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Fighting Wall Street for Racial Justice, with Saqib Bhatti and Maurice Weeks

There have been a lot of debates recently about Wall Street and its role in fights for racial justice. For Saqib Bhatti and Maurice Weeks, co-founders of a new organization, the Action Center for Race and the Economy, understanding and combating the power of finance is an indispensable part of the struggle for both racial and economic justice, fights that cannot be separated out from one another.

MW: To me, the Trump administration is actually a perfect example of the demonstration of our analysis. On the one hand, you have a group of people who are just outright racist, who are just pushing forward the most hateful, xenophobic ideas that you could possible imagine. And on the other side, you have this group of people who are some of the economic justice targets that we have been fighting for the past ten or twenty years. Folks from Goldman Sachs, Steven Mnuchin, and that whole bunch.

In our analysis it makes a lot of sense that those two camps of people came together. There is a wealth extraction plan that they are pushing forward and the tool to do it is the racist hate language. Blaming the problems of the economy onto Black and Latino, brown folks and whoever else they can blame. It makes perfect sense that those two things are together and it is a really important calling for us to focus on race as a central piece of the work that we are doing. Because, if we don’t, it can be used as a tool against us.

SB: I would add that one of the original sins of the Democratic party going into the 2016 election was the failure of the last administration and the supermajorities in Congress to actually offer meaningful relief to struggling families in the aftermath of the financial crisis. The focus was on “How do we make sure that we can keep the financial system afloat?” and they left working families, struggling families behind.

One of the things that really is important about that is that one of the ways in which Wall Street ensured that they were able to push through their agenda was by racializing the issue. It was that the home owners who were facing foreclosure, they are irresponsible Black and Latino families who got into loans they couldn’t afford and so they didn’t deserve help. The reality is, we know, that Black and Latino families were actually targeted with predatory mortgages.

But, the other side of that, though, is that while it is true that Black and Latino families are disproportionately the people who impacted by the foreclosure crisis, in raw numbers it was a lot more poor white folks who were foreclosed on because there are a lot more poor white folks in the country than there are poor Black and Latino families.

The “white working class,” they very much were impacted by the same pro-Wall Street policies that were justified by scapegoating people of color. What is interesting now, of course, you had Donald Trump who really appealed to a lot of folks who felt left behind by the Democratic Party by saying the system is rigged. He wasn’t wrong that “The system is rigged.” It was rigged. Of course, it was rigged by the very people that he has put in his cabinet. So, it is this vicious cycle. As Maurice said, this is the perfect example of how race and class and racial and economic analysis go hand in hand and come together to give us the moment that we are in now.

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“We will use our non-cooperation,” with Gloribell Mota


May 1, 2006 was the famous “Day Without an Immigrant,” harking back to May Day’s radical immigrant labor history in the U.S. and successfully stopping a vicious anti-immigrant bill in Congress. Today, as an administration that rode anti-immigrant fervor into the White House cracks down on communities, people across the country are joining a one-day general strike for justice and equity. Movimiento Cosecha has been at the heart of the organizing for the strike, and has held several actions in the lead-up to today’s actions. Gloribell Mota of Cosecha Boston tells us about it.

Cosecha movement is a non-violent movement that is looking to the respect and dignity and getting permanent protection for eleven million undocumented in this country. Since the beginning of this year, we have been asking for a strike for May 1st. We are really asking for a one week strike if that needs be to show our economic power. During these months we have been trying to illustrate our message, what we are asking for, what we are asking for May 1st, and what we saw February 16th organically come up from the community. Basically, that they are ready and that we have to follow their lead and provide that support.

A lot of allies, organizers, clergy members, youth, individuals, former undocumented came together for this Monday action to stand against what we feel is not moral and as well to make sure that those that are detained and those that are practicing their first right and speaking up against anti-immigrant rhetoric, that we stand with them and that we are resisting any deportations, detention, and unjust proceedings that we also saw in Lawrence where people were going to their court hearings and automatically were not even allowed to do the process and were detained. Something that was not a practice [previously]. I think this action that we just did was to go to the detention center and particularly ask Suffolk County that represents Boston and Chelsea, both cities that the mayor and the local body has said are sanctuary to no longer serve as a detention center for the state.

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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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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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Beating Trump’s budget, with Mark Price


When Donald Trump’s first partial budget proposal dropped, the Internet let out a collective howl at the size of the cuts and changes to beloved social programs. One of the results of Trump’s election has been new interest in the workings of government normally ignored by people who aren’t elected members of Congress, and so to help with that process, labor economist Mark Price joins us to talk about the budgeting process and where ordinary people have the power to disrupt it.

Basically, the president puts forward his initial budget and it now falls to Congress to hold hearings in the various committees on the president’s priorities and then form its own budget resolution. I think that points to where people can have an impact, because it is ultimately going to be the decisions that our Congressional representatives and Senators make in that next step of the budget process. They are going to be heavily influential in teasing out how much of the president’s priorities in each of these areas end up becoming law.
The president has put forward his initial proposal. As the name of the budget implies, it is skinny and both deep cuts to non-discretionary spending, but also he didn’t do a big chunk of his job which is essentially talking about the other parts of the budget. Perhaps those will be coming forward, but we have until April for Congress to step forward and put forward its own budget resolution, its own priorities and spending in each of the areas that the president had proposed.
One of the things that I am seeing, at least, is a lot of energy. People are energized particularly around healthcare. They are trying to reach out to their representatives. I live in a relatively small rural community and people are showing up at town hall meetings and giving their representatives an earful on these various priorities, like heating assistance for low income folks, Meals on Wheels. If people were to show up at town hall meetings to reach out to their members of Congress and let them know that they care about these programs, that will probably go a long way. That would probably have a great effect, certainly more than in past years.

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Feminist organizing in Pence country, with Megha Anwer & Melissa Gruver

Lafayette, Indiana organizers are used to struggling with a repressive administration–they’ve dealt with successive governors who want to crack down on labor rights and women’s rights. Mike Pence, they note, was behind in the polls for re-election because of the work they had done to defeat him when he was swept up into the Trump campaign and ultimately the vice-presidency. Now “Pence country is spreading” and their organizing is getting correspondingly broader. The March 8 Women’s Strike offered them an opportunity to connect to a growing national movement.

Melissa Gruver: Our letter mentions that we are striking to reflect on the work that women have done throughout history to labor for us all. Then, to reflect on: What is our next move going forward? I think a lot of those conversations will happen here, even as we are kind of tugging away. Hearing people talk about the Affordable Care Act and sharing their own stories with that. I believe in the power of storytelling and counter-storytelling where people can connect with one another over that and raise their consciousness.

But also, for Younger Women’s Task Force, this is a really good opportunity to continue to build our base and to continue to have conversations about our own campaigns moving forward; which, right now, we have been focusing a lot on reproductive justice and sexual violence against women with an anti-racist framework. Younger Women’s Task Force is really thinking right now about strategic ways to continue to build our organization as it relates to working class women. For us, this was a really great way to connect with some people that maybe we have seen a couple of different times before–you are always thinking, “Hey, we will see you at the next meeting.”

We know that every time we do a public action like this, we gain more folks. Then, with more folks, we can strategize our organizing in the future. We are really focused on our work with Indiana Reproductive Justice Coalition right now, but we really want to make sure we are thinking about and looking to see where working class women are affected in our own local communities and our state.

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Taking on the power behind Trump, with Stephen Lerner

Stephen Lerner has been taking on wealthy capitalists for his whole career, as a labor organizer and strategist and an architect of campaigns from Justice for Janitors to the Committee for Better Banks. He tells us how to map power and figure out who is backing bad policies, bad politicians, and offers some ideas for how to take on the big money power.

We are doing a lot of work on mapping the different Trump worlds. There are the people, like Mnuchin and the Goldman Sachs folks that are directly in the administration and we map all the benefits that their companies will reap from that. Then, there are the Steve Schwarzmans and the Carl Icahns and this other set of players that run committees for him. So, they can essentially create government policies that will further enrich their companies. Then, there is a third set of people like John Paulson, who made all his money in the housing crisis, who may not be directly working for Trump, but who supported him and is now going to reap the benefits. For example, he is heavily invested in Puerto Rico.
What we have been looking at is, how do you identify the corporate collaborators with Trump, and then look at ways to start putting pressure on them so that they pay a price for the fact that they are in bed with Trump?
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One of the ways we can hurt them is cutting off tax breaks and cutting off investment. I think there is a sweet irony of their greed in getting in bed with Trump may make them much more susceptible to cutting off their capital.
Another thing was really illustrated on the CWA Momentive Strike which was a long strike in upstate New York. When people realized that Blackstone’s Steve Schwarzman had been involved in investing in the company and focused on him, it changed the nature of the strike. Instead of it being an isolated battle, it was Trump’s job czar is actually involved in cutting wages, benefits, and outsourcing work. This is one of the pieces that I think is the most critical, which is showing that the people that Trump has put in charge, like Wilbur Ross, are actually job destroyers. We want to completely change the story by putting the spotlight on them by saying, “These are actually the people that got rich destroying good jobs. It is not evil foreigners or immigrants. It is these guys.” That lets you raise a whole set of issues in terms of showing who they are and then, all the different ways that they gamed the system to enrich themselves at the expense of workers.

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Feminism for the 99 percent, with Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor


Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor is the author of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation and one of the organizers behind the call for a Women’s Strike on March 8, International Women’s Day, in solidarity with feminist organizers around the globe. The call for women to strike, she says, is a call for feminism to get in touch with its radical, working-class roots.

At a very basic level, there is an understanding that the problems experienced by women in our societies today are rooted in an economic system that privileges the 1 percent over the 99 percent and that sometimes we think of women’s issues unto themselves, but really these are issues that arise out of an inherently unequal economic arrangement in this country. The fact that women make less, that women don’t have access to childcare provisions, that women don’t have access to reproductive healthcare. They are not just economic questions, but they are related to an economic arrangement that relies on the free labor of women to, in fact, reproduce itself as a political system.

In some ways, as this economic inequality, people have really been talking about with greater specificity and focus since the eruption of the Occupy movement in 2011, that within that context, those unequal economic relationships have disproportionate effect in the lives of women. I think that in this past election where you literally have a billionaire who has made his money through exploiting loopholes in the system and who has sort of ascended to the political top through his abusing women and his visceral sexism and hatred of women—it is not surprising given the centrality of sexism in Donald Trump’s campaign that the very first protests have been organized by women, mostly attended by women, that have become a focal point of the resistance movement.

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Beating the Muslim Ban, with Bhairavi Desai

On January 28, as protesters rushed to airports around the country seeking to defend refugees and migrants against Trump’s travel ban, taxi drivers with the New York Taxi Workers Alliance took the protest a step further and refused to pick up fares at JFK Airport. The taxi drivers’ strike caught the imagination of the public and even spurred a massive campaign to #DeleteUber after the ride-hailing app lowered its fares in an apparent attempt to break the strike. (Uber has since apologized, repeatedly.) But the taxi workers have more to teach us than just this one action.

It was amazing to see the outpouring of support. I think people were really touched that here was a workforce on the front lines of these hateful policies and also the economic margins of what we have seen is a growing sector of the economy which is piecemealing and turning a fulltime profession into part-time gigs. People out there know that taxi drivers are really hard working and that people really struggle day to day to make ends meet. The idea that they would put their incomes on the line and it would be a workforce that is so vulnerable, particularly in these times, to surveillance and deportations and further policing, that they would be the ones to stand up. It seemed to really touch people and we were so moved by their reaction. I think it was a beautiful start to solidarity with our movement.

Certainly, there are many reasons to be critical of Uber. Uber is a pretty horrible company. It is true we have been fighting for a long time to bring attention to Uber’s economic practices and the race to the bottom that it has created. But, however people were meant to come and take a closer look at us, we are ready to accept and, hopefully, from this point forward, folks continue with the struggle.

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