Category Archives: April 2011

The 2011 John A. Penrod “Brigadas” Award for Peace and Justice

Joe Courter accepts the 2011 Penroad Award on March 30, 2011.Photo by Sherry Steiner.


In 2008, three progressive groups created an award to honor the legacy of John A. “Jack” Penrod, who dedicated his life to the fight of the people for dignity, freedom and a peaceful society.

Gainesville Veterans for Peace, the Alachua County Labor Party and the United Faculty of Florida wanted to honor and encourage activists in the community for their consistent track record of movement work.

This year, the committee chose Joe Courter, co-founder of the Civic Media Center and editor/publisher of The Gainesville Iguana.

Joe’s commitment to peace and justice, in many ways, mirrors that of Jack Penrod.

In his day, Jack Penrod worked with the Congress of Industrial Organizations and helped organize the first faculty union at UF, United Faculty of Florida. He was a member of Veterans for Peace and a vocal opponent of the Iraq war; he helped found the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, worked closely with the National Organization for Women and Gainesville Women’s Liberation, and also dedicated time to the Alachua County Labor Party.

As members of the Penrod committee remark, “Jack Penrod was at it all the time” until his death in 2008 at the age of 94.

Like Jack, Joe Courter is “at it all the time” and has been since his first taste of activism as a young boy in the 1950s, when he wrote a politician about fish dying in the river behind his New Jersey home.

His first political victory came in as an undergrad at Hope College in Michigan, where he discovered there was a mandatory chapel every morning. After he circulated a petition and worked with the chaplain, the service was abolished.

As a college student during the Vietnam War, Joe saw firsthand with his peers the realities of the draft, although he was never called up. Following this experience, Joe fell in with the anti-war crowd and joined in the 1969 moratorium.

Years later, Joe moved to Gainesville and participated with numerous activist groups, including Vietnam Veterans Against the War, the Equal Rights Amendment campaign, the Catfish Alliance, Humanist Society of Gainesville, and the Committee in Support of the People of Latin America.

In 1985, working with other groups in Gainesville for Central American solidarity, Joe, Jenny Brown and others in the movement created a monthly newsletter and calendar. This newsletter was dubbed the Iguana, in a nod to a Central American reptile and an answer to the Independent Florida Alligator.

In 1993, after joining the Gainesville Alternative Publishing group, Joe worked with others to found an alternative library and reading room, the Civic Media Center.

But on top of all these movement contributions, many of us here in Gainesville appreciate Joe for other things, like the famous lake house parties he and Jenny host, or the arts and culture scoop, or his guidance and wisdom for young activists, or his connection, somehow, to almost everyone here. If you live in this town, you’ve almost certainly met Joe Courter.

“Joe is powered by the activists, musicians, radicals and artists that make everyday life in Gainesville, and he contributes to the environment that makes radical politics and the counterculture something new people can join in and thrive in,” Jenny Brown said. “The counterculture for him is people’s answer to the ‘crap culture’ that’s all around us every day. He says activism is ‘paying your rent on the planet.’ If you want to live here, you’ve gotta contribute – leave it better than you found it.”

You can support the Penrod Award and the hard-working activists in the community by mailing donations to Gainesville Veterans for Peace, P.O. Box 142562, Gainesville, FL 32614. For more information, call 352-375-2832.

Take Back Alachua County!

Adopting a budget each year is arguably the most important thing the Alachua County Commission does, but, historically, the general public has largely ignored the annual cycle of public hearings and deliberations. Over the past two years, that has changed.

The Gainesville-area Tea Party has been systematically attending hearings, making comments and writing letters to the newspaper. They’re taking democracy seriously, and they’re putting in the hours necessary to learn the process and the issues.  They’re having an impact.

It’s not a large group, but they’ve had the field to themselves. Media coverage of the county budget process last year was dominated by quotes from Tea Party members, because they’re the only ones making comments. This sets up a dynamic where elected officials have to respond to their issues, and further deliberations and options revolve around their proposals.  

In other words, the Tea Party is framing the debate. This creates an atmosphere of a besieged and evil government, defending itself against a universally angry and disaffected “public.”  It creates a sense of crisis and opportunity, and it motivates turnout for their side at election time.

So, what do they want?

The commission is now discussing whether the county needs an Environmental Protection Department. Commissioner and Tea Party member Susan Baird has repeatedly expressed her desire to sell off public conservation lands. Every public interest and environmental regulation is now suspect. Sidewalks and bicycle paths are frivolous luxuries that we can’t afford, and transit is a waste of money. Sprawl is the fulfillment of the American Dream. Social Services spending is government charity that should be eliminated.

The war begins at home.  We need progressive voices at county and city commission budget hearings this spring and summer. Local government needs to hear from people who believe that it’s an important and legitimate function of government to protect our natural resources, build transportation alternatives and provide a basic safety net for our most vulnerable citizens.

Several local groups are organizing to follow the county budget process this year. Stay tuned into the Iguana to find out more.

Farm Workers Protest Publix Penny-Pinching


Early last month, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and other supporters of the fair food movement (more than 1,000 people in all) rallied outside of a Publix in downtown Tampa. Why? To tell Publix to “do the right thing.”

The CIW represents farm workers who pick 45 percent of the tomatoes eaten in the U.S. year round, many of whom temporarily live in Immokalee, Fla., for the growing season six or seven months of the year. They survive on less than $10,000 a year and have been the victims of modern-day slavery cases as recently as 2010.

The CIW and its allies merely want the mega-grocer to sign on to pay a penny more per pound for its tomatoes picked by the farm workers to go toward increased wages, an idea the store publicly supports.

But after more than a year of actions, campaign-building and attempted negotiations, Publix still refuses to officially sign on to the program.

“Simply stated, Publix is more than willing to pay a penny more per pound or whatever the market price for tomatoes will be in order to provide the goods to our customers,” said Dwaine Stevens, spokesperson for Publix, by email. “However, we will not pay employees of other companies directly for their labor. That is the responsibility of the employer.”

This is the typical response of Publix throughout the duration of the CIW’s campaign. “They’re not our employees, so why should we pay them? Put it in the price.”

But there’s just one slight problem with this mentality.

Publix would not pay the farm workers directly; in fact, the increase would be incorporated into the price of tomatoes, just like Publix wants.

The repackers (middlemen between the growers and the retailers) would charge the extra penny to Publix and then allocate those funds back to the grower, who then passes them onto the farm worker. Publix pays in the price of tomatoes, not wages. This is the way the CIW has instituted the program in the past with corporations like Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Aramark and Whole Foods (to name a few).

So why is Publix making this bogus argument? Probably because executives have never once sat down to talk or negotiate with the CIW. All dialogue has been confined to back-and-forth in the media.

Instead of getting their story straight, Publix and its representatives continue to mix the message, arguing “this is a dispute between the growers and the workers.” Essentially, they’re saying it’s not their problem, and the farm workers need to negotiate with their employers.

Well, they’ve tried that, and it’s a slow struggle. It’s more effective, the Coalition has found, to hold the large corporations buying the produce responsible for the influence they hold as the most powerful part of the supply chain.

The CIW is not targeting Publix because they think the store has a bad track record of employee treatment, even though the grocer seems to think this.

The CIW is pressuring Publix because the retailer has a huge amount of negotiating power in this campaign. All they have to do is officially sign on to the penny-per-pound increase and a code of conduct in the fields, and they could play a significant role in changing Florida’s agricultural system.

While they haven’t won yet, it’s safe to bet that the CIW is going to keep on fighting, and they won’t back down until Publix comes to the table.

To learn more and find out how you can get involved, visit the CIW’s website at

Anti-Immigrant Sentiments from Tallahassee


An undercurrent of fear has rippled through the U.S. since the passage of Arizona’s SB1070, a broad and strict anti-illegal-immigration measure. However, it now appears that people are realizing, even in Arizona, the impact of such a stringent bill. With the current economic crisis and continued boycotts against Arizona, people are beginning to put the brakes on similar bills throughout the country.

Here in Florida, we are in the throes of 14 bills that the new Florida Legislature is molding into an anti-immigrant bill, stripping immigrants of their human rights.

One aspect of the bill would institute E-verify, requiring employers to use a costly federal system – one proven faulty – to verify the eligibility of an employee. If not used, employers could be fined and in some cases lose their licenses. 

Secondly, the expansion of 287(g) (a rule in the Immigration and Customs Enforcement handbook) would result in police taking on the additional role of immigration officers, further burdening their workload, leaving many people vulnerable to crime.

Another aspect of these proposed bills requires law enforcement to determine a person’s immigration status when there is “reasonable suspicion” that this person is unlawfully present in the U.S. If this passes, potentially anyone will need to be prepared to prove their status at any time, at any place, if they are stopped or questioned by law enforcement.

Individuals of various ideologies, including conservative Rep. Connie Mack, oppose this type of infringement of liberties. In a piece for the Washington Post, Mack wrote, “Our Constitution protects individual freedoms and liberties… Anger about the economy, increased crime and security concerns are fueling this law, not constitutional principles.” Furthermore, Mack stated, “I do not want to live in a nation where American citizens are asked, ‘Where are your papers?’ We are better than that.”

Florida’s top agricultural producers, along with religious leaders, actively oppose these bills. Racial profiling and the potential separation by deportation of undocumented family or friends keep many on edge – whether documented or not, citizens or visitors.

Immigrants and the general public both are endangered when criminals can feel free to attack people of color who will be afraid to talk with police and when the poor are kept away from health services by fear of arrest.

The focus on racial profiling from these proposed bills, with potential harassment of legal residents and citizens, creates insecurity for people of color and reduces their trust in the police. The present political atmosphere jeopardizes the health and safety of all communities.

States, including Florida, should focus on the economic crisis, which has real problems and needs real solutions. Take a moment to contact your State Representative and Senator. The message is clear: leave the immigration issue to the federal government and focus on concrete actions to improve Florida.

GAU Fights Union-Busting Bills

Jose Soto, Graduate Assistants United member at UF, speaks at a rally in late March to protest two bills that would take away many rights of unions in Florida. Photo by Amanda Adams.


While the campaign to eliminate collective bargaining rights for public-sector unions in Wisconsin has captured national headlines, similar measures being proposed here in Florida have received far less attention. Two bills in our state legislature would be no less devastating in their effects. Although these bills do not explicitly criminalize unions—to do so outright would be unconstitutional—their combined impact could essentially render unions impotent.

HB 1023 would require unions to have 50 percent membership by July 1 of this year in order to retain the right to negotiate contracts on behalf of employees. SB 830/HB 1021 would prohibit public-sector unions from collecting dues via payroll deduction, making dues collection a logistical nightmare.

With the passage of these bills, Florida politicians would hypocritically hold unions to a far higher standard than they hold themselves:  while unions must achieve 50 percent membership from among all potential members to continue to represent them, a political candidate may be elected to office with a mere plurality of those registered voters who actually turn out. Governor Rick Scott, for example, received only 48.9 percent of the votes cast in the 2010 election, with a mere 48.7 percent of registered voters casting a ballot. In other words, he holds office despite receiving votes from less than a fourth of all registered voters in Florida.

The Teaching Assistants’ Association has been at the forefront of the resistance against anti-union legislation in Wisconsin. Here in Florida, Graduate Assistants United (GAU) has similarly taken up the cause. GAU, which has represented the interests of graduate students at UF for 30 years, has made it a top priority to meet the 50 percent threshold and is in the midst of a rigorous membership drive. Because Florida is a right-to-work state, meaning employees receive the benefits negotiated by unions whether or not those employees are union members, many people do not understand why it is so important to join.

Should GAU lack 50 percent membership by July 1, GAs would lose representation and their current contracts. Those contracts, negotiated by GAU, guarantee all the rights GAs currently enjoy: free health insurance, minimum stipends, maximum class sizes, tuition waivers, workload limits, fee deferment, due process and many other basic working benefits.

Additionally, these legislative measures will have consequences far beyond the immediate impact felt by GAs. If UF ceases to offer applicants the sort of package GAs currently receive, the university will become less competitive and fail to attract the best graduate students.  Because GAs teach the majority of lower division courses, undergraduate students will no longer have the high quality of instruction to which they have grown accustomed, and UF’s prestige will suffer, and so will UF graduates’ careers.

As in Wisconsin, lawmakers in Florida are using the rhetoric of budgetary crisis to justify these measures. Also as in Wisconsin, they are having a hard time explaining how debilitating unions will help fill state coffers. We do know these bills, should they become law, will have an economic impact here in Gainesville: if grad students are forced to buy health insurance and pay higher tuition, they will each have thousands fewer dollars to spend at local businesses each year.

For more information, you can visit GAU’s website at

Goodbye, Leonard Weinglass

LEONARD WEINGLASS, 1977, 66"x66", acrylic on canvas by Arnold Mesches

The Movement lost one of its great defenders of the underdog with the passing of Leonard Weinglass on March 23. From a career spanning from the ‘60s to as recently as the WikiLeaks case and Julian Assange, Weinglass was a sincere and compassionate voice against injustice and the power of the state to crush its dissidents. What follows is the statement from the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), published on their website shortly after his death:

The NLG mourns yesterday’s passing of an extraordinary criminal defense and civil rights attorney, Leonard I. Weinglass. A long-time member of the Guild, he now joins the pantheon of great lawyers who have devoted their careers to making human rights more sacred than property interests.

Weinglass graduated from Yale Law School in 1958 and went on to defend some of the most significant political cases of the century. He represented Tom Hayden of Students for a Democratic Society when Hayden was indicted in the Newark riots. During the Vietnam War, he represented Anthony Russo in the Pentagon Papers case, and in 1969 he co-counseled in the Chicago Seven case, with the eventual overturning of the guilty verdicts. He also represented Jane Fonda in her suit against Richard Nixon, Puerto Rican independence fighters Los Macheteros, and eight Palestinian organizers facing deportation known as the LA 8.

When he represented Amy Carter in 1987 after her arrest for protesting CIA recruitment, Weinglass told the Hampshire County District court, “the students’ reaction in that incident was the reaction any right-thinking American, peace-loving American, would have in the face of the serious harm the agency has done.”

Weinglass served as lead counsel for Mumia Abu-Jamal, who has been on death row for nearly 30 years. Other well-known clients included former Weatherman Kathy Boudin, Angela Davis when she was charged with murder for the Marin County shootout, and Antonio Guerrero, one of the Cuban Five. He also represented Bill and Emily Harris, members of the Symbionese Liberation Army who were charged with the kidnapping of Patricia Hearst.

The NLG honored Weinglass on several occasions, including at its 2003 national convention with the Ernie Goodman Award.

For most lawyers, the work that Len did on any one of countless cases would be the achievement of a lifetime, not just for the brilliance of his advocacy but also for the causes he espoused and the passion with which he fought,² said Guild President David Gespass.

The NLG, founded in 1937, is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the U.S. In Gainesville, the NLG can be contacted through Tom Almquist at

Citizen Groups Convince Federal Judges To Put Local Nuclear Plant On Hold


Three grassroots citizen groups have petitioned the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) to re-examine the site chosen by Progress Energy Florida (PEF) for its latest nuclear plant. PEF has applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for a license to build two new 1,100-megawatt nuclear reactors near Gainesville. The proposed plant would be situated over 3,000 acres including forests and 765 acres of wetlands that are a water feed-in directly to the Floridan Aquifer, a major source of Florida’s drinking water. The project had been moving forward with little objection until the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), Ecology Party of Florida and Green Party of Florida filed a lawsuit against the project due to environmental concerns. 

PEF attempted to push the project forward without accurately completing the legally required Environmental Impact investigations. But two months ago, the ASLB postponed the project until the proper environmental studies have been done. 

 Opponents to the project see an opportunity to voice concerns for the environment including pollution, cancer rates and water shortage.

If built, PEF estimates the plant would consume 550,000 gallons of water per day during the estimated six years of construction. The plant itself would need millions of gallons of water per day for general operation. Nuclear plants the size of the proposed Levy Plant use up to 2.5 billion gallons of water per day just to keep the radioactive rods cool. Heated water discharged from the plant would be polluted with “acceptable levels” of radiation, harming local flora and fauna. 

Dr. Sydney Bacchus, a hydro ecologist with over 30 years of experience in these types of environmental impacts is an expert witness in the case.  Dr. Bacchus explained to the ASLB that “…construction and operation of this proposed nuclear power plant in the floodplains of Levy County would result in irreversible damage to the aquifer system and other water resources. These water resources are essential for maintaining the Nature Coast, inland and coastal springs, streams, wetlands and upland habitat which are critical for wildlife, including threatened and endangered species…Any energy option that results in such catastrophic environmental impacts can’t be justified as ‘renewable’ energy.”

Along with the astronomical daily water quantity needed, the Levy Nuclear Plant (LNP) has many environmental issues. The construction of the facility would require the removal of trees by cutting and by herbicide application to make way for the plant itself, 181 miles of electricity line corridors, substations, access roads, and 16 miles of water pipelines. The Cross Florida Barge Canal (CFBC) may need to be dredged in order to be deep enough to support the barges that would transport heavy equipment needed in the plant and to build it. Even nearshore portions of the Gulf of Mexico would need to be deepened for vessel access to the CFBC. PEF states they will need so many tons of concrete (most likely made from materials mined from the area) that they intend to operate a temporary cement plant on site. The loss of billions of gallons of water daily from the area would concentrate salt, nutrient, and pollutants in the existing ecosystem. This altered environment would place several federally identified threatened and endangered animal species at risk. The lack of water stops the system from its natural flushing and increases the likelihood of wildfires.

Location, extreme water use, deforestation, environmental damage, endangering endangered species, pollution and negative health impacts are not the only problems with the proposed LNP.

The newly designed Westinghouse AP1000 reactor chosen for this project is another cause for concern. Critics contend that this unproven design cannot withstand the hurricane potentials of Florida. And while it may burn its fuel more efficiently, in the event of an accident more radioactive contamination would be released than with other reactor designs currently in use.

Even if there is no accident, terrorist sabotage (or theft of radioactive products), devastating hurricane, or earthquake, every nuclear power plant emits radioactive pollution to the air and water. The U.S. government and the nuclear industry downplay the danger of such routine emissions, but doctors and scientists have thoroughly documented the cumulative effects of even low-level exposure to radiation. This is why we are given lead aprons during x-rays and radiologists wear dosimeters to monitor their cumulative exposure to radiation.

Fortunately the nearest nuclear power plant at Crystal River (also owned by PEF) has given this part of Florida an 18-month (and counting) respite from the radioactive pollution emitted during normal operation. While the plant was shut down for repairs, workers accidentally discovered a 25-foot by 2-inch crack in the wall of its containment vessel. With enough radioactive material to fuel at least several Hiroshima-type bombs contained in every nuclear reactor, our odds for healthy survival increase with each nuclear plant closure or delay.

The Crystal River Nuclear Plant was scheduled to go back online this month. PEF reported to the NRC they believe the 25-foot crack was caused when they cut a hole in the containment building in order to replace old steam generators. But on just last month, PEF reported to the NRC that its monitoring equipment had detected another crack that was not there previously. They believe the second crack may have been caused as they adjusted the tension of the steel web of cables encased in the concrete walls following the repair of the first crack. The plant, commissioned in 1977, was originally licensed to operate for forty years. PEF has applied for a 20-year extension even though concrete is cracking unpredictably. So far, the extension of the license is being approved by the NRC along with multiple other antiquated, problem-ridden, violation-rich, polluting nuclear power plants.

 In spite of the many failures of the Crystal River Nuclear Plant and Progress Energy, the company still intends to build its experimental nuclear reactors in Levy County.

Without further citizen intervention and education of regulators, the PEF Levy Nuclear Plant may move forward by the end of next year.

The original petition filed by the grassroots organizations can be found at

You can also find more information at