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The family leave shell game, with Ellen Bravo


Donald Trump’s budget slashes social programs to the bone, if not outright eliminating them. Yet he’s followed up–sort of–on a campaign-trail promise, credited to his daughter Ivanka, of providing paid family leave. Yet longtime labor organizer and family policy campaigner Ellen Bravo says the proposal isn’t worth much to anyone but the wealthiest people, and is designed to create still more cuts.

I have been thinking a lot about shell games. In order to win a shell game, the person has to get your eyes on one shell while they are manipulating the others. That is what this budget is. They are hoping that by naming “paid leave” we won’t notice that they are slashing and destroying everything from Medicaid to food stamps to childcare to disability payments, etc.
Secondly, the paid leave itself, they call it paid family leave, but of course it is paid parental leave. It doesn’t deliver even for parents. The problem is it is relying on an unsustainable funding source, state unemployment insurance. They are already grossly underfunded and leave out large numbers of people. The states will get to set the eligibility and amount of payment for your benefit and it is only for six weeks. So too little time for too little money for too few people. It is going to be another shell game to say that the money will come from reducing fraud in unemployment insurance, which is greatly exaggerated as a problem. Essentially it will mean that states will have to cut unemployment benefits to laid off workers in order to have money for the parental leave and of course it’s the same people. There will be someone who needs one and later the other or their partner. Then, they get to decide who qualifies. So, if you are an unmarried couple, same sex couple, adoptive parents, how do you get certified, who gets to be considered legitimate?

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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 optics of education, with Elijah Armstrong

Betsy DeVos and Paul Ryan were both greeted with protests last week when they visited educational institutions; DeVos at historically black Bethune-Cookman University, and Paul Ryan at Harlem Success Academy, a charter school in New York. Education organizer Elijah Armstrong explains what the two have to do with one another, and why, even when education policy isn’t at the top of our lists of things being affected by Trump, it is always there.

EA: To me, education is always there. Now, whether it is talked about in a way where folks can see the direct connections, that is different. But, it is very prevalent in all things. Even with the healthcare piece. Most of the folks that need healthcare also go to schools that are 95% or 100% Title I schools, in highly impoverished areas that are all kind of pushed together in one area so they are all completely underfunded. Those kids, their parents, their families are the ones that are suffering the most from also this healthcare piece. It is just like how now in the school system where they can do re-zoning and make sure all these schools are supplemented with enough resources for them to be sustainable, but they purposely make sure that these schools are highly concentrated with poverty and then those are the schools that are always subject to low test scores and the schools that need to be improved and things like that. But, if these kids don’t have the resources, you are literally stripping them of their resources that they need and then calling them failures and saying it is their fault. The same way that they are stripped and they don’t have the services that they need, it is the same thing that is happening with healthcare. The folks that are the most affected, those students go to those schools, they come from those areas.

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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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Bird-dogging for healthcare, with Jennifer Flynn


The House has passed “Trumpcare,” and the Senate has taken it up. But congressmembers are already feeling the heat at home, and Jennifer Flynn is out to ratchet that heat up. A longtime organizer on issues of healthcare and HIV/AIDS, she explains what “bird-dogging” is and how and why it works.

JF: Some people actually believed that Trump might win. People had already started talking about how vulnerable the Affordable Care Act was. The House had voted sixty times to undo it unsuccessfully. We knew that this was coming and something that he said he would do on Day One. We also knew that if we could slow down this fight and if we could build a resistance based on this fight, that would only help every other issue that is part of the Trump agenda.

A couple of days after the election, a colleague of mine from the AIDS world—we actually worked together in an organization that came out of an effort of bird-dogging, of following around elected officials back in the late 1990s. We worked together in this organization that was really known for bird-dogging, particularly during the presidential candidates, when they would go around to Iowa and New Hampshire. So, we had done that work all along. We had been on the campaign trail following Trump so we actually could witness first-hand how popular he was in certain parts of the country.

My colleague sent out an email just on two listservs. These kind of listservs that sprung up the night of the election where thousands of people joined immediately because we were all so desperate for something to do in a community, to commiserate with. He said, “I don’t really know what to do in this time.” My colleague, by the way, is named Paul Davis. He now works at Housing Works. He said, “I don’t really know what to do at this time, but the one thing I have done in the past that was very effective under previous Republican administrations, particularly under the Bush Jr. administration, is that we would do this very targeted bird-dogging campaign where we would not let any elected official off the hook and just repeatedly ask them questions and through our question-asking move them, get that different answer each time. We are actually moving them from being strongly opposed to our view to being closer to our side.” He said, “So, if you can get fifteen people and a space, I will come out and do a training.”

He just thought a bunch of people where he lived or he is close to, some place where he could get to easily with sign up and he would go and do a couple of trainings. Within three days, he had thirty-two cities scheduled.

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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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No Muslim Ban, Not Ever, with Murad Awawdeh


Donald Trump’s centerpiece policy, his Muslim travel ban, is back in court and protesters are back in the streets. Murad Awawdeh and the New York Immigration Coalition have been planning strategies for resistance since before the election, and that groundwork has allowed them to be ready for the fight.

The work prior to Election Day was planned out for us well in advance of the election. We had a “What if Hillary Clinton Wins?” and “What if Donald Trump Wins?” At first people thought we were crazy for doing scenario-planning for both, because everyone thought it was clear who was going to win. Just erring on the side of caution, we decided that it was really important that we do that. Prior to the election, we were looking at “What can real immigration reform at the federal level look like?” and “How do we revive those thoughts in a way where we are providing 11 million undocumented people a pathway to citizenship and to status in the United States?”

The reality was that whoever won, it was going to be a difficult fight. It is just a different fight now. As opposed to just thinking about “What is that pathway?” now we have to think about this large scale enforcement apparatus that is being created, that is building off of the huge enforcement apparatus that President Obama already had in place. With Donald Trump being elected, we dusted off our “What if Donald Trump Wins?” scenario plan and started to spruce it up. Then, shortly after that, we kicked off our This is Our New York campaign, which really was to illustrate the values of New York and how immigrants have been the backbone and the foundation of building this great state.

….

We have been able to build up our resistance movement built on people from all walks of life coming together to say “This is not right. This goes against who we are.” You can see through the actions that we have done at JFK when the Muslim ban came down, where 5-10,000 people showed up in a span of four hours. The next day we had a march from Battery Park, which overlooks the Statue of Liberty and marched straight to the DHS building at 26 Federal Plaza in New York City and over 30,000 people showed up to that. After that, we had about twenty other events that drew thousands of people consecutively. It became this huge resistance force on the ground. And not only on the ground, but in the courts and providing people with the legal assistance that they needed for free. That was something where we were able to demonstrate as an organization our ability to really put pressure on the streets, but also provide the legal expertise that was needed at that point to help people get out of the situation they were in when they were stuck in JFK.

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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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Halting the healthcare apocalypse, with Adam Gaffney


After one failed attempt to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, the Republicans managed, by one vote, to pass another version of what’s being called “Trumpcare” through the House of Representatives largely by pushing it through before anyone had gotten a chance to look at it closely. But any bill before this deeply divided Congress faces an uphill battle, and particularly this one. Physician and universal-healthcare advocate Adam Gaffney joins us to explain what is in the bill, what its chances of passing are, how we got here, and how we stop 24 million people from losing their health insurance in favor of tax cuts for the rich.

AG: I think that there is a realization on the part of many moderates in the House—so-called “moderates”–that this is an ugly, unpopular bill. The last poll I saw was the one that was being cited around the time of Version 1.0, if you recall, that showed 17% support for Trumpcare. That is a dismal level of support.

Part of that is because, let’s remember what Trump actually campaigned on. His healthcare promises were vague, but they aren’t what he is doing now. He said he wasn’t going to cut Medicaid. He said he wasn’t going to cut Medicare. He basically promised more healthcare for everybody. So, every time people sort of chuckle and say, “Oh, I can’t wait to see the Trump voters get what they voted for” on the one hand, I think that is really nasty and is not how we should be approaching politics. On the other hand – and you can fault them for being poorly informed – but, Trump did promise something different. He promised more healthcare, not less. This is just less healthcare. It is really a quantitative switch on healthcare spending. It is less money going into the healthcare safety net and more money going into the pockets of high income people and healthcare companies.

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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.