Tag: Community organizing

Don’t Call It A Comeback

Because the Comeback™ would not be complete without a celebration of displacement and gentrification.

In case you have been living under a rock, Detroit Is Coming Back™.

For years, Detroit has been the poster child of American neoliberalism and austerity. In Michigan, the state is allowed to appoint officials that supplant those who have been duly elected by popular vote in times of financial distress. These officials, known as emergency managers, are granted sweeping powers to do whatever it takes to “balance the books”, even if it means shredding the public sector and the services that they provide to the working class. The institution as a whole is not simply an attack on services; it is an attack on democracy itself, especially since emergency managers have the power to remove “uncooperative” elected officials.

Realizing this, Michiganders went to the polls in November 2012 and rejected Proposal 1, which ended the authority of emergency managers in the state. Not to be deterred, Gov. Rick Snyder — who had campaigned for the office in 2010 on being “One Tough Nerd” and “running government like a business” — and his fellow Republicans in the state legislature passed Public Act 436, which made mild modifications to the previous statute but kept in place the emergency management system.

The emergency manager for Detroit had one job: make the city safe for capital again. Kevyn Orr, the corporate lawyer who was appointed as Detroit’s emergency manager in March 2013, took to the job with aplomb. Union contracts were cancelled, retirees saw reductions in their benefits, and city services were sold to private firms. Orr directed the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to cut off water to those who were behind on their bill, adding another layer of cruelty to working-class families in a city devastated by capital flight and a toxic brew of violence from white supremacy and spatial segregation.

The financial bankruptcy may have ended in 2014, but the social and moral bankruptcy continues amongst those who rule this city. Talk to any long-term Detroiter and they will tell you the same. But if you are unable to make it to this city — a gem full of culture, great food, and even better people — then I direct you to a shining example of such elite turpitude: Detroit Homecoming.

Burying You With a Good Shovel in the Good Earth: Liberals and Trumpism

(This is a joint post by Douglas and Cato)

Once upon a time, a small group of indigenous people took on the Klan and won in the rural South in 1958.

lumbee-in-kkk-banner

The Lumbee tribe is not a big or especially well-known tribe outside of North Carolina. Its members make up the overwhelming majority of the population of Pembroke, NC and they constitute 40% of the population of Robeson County, which is on the North Carolina-South Carolina border. The Lumbee are denied access to the funds set aside for most federally recognized tribes despite gaining federal recognition in 1956. This is part of why Robeson is not a rich county: 1 in 3 residents live in poverty as of 2012, with 8% unemployment as of 2015.

Aside from poverty, there was another thing making life hard for the people of Robeson County in 1958. It was a Klan Grand Wizard obsessed with preventing miscegenation. His name was James ‘Catfish’ Cole, and he had come up from South Carolina to teach the Lumbee a lesson about not intermarrying with white people. He deployed two tools from the usual array of Klan terror: night rides and cross burnings. Cole was planning on holding a rally and cross burning near the town of Maxton by a place called Hayes Pond.

It did not go as he wanted it to. When approximately 50-150 Klansmen were all set to rally, 500 Lumbee, armed with rocks and sticks and firearms swarmed them. Four Klansmen were wounded by gunfire, the rest (including Cole) ran for the woods, leaving behind their families. The sheriff ultimately showed up and dispersed the ‘Klan rout’ after the Lumbee tribe took the Klan’s banner as a trophy, which is pictured above with the leaders of the Lumbee group who confronted the Klan, Charlie Warriax and Simeon Oxendine. Cole was ultimately arrested and prosecuted for inciting a riot, and the Lumbee still celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of Hayes Pond to this day.

So. What does that have to do with Trump?

Why Virginia matters to American labor in 2016.

The most important election in Virginia this year has no candidates on the ballot.

On February 2nd, the Republican-dominated General Assembly passed the two-session threshold needed to put the open shop before the Commonwealth’s voters in November. You might be asking yourself, “Wait. I thought that Virginia was already an open-shop state?” Your inclinations would be correct: legislation barring union membership as a condition of employment was signed into law by Gov. William Tuck (a later adherent to Massive Resistance in response to Brown v. Board of Education as a member of Congress) in 1947. As a result, Section 40.1-58 of the Code of Virginia reads:

“It is hereby declared to be the public policy of Virginia that the right of persons to work shall not be denied or abridged on account of membership or nonmembership in any labor union or labor organization.”

So why do this? The easy answer is that Virginia Republicans are fearful that, should the open shop meet a legal challenge in state court, Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring would not seek to defend it. The sponsor of the bill and defeated 2013 nominee for Attorney General, State Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg), stated as much in the deliberations on the bill. In addition, should the Assembly find itself in pro-labor hands in the future, they could overturn the open shop with a simple majority vote. Never mind that the extreme amounts of gerrymandering in the Assembly (particularly in the House of Delegates) makes a unified Democratic state government unlikely for decades to come.

The vote this November will be the first popular referendum on the open shop since 54 percent of Oklahoma voters approved State Question 695 on September 25, 2001. In this, an opportunity presents itself to the labor movement in this country, and it is one that labor unions must take.

Defragmenting The Movement: A Model For Building Working Class Solidarity

(This is a joint post between Cato and Douglas.)

The words on the flag of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers are a perfect summation of the labor movement at its best: “JUSTICE ON THE JOB, SERVICE TO THE COMMUNITY.”

It is that sense of solidarity that drives aggrieved workers to reach out to union organizers in the first place. They know that they are not just signing up to join a local or negotiate a contract, but to be a part of a movement that has been the last line of defense for many a worker since those Mill Girls first walked off the line in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1845. It is a movement that has come out of the shadows of its craft union past to embrace an industrial unionism that places its priorities in growing the ranks of the organized.

Well….not exactly.

A Moment of Silence: The case for keeping new organizers offline.

(This is a guest post from “Frank Little”, a union organizer in the Midwest.)

The goal of organizing is winning.

Your community has a need? Organize to build power and you use that leverage against those with statutory power to get what you need.

It is that simple.

This is the first lesson new organizers must learn. They must understand what winning looks like BEFORE they can dive into strategy and tactics.

We can’t win if we don’t know what winning means.

Declaring Independence: Why Bernie Sanders must lead America in rejecting our political “common sense”.

The buildup for this presidential election has been like a Tale of Two Cities. On one side, you have numerous Republicans lining up to court the money and votes of America’s right-wing. Will the nominee be union-busting governor Scott Walker? Or will the Republicans go with the establishment candidature of one John Ellis Bush? Perhaps the youngish libertarian wing will get their crack at selecting the nominee in choosing Rand Paul? Or will the Republicans choose their own dark-horse candidate of color in Dr. Ben Carson? There is no shortage of candidates to get conservatives and neoliberals fired up about taking back a country that, to be honest, they have never really lost.

But for Democrats? It was Hillary. The most decidedly neoliberal Democratic candidate for the presidency since, well, her husband ran to “end welfare as we know it” ‘in 1992. The candidate of lost emails and lecturing on the corporate circuit (but do not worry; her husband will continue speeches in her stead because, you know, they got to eat). The candidate of unabashed free trade and empty frequent flier miles as secretary of state. But the nomination was hers for the taking because she has waited her turn and, besides, do you not wish to have a woman president? Will someone please think of the children? And with Elizabeth Warren ruling out a run, it seemed that left-wing voters would be forced into their usual decision of third-party or staying home.

But last Wednesday, the political system got a bit of a shock when U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) announced his candidacy for the presidency. A former mayor of Burlington and a candidate for governor under the socialist Liberty Union Party in the 1970s, Sanders is the longest serving socialist in the history of the United States Congress. He has long identified with the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), and the organization has a #WeNeedBernie page where members of the organization (of which I am one) can go and show support. It was once unthinkable that the United States would ever see a major left-wing challenge to the two-party system in the mold of Debs and LaFollette, but with Sanders in the running, that time might just be now.

There is only one problem: Bernie Sanders is running to be the nominee of the party that he caucuses with in the U.S. Senate, the Democratic Party. That is a mistake.

The Invisible Profession: The demise of teaching in the public sphere.

(This was a joint post, written with Cato Uticensis, which is the pseudonym of a union organizer working in the South. He likes barbecue, bourbon, cigars, and labor politics. He can be found on Twitter at @Cato_of_Utica.)

teachers credit union.001

This message began appearing on signs throughout Tuscaloosa County in the last couple of months. The new name is apparently imbued with a bit of history itself: the city of Tuscaloosa was founded on the fall line of the Black Warrior River in west Alabama in 1819. It would eventually become Alabama’s second state capital in 1826, and the University of Alabama was established in the city in 1831. With Stillman College, a historically Black university, opening its doors in 1875 and Shelton State Community College doing the same in 1950, it made sense that the city would be home to a robust financial institution specifically catered to the city’s grade-school and post-secondary teachers. Thus we have the Tuscaloosa Teachers’ Credit Union, which opened its doors in 1953. 

This specific change does not seem to be altogether that shocking or scandalous. An institution starts as one thing, broadens its focus, and changes its name to reflect this development. Big deal, happens all the time. Look at the Government Employees Insurance Company, for instance. In and of itself, these kinds of developments aren’t catastrophic, but they are a reflection of the ongoing siege against public education and the erasure of educators from public life.

#GeneralStrike: Why an old tactic could bring about new changes

This was a piece that I wrote several months ago, but never published. There is no time like the present, though.

Boots Riley tweets

Back when I was a liberal posing as a socialist in my early 20s, I would always sneer at the suggestion of a general strike by the leftists I hung out with. After all, the only thing approaching a national general strike that I had ever read about in American history books was the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. That strike, which began in West Virginia with workers on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, ended with President Rutherford B. Hayes calling out federal troops to suppress the strikes and states passing laws to ensure that such interstate cooperation amongst the working class would be rendered illegal in the future. Plus, my experience in organizing for the Democratic Party had embittered me to the notion that low-income families and communities would ever join such an action. My thinking was, “Hell, I cannot even get these folks to vote for shiftless, do-nothing Democrats! What makes y’all think these folks would willingly walk off their job to support their neighbors?”

But as the conversation surrounding the non-indictments of police officers in the death of Eric Garner and Michael Brown has become focused on possible solutions and methods for obtaining those solutions, I find myself being thoroughly disappointed. If I am not reading something on body cameras or hiring “smarter” cops (as if the systems producing state violence are somehow no match for your run-of-the-mill MPA student), I am reading about meetings with the President where it is difficult to discern whether the florid rhetoric was matched by any real binding commitment to anything other than technocratic tinkering around the edges. Phillip Agnew exhorts that if the demands of the group in that meeting are not met, then they will “shut it down”.

But shut down what? And how? The protests that have caused major traffic backups in major American cities are exhilarating to watch, for sure. Many of us could only dream about such an occurrence unfolding nightly before our eyes a year ago, and yet here we are. It has been a sight to see. But anyone who has done community organizing or political organizing can tell you that such micro-level actions are not sustainable for the weeks, months, and possibly years that it will take to see change through this system of ours. And despite all the rhetoric of needing to “decenter” people who are either indirectly affected or unaffected in movements for change, the fact is that it will require a coalition of communities and causes to right the systems of injustice that have pulverized and demoralized us for so long. That means communists, socialists, liberals, communities and activists of all colors, low-income, middle-income, and many more will be needed if we plan on “shutting down” anything.

Given this, as well as the perspective that comes from shifting ideologies and growing older, I have come to see that the only way this will come about is through economic pressure and direct action that focuses solely on the accumulation of capital. No amount of liberal technocratic edge-tinkering will bring justice to communities like Ferguson, Brooklyn, or Phoenix so long as it leaves the status quo relationship between state and citizen in place.

Therefore, I join others in supporting the call for a nationwide general strike. There are, however, two big things that would have to be put into place before such an action could be successful. After all, this would be a massive undertaking for a country that has never seen such an occurrence.

The Dead End of Identity Politics.

Pull up a chair. I have a story to tell.

Sigh.
Sigh.

A former colleague of mine posts this on Facebook. Makes you wanna give it an eyeroll or two, right? There is nothing in this critique that one can use to organize or build community around; rather it is simply one more scold in an atmosphere full of them. I challenged the person who posted it to find me something similar on how you can build bridges or educate the mass of people that we will actually need in order to build a coalition for change. She replied that she was not necessarily using it to exclude folks from spaces; fine, I said. I do not understand how one can post something like that and say with a straight face that they “are not trying to exclude”, but I was ready to let it go.

A socialist organizer friend of mine weighs in on the fourth point. I read it and….huh. It kinda does sound like the poster is blaming white LGBTQ+ individuals for their own oppression. I mean, I can kinda see the point (these struggles are connected, and one oppression fuels others), but it was made in such a bombastically ridiculous way as to lose the point entirely. And knowing the struggles that white LGBTQ+ youth endure in the South, this particular admonishment came across as being very unfeeling and insensitive.

The response that he gets from others? Google It, basically. Maybe I should not have done this, but I basically told the person who said that to stuff it. Like, this mess gets very old, very fast. When another person, a queer Black woman, came in and left a big block of text stating that it was perfectly within her right to tell people to Google It, and how I was apparently devaluing intracommunity work by stating that it is an organizer’s job to educate, I stated the following:

Everyone cannot be an organizer. Fine. But please, do not politicize your laziness and comfort.

Her response?

Did you just call me lazy? Did you not hear me say that I am a queer Black woman….

What conversation is there to be had around that? It is as if the mere existence of her identity inoculates her from any critique. How did we get here?