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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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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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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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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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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.

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Putting trickle-down cash into the contract, with Jody Calemine

Trump says his tax cuts will give every American a $4000 raise. But American labor unions have been burned by trickle-down claims for decades, because the wealth has just been zooming upward faster and faster. So when Trump made his promise, the Communications Workers of America told corporations: “Put it in the contract.” The union opposes the tax bill, which will hit many members with tax increases, but if it’s going to be forced to swallow more trickle-down policy, says general counsel Jody Calemine, then the companies getting the big breaks need to pony up the cash to make it up to their workers.

As far as I know, we have never responded in such a direct way before. The promises made by this White House are so specific about what the outcome would be that it simply spurred us to try and hold them to this promise and got to our employers and ask them to sign. There is another specific promise that these guys made, on Paul Ryan’s website in big letters, that this tax bill is going to prevent the off-shoring of jobs. That is a big issue for us. We have been fighting off-shoring for a long time. It is what the Verizon strike up and down the east coast last year was all about. They are saying this is going to prevent off-shoring? Then, we are going to our employers and in these contract proposals, there is a second provision. It says “So long as this tax bill is in effect, they will not off-shore work. New jobs will be created here rather than overseas and work that is here isn’t going to move overseas.”
Again, just like the wage increase, this is something entirely within these corporations control. Based on the tax savings they are going to enjoy under this tax bill, they get to decide what they are going to do with it. The politicians are saying, “This is what will be done with it. That is why working people should support this bill.” So, we are going to those employers and saying, “Is that, in fact, true?” and we haven’t gotten a response.

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Class warfare in a tax bill, with Michael Kink

“Whether or not you agree with fighting class warfare on behalf of workers, the billionaires declared class warfare on everyone,” says Michael Kink of the Republican tax bill. Earlier tax-cut plans might have offered a little bit to working people in order to pass big cuts for the wealthy, but the Trump-Ryan-McConnell plan on the move in Congress right now gives tax breaks to billionaire heirs and heiresses and pays for it by slashing healthcare for the elderly, poor, and disabled; ending deductions for graduate students, teachers, and the self-employed, and essentially raising taxes on people making between $10,000 and $75,000 a year–which is the vast majority of the population. Luckily, it’s also deeply unpopular, and the coalition that grew out of the healthcare fights is mobilizing again for one last battle to halt the GOP agenda before the holidays.

One, at even the most moderate level, if you look at public opinion polls, things that pollsters already ask people about, most Americans want the wealthy to pay their fair share. Most Americans want to see higher taxes on rich people, not lower taxes on rich people. Most Americans would like to see a lot of loopholes eliminated, particularly the loopholes for outsourcing jobs. Most Americans would like to see a tax system that doesn’t overly reward people that are already wealthy, that doesn’t over-reward people that just invest for a living, that does something to help families that are struggling. We don’t have any legislation that does that.
More aggressively, what is the single payer of economic policy or fiscal policy? I would argue that if most people want to see the wealthy pay their fair share and most people want to see government budgets that actually invest in and create jobs by hiring people and giving them paychecks as opposed to just sprinkling helicopter-loads full of cash on rich zip codes, we could talk about fiscal policies that actually redistribute income and invest in the future. We can talk about public goods. We can talk about the opportunity to close loopholes, make the wealthy pay their fair share and invest in an economy that would actually employ a lot more people then we have now. We could make the transition into a clean energy infrastructure. We can move forward with single payer healthcare and staff that out in a way that responds to our opioid addiction crisis, that responds to the aging of America, that provides more independent living options for seniors and for people with disabilities.
There are a lot of things we could do that would create a lot of good, meaningful jobs for Americans with decent paychecks and we have the money to do it. The Republicans are saying they would be willing to spend a $1.5 trillion on something. If we were going to spend $1.5 trillion on clean energy and public health and education and higher education, a lot of people would be in favor of that. The tax system is a way that can provide the resources to do it. You could be scared of the phrase “redistribution of income,” but when pollsters ask questions about “Make the wealthy pay their fair share and invest in programs that create jobs and pay off for the public in the future,” that is what they are talking about. When we have young people supporting socialism over capitalism by significant margins because they have been screwed so badly by the economy, then I think it is incumbent on politicians to provide more effective public policies that were previously extended.

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Building nationwide political power, with Joe Dinkin

The Working Families Party began in just a few states with a very specific strategy, utilizing “fusion” voting laws to gain a ballot line and cross-endorse progressive Democrats. But lately it’s been lending its weight to elections far outside its usual orbit, from Birmingham, Alabama to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Communications director Joe Dinkin talks to me about the wins for the WFP’s endorsed candidates on November 7, the expanding and changing strategy for the party, and whether working within the Democratic party is the best way to pass social democratic policies.

 

I think down ballot what we saw was Democrats picked up something like 15 seats in the House of Delegates. I think most of the Democratic Party operatives were expecting to pick up more like 3 to 5 or 3 to 6 seats. The candidates actually won in some of the toughest districts, the more uphill, Republican leaning districts were some of the most progressive candidates running, people like Hala Ayala and Elizabeth Guzman, who were the first two Latina candidates to be elected to the state legislature in Virginia; Danica Roem, the first trans candidate; Lee Carter, Democratic Socialist and member of DSA. All those candidates were running as sort of full-throated and bold progressives.
I think it blows up this prevalent myth in the Democratic Party that the way to win swing districts is with these boring, moderate, uninspiring, white men, generally, who run these cautious campaigns where they try really hard not to offend anyone. These candidates in some of the swingiest races in Virginia who won were candidates running really as full-throated progressives and they were a diverse slate and really blew up that idea of the Democratic Party and proved that, at the very least, there is another way to win; which is having a progressive vision and actually inspiring people with the change that you want to make in their lives and telling them how you are going to do that.
And this wasn’t just Virginia. Around the country there were municipal races. The Working Families Party, in total, endorsed a thousand candidates in 2017, over a thousand. Around the country we were seeing a new crop of movement progressive candidates picking up the mantle to run for local office and winning. These are a lot of candidates who are not out of the traditional structures of the Democratic Party, but whose backgrounds are often in union organizing or in community organizing groups or in social movements, and that kind of candidate was running on these very bold and transformative visions in a lot of cases and being rewarded by the voters for it.

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What could we spend $95 million on rather than police? With Monica Trinidad

Chicago plans to spend $95 million on a new police academy, but Chicagoans are organizing against it. A coalition of groups that have worked together successfully to bring about reparations for police torture survivors and to replace state’s attorney Anita Alvarez has now turned its attention to demanding that the money earmarked for the new academy be spent on things that the city actually wants and needs. Monica Trinidad of For the People Artists Collective and People’s Response Team explains why the fight isn’t over despite the city council’s vote for the academy.

There is so much we could be doing with that money! It is just absurd that they want to put more money into the police department when $95 million could pay for running 259 mental health clinics in our city. It could mean one brand new high school. A new school in Englewood would cost $75 million. It could build 6 new Chicago Public Library branches. $15 million is the cost for a new library that happened in Chinatown. We are being given this one option from our city that says, “Oh, we are going to give you more policing.” Then, people say, “Okay” because everybody wants more. More, more, more. We want resources. But no one is stopping and asking our communities, “What would you actually like to see done with $95 million?” That is where we are coming in and informing our communities and saying, “Here are all the things that we could actually incredibly benefit from in our city and here is what they are proposing.” This is not okay. This is not right. And, also, just making it clear that this isn’t a transparent process. This plan was well-developed long before it even was made public. And there has been no public comment or input at all whatsoever on the plan at any stage. We are making this clear to our communities that this plan is being put forward without our input in a time when our mayor is saying that the city is broke. But apparently, he can find money when he wants to. That is where we are coming from with the invest/divest. Let’s ask our communities and folks that are directly impacted by a lot of the violence that is happening and say, “What actually would make this violence stop?” That would be job training, that would be after-school programs. I think that imagination piece is what is often missing in the conversations around what we could actually invest our money in.

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Putting Socialists in Office, with David Duhalde


The Democratic Socialists of America had a good night on election night, electing two endorsed candidates and 15 of its members to offices in cities and states across the U.S. From Peekskill, NY to Knoxville, TN, Billings, MT to Pleasant Hill, IA, socialists will be taking office. What does that mean for the political trajectory of the country and for next year’s Congressional races? I spoke with David Duhalde, deputy director of DSA, about the organization’s electoral strategy and where it fits in the overall spectrum of left groups winning elections in 2017.

we really wanted people to show us that they had a pathway to victory. We didn’t need somebody to say, “I am 100% a shoo-in to win” but we wanted people to really show us they have been thinking about what were the steps to win their races. We wanted people who really were going to be out there hitting the pavement and talking to voters. From this, we were able to select six candidates. Then, really built a national infrastructure to support them through our base. Social media is a huge asset, especially for local races trying to draw national and potentially international attention and donations. But also, using our network of hundreds of volunteers and thousands of members to do phone banking and to do door knocking. For example, in Seattle, Jon Grant who ran as a great housing advocate who unfortunately ran against a very good liberal Democrat, so it made it a hard race. The DSA knocked on 22,000 doors and we made sure to send out emails for them to reach other members in the State of Washington they might not have reached.
The same thing with Carter. We worked hard to talk to the media and raise awareness, especially in the D.C. Beltway about his race which helped generate attention he might not have gotten. So, strategically, we shifted and we are trying to look to 2018 about how we are going to expand this program, because 2017 was kind of the test run. We will see what happens, but we definitely want to be more sophisticated, we want to increase the standards to get endorsed, and also, look at now we helped people win, so we want to make sure we hold them accountable. We don’t want people coming to us to get volunteers and leaving. There are a lot of questions that are going to come up that the national political committee, which is DSA’s leadership, the national electoral committee are working on to really make sure we are still a very relevant and democratic organization that is electing Socialists who will be held accountable by their constituents.

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