Categories
Analysis Financial Justice Social Justice Uncategorized

Monetary Imperialism & Apartheid in Africa: The CFA Franc

| Sherri Donovan |

Colonialist Northern nations utilize the IMF, the World Bank, legal frameworks, imposition of fiscal austerity, tax rules and privatization to deprive African cultures and countries of their own resources and to ensure such resources flow to the imperialistic nations and international corporate benefit.

After World War II, France was economically devastated and its currency was weak. France wanted the resources and wealth of African peoples and lands, and to extract it on exploitive terms. In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s after the independent movements and struggles of African peoples ( often met with brutal violence by Europe), Charles de Gaulle’s neo- colonization conditioned political independence of new West and Central African nations to maintaining economic ties to France to France’s advantage. As Franz Fanon stated, “Colonialism never gives away something for nothing.” Currency arrangements have in the past and continues under Macron to be a critical tool in transferring wealth and resources from Africa to France.

CFA stands for Communauté Financière Africaine (African Financial Community). The CFA is a colonial currency created December 26, 1945 by General De Gaulle and his finance minister. This was the same day that France ratified the Breton Woods agreement and the new parity of the french franc was presented to the newly born IMF. Fixed exchange rates trace back to the Bretton Woods period when 63% of Southern countries had their currency pegged to that of an imperialist country.

The CFA was originally translated as “Franc of the French Colonies in Africa” The CFA is still used in West and Central Africa by 14 countries and split into two monetary zones. The eight countries of West Africa using the CFA, with an ISO currency code of XOF are Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo. They represent the West African Economic and Monetary Union, or WAEMU, founded in 1994 to build on the foundation of the West African Monetary Union, founded in 1973. The six countries of Central Africa using the CFA, ISO currency code of XAF are Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, Congo Republic, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. They comprise the Central African Economic and Monetary Union, or CAEMC.

Although separate, the two CFA franc currencies have always been at parity and are effectively interchangeable. All were former colonies of France except Guinea-Bissau and Equatorial Guinea. All maintain French as an official language except Guinea Bisseau. Comoros also has its own central bank tied to France and is considered part of the CFA system.

In 1960, France actually had a larger population — around 40 million people than the 30 million inhabitants of what are now the 15 CFA nations.( including Comoros). In 2021, 67 million people live in France and 183 million in the CFA zone.According to UN projections, by the year 2100, France will have 74 million, and the CFA nations more than 800 million.

Given that France still controls their financial destiny, through the CFA, the situation is increasingly a monetary apartheid. The CFA is issued by three separate central banks, Banque Central des Etats de l’Afrique de l’Ouest ( BCEAO) and the Banque des Etats de l’Afrique Central( BEAC). Comoros has a separate bank, (BCC). It is mandatory that French officials sit on the boards of all of the CFA franc central banks and the French government has the authority to monitor all financial transactions of these 15 nations. The French people were permitted to vote on whether or not to adopt the Euro through a referendum. The African peoples of the CFA nations were denied any such right, and were excluded from the negotiations that would peg their money to a new currency. The French government can veto the decisions of the BCEAO and the BEAC. The monetary policy favoring European priorities is set by the European Central Bank ( ECB), previously set by the Banque de France. France is acting similar to an IMF for these West & Central African nations. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have historically worked in concert with France to enforce the CFA system, and rarely, if ever, criticize its exploitative nature.

French colonialism goes beyond money. It also affects education and culture. For example, Farida, a Togolese activist said, the World Bank gives $130 million per year to support Francophone countries pay for their books for public schools. Farida says 90% of these books are printed in France. The money goes directly from the World Bank to Paris, not to Togo or to any other African nation. The books are brainwashing tools, Farida said. She points out, that “They focus on the glory of French culture, and undermine the achievements of other nations, whether they be American, Asian or African.” French language is promoted heavily by France to ensure the colonial system of keeping the monetary and economic system bound to France. There are more French speaking people in Africa than France. Based on my personal observations of over twelve years of spending time in Senegal, most of the French who visit or reside in Senegal refuse to learn a word of Wolof. They expect all West & Central African people to speak French. The French are shocked or laugh in a condescending manner when they hear me converse without French, in Wolof (albeit simply).

Of course France has a long-standing pattern of subverting democracy and elections to maintain monetary and economic exploitation. An important part of the CFA system is French support for dictatorship. With the exception of Senegal, not a single CFA bloc country has ever had meaningful democratization. As Farida points out, “Every single successful tyrant in Francophone Africa, has had the full backing of the French government” as long as an African colonial elite will favor France. The French Treasury guarantees the convertibility of the CFA into the French Franc, and now the Euro. Independent economic and financial planning is impossible for these West and Central African nations.

The CFA system confers five major benefits to the French government: bonus reserves to use at its discretion; big markets for expensive exports and cheap imports; the ability to purchase strategic minerals in its domestic currency without running down its reserves; favorable loans when CFA nations are in credit; and favorable interest rates when they are in debt.

As Senegalese economist, Ndongo Samba Sally points out,

“By pegging the CFA franc to the Euro, now the African countries and their central banks are more or less submitted to the same restrictive rules in terms of inflation, public debt and public deficit.

The CFA guaranteed France’s chokehold on African economies and ensured wealth drainage to France. When the CFA was created, it served France’s interest by being born and maintained overvalued. It stopped the African nations selling competitively to Asian and Latin American nations and to trade exclusively with France. The overvaluation of the CFA kept France from having to use US dollars as the Breton Woods required which would have been very costly against the weak French franc. Controlling the monetary policies of 14 African nations (15 with Comoros) justified giving France a seat and vote at the UN Security Council.

In addition, the value of the CFA franc has been widely criticized as being too high, which many economists believe favours the urban elite of the African countries, who can buy imported manufactured goods cheaply at the expense of farmers who cannot easily export. The CFA permitted France to obtain raw materials and products from its former colonies by issuing a credit to the CFA nations.”

Ndongo states, “If you take also the level of competitiveness of African countries of the franc zone they fare the worst in the world. In West Africa, except Côte d’Ivoire all of the remaining countries are chronically in a state of trade deficit. Countries like Benin, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, they never recorded one year of trade surplus. They are structurally in a situation where they have to be indebted in foreign currencies. They will never be able to develop because the mechanism of the CFA franc will never allow them to be developed.”

Ndongo explains, “Because you have no monetary sovereignty. So this is the case of the CFA franc zone and that’s why there is no economic dynamism at all. Economic growth in the CFA franc zone is never triggered by internal dynamics, but just by external dynamics. For example, good terms of trade and cheaper interest rates … on international financial markets. So this is the sad story of the CFA franc. Somehow owing to these mechanisms when there are economic crises it’s much more difficult for CFA franc countries than others because the exchange rate cannot be used as a policy variable. As they follow the neoliberal rules, so public deficits are not really encouraged and the central banks generally in those circumstances follow an orthodox monetary policy, and that means that whenever there are economic crises, the main way of adjusting economically is what is called internal devaluation. That means lowering internal prices and limiting public deficits and letting the private sector enterprises go bankrupt. That is the main mechanism of adjustment in the CFA franc.”

As Landry Signe concludes, “The CFA franc zone as a whole has thus resulted in:

  1. Limited intra-regional trade, especially in Central Africa.
  2. High dependence on producing and exporting a limited number of primary commodities.
  3. A narrow industrial base.
  4. A high vulnerability to external shocks.


For example, In 1994, France devalued the CFA franc, raising the parity rate from 50 CFA francs per French franc to 100 CFA francs per French franc. CFA member countries’ governments imposed wage freezes and layoffs in the wake of the CFA devaluation, leading to widespread unrest over inaccessible goods for consumers and unmanageable price controls for suppliers.” African families lost of half their monetary savings.

Many African economists, including Senegalese economist, Demba Moussa Dembele and Togolese economist Kako Nubukpo explain that dependency on European monetary policies is a restriction to growth due to a hyper-fixation on inflation.

Protests against the secrecy, repression and use of the CFA and for its abolition has historically existed and is growing since 2015/2016. In 2018, seven artists from 10 countries released the rap song “7 minutes against the CFA franc” to drum up popular support for dumping the currency.

As Landry reports, “Large numbers of unemployed youth throughout sub-Saharan Africa—which may reach over 350 million over the next two decades—are often the loudest opponents of the CFA zone. Other pro-democracy movements, like Y’en a Marre in Senegal and Le Balai Citoyen in Burkina Faso, consider the dismantling of the CFA zone as essential to their campaigns to reform their countries’ respective governments. Other protests have included Kemi Seba, the Benin-born French activist who was charged with burning CFA notes in Senegal before being deported.”

In 2020, 66% of the Togolese people polled believed the CFA existed to benefit French interests and should be abolished. The Senegalese slogan “France Dégage” became a West African rallying cry for the French to be transparent and to withdraw, “walk” away from the West and Central African monetary system they enforced. Resentment has also been fueled by the presence of French military troops in the Sahel desert.

Chad’s President Idriss Debby said back in 2015 that the CFA was pulling African economies down and that the “time has come to cut the cordon that prevent Africa to develop.” He called for a restructuring of the currency in order to “enable African countries which are still using it to develop.”

Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari has been demanding, since 2017, a divorce plan from the French treasury of the eight West African countries that use the CFA franc. The recent protests are Pan-African and popular.

Abolition of the CFA and new currencies are necessary for financial sovereignty.

It is important to note that for five decades Senegalese & other Africans resisted the use of French currency and previously had mixed currencies including cowries from the Indian Ocean. The French utilized the military to force the use of the French currency only. They also imposed taxes to be paid in French currency which also forced the use of French currency.

Two years after independence, Guinea refused the French currency and produced their own currency. France launched a military operation, and the French secret service sabotaged the economy by flooding the market with counterfeit notes. Guinea still has not economically recovered since then.

Togo in the 60’s had a leader trained at the London School of Economics, Sylvanus Olympio, who was about to launch the country’s own currency and diversify trade partners when he was assassinated.

In 2011, France used the Central West African Bank to place a financial embargo against Ivory Coast and bombed the Presidential palace to install its candidate.There were also attempts to challenge France in the 1970’s and the 1990’s. France has engaged in over forty interventions in the CFA countries since “political independence”.

Solutions for change in currency

On December 22nd, 2019, due to political and grassroots pressure, it was announced jointly by France and the Ivory Coast that the CFA in West Africa , not Central Africa would be replaced by a currency to be called Eco.

The Eco has not been implemented due to legal, technical and political problems. It is tracked for implementation in 2027. The Eco would still be pegged to the Euro, and require European fiscal restraints. It would not require 50% of the reserves be kept with the French Treasury but France would keep its role as guarantor of convertibility of the Eco like the CFA. An indirect form of control by the Banque of France and the French treasury would exist with France requiring information about the management of reserves and if French government debt securities were purchased. MMT economists, like Djongo correctly point put that this “reform” or mutation does not represent significant social change to serve African people. It has been described as “window dressing”.

In 2019, the French Minister of Affairs issued a report that 49% of french companies operating in the CFA zone consider it a favorable place for profits now and in the future; and the same report predicted that even 60 years from now the CFA should not be abandoned but just reformed even under a different name.It should be noted that the announcement of the Eco was made after Italy criticized France for its monetary policies in Africa. Luigi Di Maio, Italy’s former deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs at the time, revived the controversy about the role of the CFA franc on Africa’s development with a statement, “France is one of those countries that by printing money for 14 African states prevents their economic development and contributes to the fact that the refugees leave and then die in the sea or arrive on our coasts.” In response, France expelled the Italian ambassador.

There are two macroeconomic proposals for change. The national exit and the pan-African exit. African nations as Ndongo clarifies, “could exit the CFA franc on a national basis. That means Senegal would say, ‘I want my own national currency’ and so I’m exiting the CFA franc. This is the path followed by Guinea, Mauritania, and Madagascar. And legally speaking, it [would be] very easy. The Senegalese government would just have to notify the West African monetary union of this decision, and in six months they could have their own national currency.”

But it’s difficult because if you go alone, you don’t know what consequences you could face from France. French sanctions, embargos, political isolation, military operations and assassinations have caused great disruptions and poverty to places like Guinea and Mali. Mali rejoined after exiting.

The Pan – African exit means “instead of African countries trying to initially have their own currency, they say, ‘we no longer need France’ France could [then leave] the CFA franc system.”

Ndongo continues, “With regard to the issue of how to get out of the monetary status quo, there are in my opinion, four different points of view. First, there is the perspective I call symbolic reformism, which consists [of] touching only the visible systems of monetary coloniality without touching the fundamentals of the CFA franc system. This includes proposals such as changing the name of the CFA franc, having banknotes and coins manufactured outside of France, and even further reducing the deposit rate of foreign exchange reserves at the French treasury. Emmanuel Macron, for example, made this type of proposal, and he even suggested that he was open to expanding the CFA franc zone to a country like Ghana.”

In other words, France is seeking to expand its empire by adding African countries not currently utilizing the CFA.

The approach most favored by Ndongo is: “sovereign abolitionism that is an exit from the CFA franc that breaks with the neoliberal model of economic integration and that strengthens the sovereignty of individual countries and also the sovereignty of [countries] collectively. If we put aside the political criticism of the CFA franc, the real economic criticism is that the CFA zone must not exist because it has no economic justification. It is not a so called ‘optimal monetary zone.’ Each country must have its own national currency because economic fundamentals, levels of development and productive dynamisms are not the same. But saying that does not mean that we cannot have systems of solidarity between African countries.”

Ndongo perceptively speaks of “solidarity national currencies. Concretely, that means that each country has its own national currency with its national central bank. The exchange rate parity is determined according to the fundamentals of each country, and countries have a common payment system. Their currencies are linked by a fixed but adjustable parity to a common unit of account, and also there is solidarity in the management of foreign currency reserves. Finally, there are common policies to ensure energy and food self-sufficiency, because in the ECOWAS zone energy and food products represent between 25-60% of the value of imports, depending on the country.”

Ndongo explains, “The advantage of this option… is that it makes it possible to reconcile macroeconomic flexibility at the national level, that means the possibility to use the exchange rate as an instrument of adjustment, and at the same time to have solidarity [between] African countries. This option also helps break the Anglophone, Francophone, and Lusophone divide, [which] is a legacy of colonialism. “

The other two viewpoints criticized by Ndongo include, a “proposal of [basing] the exchange rate of the CFA zone on a basket of currencies, but the problem with this perspective is that it is simply unrealistic because it ignores the functioning of the CFA zone. Exchange rate flexibility is not an option in the CFA system because the convertibility guarantee is offered at a fixed exchange rate and in the currency of the guaranteeing authority. Many people who claim to be experts and moderate [still don’t] understand that the demand for flexibility is incompatible with the maintenance of French guardianship; it is one or the other.”

Neoliberalism abolitionism is an exit from the CFA franc that follows the neoliberal monetary integration model. It is a ‘eurozone model.’ There are countries in West Africa who want to be part of the single currency project of the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), a single currency project for West Africa. Sharing the same currency is not justified among ECOWAS countries, owing to a number of factors, like for example Nigeria’s disproportionate weight. Nigeria accounts for at least 70% of West African GDP. [As well], there are differences in economic specialization. Nigeria is an oil producer and exporter, whereas, you will find in West Africa at least nine countries which are net oil importers. There is also the fact that economic cycles are not synchronous in West Africa and the level of inter-ECOWAS trade is very low. All of these elements point to the fact that a single currency is premature and not justified economically in West Africa. We have to also say that there is no planned federal fiscal mechanism, but rather, limitations on public debt and deficits… That means, in case of economic crisis, countries in this currency union would only have the option of so called internal devaluation [via] the lowering of internal prices, which often comes to austerity policies and the growth of unemployment.”

Digital currencies and the role of China are also two factors that may impact the future of the CFA zones. As reported by MERIC:

“China’s presence in countries like Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire is growing rapidly. …Where in 2000 France was the number one exporter to all of its African former colonies, by 2017 it retained this status in only three…Chinese lending to these countries increased 332 percent in 2010 – 2017 compared to 2000 – 2009, and contracts awarded to Chinese firms trebled in value in the same period – with Chinese contractors taking on high-profile projects like the Soubré dam in Côte d’Ivoire…This economic emergence is backed by a concerted Beijing push to deepen China’s footprint in Francophone West Africa, centring on Senegal as ‘the gateway to West Africa’ (西非门户). Xi visited the country in 2018, baptising it a Comprehensive Strategic Partner and the first West African state to join the BRI (all bar Benin have followed suit). Beijing has cultivated Senegal with gifts – including an arena for the national sport and a Museum of Black Civilisations – and selected it as the first Francophone and West African country to host the FOCAC Summit (to be held in Dakar in 2021). Chinese analysts expect this to pave the way for a deeper penetration of Francophone West Africa. Indeed, an important development is the number of Chinese migrants bypassing French altogether to conduct their business in Bambara, Wolof, and other African languages. With the Beijing Foreign Studies University expanding its range of African languages, this trend is not limited to the informal level – and may emerge as a valuable soft power tool…China’s emergence in West Africa directly challenges French economic interests. Chinese companies have moved into sectors long dominated by French players: civil engineering, extractives, telecoms, ports. French national champions – Vinci, Eiffage, Orange, Bouygues, Total, Areva, Alstom – must now go toe-to-toe with Beijing’s giants…”

As researched by doctorate Che, “In 2013, China launched the ‘One Belt One Road’ (also known as the ‘Belt and Road’ or ‘New Silk Road’) Initiative, the most ambitious infrastructure investment project in history, which is designed to facilitate ‘going global’ by connecting Asia, Europe, and Africa. Since the adoption of the ‘go out’ policy, even France’s historical sphere of influence in Africa, particularly the Franc Zone, has experienced a surge in Chinese trade, grants, loans, and investments. As of 2017, according to UN international trade data for goods (see table below), China had overtaken France as the number one source of imports for a number of Franc Zone countries, namely Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, and Togo, and occupied second spot behind France in Mali and Senegal.”

Fanny Pigeaud and Ndongo Samba Sylla conclude that, “in all of the countries where the CFA and Comoros francs circulate, the underdevelopment of human potential and productivities is the norm.” As understood by former President of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, assassinated former President of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara, and assasinated first Prime minister of the Republic of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, independent financing and development can not take place without an independent currency.

Sources:

Africa’s Last Colonial Currency, the CFA Franc Story | Ndongo Samba Sylla & Fanny Pigeaud

Monetary imperialism in Francophone Africa – an interview with Ndongo Samba Sylla

Background Information Study Guide to the Fabric of Reform, International Monetary Fund (IMF)

Will the ‘ECO’ replace the CFA franc? | Al Jazeera

West Africa renames CFA franc but keeps it pegged to euro | Reuters

West African countries change currency, shed French ties | Cindi Cook

Africa Report: The Perilous Journey to a single West African Currency

West African CFA Franc Reform: What’s Changing in 2020 | Africa Report

How the France-backed African CFA franc works as an enabler and barrier to development | Landry Signe

Fighting Monetary Colonialism With Open Source Code | Alex Gladstein

The African Currency at the Center of a European Dispute | New York Times

China in Francophone West Africa: A challenge to Paris by Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS)

China’s Rise in the African Franc Zone and France’s Containment Policy | Afa’anwi Ma’abo Che

Categories
Analysis Economic Justice Global Peace & Collaboration Organizing Social Justice

Watch: Forum on Palestine, 2021 Unity Uprising, and Beyond

In our latest monthly forum, Danya from the U.S. Palestinian Community Network joined Voices for New Democracy to discuss political developments in Palestine and recent uprisings throughout the occupied territories. Exploring the history of Zionism, Palestinian activism and resistance, and ongoing developments in the region, the conversation offers an important overview of the status quo in Palestine and possibilities for political change.

Watch the full forum below.

Categories
Democracy: Rule of Law & Elections Economic Justice Environmental Justice Organizing Social Justice

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.

Categories
Democracy: Rule of Law & Elections Organizing Social Justice

“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.

Categories
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.

Categories
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.

Categories
Analysis Organizing Social Justice

Truth & Reconciliation in Greensboro

| Nelson & Joyce Johnson |

SOME UNDERGIRDING VALUES, ASSUMPTIONS AND PROCESSES RELATED TO FORGING A NORTH CAROLINA TRUTH, JUSTICE AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION (TJRC)

  1. Introduction and Sketch of the Vision and Basic Plan

Every significant social undertaking usually has unstated values, assumptions and strategic objectives related to that undertaking.  In this document we will sketch out some of those values, assumptions and strategic objectives as we currently see them for exploration and further refinement.  This is a vital step as we strive to build on the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) initiative to establish a North Carolina Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC). You will notice that we have added the word “justice” to this emerging North Carolina statewide process. 

Our country is trapped in a web of false or terribly distorted and contradictory historical narratives. Against this background, there is a growing consciousness of the need for some kind of truth seeking and justice making process in our nation.  In fact, there has been over fifty (50) calls for and/or initiatives launched in recent years for truth processes.  These include Rep. Barber Lee’s call for Congress to create a Federal Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJR).  Also, it is becoming increasingly clear that the nation cannot long endure without a broader and more truthful understanding of its history and a wiliness to both own and creatively engage that history so as to heal the wounds and repair the wrongs of our yesterdays.  This is necessary if we are to have better tomorrows.  In a real sense, nothing less than our personal futures and the future of the entire nation is at stake. 

The NC-TJRC is envisioned as an ultra-inclusive process. That is, we want to reach a significant slice of the racial, economic, gender, rural, urban and ideological diversities within our state.  While all the diversities are included, there will be a preference for the most marginalized, abused, and neglected, including an emphasis on undervalued and underpaid workers.  

The rationale of working with all of these diversities is to touch the connective tissue of the common humanity in each of these components of our state’s population.   In some religious traditions this is understood as touching the image of God in each person. This view is, understandably, not shared by everyone.  Another way of capturing the same point is to raise the question: Can people (humans) change?  If the answer is affirmative, the follow-up question is:  What are the conditions conducive to changing in positive ways?  And, a related question is: What is the potential of creating those conditions on a scale sufficient to bring about a meaningful measure of positive moral/social/economic transformation? 

In this paper, we will outline significant elements of a process and name several key steps necessary to put the vision of a NC- TJRC in play.  Before we go further, however, we want to express our sincere gratitude for all people within the family and close allies, scattered across the nation for your support of the long, difficult struggle for a measure of justice in Greensboro, including the process that brought into being the nation’s first Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). 

  1. The Objective Conditions Are Ripe and Crying Out for Change

It is difficult to see how the nation can continue in its current mode and direction without descending deeper into more devastating and violent division and conflict.  So, the more focused question is not whether conditions are ripe for change, as we are already changing, but rather, what kind of change. The George Floyd murder and the resultant explosion of the Black Lives Matter Movement, the 2020 elections and the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the nation’s capital, coupled with waves of state level voter suppressions laws designed to radically reduce the Black/Brown vote all speak to the objective conditions encasing and weakening our fragile and flawed democratic republic.  These conditions and the great wealth-inequalities leave the nation very unstable and, perhaps, more divided than it has been since the Civil War period. 

Given the current polarization and evolving conditions, again, the question is not whether the objective conditions are ripe for change but rather in what direction the nation change will.  We believe, under the current conditions, that a high quality Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) in one mid-sized, southern state (10 million people) can have significant impact on the character and quality of national change going forward. It is our hope that we can contribute to a genuinely transformative national “Truth, Justice and Reconciliation” momentum by modeling such a genuine TJRC process in North Carolina.

  1. The NC-TJRC Must Cultivate a Deep, Respectful Atmosphere of Mutual Listening, Mutual Speaking, and Mutual Benefits

Cultivating an atmosphere of deep, respectful listening and speaking will require a good bit of advance, patient, one on one and small group work (initially within groups that roughly share essentially the same ideological tendencies).  One on one and small group discussions will help to establish the essential ground-work (a particular form of training) for growth into deeper discussions and greater unity between the broad diversities of peoples in the state.  The point here is to avoid, early in the process, heated arguments between different social/economic/gender and racial groups that cause the emphasis to shift from understanding each other to winning the argument.  

Also, if the NC-TJRC process is to work, we cannot over emphasize that there must be mutual benefits for all parties, especially black and brown people, the poor in general, with an emphasis on poor whites. Tragically, so many white people are captive of the ideology of white supremacy and who tend to see benefits for black and brown people as opposed to their interest.   Therefore, we must avoid the zero sum win/lose framework that is built into our current national and cultural.

Even those who “lose” financially (the rich) will win in other ways; we know it is not likely that the majority of the upper economic class will agree with this perspective.  However, disagreement with this perspective, does not make it untrue.  After all, what does it ultimately profit a few people to gain a lot of wealth (stuff and things) but lose the nation and what’s left of one’s humanity, i.e. living outside of a beloved framework (and in fear of being exposed and becoming a target).  The details of how to structure these conversations will vary, but all will require deep, mutual, respectful speaking and listening with mutual benefits promised for all.  

  1. We Must Forge a Sufficient Body of Agreed upon Historical Truths (Community Truths) That Contributed to the Accumulated Historical Wrongs and the Currently Lived Confusion and Injustices

This is where the rubber meets the road.  Given our national history, there will necessarily be conflicting narratives of hardships, injuries, wrongs, who to blame, etc.   A whole world of misinformation, disinformation, false information, confusing information and painful information will flow from these discussions.  Such discussions can be both gut-wrenching but are also absolutely necessary.  Truth is often bitter.  These discussions will not only reveal unspoken truths, but will also be partly therapeutic as the emotional trauma is deeper and more enduring than most of us realize.  Engaging these discussions across the state will require patience, tolerance and persistence.   This will be an extended exercise in deep listening and respectful speaking that will involve sorting out, reframing, re-contextualizing, forgiving and forging alternative narratives.

In the course of these discussions, the injuries, damage, and pain will become clearer.   Although, we are in a period Dr. King characterized as the “fierce urgency of now” yet, we cannot rush the process. We must take the time necessary.  This is how people grow into the process and thereby help to forge a body of acknowledged “community truths.”  We envision a North Carolina Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) of 11-15 people. We will strive to attract people with integrity and sensitivity.  We envision that the commissioners will bring professional gifts and expertise with a range of life experiences. 

Further, most of the commissioners will be from North Carolina, with no more than three from outside of North Carolina.    Ideally, there will be at least one commissioner from each of the geographic sites in the state. The TJRC will schedule public hearings across the state that will provide an opportunity for Commissioners to hear and respectfully pose inviting questions to those testifying, creating space for elaboration at the public hearings.

  1. The Limitations of TJR Processes & What It Takes to Repair Historical Wrongs

It must be acknowledged that all historical wrongs cannot be corrected, even with a good NC-TJRC or a goof national TJRC.   However, this should never become a reason for not doing the best we can. The “best we can” has the possibility of helping to bend the moral arc and hopefully contribute to setting our state and nation on a different course.  

Over the years, we in Greensboro have played a significant part in helping to build a budding movement infrastructure in North Carolina.  It will take ramping up and connecting the range of social justice organizing work already being done in the state, as in the Fight for 15, the Poor People’s Campaign, plus local and state police, environmental, educational, housing equity, and other initiatives seeking justice. We are challenged, together with others, to help these struggles “walk towards each other”.   Both quality and size of these connected struggles cause them to become transformative.  Hopefully the growth of this trend in North Carolina will inspire others across the nation to intensify forging a range of positive, creative initiatives of which TRJC (s) is one component, but an essential component.  

All of the elaboration in the previous paragraphs is to say, we have no illusions that a state or national TJRC will alone change the direction of the nation.  At the same time, we believe that a greater measure of shared truth (and love) is necessary to counter the rapidly growing trend of falsehood, confusion, manipulation, fear and division resulting in a growing trend towards greater force and violence.  That is why we are happy to partner with the Poor People Campaigns (PPC), and we will be reaching out to religious, civic, labor and neighborhood organization as well as youth/student groups, street groups (that some call gangs) and others who agree with our declaration of intent; our hope is to enlist them in the NC-TJRC process.  For us, this is a major initiative that we likely would not be undertaking except for the work in Greensboro, especially the labor movement and the Greensboro TRC-related work with which so many in the Family have been a part. 

It is becoming increasingly clear that white supremacy is burned deep into the culture of the United States. In this context, we join with the spirit of Phil [Thompson]’s paper on Economic Democracy which states

Going back to Abraham Lincoln, his greatest worry on the heels of the Civil War was that the majority of white citizens did not want to be part of the same community and polity, and certainly not put on an equal footing with black people.  This is still the main alienation in US society.  Economic inequality and government unaccountability, in the eyes of many whites, are the result of unfair advantages handed out to people of color. The pathway to changing the economy and government is to unite white Americans, but unity necessitates overcoming this racial resentment which is so strong that it threatens the foundation of the democracy…

The starting point for building unity across race, in our view, is changing white America’s image of black people as wanting to take material things away from white people.  Black, and other people of color, need to advocate a broadly appealing economic platform to dispute that image.  A forward-looking economic platform could meet white workers where they currently are and help move them away from a zero-sum calculation that they have nothing material to gain by uniting with people of color. But this is only a first step; an economic platform will not fully remove the anxiety many whites feel about no longer being a demographic majority with the ability to dominate society.

The “white anxiety” of which Phil speaks will be partly engaged by a NC-TJRC process that involves “deep listening and speaking” in an authentic truth process. 

  1. The Projected Issue Focus Areas and Geographical Focus Areas  

The TJRC’s Declaration of Intent lists six areas for exploration. They are:

  • The historical and current abuse of police powers and judicial processes.
  • The historical and current blocks and impediments to financial security and wealth creation.
  • The historical and current blocks and impediments to adequate housing.
  • The historical and current blocks and impediments to quality physical and mental healthcare.
  • The historical and current blocks and impediments to voting and full participation in the democratic process.
  • The disparate impact of climate change and other ecological factors on people of color and the poor. 

These focus areas might change based on further exploration and discussion with local geographical areas around the state.  The State of North Carolina is divided into three broad regions:

  • The Coastal Plains:  This is the eastern part of the state.  It was and remains the major farming area in the state.  The land is rich and flat. This is the region where the large slave holding plantations existed.  For years before the Civil War and for some 75 years after the Civil war the large plantation and former slave owners ruled the state government. This is also the area (the NC Black Belt) where the largest percentage of black people in the state still live
  • The Piedmont Region:  This is the middle part of the state going from east to west.   This region is where the major urban areas of the state are located.  These urban areas include Raleigh, the state’s capital and the second largest city in the state; Charlotte, the largest city in the state, Greensboro the third largest city in the state, Durham the fourth largest city in the state, Winston-Salem, the fifth largest city in the state. The largest universities and colleges are also located in the Piedmont Region. These cities grew up during the industrial period.  Textiles, furniture, and paper processing plants were some of the major industries that grew up in this area. Many of these industries, particularly the textiles, have moved to foreign countries in recent years.
  • The Mountain Region:  This is the western most part of the state.  It is primarily a mountain range. It is the poorest of the three regions. It is made up of small towns and villages with small farms.  People in the region rely on industries linked to natural resources of the region.  These include farming, mining, forestry, manufacturing and tourism. Asheville is the largest city in the western region. The ethnic makeup of the mountain region is 89.9% white; 9% Latino (Hispanic); and less than 1% Black (African-American). 

Our current plan calls for identifying two sites in each of the state’s three regions.  We will select the sites based on at least four criteria:

  • The desire of a sufficient core of diverse leadership, especially grassroots leadership, to sponsor and be part of a statewide TJRC process; 
  • Commitment of local leaders to help seek financial and human resources to undertake the project; 
  • Defining one of the six issue focus areas (listed in the Declaration) or identifying a different focus area that those committed to the NC-TJRC process are willing to assume as their geographic area of focus.
  • A good fit into the projected rural/urban divide, the black/white indigenous divide and of course a good fit into the regional divides. 

The geographical sites to be chosen should reflect a good cross-section of the North Carolina population.  If our resources allow and, if there is a groundswell of support to do so, we will expand from six to no more than twelve (12) geographical sites, i.e. up to four (4) sites in each of the state’s three geographical regions. As the NC-TJRC matures, these sites will be increasingly connected, effectively reflecting a statewide process.  

  1. Raising the Money and Putting Together the Team
  • Fund Raising: We believe it will take about $8 to $10 million dollars over the life of the project that we project will take about four (4) years.  We have already raised over $1 million.  We have been working with others to forge an effective fundraising team that is working hard to raise the necessary funds.  Once the NC-TJRC is officially and publicly launched, we believe there will be greater interest and more funds made available.   
  • The Staff:  Initially, (by September) we plan to have new full-time staff of seven people. Within six months that staff will likely increase to 12 people.  Also, we anticipate both college interns and full time volunteers being recruited for this work. If necessary and, if the funding allows, we may employ several part-time people.  We will push, together with others, to organize, organize, and organize with on the ground training, training and more training. We are putting special emphasis on quickly growing a top-notch communication machine (capacity) as this will be essential to growing and holding the expanding process together.   
  • The Kitchen Cabinet:  We have put together a diverse Kitchen Cabinet of 14 people that we hope to consult with on a regular basis (as needed).
  • The National Advisory Committee:  We project a national advisory committee of about forty (40) people that will meet virtually or in person twice a year.  We are projecting that twenty-five (25) of its members will be from North Carolina and fifteen (15) from outside of North Carolina.  All of the members will be available for consultation between its formal meetings, as needed. 
  1. Building from the “Bottom Up” and from “the Center Out”

Truth and Justices processes cannot and will not work if they are not deeply rooted in the grassroots, i.e. the people most damaged and wounded, the people most neglected and devalued.    This is one of the lessons learned from South Africa.  The South African TRC was not a failure, but it was also not a glowing success.  It probably did prevent a South African Civil War; that in itself was significant.   As we have learned from those who helped to forge the South African TRC process, there were three very interrelated, overlapping significant weaknesses.

  • First, according to those who were active in the process, it did not adequately reach out into local areas where the lion’s share of the pain and suffering was experienced by black people.  Stated differently, it was too centralized and did not reach deeply or broadly or prolonged enough into parts of the population that suffered the most. We have put a major emphasis on avoiding that mistake.  That’s what we mean by building from the bottom up and the center out.  The center is not the perspective of rich white men. The anchoring perspective is rooted in the people most the injured, abused, devalued and harmed. 
  • Second, a significant part of the white South African population did not adequately or sincerely engage in or commit to the TRC process.  This is where we think the depth of white supremacy comes into play.  Our best understanding is that white South Africans engaged in the process in a limited and pragmatic way. It probably was more about participating with a view of “getting it behind us” and with little fundamental change. The South African process seems to have done little to cause white South Africans to see deeply into themselves and their need for deep change. This is also a danger in any process that is developed in the United States, including the NC-TJRC process.   Engaging white supremacy at its roots will be very challenging, as it is has to do with touching that part of us that makes us truly human and connects us with other humans across the historical ditches of racism, nationalism, regionalism, genderism and all the other “isms” that cause one to view “surface” differences in the human family as a justification to exploit, devalue, injure and even kill others and justify it based on making certain people “the other” and inherently “less than” or just “evil.”  This is a very difficult challenge to overcome.  It does, in our humble opinion, require a greater measure of deep truth and love of humanity. 
  • Third, and very closely related to the first two, is that there was inadequate attention given to the economic sphere.   While there was a shift in political power, the deep historic and ongoing damage done in the economic sphere was not meaningfully addressed.  When we were in South African in 2007 at the invitation of the Tutu family, some of us talked with economically poor Black youth one night on a corner in Soweto. They shared their disgust at seeing whites who admitted to viciously killing Black people walk away free.  In contrast, they argued that if they stole a chicken or some food because they were hungry and impoverished, they would be given active jail sentences.  I know this is an over simplification as the economic system is international and complex, but such complexity should not stand as an excuse for evil in South Africa or the United States.  We in the U.S. must simply strive to do better. 
  1. Building Power and Forging Relationships across the State and the Forms of Power That Overcome Polarization and Produce Positive Policy Changes

A major part of the success of the NC-TJRC will be our capacity to forge positive relationships with people and organizations that are already active, i.e. organizers, researchers, scholars, and current participants in the social justice movement, etc.   

In concrete terms,  we will seek to grow positive relationships with people working in the six issue focus areas mentioned in the Delectation of Intent: the abuse of police powers and judicial processes; blocks and impediments to financial security and wealth creation; blocks and impediments to adequate housing; blocks and impediments to quality physical and mental healthcare; blocks and impediments to voting and full participation in the democratic process; the disparate impact of climate change and other ecological factors on people of color and the poor. 

In the process of doing our work, our hope is that we will de-intensify the growing polarization, grow greater “community truth” and seek expanded common ground among the diversities of people in our state, particularly the poor and excluded.  If we make progress in these areas, this will be a somewhat different kind of “people power” base. We will necessarily have to make strategic and tactical decisions, much of which will have to grow out of the process itself and is currently beyond the scope of further reflections in this document.

  1. Projected Launch of the NC-TJRC Process

We have not tried to keep it a secret that we are working towards a NC-TJRC process.  However, we have chosen not to make any formal statements about our plans.  There were and are too many loose ends.  When we make a formal public statement about the NC-TJRC, we intend to have on-boarded key staff members, a fully confirmed Advisory Committee, a committed “kitchen cabinet,” and a thoughtful plan on how to best publicly launch the process. At this point our anticipated launch date will be between August 15 and September 15th

Our launch will include a plan to reach out to a variety of individuals, organizations, and networks to inform them of the NC-TJRC process and to suggest ways they can be involved.  Some of the organizations and leaders include:

  • Statewide religious organizations and leaders
  • Statewide grassroots organizations and leaders 
  • Statewide labor unions and leaders
  • Statewide youth organizations and leaders (including student organizations and leaders)
  • Law School organizations and leaders
  • And, a network of as many local, grassroots, movement oriented organizations as we reasonably can.  

With this vision, our media and communications capacity has to be firmly in place.  We must be able to get our message out effectively and quickly. Of course, inquiries and offers to help are to be expected, and we must be prepared to respond to those in an efficient and timely manner as well.    

  1. Summary and Concluding Words on the Eminent Situation Before Us

We have set forth a bold vision, sketched out initial elements of a plan and begun the difficult journey of growing greater truth, justice, reconciliation and healing in our state. Objectively, this is building on the work in Greensboro, including the TRC, for which suffering was endured, blood was spilled, and lives taken.  If reasonably successful, we believe this initiative can be a significant contribution to the nation.  The push we are currently making would not have been possible except for the love, work and contributions of many people (the family) across the nation.  For this we are grateful.

Developing the NC-TJRC is a challenging undertaking and is likely to become more difficult in the months and years to come.  As we said earlier in this document, “It is difficult to see how the nation can continue in its current mode and direction without descending deeper into more devastating and violent division and conflict.”

We have been in weekly discussions and planning with a strategically located group of people for over a year, including the Rev. Dr. Peter Story one of the leaders of the South African TRC process. Even though some progressive strides have been made in the United States over the last year (specifically the national election), it is our humble opinion that the national crisis has continued to grow deeper and wider.  

Under the false banner that “the election was stolen”, the former president, and leader of the January 6th insurrection, is being embraced on an even deeper level by a significant slice of the US population, including the base and leadership of the Republican Party. At this moment, our elected national leadership does not seem to have a clear pathway forward to effectively rally the majority of the American people around a clear vision and steps to “save the soul of the nation, while transforming the circumstances of the people of this country.

In a sense the insurrection is on a slow burn toward the further destabilization and ultimately the destruction of the already deeply flawed democratic/economic institutions of our nation. It is not clear when the “slow burn” will swiftly expand into a raging inferno.   That is the growing danger.  In a real sense, we are in a race against time. 

The primary fuel for this burn is the ideology of white supremacy and the economic system that promotes growing poverty and wealth inequality, all of which has its particular history.   It is becoming clearer, at least for some of us, that the historical damage of white supremacy inflicted on Black people, Native American and “third world” nations has also been inflicted on white people themselves, especially poor whites.    As white people lose their numerical majority and their capacity to dominate, the false stories they have told themselves about matters, such as their greatness and goodness, are being peeled back. This is unleashing hidden trauma and openness to a range of dangerous conspiracy theories.  This is the base of the “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) movement.

As a child in grade school in the late forties and fifties (Nelson), the word slavery was not in text books that we used.  Instead, slavery was called the “peculiar institution.”  This was a form of hiding from the truth and replacing it with false narratives.   Now, a movement, an obsession, has developed to band the teaching of what is called critical race theory.  This is simply another mechanism to avoid the truth of this brutal aspect in the history of our nation.  The growing acceptance of falsehood, conspiracy theories, division, conflict and hate are parts of the slow burn.

The substance of our thinking and commitment that we have tried to put forth is this rushed document is to join in growing a process, indeed a movement in North Carolina, rooted in the truth of our tortured history but also rooted in a history of generosity, determined resistance and a deep belief in the human capacity (all humans) to change for the better. 

We invite your response and continued help.

Love, peace and blessings,

Nelson and Joyce Johnson

Categories
Economic Justice Organizing Social Justice

Watch: Voices for New Democracy Forum With the Beloved Community Center

In our latest monthly political forum, Nelson and Joyce Johnson from Greensboro, North Carolina’s Beloved Community Center discussed their efforts in building and sustaining the organization.

Among their other work, they led efforts to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1999 to help the community heal from the 1979 Greensboro Massacre, in which five local labor and antiracist organizers were killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan and American Nazi Party under the watch of the Greensboro police and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Currently, they are also fighting to establish a new Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission at the statewide level to continue advancing the fight for a truly “Beloved Community.”

Watch the full forum below, and check back with Voices for New Democracy on June 24th when we will share a piece by Nelson & Joyce Johnson reflecting on their work.

Categories
Analysis Commentary Economic Justice Immigration Social Justice

Commentary: The Root Cause of Central American Migration Is US Imperialism

This post offers commentary on the article, “The Root Cause of Central American Migration Is US Imperialism,” written by Suyapa Portillo Villeda and Miguel Tinker Salas, and recently published in Jacobin. Read the full piece here.

Earlier this week, Vice President Kamala Harris visited Guatemala as part of a series of foreign policy meetings regarding Central American migration. But despite the Biden administration’s promises to close the chapter on Trump-era policies by welcoming immigrants and building a more just immigration system, Harris quickly indicated that tight border restrictions are here to stay. Speaking to migrants in Central America, Harris’s message was explicit: “Do not come. Do not come.”

While Harris’s trip was ostensibly meant to begin discussions with foreign leaders around addressing the “root causes” of Central American migration, the overarching message she conveyed was that the United States will turn you back at the border if you try to come. (It’s worth noting that this is legally dubious; all migrants have a right to seek asylum at the US border under existing immigration law.) And even when discussing the “root causes” of migration, Harris continued to disappoint, focusing primarily on issues of corruption and lack of economic opportunity. As many immediately pointed out, Harris failed to recognize that the United States itself has long been one of the key actors animating these “root causes” in the first place.

In a recent Voices for New Democracy forum, scholar Miguel Tinker Salas discussed the United States’ historic record of involvement in Central America and how it continues to animate migration patterns today. He also recently published a new piece with the scholar Suyapa Portillo Villeda in Jacobin magazine elaborating on these issues in the context of the controversy Harris has provoked.

Does anyone believe that promoting “economic development” by expanding the presence of foreign companies in Central America will slow immigration? Does anyone believe that callously declaring “Do not come” will improve the lot of would-be migrants?

https://jacobinmag.com/2021/06/kamala-harris-central-america-guatemala-visit-us-imperialism

Throughout the last century, they argue, the United States has been deeply involved in shaping a neocolonial reality in Central America, as the American economy relies heavily on cheap Central American labor. With this history in mind, Harris’s gestures towards expanding economic opportunity ring hollow – another justification for American-led development and economic policy more likely to favor multinational corporations than potential migrant populations. Ultimately, if we want to get serious about root causes, we must begin with US empire.

Read the full piece, “The Root Cause of Central American Migration Is US Imperialism,” via Jacobin.

Categories
Commentary Economic Justice Organizing Social Justice

Commentary: The Dream of a Unionized New Orleans Is Coming True

This post offers commentary on the article, “The Dream of a Unionized New Orleans Is Coming True,” written by Hamilton Nolan and recently published in In These Times. Read the full piece here.

Readers of Voices for New Democracy have long been grappling with the ongoing transformation of the American economy, beginning in the 1970s, towards a post-industrial society. Over the past decades, this has manifested in the decline of manufacturing, rapidly growing financialization, a massive shift towards the service sector, and a series of all-out assaults on organized labor. The American South has been especially hard hit by these trends, particularly in terms of the rights of workers, as Republican control of state governments have created legal regimes that keep wages low, precarity high, and maintain massive obstacles to organized labor.

Amid this trajectory, COVID-19 has been a major disruption, and it remains uncertain whether the fallout could help strengthen the position of workers or serve as a justification for further attacks on labor. That is why the work of unions in the South are so critical, and why the left must focus on these fights; since they represent a model that could upend this trajectory even in the heart of reactionary states.

Hamilton Nolan’s recent piece in In These Times is illustrative. The piece explores the growth of the Unite Here hospitality workers union in New Orleans over the past years, which is especially notable given the low union density across the state and the traditional challenges of organizing in a tourist economy in a right-to-work state. While Unite Here members and staff alike have experienced the fallout from the pandemic, the union has done remarkable work to support its members throughout these challenges, both by negotiating recall rights with employers and providing direct support services to members. All of this work is offering new visions for what the city’s hospitality industry could look like with an organized working class:

The bulk of Unite Here’s organizing in New Orleans happened after the 2008 recession, meaning the pandemic has been the first major economic shock most members have lived through as union members. Even as it lost staff, Local 23 had to transform itself into what Patrick-Cooper describes as ​“a social service beacon.” The union turned its focus to helping newly laid off union members navigate the state’s broken unemployment system. It created a hotline for members to call for assistance, ran a food bank and searched everywhere for fundraising, all while marshaling support for Unite Here’s massive national door-knocking campaign in support of Joe Biden’s presidential run — and fighting for extended recall rights for workers.

https://inthesetimes.com/article/unionized-new-orleans-labor-workers-organizing-pandemic-south

While Unite Here continues to face an uphill battle, its efforts on behalf of its members during the pandemic could help turn the tide for organized labor throughout the state. Union members are the only workers in the city who won guaranteed recall rights, which offers a strong incentive for more hospitality workers to unionize especially at a moment when many working people feel they have little left to lose. And if these local efforts prove successful in these critical right-wing strongholds, they will be key stepping stones to rebuilding a powerful labor movement on a national scale.

As Unite Here’s international president, D. Taylor, says:

You change the South, you change America.

https://inthesetimes.com/article/unionized-new-orleans-labor-workers-organizing-pandemic-south

Read the full piece, “The Dream of a Unionized New Orleans Is Coming True, via In These Times.