The Peoples’ Climate March Demonstrates the Danger of the Numbers Game

New Orleans  There are many iron laws in organizing, and one of them has to be that the more any tactic is repeated, the less effective it becomes.

The so-called resistance may be on the verge of painful reality, as the triumphant numbers of the Women’s March in late January was followed by disappointing numbers in the Women’s followup, and even smaller numbers in the parade-like, rather than protest-like, recent Science March. The related Peoples’ Climate March was this week’s march story with a march on immigrant rights and protections scheduled for the next week.

The Peoples’ Climate March was met by news that a federal judge may have approved the Trump Administration’s executive orders to delay and likely dismiss the last of President Obama’s climate protection orders. They did stumble on a small piece of luck as reportedly “tens of thousands” surrounded the White House. For a change President Trump was not enjoying another taxpayer funded golfing weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, but was actually at the White House trying to establish that he was hard at it on the 100th day of his presidency. We can hope he looked out the window and that he heard the voices still trying to convince him not to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord.

Organizers claimed that there were “300 sister marches” around the country, and that’s a good thing for sure, but coverage was spotting and targets were thin. Organizers have to be concerned though. The Peoples’ Climate March in September of 2014 was in New York City and the estimated crowd was 310,000 and touted as the largest climate march in history and was joined by global action largely initiated by, but also enjoying the sponsorship of 1500 organizations. The “tens of thousands” the Associated Press and New York Times reported in Washington, DC on this second march is a long, long way from 310,000 in New York City only 2 ½ years ago, especially in light of the fact that the recognition of the potential catastrophe inherent in unchecked climate change has grown exponentially everywhere in the world perhaps except in the antediluvian and atavistic crew bunkered down in the White House with the President.

Like it or not, marches are a numbers game. If organizers don’t want to take the risk of discounting the anger of their base and the urgency of their issue, they either have to prove their mass support with the tactic or risk inadvertently diminishing the perception of their base and its willingness to fight and take action. The Peoples’ Climate March did showcase a nice, creative tactic by pausing as they encircled the White House and letting out one sustained roar that was symbolically intended to “drown out” the voices of climate deniers ensconced in behind the columns.

If we’re going to sustain the energy and momentum of this moment, maybe we need more unexpected twists and turns like that roar and fewer times where the targets will be counting our boots on the ground, until we’re ready to rise up and swell the numbers to new heights again?


Trump’s High-Low Bargaining Strategy is Hurting America

New Orleans   Maybe once or twice bluff and bluster will achieve a marginal advantage, but the odds are slim, especially when negotiating with a serious folks with equal or even greater power or advantage sitting on the other side of the table. It goes without saying there has to be enough credibility behind the bluff that it has weight, largely because you’ve proven your muscle in the past and present and are willing – win or lose – to inflict pain even in the face of risk in order to win your point.

These are lessons learned the hard way from decades of experience negotiating for poorer and more powerless people against richer and more powerful companies and governments. Whether with ACORN or our unions, we were only at the table because we had won the right by forcing our opponents to be there. No matter the hue and cry, the threats and posturing on the other side of the table, we only could get an agreement by accurately understanding both our situation and the bottom lines and those of our adversaries. If not, it was back to the fight or holding an empty bag.

After the preliminaries though, among the first things we would say would be that we didn’t practice “high-low” bargaining. We would certainly bargain in good faith and were prepared to negotiate, but we were always clear: the proposal we made would be very close to whatever final agreement we were prepared to make. We didn’t go “high-low,” asking for the moon and believing foolishly that we would all end up in the middle. That’s a fool’s errand.

Somehow President Trump in decades of commercial transactions seems never to have learned this. To him a deal was a deal and there was always another transaction coming and if a bad one was made, there were lawyers and bankruptcy courts that would clean up the mess. If you weren’t a fan of bluff and bluster, then you didn’t do business with him which kind of explains why his standing on Wall Street and among major banks was so low.

This doesn’t work in government. Other countries have sovereignty, and don’t believe that America is first. Congress, courts, and tons of elected officials think they have a base, and don’t have to stand down, but can push back. There’s no joy in being taught domestically and internationally that Trump is a bad negotiator, because he’s weakening the country and making any possible agreements more difficult.

The list is getting too long: Russia, NAFTA, healthcare, taxes, and on and on. If he can just sign an order without negotiations, he’s king. If he has to negotiate, he’s the dunce. Maybe this is good for all of us in some ways, but we need to be very afraid on the international level how we can make agreements when the world is not as simple as firing off Tomahawk missiles. On the domestic level this kind of unhinged, transactionalism devoid of both politics and principle, guarantees increased polarization.

Someone has to get the President to buy a clue or no matter what any of us think about him, we’re in deep trouble!


Prosecutors Gone Wild

New Orleans   For months I had heard the stories of the abuse by the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office of two so-called “material witnesses.” The DA was trying to compel them to testify about gang violence, so in each case they were jailed. The young, single mother was being pressured that she risked losing her children to the state while in jail. The young man was being held in order to force him to testify or lose his job because he was incarcerated. Did I mention that these were potential witnesses, even though they were being rough-handled ruthlessly as if they were criminals. Needless to say both of them were African-Americans.

Headlines in the local news services this week trumpeted the fact that prosecutors in the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office finally conceded that they would drop the practice of issuing written notices labeled “supoena” and threatening jail time and fines that they had been using for years to trick potential witnesses into talking with them. Prosecutors admitted that the DA’s office does not have the authority to issue subpoenas without court orders from a judge.

This is not just New Orleans. These kinds of untrammeled, wildly unaccountable actions by local prosecutors from US Attorney offices to local district attorneys is increasingly seen as responsible for the epidemic of mass incarceration and blatant discrimination which has filled the nation’s prisons even while crime rates have been dropping.

This point was made starkly in a recent book by James Foreman, Jr., son of the late civil rights leader, in a book he wrote entitled, Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America. Besides his points on prosecutors, including former US Attorney General Eric Holder during his time as US Attorney in Washington, DC, he puts the shoe firmly on the collusion of local police and prosecutors:

When we ask ourselves how America became the world’s greatest jailer, it is natural to focus on bright, shiny objects: national campaigns, federal legislation, executive orders from the Oval Office. But we should train our eyes, also, on more mundane decisions and directives, many of which took place on the local level. Which agency director did a public official enlist in response to citizen complaints about used syringes in back alleys? Such small choices, made daily, over time, in every corner of our nation, are the bricks that built our prison nation

Another recent author was even more severe in pointing the finger of responsibility at prosecutors by looking at the numbers and the impact of various policy decisions, making the point that…

While violent crime was increasing by 100% between 1970 and 1990, the number of “line” prosecutors rose by only 17%. But between 1990 and 2007 when the crime rate began to fall, the number of prosecutors went up 50% and the number of prisoners went up with it.

None of this has to do with justice. This is state-sanctioned vigilantism shielded by politics and demagoguery. The local prosecutors’ offices is where real reform has to begin.


Ask El Chapo About the Wall

New Orleans   There seems little question that El Chapo, also known as Joaquin Guzman Loera, the infamous Mexican drug lord and leader of the Sinaloa cartel, would have to be classified in President Trump’s words as a “bad hombre.” He is alleged to have ordered the killing of thousands in Mexico’s bloody drug wars of recent years, but he is perhaps more famous in the United States as a serial prison escapee having broken out twice from high-security prison facilities in Mexico, once in a laundry cart and then again after he was recaptured his gang members were able to dig a tunnel a mile long that ended up in the shower of his prison cell to bust him loose. After his last capture, he was extradited to the US and has more recently been calling home, a 17 by 18 foot prison cell in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Lower Manhattan which is also know as 10 South, where he is held in solitary for about 23 hours per day.

El Chapo is not a happy camper wearing an “I Love New York” button these days. A report in the New York Times says he has had his public defenders file numerous petitions with the court demanding reforms in his imprisonment. As a putative prison reformer, he has asked that Amnesty International investigate conditions in the prison, which unsurprisingly prosecutors have resisted in their pleadings. He has complained about the quality of the tap water, which might be a comment on the New York City infrastructure, in his request for bottled water. He also has raised a beef about the inability in the exercise area to see the television because it is placed at a bad angle to the stationary bike and the treadmill preventing a twofer experience in his break from solitary.

Perhaps El Chapo does have a small contribution to make as an adviser of sorts to the President about the construction of the wall between Mexico and the United States. He does have a research staff it turns out. Lawyers and others visit with him 21-hours per week preparing his defense. Undoubtedly, his ability to dedicate this kind of time would exceed the time that President Trump has really spent thinking about the problem of the wall from financing to security.

In the “Ask El Chapo” prison news column, if prisoners were allowed such, it’s easy to imagine the questions that might come flying about the wall. Would a wall be enough to keep anyone out who wanted to come to El Norte or is the wall just a giant construction and employment project, sort of a big real estate deal which Trump would understand best? Would the wall be able to stop this whole tunneling thing? What should we do about the hundreds and hundreds of miles of gaps that the generals running Homeland Security think would still exist along the border, would this be a deterrence for El Chapo and his crew or anyone else? El Chapo clearly knows a lot about getting out, maybe the White House needs to take advantage of his free time now to ask him more questions about getting “in?” All of his years of moving drugs across the border could help make El Chapo the Answer Man for the President about whether or not this is wall is worth the $60 billion or so that some experts are estimating it would cost. Maybe some hard facts from El Chapo might convince President Trump that this whole wall thing is just a waste of time and money.

El Chapo is now a New Yorker, just like the President, and god knows he probably is a gazillionaire as well, if he could get his hands on his stash, and certainly his tax returns are as unavailable and invisible as the President’s as well. El Chapo seems just the kind of guy who Trump would be able to identify with so that they could have a heart-to-heart about the wall and really make some sense of this nonsense. Let’s “Ask El Chapo!”


And, the Civil War Monuments Come Down

New Orleans   Mi companera was happy for a number of reasons this morning.

She liked the fact that there was a positive comment about a Southerner on the front page of the New York Times. The reporter in dissecting the bad boy antics and ruthless operation of Travis Kalanick, the CEO of Uber, had told a story his being summoned to a meeting at Apple where engineers had discovered that his company was breaking their rules of operation. In the meeting, Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple confronted the Uber exec by saying, “So, I’ve heard you’ve been breaking some of our rules,” Cook said – now hear this – “in his calm, Southern tone.” You can see why she was excited. How often do any of us see “calm” and “Southern” in the same sentence. It just doesn’t happen.

But, that was the icing on her cake on this particular morning. She had awakened to beeps on her phone that she described to me later as Twitter being “on fire.” The first of the long promised and long delayed removal of four Civil War and Reconstruction monuments in the City of New Orleans had been accomplished under the cover of darkness, outfoxing opponents who were on a self-proclaimed vigil to protest and attempt to block the removal and had long delayed the efforts with legal maneuvers and anonymous threats to contractor bidders of violence and mayhem.

The first to go was, if anything, the least defensible, the so-called “Liberty” Monument or more formally the Battle of Liberty Place monument, that memorialized the efforts of white New Orleanians to oppose the post-Civil War Reconstruction government in the city and state. This was not the first trip the monument had taken. Under a previous mayor, Sidney Barthlemy, the second African-American mayor elected in the city, it had been moved in 1993 and placed almost in hiding behind a parking lot structure near Canal Street. The plaque was changed at the time. Where previously the language had expressly commemorated white supremacy, it was rewritten to commemorate the courage of the local police force in opposing the vigilante efforts by various parts of the racist, white community to turn back the clock. For a long time the monument had been the staging ground for various racist groups around Louisiana to rally, hoot and holler.

Hiding behind the true facts, local reporters interviewed a man who claimed to be a great grandson of one of the men listed on the Liberty Place monument. He claimed his relative had only recently arrived from Ireland, never owned slaves, and had not been part of the War Between the States. He claimed that his fore-bearer and his associates had only been fighting to maintain the role of state and city rights versus those of the federal government, responsible in this case for Reconstruction after the war that had temporarily empowered and elected some African-Americans to public office. He may have wanted to believe that, but of course it wasn’t true, and the original plaque, had he been willing to acknowledge it, would have made his remarks a lie, even as he spoke them.

This monument and the others that will now follow will go to much less visible hiding places elsewhere in the city, but these are concrete and marble embarrassments that have long divided this city and so many others in the South, allowing “calm” and Southern to be more comfortable reside together in many sentences, cities, and states around the South for everyone, not just for the few still trying to breathe something different in the hate that has scarred these communities for too long.


Mind the Base

New Orleans   Something smells fishy to me. When George W. Bush’s former strategist, Karl Rove, as well an author on “Truthout” are both saying that the Democrats are wasting time and money in Georgia, I get suspicious. Rove’s advice is go Big Sky, spend your time and money in a statewide Congressional race in Montana, because in his words, “they vote for Democrats there.” Meanwhile despite a better than 48% showing in the first primary for the Democratic candidate, Ossoff, in Georgia, pundits are arguing this is just a hole where you pour money and Democrats have no chance to win, no matter how much they spend. What’s the skinny here?

Reading between the lines, sure, Georgia is an uphill fight. Democrats haven’t won in 40 years since the time of Jimmy Carter. The leading Republican candidate is a former Georgia Secretary of State who hardly polled 20% in the first round. Rove and the traditional bettors are believing, with good cause I’m sure, that at the end of the day the losing Republican candidates will coalesce around her despite her record as a poor fundraiser and someone who has lost one race after another recently.

On the other hand, the Democratic base in reaction to the Trump presidency sees every election as a plebiscite on Trump and his poor performance and reportedly is demanding that all races be contested and that the party once again put on its big boy pants and contend nationally rather than just in the blues. If you are going to build a party, how can you ignore the base, win, lose or draw? Isn’t that a lesson that Hillary Clinton just taught us all in a way we should never forget? We have to always privilege the base!

Furthermore, the notion of a money drain being advanced by Rove seems gratuitous and self-serving. Talking to a newly minted party activist several weeks ago, he described a growing coalition that was mobilizing in Georgia which had not been fighting in the lists previously. He described the amalgamation as having 100 million Twitter followers from Hollywood to Silicon Valley and back to the East Coast. His argument was that this was new money. It was money being activated to respond to the challenge of the moment.

The same activist would argue that the race in Montana is also important. He and some of his co-conspirators believed that the lightly populated Western states from Alaska to Wyoming should be front and center on any plan to turn the country around. He stood up straight when he realized I was born in Wyoming and detailed a plan a multi-year plan to repopulate the state. He felt that if 20,000 or so people, young and more progressive, could be convinced to move to Wyoming it would fall into the blue state column like Humpty-Dumpty coming off the wall.

Ok, maybe that seems a bit like taking people to live on Mars or the moon, but when the base has gone active and wants to fight, organizers need to run as fast as they can to catch up and feed the fire. New money and new support comes in and as even Rove argues, no one has a clue in either party yet about what it might take to win in the midterms in 2018. These early skirmishes might just provide the battle plan for those contests, but only if we mind the base.