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California cracks down on corporate greenwashing Judd Legum

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In the United States, a lot of people are concerned about climate change. A 2022 Pew Research poll found 54% of Americans “describe climate change as a major threat to the country’s well-being.” An even larger number of Americans, 67%, believe that corporations are “large businesses and corporations are doing too little to reduce the effects of climate change.”

So corporations, eager to improve their image among American consumers, have made dramatic announcements about their commitment to combating climate change. “What was once called climate change is now a climate crisis,” Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said on September 21, 2020. “Ice sheets are collapsing, extreme weather events are increasing, catastrophic fires are occurring, oceans are acidifying and biodiversity is decreasing.” McMillon announced Walmart’s new goal to “achieve zero emissions in our global operations by 2040.” 

It is fairly easy to make promises about 2040, which is still quite far away. It is harder to make real progress now.

So, how is Walmart’s effort going? According to Walmart’s website, the company is doing great. It has reduced its carbon emission from 17.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (MMT CO2e) in 2019 to 15.93 MMT CO2e in 2020, to 13.99 MMT CO2e in 2021. (The company has not yet released data for 2022.) 

But there are no enforceable standards for this kind of reporting. Walmart gets to decide what emissions it wants to include in its public reports, and what it does not. In Walmart’s case, it has decided to include emissions it directly produces, known as Scope 1, and emissions from energy it purchases, known as Scope 2. Notably, Walmart’s Scope 1 carbon emissions have been increasing in recent years, from 6.85 MMT CO2e in 2019 to 7.37 MMT CO2e. The overall reported reduction at Walmart was achieved through buying cleaner energy. 

But Walmart has decided to exclude from its public reporting all carbon emissions from the products it sells in its stores, known as Scope 3. According to estimates cited by Walmart, Scope 3 emissions account for approximately 95% of Walmart’s carbon footprint. It is true that Scope 3 emissions are more difficult to calculate. But Walmart is not making any public effort to do so. That is inconsistent with the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, a “comprehensive global standardized framework[] to measure and manage greenhouse gas emissions.”

This makes Walmart’s disclosure essentially meaningless. The reported numbers do not indicate whether Walmart is responsible for more or less carbon emissions than the year before. That’s why the New Climate Institute, a nonprofit organization that evaluates carbon emissions disclosures, characterized Walmart’s disclosures as “low integrity.” There are many other large corporations producing climate disclosures that are similarly lacking. 

California, however, recently enacted legislation that could force Walmart and other large corporations to come clean. On Saturday, Governor Gavin Newsom (D) signed historic legislation that will require “more than 5,300 companies that operate in California and make more than $1 billion in annual revenues” to annually report their carbon emissions to the state. Critically, these companies will be required to report Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions, consistent with the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. The law is premised on the idea that Californians “have a right to know about the sources of carbon pollution. . . in order to make informed decisions.” 

The law will apply to any company “doing business” in California. This does not just include companies that are headquartered or have physical locations in California. Any company that engages “in any transaction for the purpose of financial gain within California” is considered “doing business” in California. This includes Walmart and most of the world’s largest companies. 

The new law, the Climate Corporate Data Accountability Act, will require companies to report their Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions in 2026, and their Scope 3 emission in 2027. The data will be “housed on a new publicly available digital registry administered by an organization contracted by the California State Air Resources Board.” 

Failure to accurately report data could result in fines of up to $500,000. Companies who demonstrate they had a “reasonable basis” for their Scope 3 data would not be subject to fines. 

Corporate lobbyists are not done yet

The Climate Corporate Data Accountability Act was adamantly opposed by corporate lobbyists and trade groups. Corporations strongly prefer the status quo, which enables them to set the standards for any carbon emissions disclosure. 

The California Chamber of Commerce (CalChamber), which counts Walmart, Boeing, CVS, and many other major corporations as members, slammed the disclosure law as “a costly reporting requirement that does not help us meet our climate goals.” The group claimed the law would give “out-of-state and foreign companies a market advantage, driving production out-of-state and increasing the cost of goods for California residents.” CalChamber also claims that “assessing Scope 3 emissions data with any degree of accuracy is not yet possible.” (Thousands of companies, however, are already calculating their Scope 3 emissions.) 

Not all corporations, however, agreed with the California Chamber of Commerce’s assessment. Microsoft, IKEA USA, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Patagonia, Adobe, and others signed an August letter supporting the Climate Corporate Data Accountability Act. The companies said that “disclosure will help companies, investors, and the State better understand emission output, and strengthen the ability of economic actors to strategize in combatting costly risks associated with climate change.” The companies argued that “consistent, comparable, and reliable emissions data at scale is necessary to fully assess the global economy’s risk exposure and to navigate the path to a net-zero future.” In September, Apple, which is based in California, announced its support for the legislation. 

Corporate lobbyists have not given up. After Newsom signed the legislation, CalChamber released a statement: “We look forward to working with the Governor’s office on SB 253 clean-up legislation that will address some of the major concerns of our members, particularly the impact on small business.” The reference to “small business” indicates that CalChamber will seek to undercut the Scope 3 reporting in the law. Although reporting is only required for businesses with more than $1 billion in annual revenue, CalChamber claims that including Scope 3 emissions will require small businesses that contract with larger businesses to calculate carbon emissions estimates. 

Newsom appears open to the idea, telling the New York Times’ David Gelles that he wanted “some cleanup” of the new law. Newsom “did not clarify the changes that he wished to make.”

The federal factor

Corporate opponents of California’s new law argue that it is duplicative because the federal Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is considering imposing its own carbon emissions reporting requirements. 

But California’s new law differs from the SEC’s proposed rules in two key ways. First, the SEC’s rules would only apply to public companies. California’s rules cover private and public companies. Second, the SEC’s rules would not comprehensively require disclosure of Scope 3 emissions. Scope 3 emissions would have to be disclosed if they are “material” for investors or if the company made specific public commitments to reduce Scope 3 emissions. 

SEC Chairman Gary Gensler appeared supportive of California’s proposed disclosure requirements during a September 27 appearance during a House oversight hearing. Many corporations have objected to the proposed SEC rule, citing the cost. Gensler argued that complying with the SEC rule would be less expensive than previously estimated since many companies would already be producing similar information for California.

 

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May 27, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson

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The White House hosted a three-day state visit for President William Ruto and First Lady Rachel Ruto of Kenya beginning on May 23, 2024. The visit marks the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Kenya and is the first state visit for an African leader since President John Kufuor of Ghana visited in 2008.

The Biden administration has worked to develop ties to African nations, whose people are leery of the United States not only because of what Biden called the “original sin” of colonists importing enslaved Africans to North American shores, but also because while the Soviet Union tended to support the movements when African nations began to throw off colonial rule, the U.S. tended to support right-wing reaction. More recently, during the Trump years the United States withdrew from engagement with what the former president allegedly called “sh*thole countries.”

In contrast, officials from the Biden administration have noted the importance of the people of Africa to the future of the global community. Currently, the median age on the continent is 19, and experts estimate that by 2050, one in four people on Earth will live on the African continent. 

Saying that Africans must have control over their own countries and their own future, U.S. officials backed the admission of the African Union to the Group of 20 (G-20), welcoming the organization’s 55 member states to the intergovernmental forum that focuses on global issues, and pledged more than $55 billion to the continent to aid security, support democratic institutions, and advance civil rights and the rule of law. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, First Lady Jill Biden, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have all visited the continent, where they have emphasized partnership with African countries for economic development rather than a competition with China and Russia for resource extraction. 

In March 2023, Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Ghana, Tanzania, and Zambia to emphasize the connections between Africa and North America, focus on the importance of democracy as Russian disinformation in Africa is driving pro-Russian and anti-U.S. sentiment, and announce U.S. investment in the continent as well as calling for more. 

But in July 2023, those efforts appeared to take a step back when a military coup in Niger deposed elected president Mohamed Bazoum. A few months later, the ruling junta asked the forces of former colonial power France to leave the country and turned to Russia’s Wagner group for security. In March, U.S. diplomats and military officials expressed concern about the increasing presence of Russia in Niger, and a few days later, officials told close to 1,000 U.S. troops stationed in the country to leave as well. Russian troops moved into a military base the U.S. has been using. 

The U.S. says its troops will leave by mid-September and has pledged to continue negotiations. Niger was a key ally in the U.S. antiterrorism efforts against armed forces allied with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Neighboring Chad has also asked the 100 U.S. troops in the country to leave.

Meanwhile, in the year since her trip to Africa, Vice President Harris has focused on digital inclusion in Africa, recognizing that the spread of digital technology has the potential to promote economic opportunity and gender equality and to create jobs, as well as open new markets for U.S. exports. Last week, she announced that the African Development Bank Group and Mastercard have launched the Mobilizing Access to the Digital Economy Alliance (MADE), which is working with public and private investors to provide digital access for 100 million individuals and businesses in Africa over the next ten years, focusing first on agriculture and women. 

Kenya’s President Ruto won election in 2022, promising voters that he would champion the “hustlers,” the young workers piecing together an income informally. U.S. ambassador to Kenya Meg Whitman, former chief executive officer of eBay and Hewlett-Packard and unsuccessful 2010 Republican candidate for governor of California, has supported this idea of economic development. Focusing on “commercial diplomacy,” she has worked with Ruto to encourage business investment in Kenya.  

At a state luncheon with President Ruto last week, Harris reiterated her belief “that African ideas and innovations will have a significant impact on the future of the entire world—a belief driven in part by the extraordinary creativity, dynamism, and energy of young African leaders” and by the continent’s young demographic. She reiterated the need to “revise and upgrade the U.S.-Africa narrative, which is long overdue; and to bring fresh focus to the innovation and ingenuity that is so prevalent across the continent of Africa.” She warned: “Any leader that ignores the continent of Africa is doing so at their own peril.” 

While Kenya’s main economic sectors are agriculture, manufacturing, and tourism, it is also a technology hub, and Harris called out its “Silicon Savannah,” a technology ecosystem that produced the cellphone-based money transfer system M-PESA, as well as startups making biodegradable plastics, creating drinking water from humidity, and so on. 

Ruto thanked Harris and Biden “for helping us reshape, reengineer, and write a new narrative for our continent.” Africans “are going to write our own story,” Ruto said, adding that the narrative of “this continent of conflict, trouble, disease, poverty” is “not the story of Africa.” “Africa is a continent of tremendous opportunity,” he said, “the largest reserves of energy—renewable energy resources; 60 percent of the world’s arable, uncultivated land; 30 percent of…global mineral wealth, including those that are necessary for energy transition; the youngest continent, which will produce 40 percent of the world’s…workforce by 2050 and where a quarter of the world’s population will be living, providing the world’s biggest single market. In short,” he said, “Africa is a rich continent and a continent of opportunity.”  

In a conversation with Vice President Harris and Ambassador Whitman, President Ruto said that the young population of Africa is “tech hungry” and that technology “is the instrument that we can use to leapfrog Africa from where we are to…catch up with the rest of the world.” The digital space, he said, is the space that will create the greatest output from young people and women. To that end, he said, Kenya is investing 30% of its annual budget in education, training, knowledge, and skills. 

As part of his reach for global leadership, Ruto has put Kenya at the front of an initiative backed by the United Nations for a multinational security intervention in Haiti, where officials have asked for help restoring order against about 200 armed gangs in the country, coalitions of which control about 80% of the capital, Port-au-Prince. The assassination of Haitian president Jovenel Moïse in July 2021 exacerbated political instability in Haiti by creating a power vacuum, while weapons flowing into the country, primarily from straw purchases in the U.S., fed violence. Last year, then–prime minister Ariel Henry had pleaded with the United Nations Security Council to bolster Haitian security forces and combat the gangs.

The U.S. declined to lead the effort or to provide troops, although it, along with Canada and France, is funding the mission. On Thursday, Biden explained that “for the United States to deploy forces in the hemisphere just raises all kinds of questions that can be easily misrepresented about what we’re trying to do…. So we set out to find…a partner or partners who would lead the effort that we would participate in.” Kenya stepped up, although Kenyan opposition leaders, lawyers, and human rights groups are fiercely opposed to deploying Kenyans to the Caribbean nation. 

The Haitian gangs oppose the Multinational Security Support Mission (MSS), which is supposed to consist of 2,500 troops, 1,000 of whom are Kenyans. The Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Benin, Chad, and Jamaica have officially notified the United Nations secretary-general of their intent to send personnel to the mission. Other nations have said they will support the mission, but as of May 20 had not yet sent official notifications. The MSS was supposed to arrive by May 23, but a base for it in Port-au-Prince is not yet fully equipped. Experts also told Caitlin Hu of CNN that Haitian authorities have not done enough to explain to local people how the mission will work, and Haitian police say what is most necessary is more support for local police.  

Kenyan news reported that the advance team of Kenyan police officers who went to Haiti to assess conditions for their deployment there will recommend a delay in deployment.

Notes:

https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/media-advisory-state-visit-president-william-ruto-and-first-lady-rachel-ruto-the-republic

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2024/02/16/statement-from-press-secretary-karine-jean-pierre-on-the-state-visit-of-president-william-ruto-and-first-lady-rachel-ruto-of-kenya/

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2024/02/16/remarks-by-vice-president-harris-at-the-munich-security-conference-munich-germany/

https://apnews.com/article/biden-g-20-summit-politics-africa-china-04ce188209d1fac0c4f9e946825e3c2f

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/5/20/us-set-to-evacuate-illegal-troops-from-niger

https://www.cnn.com/2024/05/02/politics/us-russian-forces-niger-base/index.html

https://apnews.com/article/niger-chad-us-troops-withdrawal-russia-aa852a79bac39aaa679af3663b56deaa

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2024/05/24/fact-sheet-vice-president-harris-announces-public-and-private-sector-commitments-to-advancing-digital-inclusion-in-africa/

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2024/05/24/remarks-by-vice-president-harris-and-president-william-ruto-of-the-republic-of-kenya-at-a-state-luncheon/

https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/white-house/trump-referred-haiti-african-countries-shithole-nations-n836946

4/background-press-call-previewing-the-vice-presidents-trip-to-ghana-tanzania-and-zambia/

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-03-23/putin-s-mercenary-prigozhin-shifts-focus-after-ukraine-setbacks

https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2023/mar/25/harris-heads-to-africa-amid-bidens-courtship-of-co/

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-64451376

https://sg.news.yahoo.com/africa-worlds-future-touring-us-090551181.html

https://apnews.com/article/kamala-harris-africa-ghana-tanzania-zambia-china-a1ecb70d87bfecf3b983d15afc498379

5/fact-sheet-u-s-africa-partnership-in-promotin-peace-security-and-democratic-governance/

https://www.csis.org/analysis/prioritizing-partnerships-africa

https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2024/05/21/whitman-ruto-kenya-cabinet-consideration-00159251

https://academic.oup.com/afraf/article/122/487/205/7133587

https://blog.prif.org/2022/11/08/have-the-tables-turned-what-to-expect-from-kenyas-new-hustler-president-william-ruto/

https://press.un.org/en/2023/sc15432.doc.htm

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2024/05/24/haiti-kenya-security-force/

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/3/13/who-are-haitis-gangs-and-what-do-they-want-all-you-need-to-know

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/longform/2024/3/25/a-criminal-economy-how-us-arms-fuel-deadly-gang-violence-in-haiti

https://www.npr.org/2024/05/19/1252380146/us-troops-leave-niger

https://www.cnn.com/2024/05/24/americas/haiti-gang-mss-kenya-explainer-intl/index.html

https://www.state.gov/un-security-council-authorizes-multinational-security-support-mission-to-haiti/

https://www.citizen.digital/news/kenyan-police-advance-team-returns-from-haiti-as-deployment-faces-delay-n342868

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2024/05/24/remarks-by-vice-president-harris-and-president-william-ruto-of-the-republic-of-kenya-during-a-moderated-conversation-on-digital-inclusion-in-africa/

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2024/05/23/remarks-by-president-biden-and-president-william-ruto-of-the-republic-of-kenya-in-joint-press-conference/

https://news.un.org/en/story/2024/05/1149831

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I Helped Make Standing Rock Go Viral. Now I Regret It. Lucy Biggers

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Lucy Biggers poses at Standing Rock in December 2016, after she went live from the camp on the NowThis Facebook page. (All photos courtesy of the author)

Eight years ago, I was in my mid-20s, and like many of my colleagues at NowThis News, I was completely aligned with the company’s left-wing content. As a social video producer, each day I logged on and searched my newsfeed for stories and videos that would appeal to our millions of Facebook followers. I called myself a journalist but really I was an early social media influencer, pushing a very specific point of view. 

The stories that got the most engagement were ones that elicited strong emotions, either happiness or anger. A “happy” story was one in which the good guys—LGBTQ activists, BLM protesters, climate change warriors, and the like—won some battle against greedy capitalists, cops, or (insert white authority figure here). An “angry” story was one in which those oppressors screwed over the good guys. When I came across a story I thought could go viral, I quickly edited the video and added subtitles and music. Then I’d sit back and wait for the reaction from our like-minded followers.

So, in October 2016, when the actress Shailene Woodley popped up on my computer screen, I knew she was going to generate a whole lot of views.

The clip showed her speech after she won an award from the Environmental Media Association. For months, she had been deeply involved in trying to block the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota. Flanked by several members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, she spoke emotionally about the importance of stopping the oil pipeline.

“What we are seeing right now at Standing Rock is that thousands of people are committed to fighting and winning a battle against corporate greed with nothing but love and compassion, prayer, and ceremony,” she said. “I’m calling out to everyone in this room tonight, show up. Don’t just tweet about it. . . Go to Standing Rock. Go to Standing Rock.

I quickly did my thing: I ran the video through my editing software, moving the best moments to the beginning. I added emotional music by searching “heartfelt” and “somber” in our music library. I wrote some subtitles. Then I posted it.

Within 24 hours, the video had over 1 million views. By December, that number was up to 17 million. 

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe opposed the pipeline because it was going to be routed underneath Lake Oahe, where the reservation gets its water, which they consider sacred. Even though the pipeline would be 95 feet below the lake, the tribe feared a leak could contaminate it. The protests began in April 2016, when some 60 members of the tribe rode on horseback for miles to set up the Sacred Stone Camp, which soon became known as Standing Rock. They vowed to stay until the pipeline was stopped.

Over the next few months, thanks to the viral clips shared by NowThis and other left-leaning social media sites, hundreds and then thousands of people joined the camp. The Native Americans led the protests, sometimes locking themselves to pipeline machinery or trespassing on the construction sites. Every day, protesters uploaded videos of these “acts of resistance” to Facebook. 

Woodley was a regular at Standing Rock, often livestreaming on Facebook. In one grainy video, she talked about the evils of capitalism, the threat of climate change, and out-of-control corporate greed. She talked about her vegan diet and the increasing difficulty of finding nontoxic foods. In my mind, all of these issues were connected. Late-stage capitalism, colonialism, commercial agriculture, and corporate greed were all part of the mindset that was leading a greedy pipeline company—Energy Transfer Partners—to desecrate Native American land.

For months leading up to Woodley’s speech, I had watched videos of the Standing Rock protests every day, all day long. The term doomscrolling hadn’t been invented yet, but that’s what I was doing. In mid-October, I had watched footage of the police clashing violently with Standing Rock protesters. I quickly edited the footage for NowThis. The next day, Senator Bernie Sanders reshared my video to his millions of followers. Talk about validation!


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Rashida Tlaib Speaks at Detroit Conference Tied to Terrorist Group Francesca Block

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Rep. Rashida Tlaib speaks at the People’s Conference for Palestine last Saturday. (Screenshot via YouTube)

Over the weekend, while most Americans were barbecuing and honoring our fallen soldiers, U.S. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib was in Detroit, speaking at a conference alongside two people with links to a U.S. designated terrorist organization. 

Tlaib was a surprise speaker Saturday at the three-day “People’s Conference for Palestine.” Minutes before she took the stage at the Huntington Place convention center, hundreds of attendees, many dressed in keffiyehs, danced and sang along to music, which one of the organizers told the crowd was a “medley of songs from the first Intifada.” Then he introduced Tlaib, who walked up to the podium with her fist in the air as the audience stood and cheered.

In her 15-minute talk, the Michigan congresswoman accused Israel of “war crimes” and called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “murderous war criminal.” She also appeared to threaten Joe Biden’s election prospects in her state. Referring to the campus protesters, Tlaib stated: “It is disgraceful that the Biden administration and my colleagues in Congress continue to smear them for protesting to save lives no matter faith or ethnicity. It is cowardly. But we’re not gonna forget in November, are we?” 

Wissam Rafidi, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a Marxist terrorist group founded in 1967, also addressed the conference. The PFLP, which the U.S. has designated as a terrorist organization, is not as prominent as Hamas or other terrorist groups. But has, among other things, claimed responsibility in 2019 for exploding a device that killed a 17-year-old Israeli girl in Dolev, a settlement in the West Bank.

At the conference on Friday, Rafidi said, “These Zionists lie like they breathe. I want to assure everyone that there is no longer a place for a two-state solution for any Palestinian. The only solution is one democratic Palestinian land which will end the Zionist project in Palestine.” He also said: “Hamas is part of the resistance of the Palestinian people.” 

Another speaker at the conference was Sana’ Daqqa, the wife of a PFLP terrorist who was sentenced to life in prison for the 1984 abduction and murder of an Israeli soldier. Speaking on both Friday and Sunday, Daqqa praised the anti-Israel movement on U.S. campuses. She then referenced the Hamas massacre on October 7, called the al-Aqsa Flood, as the response to Israel. “The only thing that can stop this is a flood,” she said. “This is what the resistance intended, that the flood would become floods throughout the entire region.” 

The conference was organized by over a dozen pro-Palestine groups, including The People’s Forum, which owns the conference’s website domain. As a recent Free Press investigation showed, The People’s Forum is funded by multimillionaire Marxist Neville Roy Singham, who was born and became wealthy in America but now lives in Shanghai where he funds a number of propaganda sites boosting the Chinese Communist Party. People’s Forum’s executive director Manolo De Los Santos also spoke at the conference, calling for the end of America. “We have to bring down this empire with one million cuts, and those one million cuts have to come from every sector of struggle in this room,” De Los Santos said.

The group’s involvement in the conference “underscores foreign influence efforts into destabilizing U.S. institutions through grassroots activism,” said Alex Goldenberg, lead intelligence analyst at the Network Contagion Research Institute, which researches the spread of “hostile ideological content.”

“The rhetoric from speakers, including those with direct ties to terrorist organizations, glorifies violent resistance and revolutionary actions,” Goldenberg added. “This, coupled with the call for sustained and intensified direct action, raises the alarming possibility that individuals are being indoctrinated to embrace and participate in violence.”

The People’s Forum and its partners, including the Palestinian Youth Movement, are now organizing a rally in D.C. on June 8, calling on protesters to serve as a “red line” and to “surround the White House.” 

“Their explicit objectives are to organize and mobilize protests over the summer, which should raise significant national security concerns,” Goldenberg said.

In February, Tlaib’s sister helped organize a protest vote in Michigan’s Democratic primary against Biden’s policy of supporting Israel in the Gaza War. More than 100,000 Michigan voters cast their ballot for “uncommitted,” including Tlaib herself. As of press time, Tlaib’s spokesperson had not responded to a request for comment from The Free Press

Francesca Block is a reporter for The Free Press. Follow her on X (formerly Twitter) @FrancescaABlock. Eli Lake is a Free Press columnist. Follow him at @EliLake

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