Tag: Organizing

Know Your History: Lessons in organizing from the leftists and labor organizers of yore.

Ever heard of the Mississippi Freedom Labor Union? You could be forgiven for answering in the negative.

Ever heard of J.P. Mooney and his organizing exploits in Avondale, Alabama? Nope?

Did you know that the largest political rally ever held in Alabama was put on by the Communist Party during the Depression? Nah?

The South has earned its reputation as the region most hostile to leftism and union organizing in the United States. After all, Gov. Nikki Haley, who is cruising towards re-election in South Carolina, declared that any auto companies that had unionized workforces should refrain from relocating in South Carolina. In Tennessee, state legislators made plain their opposition to the United Auto Workers gaining a foothold in Chattanooga by stating that they would revoke any tax incentives that Volkswagen received in the event of a yes vote. Aside from those anecdotal examples, the South is home to some of the lowest unionization rates in the country — North Carolina’s union density, at only three percent of workers organized, is the lowest in the country. Arkansas is not far behind at 3.5 percent, nor is Mississippi and South Carolina at 3.7 percent. One does not think “citadel of unionism” when they think of Alabama, but at 10.7 percent, they far outpace any other state in the region for union density.

But there was a time when radical politics and organizing found its home in the rural South.

On rhetoric and strategy in social justice and leftist spaces.

I happened upon a piece of rhetorical analysis by Stephen D’Arcy written in January that examined the differences between social justice activists in what people call the New Left era (1960s through the early 1970s) and today. The gist of the article is that the language used by contemporary leftists departs from that used in the New Left era in three ways: the shift from the systemic to the interpersonal; the shift from the collective/community to the specific; and the shift from the quest for an ultimate victory over oppressive ideologies and behaviors to the challenge of mitigating everyday impacts, or microaggressions in today’s parlance, of those ideologies. It is an amazing piece of writing and I suggest that folks check it out for themselves and draw their own conclusions.

D’Arcy invites the reader to do just that, and in that spirit, I have some relatively brief observations (a brief blog post from me; shocking, I know!):

This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Why anywhere is better than Birmingham for DNC 2016.

When one thinks of Alabama, what comes to mind first? Is it the Civil Rights Movement, which made the state ground zero for its organizing efforts? Is it that movement’s most recognizable leader, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? Is it The University of Alabama or Auburn, which holds a combined 17 national championships in Division I-A football? Is it the steel mills that once served as the backbone of the state’s industrial power, or the space and rocket research that we are known for now? Maybe it is the musical tradition of this state, with natives like Lionel Richie, Percy Sledge, and Hank Williams, Sr.?

Nah. If you are a liberal or some other sort of left-leaning individual, Alabama is probably known first and foremost as one of the most conservative states in the Union. After electing Republican governors for most of the previous two decades, Alabamans helped House Minority Leader Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn), along with Senate counterpart Del Marsh (R-Anniston), storm the statehouse in 2010. That election gave the Republicans near total control of state government, with a supermajority in both houses and nearly all the statewide constitutional offices. In 2012, the defeat of former Lieutenant Governor and then-President of the Public Service Commission Lucy Baxley meant that there were no longer any Democrats holding statewide office in Alabama. And while there has not been any polling on the gubernatorial race here, it is safe to say that Gov. Robert Bentley (R) has this pretty well locked up. He will likely be assisted by the fact that, for the first time in Alabama history, there will be no Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate. That’s right: Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, who became one of only two nominees for the federal bench since the Depression to be blocked by the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1986, will sail into his fourth term without even so much as a campaign.

The situation is pretty damn ugly for Alabamans on the Left. But news came through today that put smiles on many a Democrat’s face today: Birmingham is one of the six finalists to host the Democratic National Convention in 2016. This would seem to be great news. As the mayor’s chief of staff put it, “You have to look at Denver pre and post-convention, Charlotte, pre and post-convention, and then you’ll get a sense of what it means to a city in terms of economic impact and pride to those who live, work and play in those cities. And then there’s the impact that you can’t measure. It has both short-term and long-term effect.”

Who could pass up an opportunity to go after something like that? Positive economic benefits in the short- and long-term! A shot in the arm to Democrats across the Yellowhammer State! A commitment to make a play for the South!

This sounds fantastic! And yet here I am, proceeding to write about why Birmingham would be, in the words of Alabama native and never-was candidate for governor Charles Barkley, a TURRRRRRIBLE decision to host the DNC in 2016.

School Is In Session: How one history professor is modeling the future of labor education

(This piece originally appeared at Hack The Union.)

Sometimes, the greatest ideas and innovations begin unintentionally. So it was with #SaturdaySchool, the weekly Twitter social justice teach-in hosted by Rhonda Ragsdale, a Ph.D. candidate at Rice and Associate Professor of history at Lone Star College:

“On Saturday mornings, my children would be asleep and I decided to make that space a time for myself. But I didn’t want to really get out of bed or do any work, and seeing as I always had a technological device in my hand, I would always do these teaching rants on some article I had read. And some of my followers started calling this ‘Saturday School’, and tweeting ‘Hey look, @profragsdale is doing Saturday School again.’”

#SaturdaySchool has become a weekly get-together for progressive and leftist activists on Twitter to share information and gain a greater understanding of the issues that affect our communities. It is a fun way to engage those who work both in and out of various progressive causes. But as Ragsdale pointed out in my interview with her, she is simply following a long-held tradition in American social movement activism.

Rest In Power: A Remembrance of Chokwe Lumumba

When it comes to politics and policy, I would not consider myself to be a particularly cynical person. Far from it actually; my faith in the power of social movements and grassroots change would not be as strong as it is if I did not hold to the notion that we will see an ultimate victory over the inequalities and oppressions that plague our society. I believe in people, and I believe in communities.

However, it would be accurate to assume that I do not have much faith in politicians or the political parties from which they emanate. I am, after all, old enough to remember a Barack Obama who said that he would walk a picket line as President and repeatedly affirmed his support for a public healthcare option. The breadth of politics today has become a game of Team Blue vs. Team Red, and opposition is based less on ideas than the jersey you wear when you take the court. After all, if it were a Republican Congress and President that had signed a bill that slashed food assistance for low-income families, funded the government on the backs of government employees, and ended unemployment benefits that are still necessary in a sluggish economy, many of the Democratic cheerleaders for “bipartisanship” and “compromise” would be a bit more muted in their praise.

So suffice it to say that when a city councilman named Chokwe Lumumba announced that he was running to be the mayor of Mississippi’s capital city, I was skeptical. Having met Chokwe through her work at the ACLU of Mississippi, my wife told me that he was a legit radical. As I looked him up, that much became evident: student radical who once occupied buildings at Western Michigan University in protest of the paucity of Black faculty; former second Vice President of the Republic of New Afrika; founder of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement; and the lawyer for the Scott Sisters. There was no doubt that this was a person who went the extra mile for his community. Yet as I observed his campaign, I came to the same conclusion that I am sure a lot of other people came to:

He won’t win.