Crowds on Demand

https://crowdsondemand.com

New Orleans    Utility companies are rarely popular companies.  Entergy might be one of the least popular of the breed.  A huge part of its national business is managing nuclear power plants, rarely on the top ten favorite list for a lot of people.  Regionally, Entergy has some of those plants in Taft, Louisiana, Russellville, Arkansas, and elsewhere that are huge money sucks.  A million years ago under a previous name, Middle South Utilities, Entergy was the electricity provider to much of Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana and New Orleans, under the name of New Orleans Public Service Incorporated or NOPSI, which forces them under the regulatory jurisdiction of the elected members of the New Orleans City Council on some matters, bringing us to this story.

Entergy wanted to build a gas fueled “peaking” power plant on wetlands along Bayou Sauvage which is essentially an expensive back up plant.  Local environmental and community groups, including ACORN affiliate A Community Voice (formerly Louisiana ACORN) opposed the plant as both costly, not believing it would only run $210 million, and unnecessary.  There were two public hearings in recent months until the old council, now replaced in recent days, approved the matter with only one dissenting vote.  One holdover councilperson, Jason Williams, wants to reopen the matter.  We’ve all heard of “fake news” by now.  Williams wants to look into the fact that the votes may have been swayed by a “fake” crowd of protestors carrying signs, wearing shirts, and speaking in favor of the plant.

A local progressive coalition and community forum, called Justice & Beyond, was approached by one of its activists, a local musician, who felt guilty for his participation, saying he was paid to show up to the hearing.  The coalition gave the information to the press.  Later, the local online news outlet, The Lens, followed up on their own as word spread, finding actors who were willing to come forward and tell the story.  Entergy vehemently denied that there were paid protestors, pointing the finger at its public relations firm, giving the scandal and perversion of protest and speech even more publicity.  The public relations firm also denied the story for a while, but too many actors were blabbing that they were paid $75 to show up at each hearing and $200 if they had a speaking role.

Eventually it came down to their subcontractor, a company called plainly Crowds on Demand, based in Los Angeles but active in political hotspots like Iowa and New Hampshire, and of course Washington, D.C. that had been running these fake protests since 2012.  Sometimes they hired on as a welcoming crowd or a spoof of an outpouring of love in nonpolitical events as well, but this kind of “astroturfing” as grassroots pretenders was part and parcel of their business model.  More denials moved the scandal increasingly to farce.

The ridiculous irony of this affair is also not lost on me.  One rightwing commentator after another tried to ask me during the attacks on ACORN whether we were involved in what they called “rent-a-mob” events for various causes and companies.  Nothing could have been farther from the facts but knowing that his was as a common scam in their political and corporate tactical tool bag now makes it clearer to me why they assumed everyone involved in democratic practice and protest was as fake as they were.

The plaguing questions are whether the politicians knew, and, if they didn’t, why not, or did they just not care?

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Women’s Voice and Women’s March

#MeToo discussion at year end organizing meeting in New Orleans

New Orleans   Many women hit the streets once again all around the country at the anniversary of the first Women’s March. The theme was more political activism as the new face of resistance with the looming midterm elections providing the focal point. Numbers in local cities seemed to be running at half of last year’s totals, but that was to be expected at this point when resilience is twin to resistance.

One of the more interesting workshops for the Year End/ Year Beginning meeting of our organizers top organizers from ACORN Canada, Local 100, and other operations in New Orleans was how to transfer the recognition and cultural shifts of the #MeToo moment into the meetings of our workplace and community organizations as well as through our media outlets. Some organizers told stories of members complaints of harassment from landlords demanding sex in exchange for repairs and late fees, and questioned whether their organizational response would have been the same now in this climate as it was a couple of years ago when the issue presented. Judy Duncan, the head organizer of ACORN Canada as well as other office directors in Canada, the United States and Local 100 believed that they needed to talk to local leadership, many, if not most, of whom are women about making a place in the agenda of meetings in the coming months so that women had a space to talk about incidents of harassment and abuse and groups could debate and take effective action.

John Cain from KABF and others involved in AM/FM radio programming thought that the stations should ask hosts to raise the issue on their shows and encourage call-in’s, referral, and complaint. Others thought regular public service announcements encouraging women to come forward and giving them voice could be helpful.

Appropriately, there was also discussion about how women’s voice and perspective were integrated into the internal staff and leadership dynamics of organizing as well, especially since organizing has so long been characterized as male dominated field, and despite progress over recent decades, invariably contains vestiges of such a history, tradition, and stereotypes. There was an interesting discussion on whether organizers should counter the devaluation of women’s voice internally by formalizing relationships to break the pattern. Likely addressing everyone as Mr, Mrs, or Ms would not work, but there is a reason that old labor culture embraced addressing co-combatants as Sister and Brother, or comrade as was common in the South African struggle and others, or citizen during and after the French Revolution. Breaking habits in order to signify respect and as markers that we need to deal with each other differently would not be a trivial step forward in breaking old patterns and habits.

Beth Butler, head organizer of ACORN affiliate, A Community Voice, ended the workshop by letting everyone go around the room and indicate what they would do to implement the consensus and to create a different climate for women. The pledges were deep and sincere. We will have to make sure the followup is of a like kind, both here and everywhere else.

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