Tag: progressive

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.

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.

How to Win Elections and Fix Bad Policies: A Leftist Blueprint for Remaking the Democratic Party

(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.)

The status quo in the Democratic party is an unholy mess. This is true at all levels of the party, but especially so in the South, where most state parties are in an unacceptable state of disarray. Our nation is at a juncture where leftist politics and policy have started to re-enter the realm of the feasible. Certain progressive dream policies like Medicare for All and raising the minimum wage are now actively debated and discussed after the failures of pro-corporate policies have become manifest. And yet, the dysfunctional nature of the Democratic state parties in the South risks the best chance since the demise of the postwar consensus and the rise of neoliberalism to fundamentally move this country’s politics to the left.

Scratching the Surface and Finding Gold: Valuing Progressive Work in Rural Areas

“Using the shovel to scrape aside the dirt, I began to reveal, very slowly and carefully, the gold and purple potatoes that rested just beneath the plants. She [my daughter] was enchanted. It’s just like…it’s just like…she said. It’s just like finding gold, I completed her thought. Yes! She said, her eyes wide.”

-Alice Walker “Childhood”

Some of the most passionate, hardest-working, toughest progressive activists I have ever seen come from rural areas, where progressivism isn’t “supposed” to exist; these nuggets of gold are often not highlighted in the world and, more often than not, are still waiting to be unearthed.  Many people believe that rural areas are bastions of monolithic conservatism, as many people view the South. Progressive work, though, is being done in these areas, where the work is perhaps the most vital and often neglected.  Certainly progressive work in any area should be appreciated and assessed. We should look up more often to progressive leaders in rural areas, have their voices in the conversation, invite them to talk at the table, and truly listen to them.