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Tax day, Passover week: labor, migration & justice, now…and in 2049

On this year’s Tax Day that has just passed, several organizations including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), MoveOn, Daily Kos and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) joined forces for ‘Tax Day: Make Them Pay.’ The groups organized peaceful protests around the country outside the offices of big corporations and millionaires that have evaded paying taxes for last year, mostly due to government-mandated tax breaks. According to the site, “In 2009, after helping crash the American economy, Bank of America paid $0 in taxes. GE had a tax bill of $0 in 2010. Republicans want to give a $50 billion tax bailout to big oil companies…” These protests came at the heels of news that corporations such as General Electric paid no federal taxes in 2010, something that has infuriated the millions of workers around the country who work hard and are expected to dutifully pay their taxes on time.

The tax break issue is the latest in a series of developments that have recently charged the country’s politics around the issues of immigration and labor rights, with them coming together in the case of migrant workers. Last month, the country witnessed a major standoff in the Wisconsin state government between Governor Scott Walker (and his Republican-led state assembly) and thousands of labor groups and workers in the state as the Governor pledged to enact a bill to severely curtail collective bargaining. After three weeks of fierce debates, Gov. Walker managed to push the bill through. The Ohio state assembly soon followed suit, with other states such as Tennessee and Iowa heading in a similar direction. This steady erosion of worker rights presents an increasing risk not just to the economy of this country but also to its social fabric. It also echoes a past where worker rights were often ignored, especially in the case of immigrant workers.

Last month, several labor groups and organizations marked the centennial anniversary of an incident that highlights the lack of protection of workers – the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of March 28, 1911, in which 146 mostly immigrant workers died. To mark the centenary of the tragedy, many labor rights groups amplified their push for pro-labor rights legislation to challenge the spate of anti-union labor bills that were passed recently. The 1911 tragedy brings to light the plight of immigrant workers and the exploitation that still continues today. At a rally commemorating the tragedy, one union member, Walfre Merida, described the similarities between the condition of migrant workers today and those that perished in the fire a hundred years ago. Merida stated-

I see that a hundred years since this terrible accident that killed so many people, things have really not changed at all…Safety conditions, none. Grab your tool and go to work, no more. And do not stop. When we worked in high places, on roofs, we never used harnesses, one became accustomed to the dangers and thanked God we weren’t afraid of heights. One would risk his life out of necessity.

As stories of worker rights violations continue to proliferate, we must take heed from our past mistakes in order to avoid a degradation of these conditions in the future. This week – just as Jews around the world gather at the Passover table to recount their liberation from migrant slave labor in Egypt – Breakthrough’s Facebook game, America 2049, immerses players into discussions around labor rights, especially with regards to the rights of immigrant workers. The game utilizes several events and artifacts from the past to highlight the continued struggles of migrant workers in the United States. In the game’s world in which everyone has an embedded chip to mark their identity, players are given the mission to investigate a counterfeiting ring that helps indentured workers – primarily immigrants, though also citizens who have succumbed to crushing credit debt – to escape their unjust contracts and inhumane living conditions, and begin new lives. The game references the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire as a lesson from the past about the respect and rightful treatment of workers. It also suggests a future that is even bleaker because we as a country have failed to recognize the importance of immigrant workers and worker rights to the success of the country as a whole.

Watch a testimonial by a character in the game, Ziyad Youssef, a Syrian man who was lured into a job with promises of good pay and easy hours, but found himself in slavery-like conditions, unable to look after his sick daughter or provide basic amenities to his family:

The United States is currently grappling with an issue that will inevitably affect our national economy and social conditions in the years to come. The denial of legitimacy and basic rights to immigrant workers will only hamper the nation’s growth on the world stage. In a special report on global migration published in 2008, The Economist argued for the widespread acceptance of migrant workers by the richer countries that so desperately need them. Speaking about the United States, the report stated-

Around a third of the Americans who won Nobel prizes in physics in the past seven years were born abroad. About 40% of science and engineering PhDs working in America are immigrants. Around a third of Silicon Valley companies were started by Indians and Chinese. The low-skilled are needed too, especially in farming, services and care for children and the elderly. It is no coincidence that countries that welcome immigrants—such as Sweden, Ireland, America and Britain—have better economic records than those that shun them…Americans object to the presence of around 12m illegal migrant workers in a country with high rates of legal migration. But given the American economy’s reliance on them, it is not just futile but also foolish to build taller fences to keep them out.

Players in America 2049 will discover valuable artifacts from our country’s past that highlight an ongoing struggle for worker rights and have the agency to join the discussion and save the country’s future from the dystopic scenario the game depicts. One of the artifacts in the game is a poem titled ‘A Song for Many Movements,’ written in 1982 by Audre Lord, a black feminist lesbian poet. The poem articulates the connection between suffering and speaking out against injustices, which is what the workers rights protests around the country have been doing and which we must keep advocating until real change is made-

Broken down gods survive
in the crevasses and mudpots
of every beleaguered city
where it is obvious
there are too many bodies
to cart to the ovens
or gallows
and our uses have become
more important than our silence
after the fall
too many empty cases
of blood to bury or burn
there will be no body left
to listen
and our labor
has become more important
than our silence.

Our labor has become
more important
than our silence.

Photo courtesy of seiu.org

Breakthrough’s new Facebook game, America 2049, uses multimedia to explore race and migration in the U.S.

Breakthrough is pleased to present our ground-breaking new Facebook game, AMERICA 2049! (Twitter hashtag #america2049) The game has already been featured by TIME.com and Wired.com and this is just the beginning!

We invite you to play by becoming an agent, charged with the responsibility to protect the future of our country.

The game features appearances by Harold Perrineau (LOST), Victor Garber (Alias), Cherry Jones (24), Anthony Rapp (Rent) and Margaret Cho (Notorious C.H.O.), who generously donated their time and talents to help Breakthrough put a human face on complex social issues.

“America 2049″ players are activated as agents for the Council on American Heritage headed by Jefferson Williams II (Garber), and tasked with the capture of alleged terrorist Ken Asaba (Perrineau).

Over 12 weeks, “America 2049″ players will take on missions and face challenges based on human rights themes including immigration, race, sexual orientation, sex trafficking, religion, labor, national security and more.

Commenting on the concept of the game and his involvement, Perrineau said-

“‘America 2049’ entertains and enlightens about the real-world issues of acceptance and tolerance. The project resonated with me because I love the idea of people fighting at all costs for their right to pursue the life they choose without fear of persecution. I hope that through playing ‘America 2049,’ young people in particular will be inspired to help stop institutionalized hatred and intolerance — today.”

In ‘America 2049,’ players actively explore how the choices and challenges Americans now face will shape the future of the country, its democratic values and how America defines itself as a nation. The game challenges players to ask: how close are we already to America 2049– and how can we work together, in real life, to build a better future?

Mallika Dutt, President and CEO of Breakthrough, added-

The game experience allows us to immerse ourselves in a future that could be — but also inspires us to envision, and recommit to, a real America built on pluralism, democracy, dignity, equality and human rights for all.

“America 2049″ is the first Facebook game to integrate the social networking platform with many other resources, online and off: multimedia and interactive features, clues planted across the Internet and real-life events at leading cultural institutions nationwide, including members of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience.

Watch the America 2049 trailer here:

Agent, if you can handle the mission,  join us in game play and “like” the “America 2049″ Facebook page to get the latest updates.

Share with friends and protect the future of this country! Play the game on Facebook here.

As TIME.com says-

[T]he timing may be right to click into the world of 2049 and absorb its messages. You might be moved into acting on or learning about an important cause. And that’s okay, because your farm or vendetta can wait.

Good luck!

Summer’s over but immigration’s heating up….

It’s not surprising that President Obama’s speech was interrupted by the now infamous phrase ‘You Lie!’, snapping immigration back into the limelight and wreaking havoc in the already contentious issue of health care. As advocates both for and against the issue begin arguing, we have heard from President Obama that even though he does not support insuring the undocumented, “I also don’t simply believe we can ignore the fact that our immigration system is broken.” Meanwhile things are heating up with Rep. Gutierrez announcing that he would introduce immigration reform legislation as soon as this Fall.

Restore Fairness strongly supports reform that respects fairness and due process for everyone. The campaign has been gaining some great support but we need more of you to join hands with us and spread the word like our friends below.

We are being featured on The Extraordinaries, one of the hottest new community engagement tools using an iPhone app (other platforms soon).

Meanwhile The Immigrant Daily Blog and Bender’s Immigration bulletin have featured the campaign.

Join the movement. Its only going to get bigger and better.