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Thinking in systems, with Maria Poblet


Maria Poblet has spent eighteen years organizing in the Bay Area with community group Causa Justa Just Cause, and the political moment we’re in now, she says, is different than anything she’s ever seen. The threats are bigger, but the opportunities for talking about deep change, systemic change, are greater than they have ever been. The question, she notes, is what do we do with this moment? We talk about building organizations that express the whole of one’s political commitment, and much more.

I think there is a danger when you have been in community organizing in grassroots communities that have been marginalized for a long time to say to everybody else, “Well, where have you been all this time?” That is a completely understandable emotional response, but politically…politically, it is a huge opportunity to say, “These are problems that you never even knew were problems. We have been fighting to resolve these problems for twenty years, thirty years, forty years. Come along. Let’s tell you what we have learned so far. You tell us what you have to contribute.” It is a different posture of leadership which our movements need to take on at this point. It is a time of polarization. Neither of the established parties are really going to offer anything to everyday people. It is a time for social movements to lead.
A lot of people and organizations who sort of believe that things were generally working turned around in this moment and said, “Wait a minute. It doesn’t seem like things are working and you guys have been saying this this whole time. So, what should I do?” It is a very interesting moment. Part of what we did in response was to, with a lot of other organizations, help start Bay Resistance which is—I think now we are fifty organizations building a network of individuals who aren’t part of our base. They aren’t service workers in SEIU. They aren’t Black and Latino families fighting displacement at Causa Justa. They aren’t Asians fighting pollution in Richmond that are in the Asian Pacific Environmental Network. They are people that haven’t joined organizations before and they want to take action now.

Up at Truthout.

Up at In These Times.

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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Striking against fear, with Alejandra Valles


As we count down to May 1st and communities plan for a general strike, immigrant workers and their allies are also reaching out and making connections across state and even national borders. The Caravan Against Fear/Caravana contral el miedo, organized by a coalition of labor and community organizations in the U.S. and Mexico, has been crisscrossing the Southwest, joining actions in each city and town it visits. Alejandra Valles of the Service Employees International Union–United Service Workers West is one of the organizers of that caravan, and she spoke with me about the trip, the work of fighting fear, and why May Day might even be bigger than the Women’s March.

I think it is incredibly important for all of the labor movement to be involved in this fight. We have seen a fight around issues of class and wages and benefits for workers, but the issues of racial justice of BlackLivesMatter or immigration justice of environmental justice are really at the forefront of our members’ lives every single day. Before they are a worker, they are an immigrant. Before they are a worker, they are a black human being. Before they are a worker, they are a mom and dad and friend and a sister and a daughter. We just decided that we needed to take this on. The caravan itself is incredibly diverse. It is built of people, of African Americans who have been criminalized for decades and know what it is like to be discriminated against and killed and disproportionately impacted because of the color of their skin, but it is also built of a lot of immigrant women who also know what it is like to be marginalized and to be discriminated against and exploited because of their immigration status and because they don’t speak English in this country.

We really felt strongly that we need to resist at every level. Our employers need to resist when ICE comes knocking at their doors. Our community needs to resist and rise up the way we have in other moments, like 2006. Our congressmen and assemblywomen and men have to resist, as well. We said, “We have to break through this paralysis of fear that Trump is using to try to keep us from doing anything and to try to keep us scared of our own shadows and living in this underground economy.” But, at the same time, we have also seen him targeting people of color, starting to publish lists, and really criminalizing us in a lot of different ways. That is what we are out here doing. We are telling all the community, we are telling young kids, “There is nothing wrong with us. We are hardworking people. We help make this economy work and we are going to stand up for our rights” and hoping that the rest of the country and the world will follow.

Up at In These Times.

Up at The Baffler.

Up at Truthout.

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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Beating “Government Sachs” and the plutocrats, with Renata Pumarol


As a recent article by David Dayen noted, “President Bannon is dead, long live President Cohn.” In other words, Gary Cohn of Goldman Sachs is now steering the leaky ship that is the Trump administration, and that means one thing: capital is in charge. The folks at New York Communities for Change have been driving home the point for a while, though, that “Government Sachs” has been in charge of both parties for quite some time, and what might seem to be a shift for Trump has always been more or less inevitable. Renata Pumarol of NYCC joined me to talk about their latest action at Goldman’s NY headquarters, its connection to the Tax March last weekend, and looking ahead to May Day.

We haven’t, personally, heard of [more people who voted for Trump and turned on him.]
To me, that is our main goal. I hope that we continue to hear from them as we continue to organize with MH Action, which is an organization doing amazing work organizing mobile home communities that are predominately white working class. I do hope that they continue to see the sham populism that was sold to them by Donald Trump. That really is the main objective of going after Goldman Sachs and going more on the offense, because we do see this as a weak point in the Trump administration. He ran under this fake populism promising to get rid of Goldman and the 1% while doing the complete opposite. Not only do we now have Goldman with tremendous power, but they have more power than ever.
I think this is going to be neoliberalism on steroids. They are starting very quickly to implement this, to run an economy that is going to give massive tax breaks to corporations. Goldman, as you can see, immediately after Trump was inaugurated, their stock doubled. It is doing tremendously well. This is what you are going to see. The top people, the most powerful, the richest people doing very well, while they continue to cut services, slash services to the most vulnerable.

Up at In These Times.
Up at Truthout.

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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Self-determination in Mississippi, with Chokwe Antar Lumumba

n 2013, radical attorney Chokwe Lumumba was elected mayor of Jackson, Mississippi on a platform of economic self-determination for the people of Jackson, a plan that as Kali Akuno explained (in Interviews for Resistance #1) aims at Ȑtransforming the economy, creating a democratic economy leading towards the creation and construction of a socialist economy, but through a democratic bottom-up process. Lumumba’s untimely death less than a year into his term put some of those plans on hold, though the movement continued its work outside of political power, founding the organization Cooperation Jackson to create a network of worker cooperatives in the city. Now, Lumumba’s son, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, is running for mayor of the city, to expand on the work that began years ago.

[W]hen people ask, “How did you feel the Wednesday after the election?” I said, “Well, I woke up in Mississippi.” What that means to me is that no matter whether Trump is president or whether Obama was president, in Mississippi if you were poor before Obama, you were most likely poor after Obama. Mississippi has not had the opportunity to feel great booms or big busts in the financial market of our country, because no matter whether the country was excelling or on a decline, we still were at the bottom. We have always been at the bottom. Mississippi has been largely neglected by everyone.

The real opportunity to win Mississippi or to organize in Mississippi is to address the needs of the people in this space. I think it is a real opportunity to develop, because if you take a place like Mississippi, which has been the haven of oppression in many regards, whether we are talking about racially, culturally, socially, or even economically. It is a haven for bad employment practices. If you can change the conditions in Mississippi, right here in the belly of the beast, then it speaks to what we can achieve across the globe. We no longer want Mississippi to be the refuge for companies that want to pay low wages and create conditions in which employees are treated in a devastating fashion. If we can change that dynamic here, then it makes it unsafe for them to go to any place to do that. We start creating an agenda and creating the model for what we can achieve as a people and what principled leadership can achieve, so there is no safe space for that type of oppression.

Up at Truthout.

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Up at The Baffler.

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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Keeping the uprising going beyond HB2, with Ashley Williams


North Carolina’s notorious anti-transgender “bathroom bill” sparked boycotts and protest around the country, and helped bring about the downfall of its conservative governor, Pat McCrory. But the “compromise” to overturn HB2, between new Democratic governor Roy Cooper and the Republican legislature, still codifies discrimination against trans people. In addition, organizers in Charlotte are still fighting in the wake of the police killing of Keith Lamont Scott. Ashley Williams is one of those organizers and spoke with me about the Uprising, the aftermath of HB2, their work on reproductive justice, and the role of dancing in the revolution.

When I talk about HB2, I like to remind folks that HB2 started as a retaliation against the Charlotte City Council for including gender and sexual orientation into our non-discrimination ordinance. [A month] later HB2 was introduced and basically voted on. It moved through very quickly. Organizing in Charlotte and in North Carolina, we were all very surprised andconcerned, but also ready to get to work. You saw a lot of direct action and rapid response work, but on the back end, we were trying to be more strategic and implement some political education, too, that looked like moving our community’s consciousness forward around trans identities and the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, class, on a trans person and contextually in North Carolina and the south and south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

I think we did a lot of good and we learned a lot about what doesn’t work in terms of dealing with the right, the GOP, white supremacists, and also liberals. We have still been focusing our work around that. We had an HB2 teach-in or “Where are we now?” about a week before this non-repeal repeal. At that point we knew that trans folks were going to be harmed the most from this bill, as they have been throughout the beginning of even the talks on the non-discrimination ordinance. It was just a matter of time.

Up at Truthout.

Up at The Baffler.

Up at The Progressive.

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.