches served as a model for later anti-racist and women’s movements.