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Analysis Global Peace & Collaboration

Military Buildup Ain’t The Way

| Sherri Donovan |

Military buildup is not the way to peace, climate change, or a safer, sustainable and productive earth that serves the majority of people.

Military buildups and financial wars conducted by the U.S. and their “allies” are a part of the late stages of stagnant, monopolistic, finance capitalism and is being desperately utilized to prop up the U.S. dollar regime and the U.S. hegemonic empire. It is extremely dangerous in a nuclear world that is also facing ecological disasters. War and the concept of declaring enemies should be avoided.

Recent and historic examples are frightening, disconcerting, unjust and have caused immense suffering to millions of people globally. For example: Biden’s recent passage of billions of dollars to the Pentagon, an historic increase in military spending. As reported by Peace Action, President Biden submitted his request for the 2023 Pentagon budget – a staggering $813 billion. In December, 2021 Biden signed into law a military budget of over $777 billion.

As stated by Peace Action, this “2023 Pentagon request is being marketed as keeping pace with China, though China’s military budget is $252 billion, 69% smaller than the U.S. In fact, the U.S. now spends more on its military than the next 11 highest-spending countries combined.”

The truth is that half of this spending will make its way to arms manufacturers. The U.S. is the largest arms dealer in the world, responsible for 39% of arms exports globally, according to the Stockholm International Peace Institute. Arms manufacturers spent over 2.5 billion dollars lobbying Congress in the last 20 years with 177 million dollars of this sum in 2021 (see Truthout, “Ukraine and Yemen Wars Highlight US’s Role as Biggest Arms Dealer in the World,” April 15, 2021, by Mike Ludwig).

The situation in Ukraine is being exploited by defense firms to justify even more spending. In the build up to war in Ukraine, U.S. military contractors perversely characterized the Russian invasion as a business opportunity, with Raytheon CEO Greg Hayes going so far as to proclaim “I fully expect we’re going to see some benefit from it.” As stated by Dennis Torrigoe, “The U.S. and NATO are fanning the flames of this war to weaken Russia as well as to create more demand and thus profits for its military-industrial-financial-media-academic complexes. One goal they are pursuing is to get the Eastern European countries like Poland, Hungary and the Baltic States to standardize their weaponry along the U.S./NATO parameters, thus creating more demand for weapon sales for their war industries.”

In the New York Times article, March 18, 2022, “Visualizing the $13.6
Billion in U.S. Spending on Ukraine
” reporters Bianca Pallaro and Alicia Parlapiano pointed out that, “The money includes weapons, military supplies and one of the largest infusions of U.S. foreign aid in the last decade. But it also covers the deployment of U.S. troops to Europe and money for domestic agencies to enforce sanctions.” According to documents obtained by The Washington Post, the U.S. government is also paying millions for a significant portion of Starlink terminal equipment and transportation to Ukraine to Elon Musk’s company, SpaceX. As reported in Jacobin by Branko Marcetic (“What the Left’s Critics Ignore About Military Solutions to Ukraine“):

“Western weapons have already found their way into the hands of far-right extremists, who are integrated into Ukraine’s national guard, its police hierarchy, and its military. These weapons will doubtless find their way to many more extremists, since arms have, quite understandably, been handed out indiscriminately… These far-right groups are explicitly ethnonationalist and even white supremacist. They believe in taking and wielding power by force and dictatorship, support the reacquiring of nuclear arms… The potential blowback isn’t limited to Ukraine. As West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center has repeatedly pointed out, Ukraine has for years been the epicenter for international far-right organizing. That includes white supremacist extremists from nearby Germany as well as US extremists, with even the FBI stating that the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion “is believed to have participated in training and radicalizing United States–based white supremacy organizations,” including ones that took part in the infamous Charlottesville rally… Washington has consistently dismissed diplomacy ever since this crisis began late last year… Even Zelensky has urged them to be more involved, something recently unwittingly acknowledged by the UK defense minister. This demand echoes the calls of analysts like Ishchenko as well as Ukrainian pacifist Yurii Sheliazhenko, who argues that both US and Chinese leadership should join Moscow and Kiev at the negotiating table to ensure a lasting and balanced settlement. We are endlessly told to listen to Zelensky and other Ukrainians’ requests, but this particular request goes curiously unheard.”

Noam Chomsky has surmised in his March 30, 2022 interview with C.J. Polychroniou of Truthout that, “there are no signs from Washington that the Biden administration is interested in engaging in constructive diplomacy to end the war in Ukraine. In fact, President Joe Biden is adding fuel to the fire by using highly inflammatory language against the Russian president. U.S. General Milley on April 5, 2022 declared that this war will be a protracted war for years. Robin Wright, reported in the New Yorker in April 2022 that, according to a report release by the Soufan Center, a nonprofit, global-security research group, “The battlefield in Ukraine is incredibly complex, with a range of violent non-state actors—private military contractors, foreign fighters, volunteers, mercenaries, extremists, and ‘terrorist’ groups’ all in the mix.” As reported by Chelsea Ong in CNBC, “Russian President Vladimir Putin might resort to weapons of mass destruction, like chemical and tactical nuclear weapons, if he fails to achieve a ‘conventional forces victory’ in eastern Ukraine, says Niall Ferguson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.”

Biden declaring that the CIA will focus its resources and set up a mission center against China, appearing to indicate that China is the enemy of the American people. (New York Times, October 7, 2021 C.I.A. “Reorganization to Place New Focus on China” by Julian Barnes). As reported by Al Jazeera, October 7, 2021, “CIA Director William Burns said the new mission centre ‘will further strengthen our collective work on the most important geopolitical threat we face in the 21st century, an increasingly adversarial Chinese government.'” Biden’s National Defense Authorization Act, quoting Michael Klare, calls for “an unbroken chain of U.S.-armed sentinel states — stretching from Japan and South Korea in the northern Pacific to Australia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Singapore in the south and India on China’s eastern flank” — meant to encircle China, including Taiwan.

The U.S. Indo-Pacific command is now reported to be planning to enhance the encirclement, doubling its spending in fiscal year 2022, in part to develop “a network of precision-strike missiles along the so-called first island chain.”

Meanwhile, sale of arms to Saudi Arabia and the UAE continues, with multiple Saudi Arabia bombings with U.S. weapons in Yemen condemned by Amnesty International. A child in Yemen dies every ten minutes due to these attacks causing widespread starvation according to the UN World Food Programme. Saudi bombing with U.S. weapons has killed more than 150,000 people, including over 14,500 civilians, according to 2022 data from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project. An official death toll as a result of the war as of 2021 is 370,000, according to Noam Chomsky. The war in Yemen also created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Saudi Arabia is intensifying the blockade of the only port which can bring food supplies.

According to the U.N. refugee agency, about 66% of Yemen’s 30 million people rely on humanitarian assistance for their daily survival, including over 4.2 million displaced people and 102,000 refugees and asylum-seekers. The head of the World Food Program, David Beasley, told The Associated Press that around 13 million people were heading toward starvation in Yemen due to the protracted conflict and lack of funding.

The U.N. humanitarian office has reported that its 2021 humanitarian plan for Yemen received $2.27 billion out of its $3.85 billion requirement, the lowest funding level since 2015. The general warnings are echoed by U.S. specialists, notably Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution, formerly the top CIA analyst on the Middle East for four presidents. He charges that the Saudi “offensive action” should be investigated as a war crime.”

The Saudi and Emirati air forces cannot function without U.S. planes, training, intelligence. Yet we do not see these images of war and its victims like 27 children killed in their school bus, on the American news like we did not see images of the children and women killed by U.S. weapons in Afghanistan and Iraq. Review Madre and Human Rights Watch publications. U.S. moral outage is selective. Code Pink has pointed out, the U.S. has also violated the principle of sovereignty, and (in many of the below listed interventions) killed civilians in the invasions of Somalia, Grenada, Iraq, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Korea. The U.S.-backed invasion into Lebanon in 1982 killed 20,000 Palestinians and Lebanese people and destroyed much of the country with no credible pretext. U.S. drone strikes have occurred in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, Iraq and Somalia in which 7.27 – 15.47% of those killed were civilians (Wikipedia “Civilian Casualties From Drone Strikesciting New America and Bureau of Investigative Journalism). The largest recipient of US military aid in the Middle East is Israel, which Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International has declared an apartheid state. 46,319 civilians were killed in Afghanistan by U.S. forces (Brown University Costs of War Project) and 185,831 – 208,964 civilians in the Iraq war. The Total Human Cost by direct war violence of the U.S. post-9/11 war, as reported by Brown University, The Watson Institute, September 2021, is 897,000 – 929,000 people, which includes civilians, journalists, US contractors, humanitarian workers, U.S. military and opposition fighters in Afghanistan & Pakistan (Oct. 2001 – Aug. 2021); Iraq (March 2003 – Aug. 2021); Syria (Sept. 2014 – May 2021); Yemen (Oct. 2002-Aug. 2021) and other post 9/11 war zones. These figures do not include death from the secondary impact of loss of food, water, infrastructure, war-related disease and displacement.

German, Japanese, European & Australian recently increased their military budgets and proliferation of nuclear weapons. Germany increased its military budget by 100 billion. Australia has added nuclear submarines to its arsenal. As reported by Kosuke Takahashi in The Diplomat, “On December 24, the cabinet of Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio approved 5.4 trillion yen ($47.2 billion) defense spending in fiscal year 2022. The 2022 defense budget includes 216.7 billion yen for the U.S. troops based in the country.” Japan and the U.S. on December 21, 2021 agreed to increase Tokyo’s cost for hosting U.S. forces in the country for five years starting from the next fiscal year to begin covering spending for joint exercises. Specifically, under the new five-year agreement between the two countries, Japan will pay a total of 1.55 trillion yen from fiscal 2022. The annual average will increase by about 10 billion yen to 211 billion yen from the current fiscal year.

The expansion of NATO to 14 East European countries since the Berlin Wall came down and pushes to add Georgia and Ukraine have only provoked conflict. (View Professor John Mearsheimer’s video, “The Russia-Ukraine War and Who is Responsible;” also author of, The Causes and Consequences of the Ukraine Conflict”) As Noam Chonsky has pointed out, “Bill Clinton’s 1998 violation of George H.W. Bush’s firm pledge not to expand NATO to the East, a decision that elicited strong warnings from high-level diplomats from George Kennan, Henry Kissinger, Jack Matlock, (current CIA Director) William Burns, and many others, and led Defense Secretary William Perry to come close to resigning in protest…” Have we poked the bear in the eye? Could it have been avoided? There is a NATO base 100 miles from the border of Russia as reported by Chris Hedges in his article, “Chronicles of a War Foretold”. Weapons were flooded into Ukraine by the USA and the UK before the war despite protests from Moscow. In 2021, NATO held over 40 military exercises on the ground, by air and by sea near the Russian border. (Tass.com, December 2021. )

Brown University Professor Stephen Kinzer has pointed out direct and indirect involvements by the CIA and U.S. government to overturn elected leaders and governments around the world in his numerous books and publications. For example, 2014 in Ukraine, Allende in Chile, Arbenz in Guatemala, Mossedegh in Iran, as well as installing and defending right wing dictators in Honduras and El Savador, the CIA killing of Che Guevera, capturing of Nelson Mandela and numerous attempted assassinations of Castro, and intervention in Libya.

This also does not include financial wars and sanctions against Venezuela, Cuba, Iran, China & Russia. Freezing of funds of the Afghani people to the tune of seven billion dollars and embargoes against Nicaragua have also been utilized.

As stated by Dennis Torigoe, author of “The U.S. Dollar Regime” and “The Dollar as the World’s Reserve Currency”,

The other war is the financial war over the future of the US dollar regime.  The heavy-handed and wide-ranging use of economic sanctions are leading countries… like India and other developing economies to doubt the reliability of the US dollar regime in protecting their interests. The US has not only cut off Russia from strategic materials like semiconductors, but has, in an unprecedented move, seized approximately 300 billion of Russia’s central bank reserves kept in US banks. The US has also barred major Russian banks and industries from using the SWIFT system, which settles the vast majority of trade payments around the world.  This heightened financial weaponization by the US government has shaken the confidence in the US dollar as the reserve currency of governments around the world.

“The Ukraine-Russia crisis is driving countries to explore new ways of pricing oil, Qatar says” as reported by Katrina Bishop, CNBC, March 26. “It comes after a Wall Street Journal report that Saudi Arabia is in accelerated talks with China to accept yuan instead of dollars for oil that Beijing buys.” The peaking of U.S. imperialism from 40% of the global GDP to 20% currently, may also mean the peaking of the U.S. dollar regime. The use of debt and interest rates, the IMF and World Bank has the effect of impoverishing people globally and maintaining a neo-colonial dependency concerning currency and economies to serve imperialist corporations, central banks and governments of the U.S. and Western Europe.

We must also recognize racially discriminatory refugee and immigration policies as well as historic indigenous genocides, enslavement, internments, imprisonment, deportations, suppression of workers’ and human rights movements. There are non-white people from countries including Haiti, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras and Somalia who have been waiting at the border to apply for asylum for more than two years. People all over the world are languishing in refugee camps for years waiting to be resettled. Title 42 permitted the summary deportation of unaccompanied children and there were 1.5 million deportations (albeit some multiple of same individuals) pursuant to Title 42. Human Rights First reported in March, 2022, “Marking Two Years of Illegal, Inhumane Title 42 Expulsions: Nearly 10,000 Violent Attacks on Asylum Seekers and Migrants” occurred, including rape and kidnapping. Biden should have repealed it 15 months earlier.

The use of media, propaganda and censorship to influence the American public to support and consolidate the military-industrialist positions must not be overlooked. The U.S. prosecution of courageous Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks and Ed Snowdon demonstrate U.S. censorship. Reporter Chris Hedges has seen all of his years of reporting removed from Youtube. Across the U.S., books and curriculums that deal with the history of slavery, segregation and discrimination or even mathematics and literature are banned and removed from our schools and libraries. Laws like Florida’s recent “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Georgia’s recent voting rights suppression law and the anti-choice prohibitions intentionally impact our most vulnerable and non-wealthy communities. There is constant creation of the “other” to stop global unity for people’s empowerment.

Warning: All of the above actions by the U.S. are elements of modern day fascism. It should be noted that neo-liberal positions that the U.S. can economically support a strong military and provide domestic programs and even an American job guarantee by printing more money or financial maneuvers are harmful to real social change and causes suffering to the majority of people globally as outlined above.

We need to imagine, organize for and implement a more just and safe world with demilitarization and deescalation, diplomacy, neutralization, productive green economic production with long -term planning, racial, and sexual equality, indigenous reparations, independent multiple currencies, multiple monetary reserves, lateral trade, workers’ councils (as set forth by Professor Paul Mattick, Jr.) and debt relief that can empower disadvantaged peoples and southern nations.

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

Watch: May Day Forum with Gerry Hudson

On May Day 2022, Voices for New Democracy hosted SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Gerry Hudson for a discussion on the state of the American labor movement. Throughout the conversation, Gerry discussed his history at 1199SEIU, outlining how the union’s participation in struggles for racial justice and immigrant justice mobilized membership and helped secure important victories; how 1199’s emphasis on rank-and-file organizing and leadership was key to their strength; and what lessons these experiences hold for today’s wave of union organizing across gig workers, Amazon workers, delivery drivers, Starbucks workers, and more. Gerry also reflected on SEIU’s political mobilization around the 2020 elections — playing an important role in Biden’s victory — and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in 2022 and 2024.

Watch the full forum below.

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Analysis Economic Justice

Collective Bargaining and the Future of U.S. Labor

| Kent Wong |

This was a paper presented by Kent Wong to an international conference hosted by Ton Duc Thang University in Ho Chi Ming City, Vietnam in April, 2022. Ton Duc Thang is the Trade Union University of Vietnam and is affiliated with the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor.

As the director of the UCLA Labor Center, I have taught labor studies, labor law and collective bargaining for many years.  Collective bargaining is a cornerstone of U.S. labor relations, and yet it has been under attack in recent decades.  This is harmful not only to U.S. unions and workers, but represents an increasing threat to U.S. democracy.  

Collective Bargaining in the U.S.  

For more than 50 years, unionization and collective bargaining have been in decline in the United States.  The right to collective bargaining was won in the 1930’s, in the midst of the Great Depression and as a result of unprecedented organizing campaigns throughout the country including a General Strike in 1934.  The 1930’s saw the birth of contemporary U.S. labor laws, and the establishment of collective bargaining as the foundation of U.S. labor relations.

Throughout In the 1950’s, fully one third of workers in the U.S. were members of unions and covered by collective bargaining agreements.  This massive union expansion resulted in historic improvements in the wages and working conditions of U.S. workers.  U.S. workers were able to improve job quality, raise wages to support their families, and the growing strength of unions resulted in significant government policy victories including social security, employer provided health care coverage, occupational safety and health standards, paid sick time, paid vacation time, and pensions.   

However, in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the U.S. witnessed a decline in unionization that has continued to this day.  The causes of union decline have included globalization, a dramatic change from a manufacturing economy to a service economy, and policies of deindustrialization that resulted in capital flight and plant shutdowns throughout the country.  Union decline was also accelerated by anti-union corporate policies and their support of anti-union labor laws that undermined collective bargaining rights.  Today, only 10% of U.S. workers are union members, and only 6% of private sector workers are in unions.

The decline in unionization and collective bargaining has led to stagnation and decline in the wages and working conditions for U.S. workers.  Previously high wage union jobs have been replaced by low wage non-union jobs.  The two largest corporations in the U.S., WalMart and Amazon, are both fiercely anti-union, and have invested millions of dollars to oppose their workers from forming and joining unions.

The decline in collective bargaining has also weakened worker political power.  Government policies that were established decades ago to support workers have steadily been eroded.  Also, weakened unions have also allowed corporations and the right-wing to exert greater political influence to support reactionary, anti-union politicians and laws. 

The Attacks on Collective Bargaining and the Election of Donald Trump

In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote for President, and received almost three million more votes than Donald Trump.  However, due to the undemocratic U.S. Electoral College system, Donald Trump was elected President instead.  

Three critical states that had supported Barack Obama in 2012, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, flipped from Democrat to Republican in 2016.  In each of these three states, Republican Governors and members of the State Legislatures had attacked collective bargaining rights and unions. 

In Michigan, the state where the United Autoworkers of America was founded, the state legislature passed anti-union “Right to Work” laws in 2013, dramatically undermining worker rights.  In Pennsylvania, conservative anti-union forces in the State Legislature have fought to restrict collective bargaining rights, especially for public sector workers.  And in Wisconsin, fifty years of collective bargaining rights for public sector workers was eliminated by a right-wing governor in 2011.  

The attack on unions in these three states had a direct impact on the 2016 election.  Trump defeated Clinton in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by a margin of only 70,000 votes, which allowed him to prevail in the national electoral college vote and become president.  In 2020, after unions intensified organizing in these same three states, all three flipped back to support the democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden.   

Joe Biden’s presidential victory was commanding, both in the popular vote and in the electoral vote.  In the midst of the pandemic, the 2020 presidential election was held and Joseph Biden and Kamala Harris were elected President and Vice President.  Joseph Biden had previously served as Vice President under President Barack Obama, and Kamala Harris is the first woman and first person of color (both African American and Asian American) to hold the position of Vice President in U.S. history.  

However, to this day, Donald Trump has promoted the “Big Lie” that the 2020 election was illegitimate and that he won the election.  On January 6, 2020, Donald Trump encouraged his supporters to engage in an armed insurrection of the U.S. Capitol to overturn the election results.  The Trump lead white supremacist and right-wing movement presents a major threat to U.S. democracy, and Republican leaders in Congress continue to spread lies and misinformation that Donald Trump won the 2020 election. 

Growing Economic Inequality

During the past two years of the global pandemic, the contradictions and crisis of U.S. capitalism have been exposed.  More than 900,000 people in the U.S. have died as a result of Covid-19.  Former President Donald Trump lied to the American people and deliberately down-played the seriousness of Covid-19.  He attacked public health leaders and safety guidelines, and refused to wear masks and abide by social distancing.  Many Republican leaders continue to spread lives about Covid-19, and have contributed to the public health crisis and increased death toll. 

Although the U.S. has the most expansive and expensive health care system in the world, millions of people do not have access to health care.  Covid-19 has disproportionately claimed the lives of the poor, people of color, and immigrants.  The wealthy have access to the best health care system in the world, while many workers and the poor are dying because they lack of health care access.  

The U.S. is a deeply polarized country, both politically and economically.  The U.S. stock market has been setting new records, and wealthy corporations and billionaires continue to make massive profits during the pandemic.  Housing prices and home rental costs are rising steadily, which also contributes to economic inequality.  The number of homeless people has also grown sharply as housing insecurity impacts more workers. 

A Growing Workers Movement 

The pandemic has also witnessed the rise of a new workers movement.  Public opinion polls reflect that sentiment supporting unions is at a 50-year high in the U.S.  More people realize that unions are necessary to improve the quality of life for workers.

There has been a new wave of strikes throughout the country, including in the manufacturing sector, and more workers have been engaged in union organizing campaigns in recent years than in recent decades.  Amazon workers, Starbucks workers, Fast Food workers, and “Ride Share” workers have been engaged in organizing campaigns in work places and industries that have never before been unionized.

Pro-union sentiment has been especially high among young workers and workers of color, who have been leading many of these organizing campaigns.  These campaigns bode well for the future of the labor movement, and also present opportunities to expand collective bargaining rights in the U.S.  

The Importance of Collective Bargaining Education

As the Director of the UCLA Labor Center, I teach Labor Studies to our students at the university.  Each year, we introduce collective bargaining education into the classroom, to provide our students with an appreciation of the role of unions, an understanding of the dynamics of collective bargaining, and the importance of a union contract in providing good wages, benefits, and working conditions, and a collective voice for workers.

One of the most popular learning activities within our curriculum is a collective bargaining simulation, where each student is assigned to participate on either a union or management bargaining team.  The students are given informational hand-outs based on real collective bargaining case studies, and then engage in a mock collective bargaining session.  They have the option of either signing a union contract, or engaging in a strike or lockout.  Inevitably, most of the student bargaining sessions result in a signed union contract, although in a few instances there are strikes or lock-outs.   This outcome mirrors what happens in the real world, where the vast majority of collective bargaining sessions result in a mutually agreeable settlement.  

The UCLA Labor Center in recent years has established a Labor Studies Major, the first in the history of our university and the first within the nine campus University of California system.  We are also in the process of establishing a Master’s Degree in Labor Studies.  

The Labor Studies program provides a foundation for students to learn about unions, collective bargaining, labor history, labor law, and contemporary issues that impact workers and the work place.  Our program also provides opportunities for students to engage in research on labor issues, and to take part in internship programs that directly place them with unions and worker organizations.  Through these placements, students learn about the world of work first hand, and many find jobs and careers through developing their skills and relationships.

The UCLA Labor Center has also established innovative programs to conduct research on young workers, and to encourage young workers to learn about their rights on the job, and to form and join unions.  Labor education plays an important role in preparing the workers of tomorrow to join the labor movement and advocate for the interests of the working class.  

The UCLA Labor Center is committed to continue our partnership with Ton Duc Thang University.  We applaud the efforts of Ton Duc Thang to promote worker rights and global labor solidarity, and we share our mutual commitment to advance peace and prosperity for workers in Vietnam, the United States, and throughout the world. 

Categories
Democracy: Rule of Law & Elections

Watch: Forum on Progressive Electoral Organizing with Linda Burnham & Max Elbaum

This past Sunday, Voices for New Democracy joined our comrades at Convergence Magazine for a conversation with Linda Burnham and Max Elbaum around their new book, Power Concedes Nothing: How Grassroots Organizing Wins Elections, a collection of essays exploring grassroots mobilization as the key to electoral power. Burnham and Elbaum discussed their work with Convergence, pulled out key highlights from the book and examples of progressive organizing in action — including its pivotal role in ousting Trump — and emphasized the need for progressives to unify and work together to defend democracy while building grassroots power.

Watch the full conversation below.

Categories
Analysis Economic Justice Organizing Social Justice

Watch: Forum on Black Liberation with Robin D. G. Kelley

“There has never been a moment in the last 150 years on the planet that we did not have to rebuild the Left.”

Robin D. G. Kelley

On Sunday, January 23rd, UCLA Professor and acclaimed historian Robin D. G. Kelley joined Voices for New Democracy for our latest monthly political forum discussing the past and future of Black liberation.

The wide-ranging conversation touched on important reflections on where the Left stands today, and explores some of the lessons from historical experiences in the struggle for Black liberation from Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition to BLM, and the reactions and backlash these struggles have faced. Building on recent forums and essays on Voices for New Democracy exploring some of the recent challenges and defeats we’re facing, Kelley asserts that the present moment is still full of opportunity. But to seize the moment, Kelley challenges us to think deeply about how we can build a unified Left, inspired by new ideas, that operates with organized cooperation and accountability. And as capitalism undergoes new structural changes in the face of concurrent crises, the Left will have important opportunities to advance our movement in different places at different moments. Whatever dark moments lie ahead, Kelley reminds us to maintain our commitment to the struggle.

Watch the full forum below.

Categories
Democracy: Rule of Law & Elections

Remembering Lani Guinier

Voices for New Democracy joins our friends across the country in mourning the passing of Lani Guinier, a tireless fighter for political and social justice.

As an educator, Guinier blazed trails as the first woman of color to be appointed as a tenured professor at Harvard Law School. As a legal scholar and theorist, she devoted much of her life to wrestling with thorny questions and innovative ideas around the structure of our democracy, the importance of social inclusion, and the centrality of racial justice in fighting for progressive change and broader social justice. And as an activist and friend, she touched many of us with her thoughtful and compassionate spirit.

As we remember Lani Guinier, we invite you to listen to her words about the lessons of the 1979 Greensboro Massacre, which she delivered at an anniversary event in 1999. While her remarks are over two decades old now, the lessons about power and community are timeless.

Click the link here or below to watch the video and join us in honoring Lani Guinier’s memory.

Categories
Analysis Economic Justice

Robin D. G. Kelley Interview & Forum

As we enter the new year, Voices for New Democracy is proud to announce our next monthly political forum will take place on January 23rd at 4 p.m. PT / 7 p.m. ET featuring UCLA Professor Robin D. G. Kelley.

In anticipation of the upcoming forum, we are reprinting an interview with Kelley from March 2021 by the writer Vinson Cunningham, which delves into key themes of his work and analysis. In it, Kelley discusses Black Marxism and the legacy of Cedric Robinson, highlights the role of the Black radical tradition in the summer 2020 uprising, interrogates and clarifies our understanding of racial capitalism, and highlights the importance of solidarity in advancing movements for justice. Among other wide-ranging topics, Kelly also touches his experience with the Communist Workers Party and his personal history of activism.

The interview (below) was originally published in the L.A. Times. We look forward to joining you later this month in our forum with Professor Kelley.

The future of L.A. is here. Robin D.G. Kelley’s radical imagination shows us the way.

| By Vinson Cunningham |

Robin D.G. Kelley is, for my money, the great historian of our era. He has written groundbreaking works about, among other things, Alabama’s Communist Party during the Great Depression; the life of Thelonious Monk; and the visions of activists and thinkers from the African diaspora. On top of his work at UCLA — where he is a distinguished professor and holds the Gary B. Nash Endowed Chair in U.S. history — he issues a steady stream of limpid, persuasive, almost casually brilliant essays on politics, current affairs and cultural matters for Boston Review and other outlets. He keeps an eye on grassroots movements and on how maintaining a fertile, humane vision for the future creates new opportunities for radical action in the present.

In the year 2000, Kelley led the charge to reissue “Black Marxism,” a great, globe-spanning work of political history by one of his mentors, Cedric Robinson — successfully rescuing the book, then out of print, from near-obscurity. Since then, he has quite accidentally become the foremost authority on the late Robinson’s work and ideas. (“I did not want that,” he told me, sounding good-naturedly harried by the distinction.) Last year, after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among others, at the hand of police officers, and the global protest uprising that followed, UNC Press decided to reissue “Black Marxism,” which — as Kelley had predicted two decades earlier — had become more relevant than ever.

Kelley wrote a rousing foreword for the new edition of “Black Marxism” and is working on a book called “Black Bodies Swinging: An American Postmortem,” about how the protests of 2020 are connected to a long history of resistance.

———

Vinson Cunningham: I’ve been thinking about you and Cedric Robinson. I love how, in your foreword to “Black Marxism,” this new foreword, you always call him by his first name. It’s like: Marx and Engels and Cedric. That’s moving to me. It reminds me of one of my favorite essays, “Looking for Zora,” where Alice Walker goes to find Zora Neale Hurston’s grave. There’s a kind of artistic and intellectual lineage that’s not only about reading — there’s an affective aspect, something to do with feeling and familiarity. What is it about Cedric for you?

Robin D.G. Kelley: I was a student of Cedric’s. He was on my dissertation committee. I was in awe of him. Reading “Black Marxism” that first time in 1984, it just blew my mind and changed my whole orientation. Everything I do as a scholar can be traced back to that book — everything.

He passed in 2016, and with his passing, that’s the first time I ever really dug into his biography. His widow, Elizabeth Robinson, knew that I was close to Cedric intellectually and in other ways. She said, “Look, no one’s writing an obit. We can’t get an obit anywhere.” And I said, “I’ll write one.” I interviewed her, talked to her, and learned all these details that I was kicking myself. I was like, “If I had asked the question … .” I didn’t ask the question because I’m a very shy person. I know that I’m in the public and stuff, but it’s a different thing.

VC: Why did you think the time was right for this third edition?

RDGK: I confess, I’m not the one who came up with the idea of putting it out again. It was UNC Press: Brandon Proia. In the midst of the protests — you had 26 million people on the street. He emailed me and Elizabeth and said, “Look, now’s the time to put out a third edition.” With the new foreword I wanted, one, to really tell Cedric’s story, to situate his intellectual biography to understand where this book came from. Two, to situate the book in relationship to the rebellion of 2020 and talk about it as a manifestation of a black radical tradition. So much of the conversation in political circles, coming out of or preceding the 2020 rebellion, all use terms like “racial capitalism” more than anything else. So I wanted to try to understand this movement, while also trying to clarify what Cedric meant by (a) Black radical tradition and (b) racial capitalism.

VC: What are the difficulties in defining what racial capitalism means?

RDGK: The slightly more traditional Marxist scholars reject the idea that capitalism can actually be racial. They say, “Race is real. It’s a phenomenon. But it’s not really the fundamental one. It sort of gets in the way of what’s really the root of oppression: the reproduction of a capitalized class.” That’s class reduction. And then meanwhile, the so-called race reductionist position — you could call it Afro-pessimism lite — is that we’re just for Black people. They say, “The whole structure of Western civilization is based on anti-Blackness and anti-Blackness alone. And therefore, there can be no allyship, there can be no solidarity.” This kind of standoffishness, saying Black people need to just be for Black people, is not Cedric’s position at all.

The class reductionist versus race reductionist debate doesn’t really advance us. Cedric advances us by helping us understand how capitalism is based on racial regimes. So, for example, property may be capital, in the Marxist sense, but property values are dependent on things that are nonmaterial — that are ideological, or superstructural — like race. Capitalism is rooted in a civilization that is based on difference. This doesn’t at all mean that white people are the enemy, or that Black people are all victims, which I totally reject. It doesn’t mean that all white people benefit. It just simply means that capitalism is structured through difference.

I have made a point of the fact that Cedric was writing a critique of Marxism — but not a hostile critique. He wasn’t rejecting all of Marx and Engels’ ideas, but he felt like Marxism was a window to understanding forms of radicalism that neither Marx nor Engels, nor Lenin, and others, could really grasp. Ironically, some people have gone to a kind of extreme, saying, “There’s nothing in Marxism that’s useful. It’s just a white man making up some stuff, and Cedric is right.” And I’m like, “No.” I find myself actually becoming more of a Marxist in my defense of Cedric.

VC: What do you view as your role as an intellectual? As you write “Black Bodies Swinging,” how do you make sure that what you’re describing is not only scrupulously true but also feeds into a politics that helps us both survive in the present and get somewhere more free in the future?

RDGK: That’s a great question. I feel like it’s not mandatory but it’s really important for me to be engaged in these movements, to make no pretense about some kind of dispassionate, detached objectivity. I think that we need to practice something that’s even better than objectivity. And that is, as you know, critique. Critique, to me, is better than objectivity. Objectivity is a false stance. I’m not neutral. I’ve never been neutral. I write about struggles and social movements because I actually don’t think the world is right and something needs to change.

As a historian, as a writer, I’ve got to try to be as critical as possible. I’m always trying to be truthful. As I write and produce this work, I learn things that we didn’t see before, but then, the work also reveals things that I failed to understand. And so to me, it’s always a process.

VC: Speaking of that kind of deep involvement, I would love to hear you talk about what California — and maybe Los Angeles, specifically — has meant for you in terms of your life but also in terms of your imagination of struggle.

RDGK: I came to California by way of Seattle in high school at the age of 15. It was in Pasadena. I was able to go to a state university where the tuition or the fees were $90 a semester. Cal State Long Beach. This was a time when we had a lot more Black students and brown students in college. I was involved with the Black student union. I had a part-time study group that was organized by the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party in Long Beach. That’s where I read Walter Rodney and Samir Amin and C.L.R. James — not so much in classrooms but in study groups.

A lot of the young people at the university and older people were working-class people — these were not the elites. In the ’80s we had the invasion of Grenada, we had the sanctuary movement, and the wars in Central America that were just driving Central Americans into Southern California; there was the anti-apartheid movement.

I ended up joining the Communist Workers Party at some point around 1983 or ‘84. I can’t remember when. [Jesse] Jackson’s 1984 campaign was really, really important. We had the Olympics come to Los Angeles in ’84. We organized a whole protest around the Olympics called Survival Fest. And we had a march down Wilshire Boulevard, MacArthur Park. There were like 10,000 people. Got no press, but 10,000 people marching down Wilshire Boulevard. Demanding what? Our demands were jobs, peace and freedom. It was a very exciting time.

VC: I’m glad you mentioned Jesse Jackson, because I have often lamented our resistance to his idea of a Rainbow Coalition. He was explicitly tying rural whites to Latino immigrants to Black working-class people, and putting forward the idea that we can only do this together. Solidarity was in the air.

RDGK: And, of course, where does Jesse Jackson get the idea of the Rainbow Coalition? It comes from Fred Hampton. He coined the term. The Black Panther Party, Illinois chapter, coined the term. And it’s through, specifically, a man named Jack O’Dell. I knew him. Jack was a former Black Communist, a close associate of Dr. King’s and then of Jesse’s, who bridged the generations and brought a left orientation to the civil rights movement. He was the one who introduced the Rainbow Coalition to Jackson. In our current moment, it’s hard to talk about things like a Rainbow Coalition politically. It goes against the white-ally idea, which I’m not really big into, where the ally is perceived to stand aside, standing there ready to be …

VC: … happy to help.

RDGK: Yeah, “happy to help.” The Rainbow Coalition’s more like, “We need to build a movement and we’re all in it.”

VC: And my freedom is a part of yours. I can’t get mine without you getting swept up too.

RDGK: Absolutely. The Rainbow Coalition notion really happened at the grass roots. It had less to do with Jackson and more to do with all the organizing on the ground. When Jackson ran for office, there was a vacuum because the Democratic Party establishment did not like him. The Black Democratic Party establishment did not like him. So that vacuum meant that all of these left-wing organizations basically swept in and became his advisors, Line of March, Communist Workers Party, the Communist Labor Party. I can name them because I was part of it. I was a member of the Communist Workers Party working on the Jackson campaign, all part of this underground of left-wing forces.

VC: You’ve said that in some ways the Black radical tradition comes together at “the crossroads where Black revolt and fascism meet.” What does fascism have to do with our moment, and what resources do we have to fight it?

RDGK: Yes.

VC: In order to fight it, you have to fight it everywhere it exists and be in solidarity with — show love for — everybody who lives under it.

RK: Internationalism is the Raid for the cockroach of fascism. Because fascism, it’s always about using nationalism, and the nation, as a bludgeon to generate support for death policies, on behalf of death governments. For violence and repression and exploitation, internationalism is the antidote, always.

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Analysis Ecological Justice Economic Justice Environmental Justice Financial Justice Global Peace & Collaboration Organizing

Watch: Forum on the Climate Crisis

On Sunday, December 12th, Voices for New Democracy hosted our latest monthly political forum exploring the climate crisis and what it means for today’s left.

Moderated by our very own José Z. Calderón, the discussion was led by Voices for New Democracy friends Bob Eng and Harrison Carpenter-Neuhaus, starting with a presentation highlighting the scope of the climate crisis and the path toward a decarbonized world. The discussion touched on important and challenging issues raised by the specter of climate change: the disruption of extreme weather events, demobilization due to “climate grief,” a new era of geopolitics driven by demand for clean energy commodities like lithium, and the threat of exploitative business models driving the global energy transition. Conversation with the audience also raised important questions about how the left should orient itself politically amid these headwinds: whether we must embrace the movement for “degrowth,” prioritize indigenous liberation and anti-colonialism in our efforts (as advocated in The Red Deal), and how to engage with more mainstream labor-climate proposals like the Green New Deal.

Given the scope of the climate crisis, our presenters believe that climate politics represents the political terrain of the 21st century. But big questions remain about how the left can rise to the moment, and we need your analysis.

With that in mind, we encourage our readers to write to us to share their thoughts and analysis around these questions. If you’re interested in responding to any points raised by this discussion, please email voicesfornewdemocracy@gmail.com.

Watch the full conversation below.

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Democracy: Rule of Law & Elections

Join us November 14th: Forum on Voting Rights with Penda Hair

This Sunday, November 14th, join Voices for New Democracy for our next monthly political forum discussing voting rights with civil rights lawyer Penda Hair.

The forum will be held on Sunday, November 14th, at 4pm PT / 7pm ET. Join the conversation at bit.ly/3b1xlp7.

Penda Hair is the Legal Director for Forward Justice, a law, policy, and strategy center dedicated to advancing racial, social, and economic justice in the U.S. South. A graduate of Harvard Law School and former director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, she also co-founded the Advancement Project, a multi-racial civil rights organization committed to building a just and anti-racist democracy. Under her direction, the Advancement Project spearheaded legal challenges to voting restrictions across the country, including a fight against the disenfranchisement of Black voters in Florida during the 2000 election. She has also led more recent campaigns for the restoration of voting rights for people with felony convictions, and against voter ID restrictions and other discriminatory voter suppression tactics.

The forum will be moderated by Dayna Cunningham, civil rights attorney, founder and executive director of the Community Innovators Lab (CoLab) at MIT, and Dean of the Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University.

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Analysis Economic Justice Global Peace & Collaboration

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.