Standing Up To Big Brother: Thenmozhi Soundarajan



Trump has been critiqued, among other things, as the troll-in-chief. His presidential win can be credited to the rise of alt-right internet 'trolls,' complex bots, and the online harassment of his opponents. Our guest this week, Thenmozhi Soundararajan, a Dalit organizer, filmmaker, and activist, says the spread of online attacks comes with vast offline risks for communities in danger. When Steve Bannon, an avowed white nationalist, serves on the National Security Council, with access to the largest police and surveillance apparatus in world history, there's a problem we haven't even gauged yet, says Soundararajan.

Laura speaks with Thenmozhi about the history of surveillance as a tool for state control and violence. And why, to build an effective resistance against the threat represented by Breitbart and the NSA, resources need to go to counter measures. Although the language of cybersecurity can seem overwhelming, simple tools and training can reduce an average person's risk by 80%, says our guest. For undocumented immigrants, women, and people of color, these practices can make the difference between life and prison. She and her colleagues know first-hand, from their own experience of a hack attack sourced to the extremist Modi government in India.

Thenmozhi Soundararajan is the executive director of human rights and security startup Equality Labs, director of the film Dalit Women Fight!, and the first Dalit woman on Facebook. She is a transmedia storyteller, technologist, and journalist who has won countless awards for her versatile work. Find Equality Labs digital security one-sheets at

#countersurveillance #digitalsecurity

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F-Word: Taking a Breath from the Political Moment

Take a breath. Are you breathing? I noticed the other day I hadn’t taken a real breath in weeks. There just doesn’t seem to be time, under the onslaught of executive orders. If the number one goal of the incoming administration was to stress civil society they need to dig out Bush’s banner and stand in front of it on an aircraft carrier somewhere: Mission Accomplished. And that, I suspect, is exactly the point.

If Naomi Klein was writing Shock Doctrine today I bet she’d call the Trump term so far one great big shock event. Shocks are intended throw society into chaos…

And that’s exactly what’s happened where I am: protests every evening, new panics every morning. President Trump is pushing every available panic button and seeing which ones work. Try it: Bald face lie to the press about factual events and see if they can stay focussed; ban immigrants from certain countries and faiths — just try it out; fire all the senior State Department staff the ones with relations with foreign leaders, fire the Attorney General, shakeup the National Security Council.

Create an executive team that’s packed with unaccountable political propagandists and almost no one with government experience.  If the goal was to stress civil society: cities, the courts, the press, the diplomatic corps and the military? Check Check Check Check. Trump’s first weeks in office have done all that brilliantly.

So what next? As Historian Heather Richardson has pointed out shock events can work in two ways - Confederate leaders used shock to railroad early Southern States into leaving the union. Lincoln used the same shock to pull together a brand new coalition that rededicated itself to government, “a government of the People, by the people ad for the people.” IN fact… Which way are we going to go?

As Anna Julia Cooper told us over a century ago, a bridge is only as strong as its weakest link. The Trump Bannon mob know just where our weakest link is. It’s the one we feel to each other. That prophetically American, always bitterly contested definition of the People. As the Movement For Black Lives forced us to answer: Who’s in “We the People” and who’s out? If we can breath into that, and breath a little, we’ll make it through this.

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A Vision for the Progressive Left: Transcript


Bhaskar Sunkara: Hi, I'm Bhaskar Sunkara. I'm the editor of Jacobin magazine. I'm here with Jonah Birch, who is a contributing editor at Jacobin and a graduate student in sociology at New York University. I'm also here with Kate Aronoff, who is the cohost of the Dissent podcast Hot and Bothered as well as a writing fellow at In These Times. I guess there's a lot of media narratives that are focusing on how Trump's a completely new phenomenon, where he just emerged out of a vacuum. It went straight from reality TV sets to the White House. To what extent is there continuity between Trump and the Tea Party, between Trump and just the conservative movement generally? How do you see it?

Kate Aronoff: There's a lot of bad narratives about how Trump came about. The one you mentioned is that he came out of nowhere and was just this reality TV star, and was preying on people's worst impulses. I think where he really came from is in the priming that the GOP has been doing for years and years and years, most acutely with the Tea Party. The base of the Tea Party looks very similar to Trump's base. It's a lot of middle-class white folks, and there was real organizing in the Tea Party in a way that I think gets a little bit ignored when we're talking about the narrative of Trump, which is that the Tea Party had grassroots organizers, had this real organic presence in many parts of the country, and this real genuine energy, which of course was bolstered by folks like the Koch brothers, by these big think tanks and organizations truly moved into place when the Tea Party momentum started taking off.

Of course, as we've seen in the last couple days, Donald Trump's cabinet, all of his policy agendas, have been taken out of these playbooks. He's not really ... There are things that are genuinely new about Trump, and maybe we can talk about that later, but a lot of it is very standard, even down to his economic plan. It's things that the Republican Party has been doing for a very long time.

Bhaskar Sunkara: There has been over the past two years this divide between the Tea Party-inspired wing as well as a traditional Chamber of Commerce-style business wing. I guess that's best represented by people like Paul Ryan in Congress that are already butting heads on certain issues with Donald Trump. How deep are these fissures in the Republican Party? Do you think these are just things that will be papered over? Will one wing win? Is there a possibility that the Steve Bannon wing of the Republican Party is really going to be in the driver's seat?

Jonah Birch:I think that the short answer to that is no. I don't think that there is a possibility that ... It's not just amongst the Republican Party. What we're asking is whether the American ruling class and political establishment is going to lose power, essentially, in this context. I don't think that's the case. Clearly, this is a moment of crisis, and the mainstream Republicans and really the entire American elite ... The election of Donald Trump that they were expecting or wanted to see happen. You definitely see these splits developing within the Republican Party between, on the one hand, the dominant business wing that really I think controls the party, and sections of its base, and what Kate was talking about in terms of small business owners, white suburban middle-class professionals. I think you saw in the government shutdown of was it the fall of 2013, that was something that business really did not want. In the course of the primary and this election, there was a degree of disorganization, obviously, that meant that even though Trump was not their preferred candidate, they didn't get what they wanted. Still nonetheless, I think that to the extent that he is empowering people who are beyond the pale of mainstream politics, there are going to be lots of constraints, structural constraints, institutional constraints, that are going to limit how far they're going to be able to diverge from the consensus in American politics.

Bhaskar Sunkara: We often talk about these fissures in the Republican Party, but it did seem at least in the last election that there wasn't the anticipated defections over from the Republican side to the Democratic side that Hillary Clinton and others were banking on. I think a lot of people thought that suburban women, especially, lots of other traditionally Republican constituencies, would swing in great enough numbers over to Clinton that the election would be a cakewalk. How do you explain Clinton's loss? Not among just these constituencies, but just in general.

Kate Aronoff: How long do you have?

Bhaskar Sunkara: We have lots of time. I think initially, right after the election, there was a lot of emphasis on okay, Clinton didn't campaign enough in the Rust Belt, and she was a pretty bad campaigner. She didn't go to those states, and the Democrats didn't have a narrative around class or around speaking to people's concerns. Lately, there's been all these other factors added in. There's been a lot of talk about Russian interference in the election and the hacking of the DNC and whatnot. How do you weight, in your mind, all these different factors, and which narrative is right? Is it contingent factors, like her campaigning ability and the Russians? Is there something deeper, more underlying?

Kate Aronoff: Definitely something deeper and more underlying. I think especially recently there's been this move by higher-ups in the Democratic Party to blame what happened in the election on these outside factors, on Russian interference, on these hacks. Did that have an effect? Probably. I don't know. I think we'll see as these investigations move forward how big an impact that actually had, but either way, whatever those investigations show, there are structural factors in the Democratic Party which made Hillary Clinton lose the election.

It's not just the fault of her campaign. It's that the Democratic Party's strategy for the last couple years, the way they run campaigns, is to target as few people as possible. Some of the most damning articles that came out in the days after the election, trying to make sense of this, are about these algorithms that the campaign to used to say, "We don't have to go to Pennsylvania because our algorithm says that we have that shored up." They lost Pennsylvania by 60,000 votes. That they shouldn't have gone there was just a clear oversight. That they didn't go to these places where Trump won so strongly was really just a flaw on the part of both the Clinton campaign and the operating logic of the Democratic Party establishment, which says, "You can go after these very strategic constituencies. You can go after a specific demographic, and really ignore everything else." I think we saw this in the campaign, which was that Trump was telling a pretty compelling story about what America should look like. As bigoted, as racist, as xenophobic as that was, he wove together this narrative about what America should look like that really spoke to a lot of people, and spoke to a lot of people not maybe because they're in their heart of hearts racist, though those people did vote for Trump, but because they're sick of the way politics has worked. People hate politics. Trump doesn't look like a politician, and so cast against Hillary Clinton, who's this embodiment of establishment politics on both sides of the aisle, it was really easy for him to just trounce her. I'm 24. Hillary Clinton has been on my TV screen for as long as I can remember. The fact that people wanted to vote against that is not surprising.

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A Vision for the Progressive Left: Bhaskar Sunkara, Kate Aronoff, Jonah Birch

Guest host Bhaskar Sunkara (editor of Jacobin Magazine) engages political voices Kate Aronoff and Jonah Birch in a conversation about the future of the Left; were the election results a testament to the decline of the Left, or is this a moment for a new left movement? When 13 million people in America cast a vote for a self described Democratic Socialist, is there hope to be found in a political movement propelled by the swamp in the White House? Our guests this week discuss how we got to Trump, and where we, as progressives, are going.

Kate Aronoff is a writing fellow at In These Times, and writes for Truthout, Dissent Magazine, and The Guardian, as well as hosting the Dissent podcast. Jonah Birch is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at New York University and a member of the International Socialist Organization, and also writes for Jacobin.

Short Documentary piece on the Women's March in NYC and DC provided by the Diverse Filmmakers Alliance.

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F-Word: Reimagining Our Systems of Power

Hi, I'm Laura Flanders of the Laura Flanders for the Progressive Voices channel on Tunein. Barack Obama spent the Dr. King holiday doing service. Donald Trump, let's just say, did not. While the one fed the homeless, the other attacked civil rights leader, Congressman John Lewis. The contrast between the two men could keep us entertained, or aghast, for weeks. But the longer we stay focused on the individuals, the later we'll focus on what's really going on. Namely, a long time incoming crisis in our institutions of government.

Who governs is important, but what we really need to be talking about is government itself. Let's remember that least discussed statistic, 49% of eligible voters, some 117 million Americans, didn't even cast a vote in a country where registering is pretty darn difficult. That level of nonparticipation reflects an alienation that should be setting off alarm bells. What is happening to our democracy? Take some distance from the every four or six year cycle that keeps our money media so obsessed and so well-funded, and we're looking at a historic crisis playing out on our watch. Let's remember, the only reason people of property ever agreed to share power in the first place was because they feared what would happen if they didn't. Parties of property extended the franchise to the landless and workers as a way to keep their system ticking over, and because they were forced to do it. Government persuaded the owners of corporations and capital to agree to share some goods and services with the public to even out a fairly uneven system. That was all well and good, while those owners were into sharing and the public were well-organized and united enough to keep them worried about disturbance.

For years now though, the owners of private capital and Wall Street have been hoarding, not sharing, and buying influence over our government. With Trump's election, energy company CEOs, bankers, and people who have become billionaires off things that used to be public services like education are literally taking over government. They're going into office. The compromised cobble together between private capital and the people is broken. Private capital, cruel and crude, without a conscience, has won. Trump is draining the swamp all right, of every last drop of public service juice. That's the downside. The upside is we get to reimagine government. Let's face it, the system I've just described was never meant for most of us. That's why strategies to resist oppression need to be coupled with those we talk about here to expand participation and community governance. Projects like the Southern Assemblies Movement, which grew out of the failed federal response to Hurricane Katrina; Participatory budgeting, which is spreading across the country; or community develop and investment projects, like the Ujima Project in Boston. You can watch my interview with Aaron Tanaka about Ujima this week on the Laura Flanders Show on KCET, Link TV, Free Speech TV, and our own YouTube channel.

Listening to our podcast? Read and review on iTunes!

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Cooperative Economics for a POC-Led Future

Under the Trump regime, we’ll certainly have to be on the defense to protect the communities most likely to be attacked -- but we’ll also have to build powerful, alternative models where POC, Muslim, undocumented, disabled, and queer folks have leadership. In this week’s episode, Laura speaks with Aaron Tanaka, founder and director of the Center for Economic Democracy about his longtime advocacy and visionary work for the next system of solidarity economics.

Tanaka wants to know if Trump will make us think think or act differently about extractive capitalism. To change the circumstances of injustice, whether it’s mass incarceration or mass displacement, we have to build our communities’ governance power to take control of their economic resources -- so says Tanaka.

Tanaka and the Center for Economic Democracy are one of the many organizations behind the Boston Ujima Project, which is funneling the discourse of democratic economics into the practice we need. The Ujima project is helping communities of color direct their resources into the ideas they believe in, through a cooperative model of community budgeting.

All this, and an F-Word from Laura on why we’ve got to look beyond personality politics to understand the actual culture of white hetero capitalist supremacy that’s driving the nation’s voters.

For more, go to the New Economy Coalition; or the Fund for Democratic Communites. Follow Aaron on Titter at @tanakatalk.

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Capitalism, Raced & Gendered: Farah Tanis and Rick Wolf


Laura: Hi, I'm Laura Flanders. Capitalism's crisis deepens. To many people, it looks more ascendant than ever. The coming to power of a billionaire without even the façade of public service backed by hedge funders and war profiteers. To a lot of people, the rise of Donald Trump and Trump-ism represents the ascendancy galore of capitalism, not its crisis. Economics professor Richard Wolff respectfully disagrees. Wolff is the founder of Democracy at Work, and the host of Economic Update, a weekly podcast, as well as the author of many books, most recently, Capitalism's Crisis Deepens.

In this week's conversation, he's joining Farah Tanis who also believes in building authentic, alternative livelihoods. It's the only way that many communities, especially communities of color, have every survived periods of repression, and it's the way to build the world we want to live in in the future, regardless of who is in the White House. Farah is the co-founder and executive director of Black Women's Blueprint, which recently chaired the first Truth and Reconciliation Commission of black women and sexual assault in the United States. Welcome, both. I couldn't be happier than to be sharing the beginning of this challenging year with the two of you.

Richard Wolff:    Thank you.

Laura Flanders:    Let's start with some descriptions. Farah, how do you describe the situation that we're in? How do you see it?

Farah Tanis:   I can only speak with the hundreds and the thousands, if not the millions, of voices of people of African descent throughout this country who are fearful. Extremely fearful. Fearful about their own present, their economic security, fearful about whether or not their right to make a living, their right to have access to education, their right to not be burdened by debt, you know, even this dream or any vision that they had for themselves, there is this dissipation, there is this disappearing of this hope that we had before, that we could ever, ever get anywhere, even under the Obama presidency. The loss of jobs, it's become more real than ever. The student loan debt has become more real than ever. The lack of access to healthcare, even under Obamacare, has become more real than ever. Whatever little bits that we had, we now feel that we're going to lose. There is, I will be honest in saying this, sheer panic.

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Facing Race

The Facing Race conference, convened by Race Forward this November in Atlanta, brought together some of the most noteworthy names in progressive organizing just days after the 2016 election.
In this episode, Laura speaks with Tarso Luís Ramos, executive director of Political Research Associates about the ominous emergence of the far Right across the world; Kim Diehl of the National Employment Law Project, on strategy for progressive movements; Cara Shufelt and Jessica Campbell, of the Rural Organizing Project, on supporting rural mobilizations like theirs, which has been fighting Oregon’s Patriot militia movement for years, and Esha Pandit, from the Center for Advancing Innovative Policy, on the lessons for organizers that can be drawn from this year’s victories in Texas. To watch the excerpt with Judith LeBlanc, of the Native Organizers Alliance,  from the conference go here.
For more on these organizations, check out our website at

@TarsoLuisRamos (@PRAEyesRight), @oregoneducation, @occupyportland, @CaraMShufelt, @EeshaP, @nelpaction, @nelpnews, @kim_diehl

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Independent Media Vs. Donald Trump: #GivingTuesday

"I'm not like other people. We're going to have people sue you like you never got sued before."

With words like those uttered in February this year, Donald Trump set fear into the hearts of the Fourth Estate. "We're in for the fight of our lives over press freedom," said the president of the Freedom of the Press Foundation the day after election day. The threats are very real on the campaign. Trump bullied and blacklisted reporters he didn't like. From the stage, the candidate egged on his crowd to hiss the press corps, and a long list of untrustworthy reporters were famously barred from the scene. Not satisfied with blacklists and bully tactics, Trump threatened lawsuits. It's pretty clear he hasn't the slightest grasp of the constitution, which come January 20th next year, he'll be pledging to uphold. It's real. Donald Trump's disdain for the first amendment spurts from his lips, his eyes, his everywhere.

Still, while others profit off rumors of a press-White House war, I say bring it on. We need relations between the press and the powerful to be as cantankerous as possible. It's media coziness with power that brought us to this place. The Washington Post and The New York Times were suppressing pictures of dead and tortured Iraqis and holding back stories about illegal state spying long before Donald Trump came to power. More frightening to me than a new chill in press-presidential relations was the picture of Trump's secretary of state contender, Rudolph Giuliani, with Rupert Murdoch of News Corp recently. To get real, lawsuits cost money. If media corporations are to fight for their rights and defend their reportings, they're going to need real cash.

It is great that readers are stepping up to the plate signing up in droves for new subscriptions to The Times, The Post, and magazines. The New Yorker says it signed up 10,000 new subscribers in a matter of hours. Sign up. Subscribe. We need you more than ever, but put your money where the courage has been. Who has best had your back? The crony corporate press, or the independent media who've never held anything back and never had two pennies to rub together?

Donate Today!

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We Have Everything to Gain

We at the Laura Flanders Show are grieving. The results of this election confirmed our fears and dashed our hopes. Although we are afraid, we are not defeated.

We may not feel our bravest today, but we are gathering courage from our communities and holding our loved ones close. We're reaching out to them and offering words of protection, empowerment, and radical kindness. We are centering the voices and feelings of POC, femme,indigenous, immigrant, queer, undocumented people.

And as ever, we are preparing to continue our mission of bringing to you, our most important community, a progressive vision of the future. You may receive some solace from our episode this week, featuring this very same vision, as echoed by ten incredible activists. Today, we mourn. Tomorrow, we organize.

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