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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Resisting collaboration from within: IBM workers against Trumpism


The tech industry likes to maintain a progressive reputation even when its policies increase inequality across the country. Yet after Donald Trump’s election, tech executives lined up to express willingness to work with Trump’s administration. For tech employees, this disconnect between the values that the companies preach in public and the values expressed by Trump has led them to begin organizing in their workplaces, demanding that their employers not collaborate with the president and using this moment as an opportunity to push the companies to live up to those values of diversity and inclusion. I spoke with Daniel Hanley and Sesha Baratham, workers at IBM who have begun just such a campaign.

Sesha Baratham: Apart from the general values, when Trump released that executive order, the Muslim ban and IBM’s response was corporate gibberish, it just felt like that was something very obvious that IBM could have stood up and spoken up against. As an immigrant, it just happens that I had to renew my green card and one of the questions they ask is “What category of green card holder are you?” I looked it up and it was “highly skilled worker.” I saw that IBM said in one of their statements that they were reaching out to all of their employees who were affected, but I think that is self-interested and I felt that IBM cannot protect its own workers if it doesn’t also stand up for everyone who is affected by it. I was really disappointed by that.

To me, it feels like tech workers have in the past been very privileged in a way. They have comparatively well-paid jobs and more security than other areas, but I think even tech workers now are really feeling the crunch of the economy and uncertainty about their own futures and livelihoods. I know I, myself, am in my late fifties and I have been at IBM for a long time. Over that time, I have started to be more and more insecure about my job and whether the company really has my interests in mind at all in whatever they do. My sense is that they don’t.

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A new definition of safety, with Rosi Carrasco


As movements continue to come together in the wake of Trump’s election, one important intersection between communities has been the issue of policing. Can a city be a “sanctuary” if it allows discriminatory and violent policing in poor communities and communities of color day in and day out? Rosi Carrasco has been an immigrants rights organizer in Chicago for years and is now part of a new coalition coming together to broaden the definition of “sanctuary,” as well as to build toward May 1’s general strike.

We are working together in different areas. One is of course the city policies of Chicago. We have this city ordinance that this ordinance has four exceptions or carve-outs, the police could call ICE if people have a criminal warrant or is in the gang database, In those cases, police could call ICE. This is something that we want to make sure that if the City of Chicago is calling itself a Welcoming City or sanctuary city, we need to make sure that there is no encounter with the police. The other thing is that when we talk about the safety of communities, we know that we no longer can believe just in the police because not only Latino or poor communities or undocumented communities have been criminalized, but also Black community, poor people in Black communities. So we are working together trying to redefine the concept of safety and, of course, to change the Welcoming City ordinance.

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Real talk on abortion access and reproductive justice with Eesha Pandit


Feminism–and debates over what it means–have been central to the movement known broadly as “the resistance.” But around the country, attacks on abortion rights continue, in the states and in the federal government. Those attacks, longtime organizer Eesha Pandit says, are part of the larger worldview of Mike Pence and his cronies. Now based in Houston, Texas, Pandit has been part of new organizing that connects attacks on abortion to attacks on trans people’s rights to use the restroom; connects immigrants rights to LGBTQ rights and sees different communities showing up for one another.

Those coalitions that came together to form those electoral victories are now working together in the resistance. One of the things that you will see is folks from the LGBT community and from the racial justice advocacy community showing up to lobby and to speak and to testify against the anti-immigrant bill and vice versa. It’s one of the most beautiful things that is happening in the Texas Legislature now, and it is really satisfying to see the shock on the legislators faces when they are like, “Wait, what are you doing here? You are not an undocumented immigrant. What are you doing here to talk about this?” and things like, “What are all these folks doing here to support reproductive justice?” It is really kind of amazing to see that happening.

By necessity, folks in red states have to organize intersectionally. That is just a truth that some of those organizers, in particular, know, because of critical mass and issues being connected and common enemies, etc. It is really amazing to see that resistance happening now in Texas and to see it happening intentionally and specifically and to be actually building momentum. That a Texas legislature actually puts the bathroom bill and the anti-immigrant bill at the top of their agenda and it has been the testimony that people came to offer that has shelved, I think at least the anti-immigrant bill, at least for the time being. Texas’s legislature meets only every two years for like twenty-five minutes or something. It is really an acute period of time that we are in this ring with them. It is hard to know how it will all shake out now, but there has been an inordinate amount of pressure and that pressure has been intersectional. That is really a singular sense of hope for us in Texas.

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Beyond the Clean Power Plan to real power, with Jordan Estevao

Donald Trump wants to destroy the planet–that’s often how it feels, but never more than when he’s dismantling protections against the ravages of climate change. On Tuesday Trump’s latest executive order dropped, opting out of the Clean Power Plan and removing other regulations designed to mitigate against climate crisis. Trump did so with a group of coal miners at his back, but his plan actually will do little to help those coal miners. I spoke with Jordan Estevao of People’s Action, a network of community organizations with a climate justice program that comes out of its organizing in directly-affected communities.

There are multiple states that had no plans to comply anyway. Actually, since last summer it has kind of been in limbo, the regulation, because as Antonin Scalia’s final act as a Supreme Court Justice he and the Court issued a stay on the order, which has left the states that wanted to keep on complying on track and some states waiting to see what happens. But, there is still lots of potential to win good policies. Our Illinois affiliates, Illinois People’s Action and Fair Economy Illinois, just recently passed the Illinois Future Energy Jobs Act which is going to double Illinois’ renewable energy production. It is going to invest between $500 and $750 million in low income communities for energy efficiency, renewable energy, job training, so that low-income people can get into that kind of work, and so on.

I think what a lot of folks on the right and in the Trump administration are missing is that the transition to clean energy, to energy efficiency actually could be a huge economic driver and a way to revitalize our economy, especially since the coal industry is already going under. It is already being undercut by fracking and low oil prices. Coal companies have been going bankrupt at a really high clip with no end in sight. He is not going to bring those jobs back. There is no bringing them back. What we do need to do is figure out where we can invest so that we can start to rebuild an economy that actually puts people to work and also is good for our environment and slows climate change.

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Running the movement for office, with khalid kamau


In the wake of the massive political shake-up that was the 2016 election, khalid kamau, a Bernie Sanders supporter and local movement activist, makes the argument that change has to come from below, not from the election of one leader to the top office. Accordingly, he’s running for local office, in the newly-incorporated city of South Fulton, Georgia, part of the greater Atlanta metropolitan area. A member of Democratic Socialists of America, a union activist, and an early part of BlackLivesMatter Atlanta, kamau argues for bringing the message of democratic socialism to a Southern, majority-African-American city.

I think the thing that is most powerful about this race, or even my campaign, is that I love Bernie, but I think where his campaign failed – I don’t think this is a personal failure of Bernie, but perhaps of the people that were around him and advising that campaign – is that there wasn’t enough attention paid to people of color. I am not sure that people of color who were in that campaign were listened to the way they should have been. Bernie didn’t make—he made a very excellent class argument. I think it is implied that people of color are more disproportionately affected by class disparities than whites. I think there was an assumption that people of color would understand that and would understand that the arguments that he was making about class and equality were implicitly also arguments about racial inequality.

I think that, frankly, because Bernie was an old white man, black folks, people of color, did not implicitly get that he was speaking to them. I did think he was speaking to them, but I am not sure everyone else did. One of the things that the progressive movement is going to have to do is find leaders of color and candidates of color to carry this message. When I speak about it, rightly or wrongly, when I am talking about income equality and when I am talking about working class families, the black and brown audiences that I speak to do implicitly get that I am speaking to them and that I am speaking for them and that I am speaking about them. I don’t necessarily go around making a lot of racial arguments. I think that my bona fides of BlackLivesMatter speak volumes about my own racial politics and that I can make these arguments of class and people of color get, because this city is 89% African-American and because I am African-American, people know that I am talking about them.

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