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Healthcare for the heartland, with Jesse Myerson


After the election, Jesse Myerson wanted to build something in a place with little progressive infrastructure. He found himself in Bloomington, Indiana, where alongside Kate Hess Pace and a handful of other Hoosiers, he is helping to build Hoosier Action. Many of its earliest actions have focused on fighting Medicaid cuts on the state and national level. He’s also the host of a podcast that, like Interviews for Resistance, aims to spotlight organizers from around the country and the work they are doing.

A lot of this organizing is based on having long one-on-one discussions with people, what their lives are like, what they are interested in, what they are concerned about, what they are afraid of, what they are angry about, what they are hopeful for and growing relationships that way. That is both on the doors and ideally in follow-ups after people get knocked or called. Those stories are important in the actual day-to-day organizing, talking to people and letting them know who you are and finding out who they are. As a kind of public expression, really what we hope to do is to mobilize people with that, but that ultimately that mobilization should turn into becoming a dues-paying member, coming to monthly member meetings, joining a team and taking on work. That can be going and knocking on doors, it can be doing data entry, it can be helping to promote issues or taking on a shift at the farmers market or at a county fair, flyering or taking petitions, but ideally it is not a high temperature sort of organizing such as you and I saw at Occupy Wall Street where it is lots of marches, lots of heat, lots of intensity.

Really, that emotional heat is being channelled into really well-functioning systems that people can take on discrete amounts of work that make sense with their working lives and their family lives, but that they can see serving to proliferate the organization.

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Rising out of poverty, with Annie Chambers, Rachel West and Pat Gowens


Welfare reform briefly became a hot topic on the campaign trail last year when Hillary Clinton was criticized for supporting the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, signed into law with great fanfare by her husband, President Bill Clinton, who famously declared that the law would “end welfare as we know it.” The law did precisely that, turning the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program into the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant, which came along with stringent requirements for the people, most of them women, who received it. Since that time, extreme poverty has spiked in the country, and the share of single mothers with no income or benefits has gone from 12 to 20 percent. But welfare rights activists never stopped fighting for their rights, and many are backing a bill being reintroduced by Congresswoman Gwen Moore of Wisconsin, the RISE Out of Poverty Act. I spoke with several supporters of the Act at the People’s Summit in Chicago recently.

Pat Gowens: The RISE Out of Poverty Act would say that instead of only allowing mothers to do this unwaged work, that women could do their mandatory hours on job search, number one, and they could also do it going to college. They could get a two-year degree, a four-year degree, and that would could as employment. In the states right now, they can require the mother to leave their babies at two months, three months, whatever, one year. In Wisconsin it is two months. At that point, the children have no one on one care anymore from their mom and the mom has to, again, go into that unwaged workforce or, if they can find a job, the paid workforce.

This would say the states couldn’t do that. They would have to at least let the mothers be home—right now it isn’t clear whether it is going to be one year or whether it is going to be more. It’s up for grabs, because the bill is being revised.

Then, there is a third thing. The states wouldn’t be able to only say they cut the rolls. The law would have to be changed to say the states have to reduce poverty and increase employment, not just say, “Well, we cut a million women off this year” and they are all in the streets with zero income, or they are working for…probably ninety-six people are working for no pay at their Head Start. The states would have to prove that they are reducing poverty.

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A unified working class movement, with Nijmie Dzurinko


The conversations since the election have mostly hinged on how divided Americans are, on the splits between rural and urban, black and white, immigrant and citizen. But there are material issues that affect many, many people in this country right now, starting with healthcare, and Nijmie Dzurinko of Put People First PA has been organizing across divides in the deeply split state of Pennsylvania for years, using healthcare as a way to unify working-class communities around the things that matter most.

To speak to a long-term organizing strategy, I think we have got to get clear on a few things. One is that my work is still around the idea that we have got to be organizing an intersectional working class movement. That means that we have got to be organizing the folks who are forced to work for wages and particularly folks who are the most marginalized workers and/or folks who can’t work, who are locked out of the system of work, but who need to in order to survive. That group of people is representative of every race, every gender, every status of documentation. That group of people is very broad. We need to make sure that the most marginalized people in the class are in the center of our work, but we have got to be organizing a working class movement.

One of the things we have got to recognize in that sense is that to build a long-term strategy is that the 1% is not necessarily going to fund the unity of the 99%. The 1% is pretty comfortable funding segments of that group to fight for their own piece, but not necessarily for the coming together of that class as a class. I think that in terms of long-term strategy, we need to be okay with that. We are going to have to do some things that might not get funded. We are going to have to put in some work that might not get paid. No one wants to hear that necessarily. We are in this moment where there are some dreams about how everyone is going to have a career, everyone is going to be able to do some kind of revolutionary work and get paid really well to do it and that is still a contradiction. It never hasn’t been and it always will be because, again, the 1% is not going to put their money behind a class struggle that is aiming at them. They might put their money behind a struggle that was aiming at better representation among their class of a certain group of people, but they are not going to put their money behind a unified group of folks that are coming for them.

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An equitable infrastructure plan, with Bishop Dwayne Royster

Donald Trump’s plans to “Make America Great Again” included promises of massive infrastructure spending, but it turns out he’s mostly interested in privatizing what’s left of the American public sector to make his cronies rich at the expense of everyone else. But infrastructure spending is desperately needed, so the “Millions of Jobs” coalition is coming together with a big, positive, public-oriented vision for infrastructure that goes beyond roads and bridges to the infrastructure of care. Bishop Dwayne Royster of the PICO Network is part of that coalition, and he explains:

I think Trump and others are trying to make deals and they are trying to maximize the profits for their friends and the other billionaires that they care about. But, when we think about infrastructure I think we have to think about the whole in terms of how we are building out our country, our nation, how we are building out future generations. Any infrastructure project is a project that you are looking at that has to last several decades. What better investment in infrastructure could there be than building up solar energy, building out education priorities for our kids, making sure that we are creating job opportunities for people that have been locked out of those opportunities by creating good-paying middle-class jobs? I think that is infrastructure, as well.

I think infrastructure is much bigger than just looking at roads and bridges. Of course, they are incredibly important, don’t get me wrong on that. But, it is important that we are looking at the infrastructure of a nation which also includes the human resources that we have, as well.

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Listening to the picket line, with Cecilia Aldarondo


The workers at the Momentive plant near Albany, New York didn’t get as much attention in the weeks surrounding Donald Trump’s election as did those at Carrier in Indianapolis, but in many ways they are similar. While the Carrier plant was closing down, the workers there had faced repeated demands for givebacks in their contracts like the ones the Momentive workers fought against. And like Carrier, in the state from which Trump drew Vice-President Mike Pence, the Momentive plant too had a Trump connection: Steve Schwarzman, billionaire hedge-fund titan and Trump economic adviser, had been part of the team of private equity investors who owned the plant once it was spun off from GE. Yet when filmmaker Cecila Aldarondo began visiting the workers on the picket line they walked outside of Momentive for over 100 days, she found that many of them had voted for Trump. Her short film, Picket Line, is part of Our 100 Days, a short film initiative from Firelight Media and Field of Vision examining America after Trump, and we talked about stereotypes of Trump voters, the power of the union in resistance, and how to talk to people on the other side of the political line drawn by the 2016 election.

One of the things that has already sort of bothered me and troubled me a little bit is in seeing how people have reacted to the film since it was released, is people making knee-jerk statements about the white working class. Mostly people who think of themselves as liberal, who are rabid anti-Trumpers, who are essentially saying, “I am sick of hearing the story about the aggrieved white working class. These people are idiots,” etc. and “Thanks for screwing us over.” Something like this.
The first thing that I would say to that is, “First of all, this is not a universal… These people are not all white” and like you said, they are not all male. I would say this area is largely white, but there were a lot of people of color that I talked to for the film. I think that these sort of bumper-sticker narratives are things that people have been clinging to to explain very complicated and much longer-running issues around the growth of economic inequality, the erosion of union power in this country, etc.
Anyway, I just want to say, this is a film that really tries to challenge those kind of monolithic understandings of not just what happened, but what is happening to working people in this country. That includes all working people of all ethnicities, all genders, etc.

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The family leave shell game, with Ellen Bravo


Donald Trump’s budget slashes social programs to the bone, if not outright eliminating them. Yet he’s followed up–sort of–on a campaign-trail promise, credited to his daughter Ivanka, of providing paid family leave. Yet longtime labor organizer and family policy campaigner Ellen Bravo says the proposal isn’t worth much to anyone but the wealthiest people, and is designed to create still more cuts.

I have been thinking a lot about shell games. In order to win a shell game, the person has to get your eyes on one shell while they are manipulating the others. That is what this budget is. They are hoping that by naming “paid leave” we won’t notice that they are slashing and destroying everything from Medicaid to food stamps to childcare to disability payments, etc.
Secondly, the paid leave itself, they call it paid family leave, but of course it is paid parental leave. It doesn’t deliver even for parents. The problem is it is relying on an unsustainable funding source, state unemployment insurance. They are already grossly underfunded and leave out large numbers of people. The states will get to set the eligibility and amount of payment for your benefit and it is only for six weeks. So too little time for too little money for too few people. It is going to be another shell game to say that the money will come from reducing fraud in unemployment insurance, which is greatly exaggerated as a problem. Essentially it will mean that states will have to cut unemployment benefits to laid off workers in order to have money for the parental leave and of course it’s the same people. There will be someone who needs one and later the other or their partner. Then, they get to decide who qualifies. So, if you are an unmarried couple, same sex couple, adoptive parents, how do you get certified, who gets to be considered legitimate?

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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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