What Do Planned Parenthood and ACORN Have in Common – Republican Attacks!

Cecile Richards greets participants at the Rally for Women’s Health on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. on July 11, 2013.

New Orleans   Hey, it’s not just me that’s noticed the haters pulling out their playbook big time again on Planned Parenthood just as they did on ACORN. Here’s a thoughtful, spot on piece by Brenden Gallagher published on the merryjane.com website. I’m glad to bring truth wherever I find it, so here goes:

Why Do Republicans Hate Planned Parenthood So Much?

Take a closer look at the crusade against women’s rights and health care.

A simple explanation for defunding Planned Parenthood that is offered up ad nauseum by talking heads across the political spectrum is that Republicans hate abortion. That doesn’t tell the whole story. Not only does Planned Parenthood offer many services that aren’t abortions, abortion only accounts for 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services. Eighty percent of Planned Parenthood’s services go toward preventing unintended pregnancy. If Planned Parenthood were to go away overnight, the result would be an increase in abortions. In over 100 counties in America, Planned Parenthood is the only “safety net” health center that deals with women’s reproductive health. Poor and working-class women in America depend on Planned Parenthood for essential medical care.

Republicans are always on the lookout for a new bogeyman. This is a necessity for a party that actively advances policies that hurt working people. Since their policies of restricting health care, lower wages, and funneling money into the hands of corporations don’t naturally attract the working class, they have to invent reasons for people who make less than six figures a year to vote for them. Not everyone can be cowed by the largely imagined threat of immigrants taking their jobs, and that’s why the have to construct and destroy social pariahs to maintain their base. If you take a close look at Republican political strategy, you will see that the fight against Planned Parenthood isn’t just about abortion, it’s about bringing a scalp home to their base while trimming the budget at the expense of women all over the country.

The current Republican crusade against Planned Parenthood looks a lot like the their attacks against ACORN (Association of Community Organizing for Reform Now). In 2008, the organization had a budget of $100 million and membership of 400,000. By the beginning of 2010, ACORN was no more. The company’s 40-year mission of helping those in poverty, with actions as small as building playgrounds and as large at taking on banks, came crashing down after Republicans conducted a national smear campaign connecting ACORN erroneously with voter fraud. It’s no coincidence that James O’Keefe, a self-styled provocateur, has made videos attempting to discredit both ACORN and Planned Parenthood. It bears mentioning that the GOP and its surrogates seized upon some very real stories of corruption within ACORN to bring them down, but it was a propaganda campaign constructed on falsehoods that ultimately led to ACORN’s demise.

This is how the Republicans operate. They attack organizations with a three-step process. First, Republicans identify a positive social organization in which they can easily spot and single out something conservatives hate. In the case of ACORN, it was voter fraud committed by minorities (which, btw, doesn’t exist). With Planned Parenthood, it’s abortion. Once they pick the organization, they produce propaganda with people like James O’Keefe. The media has no choice but to cover it, even if the O’Keefes of the world are discredited in the process. Then Congressional Republicans try to close the organization. If they succeed, the organization shutters. If they fail, they’ve rallied their base around a cause that makes them forget the awful economic and social policies that should get them to defect from the party.

The tactics the GOP and Fox News used against ACORN, relentlessly repeating accusations against the group, are instructive in the case of Planned Parenthood. So much of the argument in favor of Planned Parenthood on social media has been “abortion comprises a small portion of what Planned Parenthood does.” While this is important for context, it won’t sway conservatives. They don’t care. It is in their political interest to tie abortion to Planned Parenthood. There were no connections between ACORN and voter fraud (because, again, voter fraud statistically doesn’t happen), but they still used the issue to shiv the community organizing group. The only way to save Planned Parenthood will be to celebrate all of the services it provides and convince moderate and left-leaning lawmakers of its importance.

Conservatives have attacked Planned Parenthood since its inception in 1916, long before abortion was a Constitutional right. Providing contraception challenged traditional gender roles, which has always been what irked conservatives about the organization. Many conservative voters don’t know that the Hyde Amendment, passed in the mid ’70s, already prohibits federal funding for abortions. The defunding of Planned Parenthood isn’t about cutting off an organization from abortion funding, but about punishing an organization that provides abortions and women’s health care. Again, this is because Republicans don’t actually care about the facts, they care about symbols. In nominating Donald Trump, they showed the Christian Right they have no real concern for their agenda. They invent issues like these to throw a bone to their religious base without actually providing them with anything resembling friendly policy.

ACORN fell because Democratic politicians wouldn’t stand up for the organization once it became toxic. The political calculation was that their constituents didn’t care that much about ACORN while Republicans made it difficult to support them. The way to save Planned Parenthood, then, is going to be pressuring Democrats to fight for it, not backing off of championing Planned Parenthood’s abortion services. Not only is abortion an essential part of what Planned Parenthood does, but even if it weren’t, Planned Parenthood would forever remain a symbol of abortion rights for conservatives. This isn’t just about abortion. Planned Parenthood stands for women’s rights, just as ACORN stood for the rights of the poor and minorities. Republicans would be trying to defund PP no matter what, as it is an affront to their corporate patriarchal worldview. Asserting Planned Parenthood’s right to exist will be a better tactic than compromise, since the real argument is that both Planned Parenthood and abortion should be no more.


Tips for Beating Automation: Organizing is the Future!

Puerto Aventuras   I have trouble getting my closest living relatives to take the issue of resolutions seriously as we enter a new year. My son tried to stump me by arguing that, “resolutions are reminders of how many things you fail to do repeatedly.” Well of course there’s that, so I had to concede the point even as I rejoined that, “resolutions are a small attempt at organizing the future within the structure of your life.” At best it was a draw, so I found myself reading The New Yorker at dawn on New Years’ Day on the small balcony hanging over the suddenly quiet street in this small Mexican town.

Elizabeth Kolbert of course rehashes the Oxford research piece that within ten to twenty years half of the jobs in the United States might be automated, which is pretty mind boggling. She notes other work by MIT scientists that sort all work into “four boxes: manual routine, manual nonroutine, cognitive routine, and cognitive nonroutine.” The lowest pay will be found in the manual routine jobs, particularly on assembly lines, while the highest paid will be cognitive nonrouotine, she argues with examples being “managing a hedge fund, litigating a bankruptcy, and producing a TV show….” Taken to the farthest extreme we have a dystopian society of the super-rich who own the technology and the robots, some folks scratching a living in the middle, and a vast army of the unemployed.

So, where is the middle ground where we can create work that is meaningful, compensated, and long lasting? It must be found in skills and occupations that are people-facing. Even Kolbert’s example of managing a hedge fund is questionable. A recent article in the Times had one hedger trying to duplicate all of his decision making into a computer list of requirements for his employees to mimic. On the other hand, the more that is run by machines, the more we are going to need people to be the bridge between the machines and other people. I’m not just talking about people to fix the machines, though there will hundreds of thousands of jobs created to do just that, but I’m talking about people who can work with people. There’s still no “app for that” or machine that can substitute adequately for person-to-person contact. The trick will be finding the seams where tens of thousands of jobs can be created to provide that service, and to successfully compete with corporations that automate without understanding service as something more than a sunk cost that they can avoid.

Take Amazon for example. The people-facing experience is all automated and very difficult to operate when there is a problem, but they get around that with a very liberal return-and-replacement system which mitigates customer unhappiness. Walmart on the other hand after devaluing service for years has been surprised to find that giving workers higher wages has improved same store sales because morale, cleanliness, and service has improved. AirBnb beats VRBO because it allows you to get out of mistakes the public chose on misleading information, while VRBO let’s sellers use its platform and takes no responsibility, thereby eliminating service and accountability and putting customers at risk.

Things may be changing, but the way many who own the changes think about shortcuts and profit margins will create opportunities for people who like people to be organizers, navigators, advocates, and interpreters. Forty years ago, a young ACORN organizer named Charlie Best wrote a song at ACORN’s annual year end/ year begin meeting which — to some outcry — was always held on this very weekend when one year ended and another began. The original song written by Ed and Patsy Bruce and recorded by the great Willie Nelson was “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” but Charlie creatively composed different lyrics and changed the title to “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Organizers.”

Mamas and papas. I’m here to tell you, Charlie was wrong, though of course he knew it then, just as we all did, you all need to let all your babies grow up to be organizers, so they have a chance in the brave new world, and because the people will demand them.


Healthcare Pricing is More Proof that Transparency Isn’t Enough

New Orleans   It is amazing that big companies and governments continually believe, despite the outrageous costs involved, that simply creating apps and information packed websites will change the public’s ability to make choices and decisions. Criminals and scammers fully know the tricks of the predatory trade are such that information is unable to immunize the public, and for some companies this is a business model as well. Payday lenders and tax preparers in negotiations with ACORN were always more than willing to be totally transparent about excessive interest rates and charges, because they knew full well the customer sitting across the desk from them is desperate for the money, and is more than willing to pay whatever it takes to get it. Healthcare is usually the same.

Healthcare policy makers, providers, and insurers in this critical, multi-zillion dollar industry are now expressing surprise as they find out that all of assumptions about the value of their apps, website data dumps, and comparisons of pricing on drugs and quality of healthcare services are not lowering costs or modifying consumer behavior. Once again, similar to payday lending and other predatory schemes, the providers and the industry are trying to ignore the desperation and powerlessness of the consumer by pretending she is a free agent of some sort, rather than a victim. They are also ignoring increasingly well settled economic understanding that people are not rational economic agents, especially when it comes to change and their reliance on trusted intermediaries, like their usual doctors and hospitals. Looking at this mess, we almost want to say, if you are so rich, why aren’t you smarter?

The New York Times reported on the failure of many of these tools. Of course the rule continues to be, despite the actions of many states, that hospitals and healthcare professionals are hiding information about the comparative value of their services and the pricing in the market. But, even where efforts by some companies and insurers to offer price and value comparisons, people aren’t using them. Researchers compared the decisions of 300,000 workers who didn’t have access to a website cost calculator with 150,000 that did and found that only 10% used the site the first year and 20% the second year, and that it didn’t reduce outpatient spending. Aetna offers a price transparency tool but only 3.5% of its commercial market participants use it. A similar price tool in New Hampshire is used by only 1% of residents. Robert Wood Johnson did a 10-year study and found that doctor quality comparisons had only a “modest effect on the awareness and use of the information.” Duh.

Let’s skip the digital divide and the millions of lower income families without access to any of this information, and get right to the point of how difficult it is to either find this information most places or understand it. Why isn’t there a recognition that we need ubiquitous healthcare advocates, navigators, sherpas, assistants, or whatever we might want to call them? During the Affordable Care enrollment in Texas for example families who had never had insurance were asked to choose between more than 35 plans, each with multiple permutations, without our navigators, who were forbidden to offer any advice to these novice healthcare customers. Who would be surprised if decisions defaulted to nothing or self-interested agents and professionals?

Of course some of the industry believes that education can only be administered by the blunt instrument of punitively making people pay the cost of decisions they were unable to make well without assistance by adding consumer pain to their delusion. Others advocate outreach, and, eureka, finally someone gets it. People need help with all of this to offset the predation, whether it’s door-to-door or through ubiquitous health care centers and advisory facilities so that they can get the information in a user-friendly way with full explanations from someone committed to their best interests. Furthermore, the cost for funding such outreach and facilitation would be minuscule compared to the daily explosion of health related costs that are based simply on the principle of the buyer beware and keeping suckers born and nurtured by the system every minute.

If we really want to make change and lower costs, people need to help people, not websites, applications, and fancy tools.


Visiting with Buffalo Community and Housing Organizations

Buffalo   No small part of the Buffalo comeback has to be because of the work of community organizations in the city, and ACORN Canada’s staff was fortunate to get some time with both Voice Buffalo, a Gamaliel affiliate in Western New York, and the community-based housing organization, PUSH Buffalo.

Michael Okinczyc, the executive director of both Voice Buffalo and NOAH, the Niagara Organizing Alliance for Hope, a 25 minutes of drive away, but as he pointed out later their transportation campaign has been trying to improve the fact that it takes more than two hours on public transit for lower income, car-less families to make it from Buffalo to Niagara. Overall their organization involves over 80 different organizations, largely churches in the area. Besides transit they have also been deeply involved in campaigns focused on criminal justice and the lopsided levels of incarceration for minorities. Education has also been a focus in working to block charter schools with the American Federation of Teachers and deal with the diverse needs of Buffalo’s vibrant immigrant community due to what was described as rust belt resettlement programs.

Michael Okinczyc from Voice

There were interesting exchanges about the differing methodologies between faith-based work and ACORN’s membership-based community organizing model. Michael described the way they organized a church with twenty of more one-on-one’s until, quoting the words of Gamaliel founder, Greg Galluzzo, “they could smell the church,” meaning they could understand the parishoner’s issues and concerns. He was asked how a charitable organization, as a 501c3, was able to effectively pressure and lobby office holders, and Michael told how Voice used its larger accountability meetings and tried to walk a line of bipartisan pressure.

We visited the West Side-based People United for Sustainable Housing, better known as PUSH-Buffalo, which has deeply rooted itself in the area since 2005. PUSH Buffalo defines itself on the axis of community organizing as an affiliate of the newly formed Peoples’ Action and formerly National Peoples’ Action, and co-founder Aaron Bartley, also described the organization to us as ACORN-like in the sense of having a dues-paying membership of several hundred paying about $30 per year, while mentioning that he had organized with ACORN in Brooklyn years ago. The deeper mission of the organization is forging a new rust belt city model combining a community membership base with a development program for sustainable, green homes, rental units, and community-determined utilization of formerly vacant space or deteriorating properties as parks, community centers, and social enterprises. The community base has given them not only legitimacy outside the West Side and accountability inside, but a strike force for the half-dozen direct actions they desire in advocating and winning support, services, and investment in the community.

Julia White of PUSH Buffalo meets and shows ACORN organizers their community park on their tour

In the fresh snow, we trudged along with PUSH Buffalo’s Julia White on their Green Zone tour where they had constructed top of the line demonstration projects including green roofs, solar powered heating systems, green houses, and the like. PUSH Buffalo has also rehabbed several building with rental units for lower income families. The organization has acquired some fifty vacant lots on the West Side. We visited a park they had rebuilt with community input and the City of Buffalo Park System that included a huge, state of the art soccer field, pavilion, and play equipment. None of this is gentrification on the West Side, but even in the snow, we could tell the difference their development projects had made.

Community groups have definitely been moving Buffalo forward both with their voice and their push.


Labor and Community Collaborations Digging in to Fight Forward in Buffalo

Graphic from Open Buffalo

Buffalo    Richard Lipsitz, the head of the Western New York Area Labor Federation of the AFL-CIO, sits at an interesting cross section. With the call to revive manufacturing he notes that his area may have less manufacturing jobs than it did, but, interestingly, he argues that the overall economy in metropolitan Buffalo has about the same percentage of manufacturing jobs as it ever did, between 15 and 20%. A headline in the morning paper bolstered his case as General Motors announced a several hundred million dollar investment into improving and expanding its plants, once feared on the list for mothballing. Visiting with the staff of ACORN Canada at our Year End/ Year Begin meeting, he made the case that there would be resistance to turning back the clock and that labor was deeply debating the issues.

At the same time, Lipsitz was balancing on a slender beam. He argued for patience. He argued for finding a way to pull all of the pieces together. He admitted that some unions would salute revival of pipelines and all would support more infrastructure investment, but it couldn’t divide labor. He was clear that Governor Cuomo’s investments in the Buffalo area were also a key reason for low employment and a rising population, fueled partially by immigrants, in a rare rust-belt comeback. The expansion of the medical corridor and its 26,000 jobs made a huge difference. On his tightrope wire, he wanted to commit labor to the fight, but didn’t want any high winds blowing with dissident movements or factional fights. He had no patience for the Working Families Party in New York, but was open to Bernie Sanders and Our Revolution being part of efforts to move the Democratic Party left. He was categorical in advocating that the only way forward for the Democratic Party was a headlong commitment to being more progressive.

We also met Franchelle Hart, the executive director of an interesting formation called Open Buffalo, the product of a funding competition run by George Soros’ Open Society Foundations that had been won by Puerto Rico, San Diego, and Buffalo. Open Buffalo describes itself as “…a Community Movement for Social and Economic Justice” and “… a civic initiative to make major, long-term improvements in justice and equity in the City of Buffalo.” They are committed to building civic capacity in the areas of restorative justice, leadership development, arts, and innovation. That was the top-line of her remarks, but what clearly moved her most personally were efforts to force the police to be more sensitive to the community, especially African-Americans, “without a Ferguson,” as she argued, although she seemed skeptical from the work thus far that that might be possible.

Open Buffalo had also supported a campaign to win inclusionary zoning in the city opening a dialogue with the ACORN Canada organizers, who are involved in a number of campaigns in different communities on this issue. Hart reported without satisfaction that they had at least gotten a commitment for a study. Some of the Vancouver organizers comforted her that that was farther than some of their campaigns had gotten.

The Trump Era, as she called it already, was much on everyone’s minds. Lipsitz was clear in the commitment to resist, and Open Buffalo was still digging in to fight forward, so both offered the beginnings of a consensus for the future.


Many Calls for ACORN Resurgence

ACORN Living Wage Campaign in New Orleans 2002

Atlanta   Here’s an argument from a Democratic consultant working campaigns around the world who did some media work for us around 2006 and 2008.

Copy of Article

Democrats need return to ACORN-style organizing