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Living socialism in Houston, with Amy Zachmeyer

The Democratic Socialists of America are one of the political organizations on the ground doing disaster relief in Houston after Harvey, and to co-chair Amy Zachmeyer that work is an expression of working-class solidarity, “really living socialism.” She talks to me about the work DSA has done, where the austerity state has failed, and the environmental issues that make climate change tangible in Texas.

AZ: For large portions of Houston, things are going back to normal. The highways are reopening, people are going back to work, and their lives look relatively the same. But, for other portions of Houston, things are not going to be okay for a very long time. A lot of those divides are economic divides. It has also really highlighted the racial segregation in our city, because you go to some neighborhoods and they look fine. Everyone still has their home and their manicured lawn and their car sitting out front. Then, you go into some of the other neighborhoods that were affected and you see where people’s entire lives have been removed from their home, including the drywall. Everything inside a home that made that home a home has been pulled out and thrown in a large heap on the side of the road. It is a very visual representation of which neighborhoods are affected and which neighborhoods are just business as usual. SJ: We see the inequality really clearly in times of disaster. AZ: In a lot of the neighborhoods that we have gone to, we have actually had people tell us, “Nobody else has come to check on me.” Maybe their pastor has come to check on them, but no other organizations have been out there besides the Democratic Socialists in their red shirts. There is something really heartbreaking about that to me.

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Defending Immigrants, Rebuilding Texas, with Greg Casar


Even as Hurricane Harvey battered Texas’s coast, its politicians were adding more fear to the state’s immigrant residents. From the rumors of immigration checkpoints along evacuation routes to looming bills to further criminalize undocumented people to the threat from Trump to revoke DACA protections, there was a lot to be afraid of. Yet Texans beat back one big threat to immigrants, and the coalition they built, Austin city councilmember Greg Casar says, will help them turn the tide in the future.

[Senate Bill 4] has become a statewide issue, so there have been statewide calls by organizations for all local elected officials to join in on this lawsuit. What I think was really important and special about this moment was that community organizations on the ground, like Texas Organizing Project and Workers Defense Project and United We Dream, were on the demanding that local elected officials stand up and fight back and sue. There were grassroots attorneys that were advising those organizations through their work. Local Progress, which is the national network of progressive local elected officials, set up infrastructure in Texas to coordinate progressive city council members and county commissioners to play sort of an inside/outside game to stand with the activists, but also work on the inside to move the rest of their local government to join this lawsuit.
I think, if you read Judge Garcia’s opinion, it becomes so clear that both the overwhelming damage that SB4 could have caused, that community members themselves raised, was critical for his decision, but also, it was critical to his decision with how many jurisdictions and municipalities stated that there could be irreparable harm caused by the law to those jurisdictions’ safety and wellbeing if the law went into effect. I think it was really critical that both grassroots organizations like United We Dream, Workers Defense, and TOP and an organization like Local Progress were helping to coordinate something that had never been done in the State of Texas before, which was local governments all joining together to sue the governor and state on an immigrants rights and social justice issue like this one. It wasn’t just the mayors sweeping in to save everybody.

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Moving pieces for system change, with Jeff Ordower


It’s been nearly eight months since the inauguration of Donald Trump, and things could be a lot worse, notes longtime organizer Jeff Ordower. Yet it is not enough to simply congratulate ourselves for saving the Affordable Care Act or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, he says. Instead, we should be thinking about how to move the protests and uprisings of recent years onto the next level.

I think the story is really critical. Uprisings and movements happen because something horrible happened or something that affects people is going to happen. They are going to poison the water on indigenous land at Standing Rock or there is yet another police massacre in cold blood or there are people who are worried about their healthcare and what is going to happen to them and more importantly what is going to happen to their children. That is really important and can’t be underestimated as a starting place. How we tell that story and who is affected and having affected people take the biggest and boldest risk, being in the front is critical.
Then, I think a lot of times as organizers we sometimes fall into the trap where we want to have the perfect thing; either it is the perfect narrative, the perfect story—I know in the early days of the healthcare fight, for example, people were like, “If you want to move McCain, you have to get seven veterans to go to McCain’s office.” I think sometimes we try to be too strategic. Really, if people want to move, we have got to give them something to do that makes sense. Sometimes that is occupying a park or putting your bodies on the line and sometimes that is just like, “Show up with a handwritten letter. Here is your toolkit for organizing this alternative town hall.” I think creating those containers where everyone can take action is really, really important.
It is no different than when I was first training as an ACORN organizer back in the 1990s and you sit on someone’s couch and you’re talking about neighborhood issues. The way people were going to get involved or not, you are saying, “What do you think it would take to get a stop sign on the corner?” and they would say, “I don’t know. We have got to get some people in the street” and you are like, “How many people would it take to block the street?” “Thirty.” You would say, “Great. Could you be one of those thirty?” and if they could see themselves doing that, then they were going to join. And if they thought it didn’t make sense, they wouldn’t. I think creating things that people can see themselves doing is really, really critical to all the fights. That ask is different. It is not always an easy thing to do. People will go and be in the streets as we saw in St. Louis, as we saw in Ferguson, night after night after night, because they felt like that was the most important thing that they could do.

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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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No is not enough, with Naomi Klein


The rise of Donald Trump seemed shocking to so many, but to Naomi Klein, something of an expert on shock, the feeling that Trump brings out is more akin to the horror of a bad dystopian novel. Indeed, it’s like her decades of previous research into the growth of global brands and a movement against them, into the violence of neoliberalism, and the destruction and movement against climate change has all come together in one presidency. That gives her a lot of ideas of how to fight him, ideas she details in a new book, No Is Not Enough.

There is no doubt that the far right is entering into a vacuum left by neoliberal centrism and liberalism. It is worth remembering that not so long ago, there was a very large, progressive, committedly internationalist movement that was taking on the whole logic of what was called “free trade” or “globalization” or “corporate globalization.” We called it “corporate rule” for the most part, because the problem was not trade, it was the writing of rules for the global economy in the interests of a small group of powerful corporations. Forget hollow brands. The center of that fight was about the hollowing out of democracy. Yes, sure, you can still vote, but the most important decisions about your life are being outsourced to institutions over which you have no control.

The fact that neoliberal centrist parties pushed those deals, signed those deals, negotiated those deals, and never aligned themselves with that grassroots progressive movement, left the space open for the Donald Trumps and the Nigel Farages and the Marine Le Pens of the world to come in and say, “We know how out of control you are. We believe you should be authors of your own fate, of your own destiny.” We left these ideas unattended, let’s just say. There are lots of great groups that never stopped focusing on trade, like Public Citizen and Food and Water Watch and lots of groups in Europe. But it stopped being a mass movement in the global north after September 11th. It is worth interrogating why that happened.

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Beyond the Clean Power Plan to real power, with Jordan Estevao

Donald Trump wants to destroy the planet–that’s often how it feels, but never more than when he’s dismantling protections against the ravages of climate change. On Tuesday Trump’s latest executive order dropped, opting out of the Clean Power Plan and removing other regulations designed to mitigate against climate crisis. Trump did so with a group of coal miners at his back, but his plan actually will do little to help those coal miners. I spoke with Jordan Estevao of People’s Action, a network of community organizations with a climate justice program that comes out of its organizing in directly-affected communities.

There are multiple states that had no plans to comply anyway. Actually, since last summer it has kind of been in limbo, the regulation, because as Antonin Scalia’s final act as a Supreme Court Justice he and the Court issued a stay on the order, which has left the states that wanted to keep on complying on track and some states waiting to see what happens. But, there is still lots of potential to win good policies. Our Illinois affiliates, Illinois People’s Action and Fair Economy Illinois, just recently passed the Illinois Future Energy Jobs Act which is going to double Illinois’ renewable energy production. It is going to invest between $500 and $750 million in low income communities for energy efficiency, renewable energy, job training, so that low-income people can get into that kind of work, and so on.

I think what a lot of folks on the right and in the Trump administration are missing is that the transition to clean energy, to energy efficiency actually could be a huge economic driver and a way to revitalize our economy, especially since the coal industry is already going under. It is already being undercut by fracking and low oil prices. Coal companies have been going bankrupt at a really high clip with no end in sight. He is not going to bring those jobs back. There is no bringing them back. What we do need to do is figure out where we can invest so that we can start to rebuild an economy that actually puts people to work and also is good for our environment and slows climate change.

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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.