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End of an Era: Books for the Obama years

Emmett Rensin included Necessary Trouble in his round-up of books to read to understand the Obama era, at Bookforum.

Necessary Trouble is a book that’s virtue lies primarily in the willingness of author Sarah Jaffe to perform the actual work of a journalist and go investigate these movements in person.. She explores all kinds: the reactionary, the revolutionary, the mundane, and shows that residents of fly-over states clad in red trucker hats are not the only demographic that has escaped the notice of Washington. The hidden chaos of the Obama era has also produced viable movements for revolutionary change, including movements that are perhaps more threatening than their reactionary counterparts to the power of liberal technocracy because these left-wing movements cannot be fought in the open without betraying the conservative instincts of many notionally liberal progressives and Democrats.

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Rich man’s war, poor man’s fight, with Rory Fanning

Donald Trump’s budget slashes social programs while inflating an already-massive military budget, meaning that for many people in already-underserved and underemployed communities, the military will be the closest thing to a welfare state they have. Rory Fanning is a veteran and conscientious objector, author of the book Worth Fighting For: An Army Ranger’s Journey Out of the Military and Across America, and his work centers on opposing U.S. militarism at home. He is also the co-author, with Craig Hodges, of the new book Long Shot: The Triumphs and Struggles of an NBA Freedom Fighter. We spoke about opposing Trump’s military buildup, the roles that veterans and athletes can play in movements for change, and the long tradition of imperialism in the U.S.

Recognize that people do the best with the information they have access to and most people think that the U.S. is fighting for freedom and democracy around the world and they sign up with very good intentions. I think a lot of people are disillusioned by what they actually see when they are overseas. One of the things I say when I actually do have a chance to talk to high school students here in Chicago, because it is very difficult, is just, “Thank you for allowing me to do it.” There is very little space for veterans to come back and tell their stories. There is a lot of patting on the back at sporting events and concerts and whatnot, but as far as actual space to hear the realities of war, there are next to none. Unless you have a very positive take on the last fifteen years, people don’t ask you to talk.

Up at The Baffler.

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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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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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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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Breaking the deportation machine, with Maria Castro

Last week, February 8, Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos went to her yearly check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Phoenix, Arizona, something she has done every year since 2008, when she was arrested in a raid by notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio and convicted of using a fake Social Security number to work (and pay Social Security taxes that she would never be able to collect). This time, instead of being sent home to her family, she was loaded into a van and deported to Mexico, despite a group of her friends and family and supporters placing their bodies in the way of the van. Her 14-year-old daughter had to pack her things for her; she, along with her brother and father, would be staying behind. Maria Castro was one of the people putting her body on the line to try to prevent Garcia de Rayos’s deportation, and she talks here about what will be necessary to prevent more families like Garcia de Rayos’s from being split up.

It is important to be grounded in community first and foremost. I think it is very easy to identify an action. Like one we did a couple of years ago, we jumped in front of a bus and made national news, but what is important is identifying the needs of our community. In this moment, our communities are being kidnapped out of their homes, out of workplaces, off the street, and we need to do whatever is necessary to protect them and make sure that we are being safe and bold and brave and in some spaces, depending on the conditions, in some of the more liberal states, you may be able to do more and you should do more. That is what is required of us. In some places, it may look like sitting in front of a bus. In other places, it may look like locking down some facility. In other places, it might look like vigils and creating sanctuary spaces. It all depends on the setting, but what is vital and necessary is that you do something.

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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. Previous interviews here.

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Criminalizing dissent in “middle America,” with David Goodner


The news that several bills that would make certain protest tactics into felonies has sparked fears of a crackdown on dissent, but Iowa organizer David Goodner says it has also sparked organizing in response.

Stuff like what happened at Berkeley, that is going to be controversial. I think we also have to realize, at least in that sense, confrontation won. When we went to the airports all over the country and confronted and there was really the risk of shutting down these major airports, these major centers, again, of economic activity, we won major concessions from the Trump administration on his bad policy. The Women’s March, having millions of people in the streets, there may not have been a clear cut victory, but I think it did energize and mobilize people to realize that we can win when we stick together, when we develop a mass movement strategy, and when we fight like hell.

We need to take that just as seriously as we take the concerns about property destruction or about people with masks on and how that might look to Middle America, as well. I think people here in Iowa want to stand with somebody who they know is fighting for them. They are not going to care so much about ideology if they can see that there is a movement that has their back and is going to defend their interests. People are going to sign up and join it.

Up at Truthout.

Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. Previous interviews here.

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Standing Rock is everywhere, with Judith LeBlanc


Judith LeBlanc of the Native Organizers Alliance spoke at the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. and remains part of the movement taking the resistance at Standing Rock around the country, from divestment campaigns in Seattle to a Native-led March on Washington coming soon.

No matter how strong capitalism seems to be, it is inherently full of contradictions and therefore masses of people, when organized, even if not the majority, can have an impact. We have organized this alliance, joined a coalition that involved many, many groups – faith groups, as well as divestment groups and environmental groups like 350.org – in doing a serious of actions in the last few days to pressure the seventeen banks who are invested in Energy Transfer Partners to meet with the tribe. To divest, but to do so on the basis of meeting with the tribes and understanding what the issues are and the impact the pipeline can have. We have also had tremendous numbers of people, I can’t remember the figures of people who closed their personal accounts that were in some of the seventeen banks. It has given many people the ability to say, “Amen” in their personal lives, to live a life that is actually in sync with their beliefs that we all have a role to play in saving Mother Earth.

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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. Previous interviews here.

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Teaching to resist, with Jesse Hagopian

Public schools have been a bipartisan battleground for years now, with teachers’ unions taking attacks from elected officials at all levels as part of a broader movement to “improve” education by handing control over it to private companies. Donald Trump’s nominee to run the education department, Betsy DeVos, is a stalwart of this privatization drive, never having met a public school she liked (and barely, as many have pointed out, having met a public school at all, since she neither taught in any nor attended them nor sent her own children to them). But teachers around the country are organizing against privatization, and gaining support from parents and students. Jesse Hagopian is one of those teachers.

I try…to have my classroom be a place that facilitates dialogue, that allows the kids to discuss the fears and anxieties that they have when they hear Trump’s plans for banning Muslims, for deporting immigrants, all of his atrocious sexual assault exploits, his fear-mongering and hatred and bigotry of all kinds. The students need a place to talk about it. I try to facilitate that, as well as letting them know my classroom is a safe place. On the door, all the teachers on my hallway have put up signs that say, “This is a safe place for our students and a place where we will oppose homophobia and sexism and racism and xenophobia and Islamophobia.” We want to communicate that message clearly with our students. Then, we also have to do it in the curriculum. It is so critical that our curriculum is talking back to the textbooks, which too often just glorify American history without engaging kids in critical thinking about the real challenges and forms of structural oppression that have been perpetuated throughout US history. We have to allow them to dig into the curriculum and into the history to figure out how we arrived at a moment like this. It’s really crucial to helping support them right now.

Up at Truthout.

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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. Previous interviews here.

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Striking against Trump, with Luciano Balbuena and Veronica Mendez Moore

As Donald Trump was preparing to take over as President of the United States, Luciano Balbuena was preparing for something else: a strike, along with his coworkers who clean Home Depot stores in the Minneapolis area. A member of Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL), Luciano talks about why strike against Trumpism.

We are trying to put a stop to the poverty wages. Donald Trump, he supports these low wages and he has said that he doesn’t think workers deserve better wages. He is a person that is very racist against Latino workers. So, for all of these reasons, that is why we are coming together tomorrow.

Veronica Mendez Moore, executive director of CTUL, also joins us to talk about CTUL’s ongoing organizing, targeting the biggest of the big corporations, and workers’ role in challenging Trump’s labor department nominee, Andy Puzder.

That is the engine of our economy. If workers don’t work, our economy doesn’t work, their communities don’t work, and it begins to break down for the corporations. I think the strike is such a critical tool because it really is a tremendous amount of power that workers have. The bosses spend hours and hours coming up with strategies to teach workers that their voice doesn’t matter and that they have no power and that they just need to follow the rules and listen to the boss. Our job is critical to help people understand how much power they actually have and that the strike is the most powerful tool they have to be able to use their voice and their power.

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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. Previous interviews here.

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Interviews for Resistance #4: Legba Carrefour and #DisruptJ20

In addition to the massive Women’s March on Washington planned for Saturday, January 21, organizers from around the country with leadership from D.C. residents are planning a “festival of resistance” on Inauguration Day itself. Interview #4 looks into what to expect all day in D.C., and what’s already gone down this week (think queer dance party at Mike Pence’s house).

One of the actions we are doing, the permitted one at Columbus Circle at noon on Friday, we are doing that as a festival of resistance. We have got a flatbed truck with dancers from a local gay club, a bunch of drummers, I think a student marching band or two. I think the role of celebration is really important because a lot of people after the election were very down on themselves. I think it is important to remind people that there is a lot of joy in politics, actually, when you take politics to the street.

Up at Truthout.

Up at The Baffler, with audio.

Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. Previous interviews here.

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Interviews for Resistance #3: Erin Mahoney

The strike remains one of the most powerful weapons that ordinary people have, and one feminist organization has decided to try and build on recent women’s strikes in multiple countries to take a similar action in the U.S. I spoke with Erin Mahoney of National Women’s Liberation:

We have got nearly 5,000 signatures so far and they are coming in by the hundreds every day, of women signing up to say that they will be striking from doing emotional labor in their household. They will be striking from their paying jobs. They will be striking from fake smiles, from making things run smoothly, from laundry to childcare—a whole host of different things that they are striking from. It is really moving to see the reasons why people are striking and also the breadth of work that they are striking from.

Up at In These Times.

Up at Truthout.

Up at The Baffler.

Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. Previous interviews here.