Buzz for Bernie on the Left Coast

lowwagerally520San Francisco   I’m not totally shocked, but I didn’t see all of this coming.  Meeting with random associates, comrades, and friends from diverse fields and directions, everyone on the Left Coast is buzzing about Bernie Sanders and his race for President.

Running a union, there’s no way to miss the fact that several thousand union activists have signed a letter of support for Sanders’ campaign. That kind of news is flooding my email “in-box.”  The Vermont and South Carolina AFL-CIO councils have issued resolutions of support, worrying AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka enough that he has already had to issue an alert to state and local bodies to stand down and leave it to the Executive Council and the national unions to make these decisions.  Larry Cohen after ten years at the helm of the Communications Workers resigned one day and the next day announced that he was going to work as a volunteer for Sanders campaign in part because of Sanders’ longtime voting record with labor in Congress and in his home state, but also in protest of Hillary Clinton’s support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations.

In California though his beachhead among progressives is extensive and much wider than labor activists.  For example, in meeting with community, political, and labor activists in Contra Costa County in the East Bay, it was startling to hear how often the conversation migrated to Sanders and his prospects.  Importantly, this interest was deeper than simply speculation about how far Sanders might make it in the Democratic Presidential sweepstakes.  The substantive discussion – and hope – was whether or not a strong run could ignite more movement and support for independent politics at every level, including the prospects for an effective and national alternative party. There was a feeling that support building for Sanders was not an “anybody but Hillary” drive, but a reward and real excitement over a candidate deeply committed and bravely progressive on positions one  after another.

Unspoken, but undoubtedly felt, was the feeling that a card carrying Socialist and avowed independent, building a significant vote total and campaign effort, could create a real Left willing to embrace the opportunity to lead and contend for power, rather than still facing the PTSD of the Cold War.

Many desperately wanted a California campaign.  They want the chance to pile up the votes and use the campaign to build their own infrastructure for now and the future.  Others speculated that the Working Families Party or other nascent national efforts might be able to grow in the slipstream of a Sanders campaign.

Having lunch in Oakland with a longtime supporter of ACORN, I did a double take when she also turned the conversation to Sanders.  Her argument was both personal and political.  Family members including a young nephew were planning at this point to sit the election out in 2016, feeling no enthusiasm and a pox on both their houses kind of attitude.  She felt she had moved the twenty-something towards Sanders as someone different.  Perhaps the buzz for Bernie can go deeper than white, elderly, and rural where he is finding more than enough of his Vermont-type base in his early forays in New Hampshire and Iowa.  Another comrade argued that Sanders might be able to double-down with younger voters from an equally solid place based on his longstanding work with veterans and his advocacy and effectiveness on the Veterans Committee of the Senate.

Grasping straws?  Building dream castles in the sky?  Hard to tell, but if this kind of excitement about Sanders starts to catch fire more broadly around the country, maybe what Sarah Palin famously called this “hope-y thing” might find a cozy home in the Sanders’ campaign with long term results.

Hillary Rodham as an Intern in the Summer of ‘71

angeladavisprotestMontreal    The final brick that far right conservatives and the blogsphere try to build in the Hillary Clinton, “girl radical,” wall is her 1971 summer internship with the Oakland-based “movement” law firm Treuhaft, Walker, and Burnstein that specialized in civil liberties, civil rights, labor, and the gamut of whatever was needed by the Bay Area left at the time.  Every piece of available evidence seems to indicate that whatever might have been happening in that firm, Hillary Rodham was a diligent and hard worker according to Malcolm Burnstein, one of the partners, and the experience all flowed over her like water on a duck’s back.

It is easy to see the attraction of spending a few months there.  First, compared to the dreariness of New Haven where she was attending Yale Law School, she would be living in the bounty of the bay area with an apartment in Berkeley at 22 years old.  Heaven at the time, no doubt!  Burnstein has reported no memory of the cases she might have worked on.  Perhaps child support, he thought or possibly landlord-tenant cases, because the firm was dealing with a lot of that as well. Nothing major, he recalls.

Nonetheless Treuhaft, Walker, and Burnstein must have been an exciting place just to hear about what was going on at the water cooler, because the three partners were in the thick of the action.

Robert Treuhaft was a long time labor and civil rights lawyer in the Bay Area, perhaps equally famous as the second husband of Jessica Mitford, one of the even more famous Mitford sisters.  He was reportedly the unacknowledged co-author of Mitford’s well-known expose of the funeral industry, The American Way of Death, which he inspired and researched with a year’s sabbatical from the firm.  Hillary would have also no doubt heard about Mitford’s book published in 1969, only two years before she was internship, concerning the losing anti-draft trail for Dr. Spock, Marcus Raskin, and others.  Both Mitford and Treuhaft were former Communists, but that was many long years before Hillary walked through their door.  Mal Burnstein was no slouch as well and handled many of the arrests and legal proceedings involving the Berkeley Free Speech Movement.  He also was a natural lawyer-of-choice for Vietnam War protestors and many of those protests cases and draft resistance beefs would have no doubt still been on the docket while she was passing through that summer.

Even more interesting to Hillary might have been watching the whirlwind of Doris Walker, the third partner in the firm.   Walker had long stood up for and battled back against discrimination based on her longtime membership in the Communist Party, but that would have been of no moment in 1971 to an intern.  On the other hand, the fact that Walker was one of the lawyers for Angela Davis and the lead counsel in her trial being conducted during that period would have been like a ringside seat to history.  Davis, an embattled professor at the University of California both for her Communist membership and her fiery speeches, had been arrested in 1969 as an accomplice in the killing of a Marin County judge and others in the jailbreak at the trial of Jonathan Jackson, younger brother of George Jackson of the Soledad Brothers. During the summer of 1971,  the support for Davis was at fever pitch.  There were sixty support committees around the country.  There were a half-dozen lawyers involved in her defense that was estimated to cost a half-million at the time and involved, reportedly for the first time, psychological profiling and consulting for jury selection. Hillary would have had to have been unconscious throughout the summer not to know from the lawyers and the associates of the firm, all of the drama and details of the preparation for Davis’ defense.  On top of all of that, during Hillary’s internship, Walker was also head of the National Lawyers’ Guild and is widely credited with reviving the organization during that time.  The law firm was action central!

All of which proves absolutely nothing other than the fact that Hillary’s youth had a good measure of spice and chili powder before she hunkered down and chose the corporate track after graduation with the white shoe, corporate practice of the Rose firm in Little Rock once she landed there.  She was alive in the sixties and early seventies, and she got to “see action,” but clearly no matter how close she was to the flame, she flew as far away as she could possibly get.

Association and acquaintances mean nothing.Action and allegiance mean everything. Hillary had a choice in the summer of ’71.  She absolutely did NOT choose our side. She was no fellow traveler.  She was just passing through.

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Chi-Lites – Give More Power To The People

Finally, A Full-Throated Call for Universal Voter Registration

electiondayvoting_getty011213New Orleans   Well, now we’re talking!  Finally, we may see find some politicians speaking up and taking a chance on more democracy, rather than just hoping for more rich people and campaign donations.

In a speech at Texas Southern University, a largely African-American institution in Houston, where she was getting an award of some kind, Hillary Clinton, in the current pole position for the Democratic nomination for President called for universal voter registration.  Simple as that, just like Selective Service and a million other big data intrusions, when someone turns 18-years old, bam, they are registered to vote.

As we’ve advocated here, there, and everywhere for years, there’s only one real reform that will cure all of the problems of voter registration and the mishmash and mayhem that states and local jurisdictions have made out of the process, and that’s automatic registration.  I’m sure it’s too much to acknowledge the irony that we both claim to be a democracy in the USA, yet then seem to do everything possible to keep people from being able to register and from being able to vote.  Oregon took the smaller step of registering people when they got their driver’s licenses and, whoops, added 300,000 voters.

Clinton also called for some action on that front from all reports of her remarks.  She advocated a 20-day early voting period, including nights and weekends for goodness sakes.  In those states where it’s allowed, 40% or more of the votes are coming in early.  For good measure she even threw in some remarks about finally allowing former felons to vote after they had paid their debt to society, but I’m sure that’s a bridge too far at this point, so I won’t spend a whole lot of time on it. Truth is, we need universal registration and compulsory voting, and if not compulsory, something that is so easy that it would be inescapable and unavoidable.

But, here’s the rub.  Even though it is great news that big dog democrats might finally be coming out for making it easier to register and vote, as long as they are half-stepping and the other party wants to do the exact opposite and that party happens to control both houses of Congress, we’re just pitching words at a wall.  The Republicans want to hold onto what they have, and they understand full well that even though economic trends have been going their way, demographic trends are moving against them, so a day of reckoning is coming.  Their interest is expressed clearly:  put up barriers, restrict access to voting, discourage new voters, and make registration more cumbersome and difficult.

Maybe some states will get the message and open up the rolls and the voting booths, if there’s enough shouting, but otherwise it’s going to take picks, shovels, and dynamite to dig out the opposition to more democratic access to voting in America, and not some speeches every blue moon when some politicians remember that votes are actually counted every four years or so.

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Please enjoy Alive in that Sound by Lace & Lead.  Thanks to KABF.

Could Sanders Be Trouble for Hillary?

abc_bernie_sanders_generic_drugs_mt_141121_16x9_992New Orleans   There was a “gee-whiz” report from Iowa that Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, running for President as a Democrat, was drawing huge crowds in this early primary state, out pacing all other candidates from either party.   He saw 700 in Davenport, one of the larger cities in Iowa.   He drew 300 to a rally in a small town with a total population of about 250 people.  The message of the story was encapsulated in a report of an Iowa Democratic Party official calling the Clinton campaign and telling them they needed to get their candidate on the ground as fast as possible.

There was another recent “gosh-darn” report that the Clinton campaign and its super-Pac buddies were having trouble firing up the enthusiasm from their own Daddy Warbucks types to write $100 million checks to go toe-to-toe with the willingness of Republican billionaires to do so.  The message of that tale was that Hillary didn’t have the new car shine, the “wow-factor” that a fresher faced Obama-type candidate had inhabited in Hollywood and elsewhere.

So what do we have here more than a year away from the convention?  A real horse race to the finish?  A warning notice that no matter what the general election is going to be a greenwashing disaster?  Or, just the usual early manipulative hype?

A colleague astutely warns that Sanders will give Clinton some severe headaches in Iowa and New Hampshire, noting that decades of experience running statewide in Vermont, another rural, overwhelmingly white state with an older demographer, had given him the chops and expertise in rural and agricultural issues that would she would underestimate at her peril.  My in-box is also flooded with messages from labor activists believing Sanders’ record for workers and unions has earned support that others might only dream of.   The so-called experts argue that if Clinton wins in Iowa by a margin less than 20%, she’s damaged, so who knows.  If I were a handicapper, I would argue that Sanders could be a fast starter, but a longshot to finish in the money.

More soberly, my bet would be that Clinton is delighted to have Sanders in the race so that the left can be defined, both directly and indirectly by her campaign, more marginally and more determinedly as anyone but Hillary.  The notion that Sanders is going to be able to pull Clinton to the left is wish-dreaming in my view.  Polls on same-sex, Latino positions on immigration, and inequality have pulled her as little “p” populist as we’re going to hear.  The free ride she’s getting
from what’s left of “big” labor on her non-position on fast track and the Trans Pacific Partnership trade negotiations is a good example of the slight pressure for her to stand up and stand out.  Hillary wants to be fat and sassy in the middle of the road which is where she believes victory will lie in November 2016, and liberal institutions seems committed to helping her do that.    I was surprised to hear recently that Service Employees International Union, one of the biggest still in the field, was pressing their board for an early endorsement for Hillary in
their June meeting.

The rush to the general election though is not going to excite the voting public though and a “ho-hum for Hillary” campaign means a depressed turnout in general which has an unshakeable smell of death about it.  That’s a real worry even for the political pros and professional donation bundlers.  If Sanders can light a spark, while Clinton slogs through the motions, lightning could strike and shake the system enough to either light a fire under Clinton finally and force her to finally change gears and move off the middle or open the way for him or someone to break the ground to win, rather than continue on the current path to defeat.

This is still politics where stranger things have happened.   And, despite all the money and punditry, there will be times coming soon where real people cast real ballots and finally have a say about all of these shenanigans.

Preparing for the Implementation of Obama’s Immigration Order

Angelica Salas

Angelica Salas

Little Rock       When CMS, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, got ready to implement the Affordable Care Act in route to signing up 10 million people for health insurance more than $100 million was allocated by the federal government for navigators and another amount as large for community clinics and a like amount in the states in order to assist in enrollment in this new program.  Now within months up to 5 million people will engage in a similar process of applying for work permits and pushing mountains of paper through the Department of Homeland Security to determine their eligibility under the still to be established terms and procedures to take President Obama’s executive order on immigration and translate it into on-the-ground reality.  And, if 5 million might be eligible, many millions more will be trying to figure out if there’s any chance they are eligible or might qualify in some way or another. 

            Here’s the big difference though.  The task of advising and assisting these millions will not be facilitated by hundreds of millions of dollars of grants from the federal government.  The burden will disproportionately fall on the nonprofit, social service sector.

            Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, estimated that “the new and expanded programs could draw more than 250,000 applications from New Yorkers in the first few months, posing what he described as a ‘massive human services challenge.’”   In New York, they are trying to put groups and money together to meet the surge of expected interest, but that’s not going to be the case in many of the red states where this order is being resisted aggressively, and some of those states like Texas, Arizona, and Florida are where interest will be extreme.

            Angelica Salas, director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) told reporters in Las Vegas where President Obama formally announced his order that he had stopped on the way out of the hall and told her, “Now sign them up.”   That’s a tall order with limited resources even though Angelica will no doubt get some help from the state of California, but even so with an estimated quarter of the eligible in California her office and many others will be overwhelmed.

            This is a golden opportunity but it’s not hard to see the bumpy road ahead in our “red” states where nonprofits will be besieged.   There are a couple of months to get ready, but volunteers, lawyers, churches, unions, and others in cities and towns throughout the country need to think about “citizen wealth centers” as we are that can be prepared to offer assistance.  This opportunity is only real and will only work, if as the President instructed, we can “sign them up.”  It’s something we know how to do, but are going to need a lot of help to make happen.

            People get ready!