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Organizing for no more Harvey Weinsteins, with Mariame Kaba and Shira Hassan

Sexual violence is in the news again thanks to allegations against Harvey Weinstein, and in the past week we’ve seen plenty of discussion about how prevalent harassment, assault and rape still are. But what does ending it really entail? What can we do to end it? Shira Hassan and Mariame Kaba are longtime organizers against sexual violence and against the violence of the prison system, and they share their thoughts and ideas for how to organize for a world where, as Mariame says, interpersonal violence is “unthinkable.”

MK: I think that is another aspect of this, for people who are counting on a criminal punishment response to this…I understand feeling completely depressed and debilitated, because that system doesn’t actually know how to hold firm for survivors. It doesn’t know how to transform harm that occurs. It is a system that most people don’t access, most survivors still never access. For lots of reasons: because they don’t want to, because they have been traumatized in the past by the system, because they don’t want the person who harmed them necessarily caught up in the system. There are a million reasons. Because they don’t want to be raked over the coals, themselves. Because they try to solve problems in community. When people do access the system, they are screwed over by it, literally, in all different kinds of ways. They, also, then feel a sense of disempowerment. I can understand that if the way you think we are actually going to solve this problem, is through that system, I can understand that sense of complete debilitating depression, because that system actually can’t do that. SH: Not only can’t the system do it, but I think our belief that it can is the part that I think we feel most betrayed by most often. I think there are some of us who have let go of that betrayal because we have just stopped trying to get water from a stone. Frankly, the stone is being thrown at us. So, we are now trying to build shelter from the stone and talk to everyone who is coming inside the shelter about what we can do. That, for me, is perhaps why I feel less overwhelmed. It isn’t that I don’t feel like “Wow, we have an unbelievable amount to do” because I do feel like that. But, I do feel like we have so many more things to try away from the system than with it. What we have begun to create is this shelter together where we really can focus on who is inside this huddle and work with each person who is there in a more meaningful way to move forward.

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Taking a knee for the Right to Know Act, with Victoria Davis and Victor Dempsey


Colin Kaepernick’s original protest, taking a knee during the national anthem during football games when he was quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers has spread across the country. Yet this year, as Donald Trump has inserted himself into the fight, many felt that Kaepernick’s original meaning–his protest against state violence against black people–was being lost. Victoria Davis and Victor Dempsey lost their brother, Delrawn Small, to an NYPD officer’s bullet last year and they are part of a coalition fighting for reforms to the NYPD’s process of stopping and searching people. And to them, taking a knee–as they did recently outside of the New York City Council demanding passage of the Right to Know Act–has a very particular meaning that they are fighting not to lose.

Victoria: The thing is that people were forgetting. It started to become a hashtag with some racist rhetoric. For the past few weeks, people have been forgetting the reason that Colin Kaepernick had originally taken the knee. He wasn’t against the national anthem, the flag, or any of those things. He was taking a knee in solidarity with the victims and the families of police and state murders. For the murdered. For families like us who have loved ones who were killed by a police officer who was hired to serve and protect.
Victor: We wanted to align ourselves with that and stand up with him and take the knee with him to show that we see what he is doing, we appreciate what he is doing and we are fighting, as well. We are not just sitting here. We are fighting. And we are going to do whatever we can in our power to help make a change, because it has to stop.
Victoria: And we don’t want anyone to forget why it was done in the first place. I think that sometimes people take hashtags and they do it for different reasons, it becomes almost like a fad, a hashtag. Taking the knee and putting faces to these victims and putting faces to the hurt, like I always say, we – meaning the families – cannot take a knee and then everything is right in our lives and we are just able to move on and move forward. We take the knee and that is taking a stand.
We still have to go back to our lives without Delrawn and Delrawn was a huge part of our lives. Things have been terrible since he has been gone. We just want people to remember exactly why the take the knee action was taken in the first place and not to stray away from that. I think too often people forget because things move so fast in life. If they feel strongly about taking the knee, then please feel strongly about supporting the families in any way that you can. It can be kind words. It can be coming to a vigil, a rally, or even just… I have seen people hashtag #taketheknee and they will write something and someone else will write something and I will counter something negative, it’s like changing the narrative. Because once we change the narrative and the way we see these police killings, then we will see it as not just a hashtag, but we will see that these are humans, these are people. Delrawn was a human. He was a kind person. He was a reliable person. He meant everything to us.

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Clipping the hedge funds that own Puerto Rico’s debt, with Jonathan Westin.

What are hedge funds for, anyway? That’s the question that the Hedge Clippers, a coalition of organizers and researchers targeting secretive financial institutions, has been asking for a while. They’ve had some success, notably in getting New York City’s pension funds out of hedge funds, and they’ve set their sights on Puerto Rico’s debt and the hedge funders that own it. Jonathan Westin of New York Communities for Change and Hedge Clippers joins me to discuss.

Essentially, they are glorified debt collectors. That is what the hedge fund managers are acting as. In many cases, they are the ones that hiked up all the spending and borrowing. They created the debt and frankly there is no reason Puerto Rico should pay it back. That is part of what Trump was talking about when he was talking about cancelling the debt. I actually think there are a lot of people in this country that can sympathize with the huge amounts of debt that are piling up and the question of “where is all of this money going in our country and in our economy, and frankly, globally?” It is a continuing push and consolidation of all of the wealth and capital in this country going to folks like these hedge fund managers, while every day Americans are struggling and having to rely on debt to live. This is everyday America. “I am able to pay my rent and water bills by living on credit cards. I am able to send my kid to college by borrowing tons and tons of money.” So much of how we live now is debt created by Wall Street. In this case, it is an entire island and country that they have impoverished. I think we are now seeing the tragic ramifications in a post-Hurricane Maria world. The only way they are going to get back on their feet is with heavy investments into the infrastructure of Puerto Rico and not putting that money into the pockets of hedge fund managers that are trying to collect immoral debts.

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Turning up for DACA recipients, with Ricardo Aca

Ricardo Aca has renewed his DACA several times and in the lead-up to the deadline imposed by Trump’s rescinding of the policy allowing immigrants who arrived as children to remain in the U.S. he divided his time between helping young people renew their status and demanding that members of Congress step up and pass a DREAM Act to give them legal status. But it’s not just young people who came here as children who should be allowed to stay, he argues–it’s time for the U.S. to recognize the status of all immigrants.

We struggled a lot to get to where we are today. Even this label Dreamers, which we kind of no longer want to be associated with, because at the end of the day we are the representations of our parents who are the original Dreamers and people need to know that. That is also part of the reason why we are asking for a clean DREAM Act where we deserve to be here, but also, our parents deserve to be here. We don’t want to compromise our future because we don’t want to be separated from them who are just as important as we are. We are the representation of them because they wanted us to get a better education, they wanted us to have better jobs, which we do have. We wouldn’t have been able to do that without the work of our parents. That is something that people don’t really know in this narrative. People think of our parents should be considered criminals because they broke the law, but they don’t know what it is like to come from somewhere like Mexico or Venezuela or Colombia where there is a lot of political struggle. They don’t know what it is like to be living in this country where you don’t have access to resources, you don’t have access to education, you don’t feel safe, there are drug cartels. People need to know that there is a reason why we came here and now that we are here, this is where we consider our home and this is where we want to be.

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Challenging the frame around gun violence, with Patrick Blanchfield

After the Las Vegas mass shooting, calls to do something once again fill the airwaves and the press. But what can be done? The answer is not so easy; there is not a fully-formed, workable policy apparatus simply being held up by the NRA’s cash and Republican votes. Patrick Blanchfield is a writer who has gone deep into gun culture and gun violence in America, and he joins us to discuss what does work, what doesn’t work, and how our knee-jerk desire to “do something” can actually be put to good use close to home.

The big theme, there’s two parts. One is just resist the frame. The Democratic Party does not need you to support expanding the no-fly list in order to give the NRA what it deserves. The Democratic Party can take care of that themselves. They will keep doing it. That is the one thing that they will do a sit-in for, they are willing to go to bat for it. Instead of even falling into the wormhole of gun control debates on the national level, think about gun deaths on the local level. Think about who in your community is the most vulnerable to winding up dead because of a bullet.
When you start asking that question, you see across the country some really surprising grassroots coalitions coming into being, or operative for some time, that are doing really substantive things that are helping lower that toll of violence.
This is two things. One: Where is the activism happening? Two: What is the room for actual interventions that are meaningful? I won’t get too inside baseball, but the way in which gun laws have taken shape, particularly over the last 30 or 40 years, means that most interventions that are meaningful are happening on the state or even more often on the municipal levels. That is legislatively, but also in terms of activism.

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Tax policy matters, with Marshall Steinbaum

Trump’s tax plan has dropped and is a huge giveaway to the owners of capital. Despite many promises on the campaign trail to put people back to work and to pay attention to the needs of working people and the unemployed, Trump’s plan is, economist Marshall Steinbaum notes, Republican tax policy on steroids, larded with giveaways to the rich and those who live off their wealth. He joins us to explain how to fight it, and why the fight over tax policy is at the heart of the fight against inequality.

We have eliminated progressive taxation in this country or vastly reduced it and the effect of that has been to increase the incentives that rich people and powerful people have to dominate the economy to their own benefit. We used to have a statutory maximum individual income tax rate of 90% over a very high income and what that is is basically making it illegal to be rich. Not surprisingly, if you make it illegal to be rich, people don’t want to be as rich as they used to be. I was having this debate about the history of progressive taxation in the United States. There were no rich people by today’s standards in 1960. Like none. Now we have tons of them and they are richer than they ever were before and that is because we stopped taxing them so it became more worthwhile to earn more. If you are wondering why the owners of one gigantic profitable corporation would want to merge with another gigantic profitable corporation and cut tens of thousands of workers and chop off their supply chain and raise prices to consumers because you have no other place to go, that is exactly why. If their tax rates were still 90%, it would be illegal to increase their income from where it currently is, more or less, and there would be no incentive to do that.

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Puerto Rico’s short-term and long-term crises, with Javier Morillo

Puerto Rico was in crisis before a hurricane devastated the island; Trump, though, seems only concerned with its debt. Labor organizer Javier Morillo and others have been fighting the island’s unsustainable, predatory debt crisis for a while and he joins us to connect the dots between man-made and natural disasters on the island, and how the history of colonialism makes aiding the US citizens on the island after Hurricane Maria that much harder.

 

One of the things that I am really struggling with right now is that we don’t have a progressive or a Left shock doctrine, as Naomi Klein calls it. The Right has a program in place for how to take advantage of moments like this. What I am terrified about on the island right now is that I think, absolutely, when you look at what junta has done and everything else, that this is an opportunity for the wealthy 1% of the US and the global 1% to make Puerto Rico into a playground the way Cuba was in the 1940s and 1950s for the US rich and that we will have an island of Puerto Rico without Puerto Ricans. To me, the question is: What do we do in the short and medium-term that is some semblance of a shock doctrine for our side? If we are going to rebuild Puerto Rico, how do we do it in a way that is right for the people of Puerto Rico? I have to weigh that with the very immediate concern of needing to get cargo containers with food and necessities that people have. Unfortunately, I don’t have a very good answer for how we do the short-term in a way that sets up the long-term. There are organizers on the ground. One affiliated with the Center for Popular Democracy in the US, who has set up a fund. It is MariaFund.org. They have been doing base-building work on the island for some time, especially in the poorer areas and the coastal areas that have been devastated now twice with Irma and now with Maria. That is who I have been encouraging people to donate money to because I trust the work that they do, that it is directed at the most vulnerable and actually at social transformation on the island, with a focus on the most vulnerable communities and the communities of African descent on the island.

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Connecting the dots between healthcare and climate justice, with Dotty Nygard and Rhonda Risner

Dotty Nygard and Rhonda Risner are registered nurses, members of National Nurses United and activists for single-payer healthcare and climate justice. Their work has taken them across the country and the world, where they’ve seen firsthand the effects of climate-worsened storms and the lack of consistent healthcare. In addition, Dotty Nygard is a candidate for Congress from California’s 10th district.

DN: It plays on the fact that our healthcare system is broken and we have very fragmented care. We have many that can’t afford insurance. There are still millions of people that are not insured in this great nation of ours, and we have people that are insured but are afraid to use it because their co-pays and their deductibles are so high. It hinders those that do want to seek care and only perpetuates illnesses or whatever is ailing them at the time to become even more of a problem. We see people sicker in the ERs now. Preventative care is very minimal. It is not an emphasis. It is not a priority.
It speaks loudly of how we really have to fix the system first before we can really help our communities heal.

RR: We don’t need to wait for a disaster to happen to provide every person in this country with healthcare. We don’t have to wait for a disaster because healthcare is a disaster. We need to look at prevention and making sure that everybody has some sort of access to healthcare. We believe that everyone in this country deserves that.

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Marching with the Juggalos, disrupting Trumpcare with Allison Hrabar

Last weekend, in Washington, D.C. the Juggalos—fans of the band Insane Clown Posse and their record label—marched against their criminalization. In 2011 the FBI decided to classify the Juggalos as a “hybrid gang,” meaning that their love for a particular musical act marked them as threats. Juggalos are often written off by the rest of society, but to some leftist political organizations, the march was an opportunity to demonstrate solidarity and build connections with a group of people politicized by their outcast treatment. Allison Hrabar of Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America was part of a solidarity delegation to the Juggalo march, and also shares the latest organizing against the latest version of zombie Trumpcare.

We were excited about it as soon as we heard about it. The idea of the Juggalos marching on Washington is an exciting idea. I think everyone on the internet can relate to that. When we heard about the actual issues, we knew it was something we ideologically supported. As socialists, we don’t like state repression. We don’t like the abuses that law enforcement inflicts on our citizens. At our recent DSA convention in August, actually, we passed a resolution about dismantling the police state and abolishing prisons. So this falls in line with our party assessed ideas.
Also, we want to build a movement that actually reflects what the nation looks like. DCDSA tends to lean white, it tends to lean professional. So the idea of being able to reach out to a group of working class people, reaching out to people who have actually been affected by police. Not just people who care about the issue, but people who can talk about how this has really affected their lives, was really important to us.

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Creating a sanctuary union, with George Miranda

Eber Garcia Vasquez had been a New York City Teamster for 26 years when he was deported on September 6th. His union fought to keep him here, but when their campaign was unsuccessful, Teamsters Joint Council 16 moved to ensure that this happens to no one else. The union’s declaration that it would be a “sanctuary union,” explains Joint Council 16 president George Miranda, means education, bargaining, and refusal to cooperate with ICE.

Immigrant rights and labor rights are explicitly tied together. You can’t have one without the other. If you lose on one issue, whether it is immigrants or the labor, you lose the other. It is obvious that we are tied together and there is no way that we could say that we are not a union of immigrants. It seems to us that we need to protect our members. We are all immigrants, but we need to protect our members more than ever now since this administration has taken the position that they have taken on immigrants.

So we have decided to be a sanctuary union, meaning that we protect our members. They are working, they are earning their living, they are supporting their families, and they are not doing anything that is criminal or whatever, we are not going to cooperate with the immigration service whatsoever in going after our members. We are going to indoctrinate our members and help them with attorneys and whatever other expertise they need in order to protect them and their families and, hopefully, get them out of the mess that they may find themselves in.

That is what sanctuary unions mean. We are going to indoctrinate all of our members, all our stewards as to exactly what that means.

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