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Serve your constituents or grow your own wealth, with Campus Action for Democracy

Rep. Trey Hollingsworth of Indiana is one of the richest members of Congress; he is, as the members of Campus Action for Democracy point out, a prime beneficiary of the Republican tax bill poised to pass. On the other hand, in the middle of his district–Indiana’s 9th–is Indiana University, where students, campus workers, and graduate students make up a large part of his constituency. The rest of the district is largely working class. When a group of Campus Action for Democracy and Hoosier Action members went to his office to ask to discuss his vote for the tax bill, they were met with stonewalling–for eight hours. They share their story, and the organizing they have been doing to challenge the tax bill and more across Indiana.

 

THG: The congressman has never been available publicly to his constituents at either office, anyway. We really felt when we went there yesterday like we don’t have the opportunity to have any kind of communication with this person who has been elected to represent us and is supposed to be our voice in Congress.
And over 8 hours yesterday he really proved that point to us, that we actually have no way to communicate with him. I can’t speak for everyone here, but I think we all had similar experiences. I felt really dismissed and disrespected and honestly disenfranchised by that experience yesterday, by the way that he and his D.C. office coordinated things around us without engaging us. It was a really troubling and upsetting experience as a constituent and a voter.
JK: We felt that the only recourse that we had to communicate with our congressman was to show up in his office and refuse to leave or else, perhaps, get arrested, we really honestly thought that was the only way we could get in contact with him. And it didn’t work. Maybe it would work if we went to D.C. and did this. But, again, the idea that you would ever have to leave your own state to communicate with your congressman is pretty patently insane.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.

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Trump is not on the side of the Jews, with Sarah Brammer-Shlay

Donald Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem provoked cheers from evangelical Christian groups and some far-right donors, but in fact, says Sarah Brammer-Shlay of Jewish organization IfNotNow, a majority of American Jews oppose the move, which they understand will bring more violence and repression down on Palestinians. IfNotNow organized protests around the country last week and plans on more actions in the coming weeks to challenge the Trump administration’s pretense of being a friend of the Jewish community. Brammer-Shlay joined me to talk about the actions, Trump’s latest moves, and the rise of antisemitism in the Trump era.

I think a pretty frequent question that’s been asked is “Wait, can someone be a supporter of Israel and still be an antisemite?” And the answer is yes. We’ve seen that.
There’s a lot of different layers. I think it’s important for us to note that the US government–and we see this with the embassy move–the US government has its own reasons for supporting the occupation. We as Jews need to say we’re not your pawns for doing this.
Christian evangelical organizations that our community for the most part would totally not align with in situation where they’re supporting Israel, give them our support. There have been synagogues, there was a synagogue in California recently that hosted an event with the head of Christians United for Israel, which is the biggest pro-Israel lobbying group, and this is an organization for which the idea behind supporting Israel is so that the Rapture will come and that’s not a good situation for Jews. This is not a love for Jews, but we’re seeing a conflation of supporting Israel at all costs with saying they side with Jews and that’s not actually true.
This is also really connected to Islamophobia as well. I think what we’re seeing here is that Israel is seen as a Western country in this region and in a lot of these, especially with these Christian evangelical organizations, it’s an anti-Muslim effort to say “We support Israel and we support Jews, we don’t support the Arabs in the region.”

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.

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Taxing people out of higher education, with Tom DePaola

One of the remarked-upon features of the House version of the Republican tax bill currently headed to reconciliation is that it would tax tuition waivers given to graduate students who do much of the teaching and research workloads on campus as income. (To explain: When I was a graduate student teacher, my stipend–the money in my pocket–was around $16,000 per year. Tuition for my program was nearly $30,000, but was “waived”–no checks were written, no loans taken out. The GOP plan would tax me as though I made $46,000 for that year, taxes I would have to pay out of my measly $16,000 to live on.)

Graduate workers, though, have been organizing their workplaces in recent years, and are ready to fight. A group of graduate workers organizing with SEIU’s Faculty Forward campaign went to Washington, D.C. to greet Paul Ryan and ask him why he wants to raise their taxes. When Ryan wouldn’t talk to them, Tom DePaola and others were arrested. DePaola, an education PhD student and researcher at the University of Southern California, talks to me about the tax bill, the Republican attacks on campus, and the universities’ ambivalent response to the Trump administration.

I think this is much bigger than just the tax bill. It is much bigger than just graduate students. I try to keep that in mind because in past iterations of the labor movement in the US, I think that there were a lot of fatal mistakes made when we may have pivoted too hard to bread and butter issues as opposed to what we might call social movement unionism where we are all advocating for each other, we are all standing up for each other. USC is the largest private employer and the largest private export in the entire city of LA. We have the most international students of any private university in the country. They like to say that this the evidence that their fundamental valuing of diversity, but when we saw the immigration ban rolling out, we saw DACA, all of these things, the university was basically silent. A couple of memos went out, “Oh, we respect everyone. Oh, if you need some advice, head on down to the law school and maybe someone can talk to you there.” If I were an international student who was scared, that would have done nothing to assuage my fears. We, students, the workers themselves, we have to come together to protect each other because really that is all we have. The university isn’t going to protect us. I have tons of work to do. None of us have the time for this. None of us have the time to take days to fly down to Paul Ryan’s office to get arrested. But, at the same time, we are not going to step aside while folks come in and just try to rip our careers out from underneath us and our ideals and intellectualism at large.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.

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Mainers challenge Susan Collins’s vote for tax cuts, with Mike Tipping

Maine Senator Susan Collins was one of three votes to stop ACA repeal. But last week, after getting empty promises that are already being walked back, she voted for a tax bill that include big healthcare cuts, and her constituents are not pleased. The Maine People’s Alliance and others have been protesting since the vote, and plan to continue challenging Collins to stand with her state when it comes time to vote on a final bill.

As you may remember, Susan Collins, upon returning to Maine after voting against the Republican healthcare repeal, got applauded at the airport. There were several scenes of people on the street thanking her for her vote. She did not have the same reaction in Maine, actually she stayed in D.C. and did the Sunday shows, but in Maine people were protesting up and down the state and they are continuing to do so all this week.
Yesterday in Bangor dozens of people were outside her office and five very brave souls went inside and refused to leave until she talked to them about her vote, and she did not and they got arrested and carted out in a police van. So things are definitely escalating here, I think people believe that she’s not listening to them, that she’s doing real damage to the state, that she’s been lying about her votes and about the policy and that they’re not going to take it anymore.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.

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The real-world fallout of wealth consolidation, with Kevin Borden


On the day the Republican-controlled Senate voted to give a huge tax break to billionaires, Kevin Borden was in Austin, Texas with members of Manufactured Home Action (MH Action), a nationwide organization of mobile home residents fighting the consolidation of ownership over the ground they live on. For these exurban and rural working-class people, handing more wealth to billionaires has very real consequences. Borden talked to me about bringing far-flung communities together to connect their struggles around housing to the broad struggle against inequallity.

I feel like our folks are very clear about what this really means. It is loosening up more cash for the wealthiest in our country to continue to gobble up different sectors of our economy that make it harder and harder for folks to get by. My sense from having one on one conversations with folks is folks are smart. They see this tax bill for what it is. It is going to make their lives harder and it is going to get more cash and capital in the pockets of folks like Frank Rolfe and Dave Reynolds, like Sam Zell who is a multi-billionaire that owns the largest publically traded company that owns manufactured home communities across the country. It is going to be a windfall for him.
Our folks definitely see the direct connection between this tax bill and how it can continue to exacerbate the situation that many families face. Our folks also completely understand that when we start to decimate our public coffers in this way with these bizarre tax bills that are based on failed trickle-down economics, they have seen first-hand what that means. A lot of seniors know, they are on Social Security, they know that it is going to get harder for them to survive. Folks who are on disability know that then the fight is around SSDI to make sure that is funded. It is going to get harder.
Climate disasters, whether it is what’s happened in Florida or what has happened in California, they really see this continuous shift toward the already-grotesquely-wealthy in the country is not going to play out well for their communities. They are moving on a national level and that is why we are trying to organize, I think. Yes, they see the direct connection. They see it. They understand it. That is why we are organizing to try to change that stuff.

Up at Truthout.
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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.