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Walking to stay home: fighting for DREAMers and beyond with Maria Duarte and Omar Cisneros

March 5th was the deadline set by the Trump administration for the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program protecting young immigrants. The deadline came and went without Congress acting, and around the country migrants and their allies held demonstrations demanding legislators take up the issue. I spoke with two young organizers from the Seed Project of Movimiento Cosecha.

 

MD: There’s lots of uncertainty everywhere, so we still took action on Monday because we thought it was very important to still show that although we can continue to renew those permits, we’re still in crisis, there’s still a lot of people who would have qualified for DACA and now can’t, there’s still so many young folks who didn’t qualify for DACA and need a clean DREAM Act. We decided to target Democrats specifically because time and time again we’ve seen that Democrats have the ability to help us, they have the power to help us. The government shutdown–that could have been prolonged, they could have had the results. And they chose not to help us. In 2010 we needed five more votes from Democrats to pass the DREAM Act. It didn’t happen. It’s become like a cycle of Democrats promising us something and continuing to just downplay our experience and our struggle as they continue to contribute to the attacks on our communities. The Obama administration deported three million people. Honestly as an undocumented person, I feel betrayed by the Democratic party and feel that they are only using us as a political gambling toy and it was time that we called them out on that and so we took action yesterday at the DNC and told them that our community will stop voting for them, our allies will stop voting for them if they don’t take action that’s actually tangible.

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Trump’s infrastructure plan left the infrastructure out, with Hunter Blair


Donald Trump has been promising a big infrastructure plan since the campaign days. But what he’s got is a whole bunch of nothing. The president dropped his plan on Monday and it’s low on the funding and high on the private giveaways. Hunter Blair at the Economic Policy Institute has been following the twists and turns of Trump on infrastructure and the problems with so-called public-private partnerships for a while, and he joined me to break down Trump’s infrastructure plan.

I think the structure of the plan is what we expected to see. It is only $200 billion in federal funding, as opposed to the headline claims of either $1.5 trillion or $1 trillion that the administration had been claiming. Of that, $100 billion goes to this sort of grant program that kicks the funding decisions to states and localities. They are required to come up with 80% of the funding and the federal government only provides 20%. There is $50 billion for rural projects. All of it comes back to what appears to be their belief that state and local governments need to spend even more on funding our infrastructure. Then, there are quite a lot of boilerplate claims about leveraging the private sector.
…At the end of the day, private entities don’t bring any more funding to the table. Either the federal government is going to fund it or you are going to be looking at taxes or tolls or user fees. Private companies do not build our infrastructure for free and they don’t manage or maintain anything of the sort for free and they expect to earn a return. They will earn that return through partnerships that allow them to collect tolls or pay them through state and local taxes. Leveraging the private sector, it gets thrown around a lot, but it certainly doesn’t bring any new money to the table.

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Stopping the privatization of Puerto Rico, with Julio López Varona

Puerto Rico is still struggling after the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria. So naturally its government, prodded by the wealthy, wants to privatize its electrical grid and its public schools, among other things. But Puerto Ricans are organizing, on the island and the mainland, to fight back. Julio López Varona of Make the Road Connecticut and the Center for Popular Democracy joins me to talk about Puerto Rico’s economic troubles–which are anything but a “natural” disaster–and why we should pay attention to the situation in Puerto Rico. It bears a striking similarity to what many people would love to do across the rest of the US.

What we are seeing is a trend. Puerto Rico is, in many ways a microcosm of what is happening in other places. We are seeing this move toward privatizing electricity, but at the same time, we are seeing this move to privatize education. In Puerto Rico, in particular, it is crazy because it is everywhere. The proposal is not like, “We will privatize some.” They want to change or renew – those are the keywords they are using – the education system and they are saying the only way they can do it is by providing charter schools and a private electric grid, which has not been proven necessarily to actually improve the outcomes of students or to actually be good for customers that receive those electrical services.

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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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Resistance is not enough: an election-year pledge, with R.J. Eskow

To really reverse the Trump agenda, RJ Eskow argues, “resistance” is not enough. Instead, a program for making material changes in people’s lives is necessary for motivating people to come to the polls. In order to head off the politics of personalities and the inertia of Democratic leadership, a group of activists have come together to write a platform for change. RJ Eskow is one of the writers of that pledge, and he joins me to discuss it.

When we talk about the Democratic Party, I always feel we have to distinguish the rank and file members of the party from the people of influence who have power and the party leadership, because I think there are two very distinct populations. I have written a lot over the past year about the opinions of Democratic Party-registered Democrats. They want the party to move left. They want new leaders. Polling shows that they are strongly progressive economically.
Then, of course, it is no secret to you or most of the people reading this, that there is an entrenched resistance to that form of resistance within the Democratic Party. I think there will be a lot of people who are hoping that the party can make it to victory in November without committing to any specific transformative economic agenda. That is, enough to say, “Oh, that Trump. We hate him. He is awful. Don’t you hate him, too? Come on out and vote.” There are only two ways that can play out in my book.
…But, if the rank and file can pressure the party, can demand an agenda like this from the party, things will be different because more leaders will commit to it, more people who will prevail in the primaries who stand for this kind of an agenda, the party will really be something people can identify with, and I think that greatly improves its chances in November and its chances going forward.

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Dreaming beyond the DREAM Act, with Kristian Hernandez

The Democrats gave in after just a few days of government shutdown, setting the stage for Trump to propose an immigration “compromise” that will do real harm to many under the guise of “helping” DREAMers. Where does the immigrants rights movement go from here? Kristian Hernandez of North Texas Dream Team and DSA North Texas joins me to talk about compromises, criminalization, and strategies for an election year.

There is definitely a lot of powerlessness that comes from the Democrats, that they seem to being going off of this “Well, we don’t have a majority here.” There are just a lot of excuses for why they can’t advance in the realm of immigration. They tend to, also, come back to it, especially during times like the primaries and during election season. They have this notion that their base is assuaged by this centrist viewpoint on immigration, when really you are finding more and more people being maybe a lot more aware of the horrors that the immigration system is actually doing because people, especially during the Obama administration, may have gone with the damaging rhetoric of “felons not families” but not realizing that when you have an administration that has very effectively criminalized communities of color, you are deporting a lot more people than felons.
You are deporting people that are caught up in that collateral web and going forward from that, we know that the system works against our communities. Even going off of that really dangerous rhetoric of “Well, we are only deporting criminals” is really this false lie. It is throwing one group of immigrants under the bus for the sake of another when a lot of us who have that deeper understanding that they are making us criminals on paper by putting us into this system that punishes you if you are poor. It punishes you twice over and makes you a criminal. There are a lot of false guilty pleas and really just a whole very complex way that the criminal justice system is intertwined with immigration.

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Work requirements for Medicaid and other attempts to dismantle healthcare, with Rebecca Vallas


Children’s healthcare was a bargaining chip in the latest showdown in Congress, but with the government shutdown over for now, Republicans are planning more healthcare cuts. Much of this will happen on the state level, as the Trump administration has given states the green light to impose restrictions on Medicaid that include work requirements–the same kind of work requirements that helped destroy the program formerly known to most people as “welfare.” Rebecca Vallas of the Center for American Progress joins me to talk about the unending attacks on healthcare, why calling things “welfare reform” is wrong, and how to challenge the attacks on these popular safety net programs.

I think the first thing that we need to do is learn from 2017, where we actually saw Medicaid’s overwhelming popularity across party lines be what stopped Republicans from being able to unilaterally repeal the Affordable Care Act and dismantle our healthcare system. It was Medicaid that saved the ACA. I think the lesson to learn from that is, for starters, Medicaid and nutrition assistance and affordable housing and more, all these programs that help families stay afloat when they fall on hard times or when wages aren’t enough, they are incredibly popular programs.
Rather than talking in the Republican talking point terms about these programs being for “the poor” or sort of following their lead that this is about some other, we need to be talking about and thinking about these programs as for all of us when we need them when our wages aren’t enough, when we lose a job through no fault of our own, when we end up needing to care for a sick loved one or when we get sick ourselves. The more that people think and talk in “us” terms as opposed in pity or charity terms as though it is about some group of other people that they are protecting these programs for, the more that we will get to a place where not just Republicans in Congress—I should say just policy makers, generally–understand this, but also that the media starts to understand that these programs are there for all of us and these fights are ones that matter to the American people across the board.
I think that is incredibly important to hear and to think about because so often and for many, many years progressive folks who have been well-intentioned in talking about these issues have really done it in terms of “protecting the least among us” or “the most vulnerable,” all of which really reinforces that myth that somehow the poor are “them” rather than us.

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Self-determined governance and electoral justice, with Jessica Byrd and Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson

2018 is a midterm election year, and that means the news cycle and a lot of the political energy (and funding) will be running to electoral politics. But what does that mean for social movements, for the Movement for Black Lives? I talk with Jessica Byrd, cofounder of the Movement for Black Lives Electoral Justice Project, and Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson of Highlander Education and Research Center about what role elections play in movements for liberation, what barriers still exist to democracy in the U.S., and much more.

JB: This part of elections that I think we talk about the least is the real structural barriers in accessing democracy. Right now, our democracy is really an aspirational one versus one that we are actually finding the fruits of. What happens as we attempt to continue to access it more and more is that there are more barriers put in place for us to fully participate. When I say “us” I mean nearly everyone but white men who own land and have a college degree, etc. Those laws largely were passed as folks were gaining access to democracy and access to voting and elected leadership and finding ways to make their voices heard in our electoral system. Part of what the movement has to engage in, as well, is removing those barriers.
….
AWH: I think that what has become ever more real in the southern specific context is that even with the achievements of Black liberation movements before us, specifically around voting rights and civil rights, that we deserve more than what policy ever gave us. I think that the Movement for Black Lives is really pushing both in the Electoral Justice Project and through the Vision for Black Lives policy platform, calling for what we have always deserved and not just what we would concede to.
That looks like demanding even more protections for folks that are exercising their right to vote as one particular form of participation and building people’s democracy. It is not the only tactic, but it is definitely one that we don’t have the luxury to ignore, especially with working class Black people, especially in places that tend to be more disenfranchised, whether because you are a formerly or currently incarcerated person. Alabama, again, is another case study–people who have never been convicted of a crime that are literally not being allowed to vote. We saw folks fight and win protections for those folks and over 10,000 formerly and currently incarcerated people registered to vote in this last election.

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Permanent protections instead of temporary status, with Jaime Contreras


Trump has now revoked temporary protected status (TPS) for immigrants from four countries, the latest being El Salvador. Some 200,000 Salvadorans have come to the US fleeing civil war, earthquakes, and gang violence under this status, but now the administration demands they go home. SEIU 32BJ, the building service workers union, has 100,000 Salvadoran members, many of whom relied on TPS to work in the US. Jaime Contreras, a vice-president with the union and a Salvadoran immigrant himself, explains what the TPS policy has meant to people like his family and what the union is doing to protect its members and pressure Congress to fix the immigration system.

To me, this didn’t come as a surprise. We all heard the rhetoric during the campaign from this president. We knew it was coming. If there is one thing different between the Republicans and the Democrats it is Republicans say what they are going to do and they do it. Democrats, it is the ever-frustrating part where you say you are going to do something and then you do something opposite. Republicans at least stick to their guns and [Laughs] do what they said they were going to do. It is unfortunate. A lot of people were hoping it was only going to be rhetoric, but it is not a surprise.
You asked earlier “What are we going to do and how are we going to get ourselves organized?” SEIU and the rest of the labor movement, along with churches, community organizations, even the business community… The Chamber of Commerce is against eliminating TPS. Obviously, they weren’t heard. Now it is in the hands of Congress. Congress has to act and fix DACA, fix TPS, and allow these people to continue living in the United States as they have been. A lot of these people, like I said, they own homes, some of them are business owners, they have US-born children, they have roots here. They have roots here. You can’t uproot people who have been here for over two decades just like that. It is just not the American thing to do. So, we are going to be lobbying Congress and demanding they fix this problem once and for all for these people who really should be US citizens by now, if they were allowed the opportunity to do that.

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Building rural power with Down Home North Carolina

Brigid Flaherty moved home to rural North Carolina after the election of Donald Trump to put her years of organizing experience to work “down home,” bringing together a multiracial organization of working-class people to build power in their communities. A year later, Down Home North Carolina has organizers and members in several counties and campaigns on national, regional and local issues, from healthcare to racial justice to energy bills. Flaherty joins me with member Kischa Peña and organizer Juan Miranda to talk about Down Home’s work in the last year and what’s coming up for them in 2018.

BF: When we were looking at the political makeup of North Carolina and what had happened since 2010 and the far-right takeover of the state and then moving into 2016 and watching that happen at the federal level, it felt like the best offense that we were going to have was to make sure that we were building strong local leadership in places in North Carolina that weren’t necessarily the places that had a lot of infrastructure. For us, this felt like a long-term project that needed to happen in order to make sure that working people got what they deserved, were able to build their leadership, and flex their muscle so that we could really be making winds that could change people’s lives in the years to come.
We said in November that we were going to start Down Home and then actually got off the ground in June this year. We have been around for about six months. Originally, it started out just Todd and I doing the organizing. I moved back to the mountains where my mother lives and I was actually living with her for the first few months and Todd was organizing in Alamance in the center part of the state. We just got out on the doors using a listening survey. We went with three broad questions, basically, which were: What are the issues that matter most to you and your family? Who or what is responsible for those issues? What are your solutions?
I think one of the things we really felt we learned from the 2016 election is that a lot of working people don’t feel listened to. The parties have never contacted them. It felt like a lot of people were speaking for them and yet they were like, “Y’all have never come to our door. You have never sat in our living room.” Again, we have only been around for six months. We basically used the first four and a half/five months to just listen and use that survey to really be able to develop the leaders and develop the issues that would be the things that we were going to fight on as Down Home. That is really how we got started.

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Launching the new Poor People’s Campaign with Rev. Emily McNeill


When Martin Luther King Jr. died, he was in the middle of building the Poor People’s Campaign–a multiracial endeavor challenging America’s persistent class divide. But the campaign was left unfinished, and the class divide has only gotten worse and will continue to do so under the latest policy from the Republican Congress, a massive package of tax cuts for the rich and tax hikes for everyone else. So a group of organizers and faith leaders is coming together to finish the work that King started and launching the new Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. Rev. Emily McNeill is part of that campaign in New York State, and also director of the Labor Religion Coalition in New York, and she looks back on the year that was and forward to the campaign coming up.

I think that is a really important aspect of the campaign and it is intentional—to be pushing back on this myth that we all could raise ourselves up by our bootstraps and just continue to accumulate and become rich. It has obviously never been a reality in the history of the United States. But, there is also this history of people on the bottom, in all sorts of ways, coming together and organizing and claiming their identity.
One of the explicit goals of this phase of the campaign is about changing the moral narrative of all these issues; around racism and poverty and militarism and ecological devastation. Part of the narrative that the campaign wants to shift is that being poor is something to be ashamed of and instead to say, “No, poverty is something that our society should be ashamed of. We have nothing to be ashamed of if we are not making ends meet because there are structural reasons for that and people are getting rich off the fact that we are poor.” To claim that, that “We have nothing to be ashamed of, the people that are perpetuating the system are the ones who should be ashamed” is a big part of the messaging that we want to get through to people.
That is what comes across in the testimonies that the campaign has already been putting out from directly impacted folks from around the country, people standing up and saying, “There is nothing wrong with me. I am not…” There is a great video from this young woman who was part of the launch event. She is from Grays Harbor in Washington State and talking about, “I was homeless not because I am lazy, but because society doesn’t have any problem with me being homeless” and just really naming that she is not ashamed and she has no reason to be ashamed to be poor.

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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.