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Watch: Voices for New Democracy Forum With The Poor People’s Campaign

In our latest monthly political forum, Roz Pelles and Lucy Lewis from The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival joined Voices for New Democracy to discuss the important work of the campaign and its strategy of weaving together diverse struggles that center impacted communities.

The Poor People’s Campaign draws on the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s organizing and the Civil Rights Movement to bring the fight against poverty back into the national conversation through grassroots organizing in communities across the country and nonviolent direct action with their diverse coalition.

In the forum, Roz Pelles discusses the outlook and strategies of the movement, highlighting the leadership by directly impacted individuals and the ongoing work of bringing together diverse social, political, economic, and environmental movements to build a unified voice demanding common goals. She also discusses the Campaign’s work of submitting a “moral budget” to Congress, highlighting priorities for investment in family care and community support, which may have influenced the recent Congressional infrastructure bills that would deliver historic investments in these areas.

Watch the full forum below.

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“A Season of Action”: Women at Center of Fight to Protect Voting Rights Step Up to Save Democracy

| Roz Pelles & Dr. Liz Theoharis |

This article originally appeared in Ms. Magazine.

On Monday, July 19, nearly 100 women were arrested with the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington, D.C. while protesting the filibuster and demanding full voting rights and living wages. These women—a multiracial group of leaders from major labor unions, religious denominations, national organizations and grassroots communities that represent millions of people—demanded action from Congress and the president by August 6, the anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. 

The attack on democracy currently playing out in D.C. and in state legislatures like Texas is the worst we have seen since Reconstruction. Since January, there has been a wave of voter suppression laws across the country—while in the Senate, members of both parties continue to use the filibuster to block the political will of the majority of Americans. At the center of this crisis are poor women, especially poor women of color, who are facing increasingly unlivable conditions, none of which will change without a democracy that works for them.

History has circled back in the most wicked of ways, forcing a new generation of women to step into the breach to save this democracy. 173 years ago, on July 19, 1848, hundreds came together in Seneca Falls, New York, to denounce the outrage of second-class citizenship for women. Seneca Falls is often remembered for the issue of suffrage. At the time, though, it was too radical for some. But others including leading abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who attended the convention, urged the women to make voting rights a key priority, knowing that their struggle was connected to the fight for what W.E.B. Du Bois would later call “abolition democracy.” 

Indeed, the demands in Seneca Falls largely echoed the unheralded efforts of Black women stretching back decades, and their rising discontent under the leadership of women like Sojourner Truth. Three years after Seneca Falls, at a women’s convention in Akron, Ohio, Truth famously said:

“If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back and get it right side up again.”

Take Action

On Monday, we carried the spirit of all of these women into the streets of D.C. We reminded the nation that unshackling our democracy from voter suppression and procedural rules like the filibuster is inextricably linked to the work of building a nation where every person’s needs are met. At this critical crossroads, we cannot let up on the demand for racial and economic justice, including the raising of the minimum wage to at least $15 an hour, which would immediately lift the pay of 32 million people, disproportionately poor women of color. 

That is why on Monday we committed ourselves not just to one day, but a season of action. Next week we will bring the fight to state legislators, with actions in dozens of states, including a Selma-inspired three-day march to the Texas legislature in Austin.

The following Monday, on August 2, we will converge again en masse in D.C., fueled by a growing movement of women and others who are willing to move beyond calls for quiet conversation and compromise, and into bold action.

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Analysis Democracy: Rule of Law & Elections Economic Justice Organizing Social Justice

Is a Progressive Majority in Texas Possible?

| Matt Perrenod |

Democrats have been talking about flipping Texas for at least a decade.  It’s not hard to understand why.  Nearly 40% of Texas residents identify as Hispanic, according to the 2020 Census.  An additional 20% identify themselves as African-American, Asian-American and other non-whites, meaning that only slightly more than 40% of the state’s residents identify as non-Hispanic white, and that number is shrinking as a percentage of the whole.  

Further, the state is large, with a population and electoral strength nearly equal to Georgia, North Carolina and Arizona combined.  If Texas were to become electorally competitive statewide, it would completely change the electoral calculus in the U.S. as a whole.  And both Dems and progressives have noticed, giving the state increasing attention over the last few years.  They have, nevertheless, been disappointed: the GOP continues to hold every statewide office, including both U.S. Senators, and dominate both the Congressional delegation and both houses of the state legislature, with no erosion in 2020.  Biden did narrow Trump’s margin in the Presidential race, but still lost by nearly 6%.

With this in mind, I spoke with Mike Siegel, who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Congress from Texas’ 10th Congressional district in both 2018 and 2020. Mike is an attorney and longtime progressive activist in the Austin area.  Mike’s campaigns were strongly progressive in content and tone, and he surprised many when in 2018 he came within 4% of beating a well-financed GOP incumbent in 2018 in a Republican-leaning district stretching from east Austin to the western fringes of Houston.

With more support and considerably stronger fundraising in 2020, he actually fared slightly less well in 2020, reflecting a statewide pattern.  “We raised a lot more money in 2020, and probably 80% of that went to polling and media,” he says.  “I think we need to get a chunk of that fundraising into grassroots organizing.”

In 2021, Mike and Julie Oliver, another progressive Congressional candidate who outperformed expectations in 2018 and 2020, have created a new organization called Ground Game Texas, with an aim “to organize and mobilize voters community-by-community, collaborating with partners on the ground to meet voters at their doors, hear their concerns, and highlight popular issues that are on the ballot.”

“Obviously I think they’re important, but electoral candidacies are a limited form,” Siegel says.  “They’re about a specific candidate, in a specific race, and specific location.  And to the extent ordinary people have bandwidth for politics, they may be thinking more about Joe Biden versus Donald Trump than about the local race… If we’re going to make real progress, we need a long-term horizon.”

Ground Game Texas is meant to address that, drawing on the lessons in places like Arizona and Georgia, and applying them to the Texas context.

“The folks who successfully fought to roll back SB 1070 (the Arizona anti-immigration laws enacted in 2010) kept working,” Siegel says.  “Now Arizona has two Democratic Senators.”  The New Georgia Project went door to door for ACA (Obamacare).  Organizing for health care led to voter registration, which led to fighting for voter rights, which led finally to some big wins.  If the goal is to build a progressive Texas, we can’t rely on shortcuts.  But Texas may be even tougher: “We need twenty Stacey Abrams.  We’re big, and we’re diverse.”

Siegel believes strongly that a sustained conversation around key issues is central to this long-term thinking.  To this end, Ground Game Texas will put money and organization behind a set of issues they characterize as “Workers, Wages & Weed.”

“These are wedge issues that work in our favor,” Siegel says.  “And in Texas, a key tactic is to put these issues on city ballots throughout the state, to excite progressive voters and stimulate political conversation, and address the disconnect between Democratic policies (which are often popular), and the Democratic brand (often seen as disconnected from popular concerns).”

Ground Game Texas hopes to promote progressive causes and candidacies throughout several electoral cycles by providing campaign expertise and funding to a combination of candidacies and ballot issues, sustaining an ongoing conversation among voters that will gradually swell to a progressive majority that matches Texas’ perceived potential.

One issue is how to constantly be advancing electoral work that galvanizes voter interest and turnout. “Safe seats are a problem,” Siegel says.  “Turnout is reduced, even in strongly progressive communities, when there’s not a closely-contested race.  So we’re looking to ballot issues as a key tactic.”

Citizen-initiated ballot issues are not allowed statewide in Texas, nor at the county level.  Citizens can petition for ballot measures at the municipal level, and Ground Game Texas hopes to promote these all over the state.

“You could put an initiative on the ballot to require a living wage in city contracts, for example,” Siegel says.  “Or you could limit enforcement of marijuana laws for possession of small amounts.  These are progressive ideas that majorities support.” 

Siegel hopes to take the fundraising capacity demonstrated in progressive candidacies and direct that toward grassroots organizing.  He notes that there is already strong grassroots organization in some parts of the state, citing as an example the Texas Organizing Project, which is active in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio.  In those cases, he says, Ground Game Texas can provide tactical support, including funding and legal help.  Progressives are less well organized in many other parts of the state, however.

“For example, there is Grand Prairie, outside of Dallas,” he says.  “It has over 100,000 people, and is majority Hispanic, but lacks political organization.”  He described how a city that leans Democratic continued to be dominated by white conservative Republicans.  “We were able to help two progressive people of color win city council elections for the first time.  And you’ve got places like Grand Prairie all over the state.”  

Again, Siegel emphasizes a prolonged effort.  “It would have been nice if one exciting candidacy could flip the state,” he says, referring to Beto O’Rourke’s unexpectedly strong showing against GOP Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018.  “But that’s not how it’s going to happen.  To be real, we need to be thinking about 2028.”

Ground Game Texas starts with $1 million, and a goal of raising another $2 million this year, and funding organizers to knock on a million doors throughout the state. You can find them at www.groundgametexas.org.

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Analysis Democracy: Rule of Law & Elections Organizing Social Justice

Political Possibilites in the South & Sun Belt

| Matt Perrenod |

In the wake of the 2020 election cycle, there has been renewed attention among progressive electoral activists to Sun Belt states where people of color are a large part of the electorate in a region that for several decades has been dominated by conservative whites.  The Biden electoral victory resulted not just from his winning three northern states Trump won in 2016 (Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin), but also from victories in Georgia and Arizona, where Democratic candidates were unsuccessful for decades.  Similarly, the narrow Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate arguably rests on Georgia and Arizona, where Dems flipped four seats in 2018 and 2020.  There has also been significant attention given to North Carolina and Florida, where the GOP eked out a series of narrow victories in the 2018/20 electoral cycles, and Dems won the NC governor’s race.  Dems now control the state government in Virginia, as well as a majority of that state’s Congressional delegation.  A coalition of Hispanic, Native American and progressive white voters have delivered Dem majorities in New Mexico for several cycles.

Through much of the South and Southwest, however, the GOP retains an electoral majority, and progressives have been working on how to extend the successful experience in states like Georgia and Arizona to other areas.  Major states like Texas have drawn the attention of progressives for several cycles, but remain locked in the hands of the GOP. Stronger candidates have come forward in places like Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina and Alabama, but all of these states continue to be dominated by the right, despite large African-American populations.  With few exceptions, Republicans dominate the border states of Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia as well.

The South and Southwest have become centers of demographic diversification in the U.S.  Much of the growth in Latinx voters has been in the region, and AAPI communities have become a major component of urban centers like Houston and Atlanta.  The region remains the largest concentration of African-Americans in the country.  Given this, we ought to continue to look closely at the opportunities for progressive political power in this region, while acknowledging that demographics doesn’t automatically confer success.  Rather, we should be asking, and acting upon what it will take. I believe the successes in Georgia and Arizona point to the importance of prolonged grassroots organizing to breaking the conservative white lock on the Sun Belt.  For this reason, I hope to post occasionally on the intersection of grassroots and electoral organizing in my native region, and highlight emerging examples of how these movements are striving for political power.  I will look to both electoral contests as well as community campaigns, help amplify regional voices, and try to identify the lessons as they’re being tested and learned.  And I would like to hear from others living and working in the region, and your perspectives on the current situation.  Please comment on my posts, and feel free to email me directly at mperrenod@gmail.com.

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Analysis Democracy: Rule of Law & Elections Economic Justice Organizing Social Justice

Forum on Labor’s Future: Labor and Social Justice Movements

As part of our recent Forum on Labor’s Future, panelist Joe Alvarez delivered a presentation on his experiences and insights around the relationship between the labor movement and the growing social justice movements across the country. The following is a summary of the key points he presented, and the full presentation is available to watch below.

The Black Lives Matter uprisings of summer 2020 shook up the labor movement significantly. In one illustrative protest in Washington, D.C., protesters defaced the AFL-CIO building, putting up signs challenging the inclusion of police in the labor movement. This was followed by calls across the country to expel police unions from the AFL-CIO. A number of unions even joined the calls, with some teachers unions going so far as to launch their own campaigns to expel police from their schools.

While labor would typically be a natural ally in the fight for social justice, events during the uprising suggest a rift between social justice movements like BLM and unions. In this national moment of reckoning, we will continue to see fights and debates around the role that unions have to play in these social justice struggles. But if unions can find the right ways to ally with these movements, it could reignite the labor movement’s momentum in tremendous ways.

In fact, we are already beginning to see these trends in the new generation of labor leaders. New generations of young Black and other activists of color have been creating pressure on their unions to support social justice struggles — and notably, they have not always been doing so from a position of power. Even as outsiders, rank-and-file union workers are increasingly organizing to make demands of their unions and of the labor movement more broadly to advance a bolder vision of both social and economic justice.

There are a few key trends driving this momentum:

  • New organizing
  • Diversifying leadership
  • Changing paradigms around bargaining
  • Leadership development
  • Generational change

New organizing, for one, is bringing new populations into the labor movement, particularly people of color. In doing so, we are seeing a dramatic transformation of the face of labor. And with that comes new insight into the concerns of those communities and the need for the unions that represent them to fully stand up for the rights and needs of their communities.

Efforts to diversify union leadership are likewise transforming the what unions stand for. Diversity is important in and of itself to ensure that leadership reflects the demographic makeup of the membership. But this also comes with new understanding of the role that unions can and should play in advancing rights of workers and their communities, both in and out of the workplace.

Changing paradigms around bargaining and campaigns are also driving these transformations within the labor movement. While major union campaigns have traditionally focused almost exclusively on economic issues (e.g., the workplace, safety, conditions of employment, etc.), there has been a recent rise in bargaining that involves the broader community and that demands more fundamental changes, often targeting finance and Wall Street. Teachers, in particular, in places like Chicago have recently led campaigns demanding changes in how education is funded, as well as changes in non-workplace issues like municipal relationships with banks. Likewise, strikes in West Virginia have demanded taxes on the wealthy, and strikes in Oklahoma have targeted tax breaks for oil and gas interests. Increasingly, the labor movement is embracing a new understanding of its role in driving broad social change.

The growing emphasis on leadership development within unions is also changing the trajectory of the labor movement. Union leaders are increasingly grappling with questions about how to change culture within unions themselves to make them a stronger vehicle for leading social change: i.e. “How do we change ourselves to better lead change?” And importantly, leaders are not only thinking about leading change in the workplace, but also about how unions can contribute to broader social movements. By cultivating relationships between labor and social movements, leaders can strengthen their own unions and also play a larger role driving in social change.

Finally, the generational changes in the labor movement are also transforming it. New generations of union members are advancing new visions for social and economic justice, and the role that labor can play in both. It bears noting that these changes are themselves the result of historic victories that enabled new workers to enter into the labor movement to begin with. While these are important victories in and of themselves, they have also laid the groundwork for further change and we are currently seeing the baton being passed to new generations bringing new momentum to the labor movement.

Labor organizers must take note of these trends and recognize where momentum is growing to strengthen our movement. If we can do this and embrace new visions for our unions and social/economic justice more broadly, the labor movement will only grow more powerful.

Hear the full presentation from the Forum on Labor’s Future below.

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Analysis Democracy: Rule of Law & Elections Economic Justice Organizing Social Justice

Forum on Labor’s Future: The State of the American Labor Movement

As part of our recent Forum on Labor’s Future, UCLA Labor Center Director and moderator Kent Wong began the discussion with a recap of the state of the American labor movement. The following is a summary of the key points he presented, and the full presentation is available to watch below.

On May 1st, 2006, 1 million immigrant workers in Los Angeles held the largest May Day action in US history. Billed as a “day without immigrants,” the informal strike brought the city to a standstill and successfully defeated a major anti-immigration bill. But while this represented a major victory for the immigrant rights movement and demonstrated the power of organized labor, it is notable that this action was not led by the American labor movement.

The May Day action is just one illustrative example of broader issues facing the labor movement in the United States. It has faced years of assaults by federal and state governments, shocks of austerity and deregulation, and fissures within the labor movement that have sometimes left it at odds with other social justice movements like the struggle for immigrant rights. With that in mind, it is critically important to understand how we got here, so that we can craft the right strategy to rebuild stronger than ever before.

Since the 1950s, union density in the United States has been steadily on the decline. American unions reached their height in the 1950s with roughly 35% union density across all sectors of the American economy. But since then, this number has declined to just ~10% today, with only 6% of private sector workers represented by unions. Today, the public sector is the last stronghold of the American labor movement, with major unions like SEIU, AFSCME, NEA, AFT, UFT holding strong.

Faced with this reality, the key task for the labor movement is rebuilding. And these five strategies and tactics may hold the key to doing so:

  • Build labor-community unity with a broad vision for social & economic justice (like Fight for $15)
  • Embrace racial justice
  • Organize the unorganized
  • Fight for immigrant rights
  • Link organizing power and political power

By embracing these principles and expanding the scope of its vision – both of the working class itself and the social transformation it seeks to build – the labor movement can recapture momentum and power.

Recent campaigns are a testament to this fact. The Justice for Janitors campaign, for example, successfully reorganized the industry through pathbreaking organizing strategies and tactics. Likewise, the hotel workers campaign embraced nonviolence and use of direct action/civil disobedience, pioneering creative organizing tactics resulting in the reorganizing of the hotel industry across LA.

Even beyond the workplace, recent events show that the labor movement can also exert major strength in the political sphere, provided that it adopts the right strategies and visions. The LA Federation of Labor, for example, recently developed a major political mobilization campaign that successfully flipped the political alignment in LA and California based on a union organizing framework. This battle was won precisely because the Federation tapped rank-and-file union members to engage in political process, offering lost-time wages paid for by the union to members who were doing political organizing.

Likewise, the Biden-Harris presidential victory was won by an alliance of labor and communities of color. The context is important: Trump had won (by thin margins) former union strongholds like Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania (which have been the target of robust anti-union attacks and legislation). But in 2020, they flipped back — in part, due to massive union infusion of organizing, which also played out in Arizona and Georgia. Hundreds of full-time canvassers were sent by their unions to do door-to-door mobilization even during the pandemic, which decisively helped flip Arizona and secured the victories of Senators Warnock and Ossoff in Georgia.

Labor organizers and unions must take note of these trends and these case studies as we continue working to build the power of the labor movement. If we can do so, labor’s future looks bright.

Hear the full presentation from the Forum on Labor’s Future below.

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Democracy: Rule of Law & Elections Economic Justice Global Peace & Collaboration Social Justice

Is the U.S. Now in the Weimar Era?

| Dennis Torigoe |

Walden Bello and I go way back as grad students at Princeton’s sociology department and activists on campus and in the years since. In his recent interview after the events of January 6th, Walden, a famed activist, author and public intellectual from the Philippines, asserted that the United States “has entered the Weimar Era.” In Germany after the First World War, a section of the German capitalist class and its politicians backed right wing mobs to take to the streets in violent demonstrations. Since the Right could not take power through elections, they worked to delegitimize the democratic process and the government. This, Bello contends, paved the way for fascism to replace the representative government ending up with Hitler as Chancellor of the Reich.

As the US is one of the oldest, and certainly the biggest, continuous democracies (in some form) in existence, the sounding of its death knell is a bit premature despite the severity of the crisis. There are a number of reasons for this. These reasons are not to assert that the challenges and crises that democratic governments face from the extreme right in the US are not serious. I agree with Walden’s characterization of neoliberal policies leading to deindustrialization, and therefore feelings of loss and anger among some workers and small business people, who have been manipulated by Trump and other right-wingers. Political violence from the white supremacist right is a historic current in this country and a rising threat. We must counter it by gaining and strengthening cultural hegemony with such values as equality, inclusiveness and thoroughgoing democracy through organizing people and politically isolating the extreme right.  When they do resort to violence, we must make sure that they are dealt with aggressively legally, politically, by law enforcement and, if necessary, through armed self-defense.  

However, due to their actions against the government on January 6th, the extreme right is now in the crosshairs of the US Government and a large majority of the American people. The events of January 6th has not increased their strength, but has isolated them from the vast majority of the American people who believe in democratic government.

The Curious Case of the Missing Movement

One of Walden’s omissions in this interview is curious. Did he forget about the millions of demonstrators in every major city, localities and small towns across the country after George Floyd’s murder? Did he forget about Black Lives Matter? For some reason, he forgot about the people’s fight against police and racist violence occurring for months during the last year. He also dismisses the hard-won electoral victories through the relentless organizing efforts of hundreds of thousands in places like Georgia and Arizona, and indeed across the country. Here is the problem with this. According to this line of thought if we fight for more democracy, organize harder and succeed, then the Right gets more violent in the streets, the political situation gets chaotic and the military or a tyrant takes over. Thus, his view is that of self-defeat.   

That is the problem with his historical analogies, one that compares the United States as the world’s superpower to Third World countries like Chile in the 70’s and the Philippines under Marcos and to Weimar Germany. The United States today is starkly different from any of those examples that Walden Bello uses. For one thing, each of those examples were times of fatally deep economic crises, with runaway inflation in Chile and in the economic collapse of the Weimar Republic. There was relatively sudden, widespread and brutal  impoverishment if not outright starvation because of the economic catastrophes  they faced.    

As their economies were weak, their currencies were devalued to almost worthless pieces of paper and issuing more meant even more inflation and economic ruin.

In contrast, the United States controls the world’s recognized reserve currency, which gives it vast economic power. The US Government issues virtually as many dollars as it wants, knowing it will be accepted as the currency of world trade and commerce. Printing money in this way not only sustains its own economy, US capitalists have also used this tactic to manipulate other currencies and suppress other economies. That can be shown by the  Asian currency crises in the 90s and the trade and economic sanctions on Cuba and Venezuela, which are not allowed to conduct trade through the clearing system based on the US dollar.  

On top of that our economy is very unlikely to experience the kind of economic collapse that breeds fascism. The 2 trillion dollar rescue plan put out by Biden, impossible in Chile or a Weimar Republic, will not result in hyperinflation, but in real benefit to the welfare of the country’s citizens. The Federal Reserve Bank can and does further prop up the economy by lowering interest rates and directly buying US government, and mortgage-backed bonds through its quantitative easing program. The government can also forgive college loans, lower taxes, and a host of other steps to buoy the economy. This is not the economy of 70s Chile, the Philippines under Marcos and not even close to what Weimar Germany was.   

The same facts that Walden Bello uses to promote his view of deepening chaos and military rule in fact shows that the tide is running high against the right wing extremists. The breach of the Capitol was a sign of desperation, not a sign of strength. Their President had been thrown out after one term (the last time that happened was in 1992) and the left had dominated the streets for months, the Democrats had won both houses of Congress and the left is resurging.  

Is Military Intervention Likely?

Bello argues that chaos brought on by right wing street violence will trigger a military takeover. In fact, that is the least likely scenario given the circumstances the country is in now. For one thing, we must not forget or belittle the power of the constitutional and normative tradition of the US military’s position being under civilian control.  The Joint Chiefs of Staff are, in the military chain of command, directly below the Secretary of Defense and this Secretary under the President.  In the 233-year history since the ratification of the Constitution, this has never been breached, though it has been challenged twice — once by General McClellan against Lincoln during the Civil War and by Douglas MacArthur against Truman during the Korean War.  Both Generals were fired summarily.  

More recently, in light of Trump’s misuse of Federal power, numerous former Defense Secretaries and retired Generals and Admirals have stated their positions clearly: the active military shall not be used in internal politics and that the military should be staunch in its position that, as stated in the in Uniform Code of Military Justice, no illegal order order should be obeyed. The testament of these military leaders has put both institutional as well as political weight behind the military’s non-intervention in civilian political affairs.  

Another telling incident on military non-intervention in political affairs  was the apology of the sitting Chair of the Joint Chiefs for marching with Trump to his Bible-holding photo op after the site was cleared of Black Lives Matter protestors with federal officers. As reported in the Guardian:

Milley and defense secretary Mark Esper were widely criticized for participating in the photo-op, with many former defense officials saying the two were helping Trump’s efforts to politicize the military.

“As senior leaders, everything you do will be closely watched, and I am not immune,” Milley said.

“As many of you saw the result of the photograph of me at Lafayette Square last week, that sparked a national debate about the role of the military in civil society. I should not have been there,” Milley continued.

“My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics. As a commissioned uniformed officer, it was a mistake that I have learned from, and I sincerely hope we all can learn from it.”

These are not the words of a military ready to pounce on civilian leadership of the country if chaos in the streets erupts. 

Walden Bello has dedicated his life to effectively fight for the people of the Philippines and the world. His contributions are historic and will be remembered for generations to come. Though I believe he does not correctly view the United States at this historic juncture, I look forward to his continued contributions to the people’s movement for justice and democracy in the future.

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Democracy: Rule of Law & Elections Economic Justice Organizing

Capitol Assault, Shay’s Rebellion and the Footballs of Mass Consciousness

| Steve Clark |

After 57 percent of white voters went for Trump in November and, then, a section of them stormed the Capitol this week, progressive people are asking, “What is the deal with white Americans?”

It’s a good question. Obviously, Trump made it ok to stand up for white supremacy, and he made conspiracy theory into a fine art. And he turned out his voters. But, it would be unfair and counterproductive to label them all “deplorable.” How should we assess the state of White America?

A crucial first step is to recognize that American society — along with the section that voted for Trump — is the on-going interplay of its three adult generations (Boomers, GenXers and Millennials), each of which has a unique character.

Only among the oldest generation, age 65+ (the Boomers), did Trump win a majority of votes (52%). Boomers are an idealistic generation, and, whatever their individual politics — left, right or center — each Boomer absolutely believes he or she knows best…and facing, now (late in life), an unsatisfactory end to their lifelong social and political endeavors, Boomers are desperately striving, one last time, to put their ideals into action. This is true of left and right Boomers as well as the middle. While rightwing Boomers are the core, both of Trump’s cabinet and his fan base, far fewer GenXers (45%) and Millennials (35%!) cast votes for him.

A generational conflict of this nature always occurs late in America’s Fourth Turnings, those every-80-year intervals when the evolving generational constellation fosters a mood of social crisis and transformation. Yet, precisely because this conflict emerges in every cycle but to little consequence, we can alleviate fears of it getting out of hand this time around.

Shay’s Rebellion

Take the case of Shay’s Rebellion, during the crisis era of the American Revolution. The colonies had fought a long war and won independence from England in 1783, completing a crucial first step in the Revolution. But the second step, after military victory, was the actual construction of a functional self-government. Initially, the former colonies (led by the era’s elder, idealistic, Awakener generation) set up government under the Articles of Confederation, a structure that left the central government weak (relative to the various states) but appealed to the anti-authoritarian streak that persisted (and still persists) in America’s idealistic psyche. But, without an effective system of finance, the new national government could not discharge its obligations to the younger citizen soldiers who had left home and family to join General Washington in defeating the British. Meanwhile, a postwar debt crisis led state governments to increase taxes on their citizens. Pinched and indignant, a few thousand former soldiers in Massachusetts led by Daniel Shays rebelled and marched on the local armory. State militia provided a strong defense; Shays and others escaped to Vermont but were tried in absentia. Two men in custody were hanged, but, eventually, the rest (including Shays) were pardoned, yet with pariah status. Shays died a lonely alcoholic.

A few years later, in 1791, soon after the Constitution was adopted and Washington became the first President, the Whiskey Rebellion kicked off in western Pennsylvania when the new government imposed the nation’s first federal tax (a whiskey tax). At the time, a host of Revolutionary War veterans had settled on this western frontier, claiming lands granted them as compensation for their wartime service. Led by former Major James McFarland, hundreds of veterans and their followers joined the rebellion, only to be squashed by federal troops sent by Washington. In the final confrontation, McFarland, himself, was killed.

My point, here, is that a large section (possibly, a majority) of the older generations — after defying existing government and demanding its capitulation in the early years of Fourth Turnings — ends up resisting new authority in midstream, even resorting to violence in vain efforts to impede this turnover of history.

We see the same thing, today, in the majority of struggling Boomers who continue to back Trump out of their own need of help and the persistent fear (true, in fact, and nurtured by Trump) that the government is in cahoots with the nation’s elite to cheat them of their rightful due. Most of these abide Trump’s racism because — in the lack of enough government spending to actually ensure their personal security — they feel pitted against minorities in a contest for survival. As one (white) Boomer who has spent most of his life in rebellion against our government’s failures (though enjoying, even in that, the benefits of white and male privilege), I understand anti-authoritarian (anti-government) sentiment, but progressive GenXers and Millennials — for good reason at this late date in our nation’s crisis — are intolerant of such dangerous thinking and destructive antics. If history is a guide, after this week’s showdown at the Capitol, today’s Trumpers will be singled out for the same kind of absolute suppression endured by Shays and McFarland.

Owing to the ongoing generational gestalt, today’s white rightwing oldsters have little chance of enlarging the cultural foothold they gained (over the last four years) through Trump’s articulation of their gripes. They will remain dangerous and sometimes destructive, but the majority of their younger followers will move to the center and left as the government implements programs of genuine social investment while continuing to beat down and lock up elder rightwing leaders.

WVO’s Consciousness Football

The Workers Viewpoint Organization’s consciousness football is another way to evaluate the white voter in America. WVO’s analogy dates to the late 1970s when the young, Boomer-dominated New Left was trying to figure out how to build a revolutionary party. It was obvious that “advanced workers” had to be the target of our outreach and recruitment, but their interconnections and roles relative to the total body of Americans — the masses — was little understood. In contrast to WVO, most leftists viewed the masses (and mass consciousness) as a giant pyramid, with the most advanced at the top and widening strata of less politically astute workers as one moved from the advanced to the middle and, finally, to the backward at the bottom.

WVO attacked the pyramid as belittlement of the masses, their consciousness, and their necessary role in social transformation. Noting Chairman Mao’s observation that “the masses are the makers of history” (not the advanced workers or the party, itself), WVO asserted that, far from a pyramid, the consciousness of the masses is shaped like a football.

As in the pyramid, the most advanced workers are a relatively small number, but, unlike in the pyramid, so are the relatively backward workers. The vast majority are the fat sections of the football between the two ends. In normal times, the ends are small in number and of little practical consequence, dominated by the mainstream in the middle. But, in times of crisis, the football elongates. The center is squeezed, and more people are pushed toward both ends. The backward and the advanced grow in number and activity, becoming more crucial in the political dynamics of the middle. Yet, the middle remains the largest section, and, ultimately, the way it moves determines the course of history. While its passive normalcy anchors the nation’s politics “in the middle” most of the time, in Fourth Turnings, it shifts left and right, until it finally draws a verdict on its true leaders and locks itself, to one end of the football or the other, for the duration of the turn.

Early in this Fourth Turning, after 9/11, neoconservative Boomers (Bush et al) got their shot at power, but their proposed resolution — a democratic renaissance in Iraq after a US invasion — proved not only imaginary but disastrous, and our nation stumbled along with centrist, neoliberal leadership (Obama) in Bush’s wake. Eight years into that, with their personal situations devolving, American voters, in desperation, took a deal with the devil (Trump) that promptly descended into chaos.

Minds Clear Now

However, with George Floyd’s murder on May 25 — and the nationwide rebellion against police violence that ensued — the middle sections of the American people largely cleared their minds. Aroused in the midst of a pandemic by one too many video-taped police killing of unarmed black men, America’s middle shifted its support to Black Lives Matter, and when Trump tried to mobilize the US military behind his call for law and order, the generals stood with the people and rebuked him. That was coup attempt number 1. Last week, desperate in his final weeks, he tried it again, also in utter failure.

The racist diehards who enjoyed a resurgence under Trump will now crawl back — or be beat back — into their old confines, but the beat-down will succeed only if the majority of white Trump voters are given the opportunity to join the rest of the nation in finding good, secure jobs in post-pandemic, post-industrial society. For this, the Biden Administration must step boldly forward with programs like the Green New Deal and a federal Job Guarantee. If white Trump voters see and enjoy real opportunity in their own lives, they will embrace intersectional collaboration for the greater good. That is the nature of the middle forces, whatever their race, ethnicity or gender, whatever the time in history.

Categories
Democracy: Rule of Law & Elections Ecological Justice Economic Justice Financial Justice Social Justice

Biden’s First 100 Days

| Steve Clark |

At the end of February (1932) we were a congeries of disorderly panic-stricken mobs and factions. In the hundred days from March to June we became again an organized nation confident of our power to provide for our own security and to control our own destiny.

Walter Lippman.

For understandable reasons, many of us could barely look past the November election, given that our nation’s democratic future seemed to ride up on it. But, we did our job well — with Georgia still to decide how well — and our anti-fascist, progressive movement will find itself in a dual power situation with neoliberalism when the new Congress and Biden Administration are installed in January.

We have to be ready for that, too. We want to hit the ground running and know which way we want to go.

First 100 Days

When FDR took office in 1933 — three years into the depths of the Great Depression — he wasted no time. Immediately, he ordered a bank “holiday” (shut-down); then, in the next 100 days, he collaborated with the new Congress to enact sweeping, structural reform of America’s languishing, Gilded Age class relations, starting with the banks and empowering working people at every turn.

Every four years since the New Deal’s launch, pundits speculate about what each President’s first 100 days will mean, but it’s been a very, very long time since a President’s first days carried the import of FDR’s. This year — in the midst of a crisis at least as grave as the Great Depression — the first 100 days will matter.

Or, they won’t. Although Joe Biden is positioned just about like FDR was in 1933, it’s fair to doubt whether he has the vision, personal energy or political capital to make his first 100 days count. It’s also important to note that, despite the New Deal’s many important advances, it did not reverse finance capital’s domination of America’s economy and its government.

Thus, as everyone on the left has noted, it is crucial that our movement provide both direction and backbone for whatever can and will be mustered in Biden’s first days and through his first term.

Come January, the real struggle for social justice, economic power and ecological regeneration begins in our country. It will be a fight over executive orders, regulatory action, new agencies, legislation, civic commissions and constitutional amendments, all propelled by the nationwide, grassroots urgency that erupted in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.

And, because the US is the world’s military hegemon and our dollar is civilization’s global reserve currency, come January, the real struggle for democratic control of the world’s financial system also kicks in.

We’ve come to the brink. As currently constituted, the corporate system is the antithesis of social, economic and ecological justice. If the present social uprising is going to be a real revolution, finance capital must be checked, remanded, taxed, and institutionally constrained.

Here in rough-draft is a revolutionary plan of attack for Biden’s first 100 days. A combination of immediate actions and starting points, it targets financial (class) justice as well as wider struggles for racial, social and environmental justice. I thank my friends who’ve contributed so far, and I look forward to incorporating additions and feedback from readers in a second draft (some aligned co-advocates are noted or linked in parentheses).

First 100 Days Agenda

For Presidential Edict and/or Congressional Action

  1. Temporary Emergency Aid for Pandemic Relief
    1. Extend unemployment benefits, augmented with $600/week supplemental benefits, to eligible Americans; establish immediate, federal income support payments for all others, including gig economy workers
    2. Open immediate registration for those eligible for Obamacare and Medicare; for all others, guarantee coverage for all testing, treatment and sick leave for Covid-related illness; extend Family Medical Leave Act benefits
    3. Direct federal payments, as necessary, to redeem all pandemic-provoked, revenue shortfalls of state, municipal and tribal governments
    4. Establish federal Pandemic Service Thank You! Stipends for essential healthcare workers, food production/service workers and teachers
    5. Enforce a moratorium on housing evictions and mortgage defaults imposed by corporate owners
    6. Enforce a moratorium on student, consumer and personal debt payments (principal and interest) to corporate lenders
  2. Social Justice
    1. Defund police and end the war on black people
      1. Pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act (HR 7120)
      2. End the 1033 Program and other federal transfers of military equipment to local police departments
      3. Direct the Department of Justice to establish and administer a program of national block grant funding for state-coordinated, municipally-administered, community-based, alternatives-to-police, social programs
      4. Pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act
    2. Defund US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); support the human right of political asylum; cease deportation of status (non-criminal) offenders; correct US policy that fosters emigration from Latin America; restore Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA); provide a path to citizenship for immigrant residents
    3. Expand grants to public colleges and universities to enable free tuition and expand research to advance social and ecological problem-solving
    4. Extend statehood to the District of Columbia and the option of statehood or independence to Puerto Rico
    5. Advance a Constitutional Amendment to abolish the Electoral College
    6. Advance a Constitutional Amendment to establish an annual federal Election Holiday, specifically for voting and civic affairs
    7. Drop the filibuster and return to majority rule in the Senate
    8. Ban sale of US-made, military-grade weapons to private citizens and non-government organizations; enact “common sense” gun control
    9. Appoint a blue-ribbon Civic, Culture and Sports Commission to promote diversity appreciation, tolerance and equal rights under law:
      1. Legacy education, community-based truth & reconciliation programs; reparations for African-American slavery and Native People expropriation
      2. A welcome hand to the world’s destitute and downtrodden
      3. Respect for each individual’s unique gender and sexual identity
      4. A reappraisal of American Exceptionalism as the US joins the community of nations confronting global climate crisis
  3. Economic Power
    1. Declare a “market holiday” to suspend stock market operations and install protections for the American retirement system
      1. Suspend Federal Reserve infusions to US corporations that sustain the stock market bubble
      2. Convene a Market Bubble Deflation Task Force of bank, market, Fed, Treasury and monetary policy experts to de-escalate the bubble and protect American retirement accounts (pension funds, IRAs, etc.)
    2. Reinstate Glass-Steagall; forge a nationwide, community-based banking system for people and non-profits as well as small and family-owned businesses
    3. Advance a Constitutional Amendment to establish a Job Guarantee as the right of all American citizens
    4. Direct the Secretary of Labor to restructure the Department of Labor (DOL) to make achieving and maintaining genuine full employment its core mission
      1. Administer federal grants to states to permanently convert unemployment offices to Employment Offices
      2. Administer funding to guarantee on-demand, dignified, public service jobs (life-sustaining wages plus benefits) to every adult in every community
      3. Collaborate with state, municipal and tribal governments to source and fund jobs with community-based, non-profit, service organizations (NGOs)
    5. Raise the minimum wage to $15/hour; set and periodically update national labor standards to ensure life-sustaining wages, childcare and vacation benefits for all workers
    6. Ensure healthcare for all US residents
      1. Direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to refortify and reorient the US Public Health Service to ensure effective access to care in all American communities, including the capacity to test and trace during pandemics and the provision of full health services for women and transpersons; establish a national stockpile of vital health equipment and supplies
      2. Enact Medicare for All
      3. Empower the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to establish behavioral guidelines and standards during national health crises
    7. Advance a Constitutional Amendment to bar corporations from funding, advertising, fundraising, and otherwise participating in US elections
  4. Ecological Regeneration
    1. Proclaim a global, climate change emergency
    2. Appoint a Green New Deal Joint Task Force to include the Vice President; the secretaries of Labor, Treasury, State and the EPA; Congressional leaders (Sanders/AOC); an NGO advisory council; and public citizens to:
      1. Design and implement a federal program to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2025
      2. Design and administer state and local GND programs via NGO-public partnerships at various levels
    3. Design industrial policy and implement state and local, public-private partnerships to expand jobs while revitalizing infrastructure, recycling & waste management, electrification, transportation, communication, and civic participation (voting) systems nationwide
    4. Make the Federal Emergency Management Agency a cabinet level department and augment it with an Emergency Service Corps to provide permanent, entry-level and career employment in disaster response, crisis management, emergency relief, containment and mitigation, and community re-construction services
  5. Financial Reconstruction
    1. Enact federal legislation to permanently cancel existing consumer, student, tenant and personal debt to corporations
    2. Enact a permanent federal bank tax on all corporate electronic funds transfers (EFTs) to hold the corporate sector to account for the social and ecological crises government now must mitigate
    3. Target socially and ecologically retrograde corporations (i.e., oil, guns) with higher EFT tax rates
    4. End debt ceiling resolutions and the practice of issuing US Treasury bonds to the Federal Reserve in the amount of any federal deficit
    5. Enact a permanent federal franchise fee on credit extended by corporate lenders to private sector borrowers
  6. Global Solidarity and Multilateralism
    1. Revoke restrictions on US family-planning assistance under the Mexico City Accords
    2. Rejoin the Paris Climate Accords and the World Health Organization
    3. Support creation of a Global Citizens Assembly to design and implement a Global Green New Deal and Job Guarantee (GGND&JG)
      1. Build an alliance of nation-states for the GGND&JG at the United Nations
      2. Deploy US power at International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Bank of International Settlements (BIS) to mobilize central banks to implement a GGND&JG for people and nations, everywhere
      3. Create a GGND&JG special drawing right (SDR) currency and a SDR-denominated bank tax (on corporate EFTs) to establish a GGND&JG world market
    4. Cancel foreign-denominated debts of nation-states, worldwide, to the World Bank and other corporate lenders
    5. Expand World Health Organization programs to ensure access to healthcare for everyone, worldwide
    6. Direct the Secretary of the Treasury to discontinue all US-imposed financial sanctions programs including those against Cuba, Russia, Venezuela, Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Nicaragua, Iraq, North Korea, Yemen, Libya and Hong Kong
    7. Direct the Secretary of Defense to reduce department spending by 10 percent per year for the first term
    8. Direct the Secretary of State to increase department spending by 10 percent per year for the first term
    9. Restrict international trade of US-made, military-grade weapons and systems
    10. Support multilateral programs of civic administration, special reparations, conflict resolution, and truth & reconciliation for regions of enduring culturally- and religiously-rooted conflict (such as Jerusalem)