USA Election: A Movement Can Always Beat A Machine

socmvmtcollage1New Orleans   The election was over early, just not the way many had expected. I had always argued that regardless of the polls and pundits the election was going to be close, but I had also argued that I thought Clinton would win. Now, I will have to substitute the word “thought” for “hoped.” I had always argued that I hoped Trump would be the Republican nominee because he might be the only candidate Clinton could beat. I now may have to rethink that and revise my analysis, because Trump and his unique campaign may have been the only candidate that Clinton could NOT beat.

The bottom line is pretty clear: a real movement can always beat a machine. When you have almost vastly unpopular candidates in the contest, making everything relatively equal in that regard, a genuine movement can always beat even the best financed and well-oiled machine.

As progressives, we have to understand the simple facts. With courage, this could have been us. In fact given the closeness of the contest between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, it almost was us.

As organizers, we have to give Trump credit for his willingness to unabashedly embrace a movement and his place in it. He argued a case for the abandoned and left behind by the economy. He railed against the adverse impacts of trade and globalization. He argued for jobs for the jobless. He made a better case against Wall Street and the Washington establishment. These are all our issues. A populist is someone who puts the people first, and as unlikely as Trump was as the bearer of that message, this was our message.

The contest in coming months on the right and throughout the establishment will be to see who can best capture Trump’s heart and soul to make him fit the usual mold better. We actually need to push him on the claims he has made to deliver change to our constituency, if we want to reclaim it. We need to push the demands of huge blocks of those who will feel suddenly disenfranchised by this counterattack by the white and rural and too much of the working class: women, Latinos, and African-Americans. These are also our constituencies and Trump is vulnerable to all of them in trying to convert his movement to governance.

We know these problems and their fragility, because we have faced it repeatedly. We saw how rapidly the movement behind Obama dissipated. Trump may be a horse less easily broken to the bit, and in that space the effort is being made to corral him, we have huge opportunities, if we are able to seize them. Make no mistake this new world order in America will hurt millions if allowed to settle and concretize or be usurped by the far right, so we really don’t have much choice. This is ride-or-die time.

Disruption forces realignments. Chaos provides opportunities, but only to those moving hard and fast to take them and create change out of the turmoil. We have to engage the struggle where we find it, and Trump has now created the new conditions for engagement, and we now have to adapt quickly and organize the alternative paths for new movements to take hold and win, before the door closes and the opportunities are once again lost.

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Looking for the Kindness of Strangers – Think France!

business-aviation-operations-for-france-customs-immigration-agricultureNew Orleans   Over the last two years with an emerging affiliate in France, I’ve now been on the ground working in Grenoble or Paris there a bunch of times, well for me a bunch anyway, like five or six times over two years approximately. My comrades and colleagues there are wonderful people of course, but that’s true of all the people with whom I organize, but on the train the other night from Paris to Amsterdam to fly home, I found myself reflecting on the reputation the French have for being unfriendly to strangers. It’s a bum rap!

I’ll pass over the common courtesy and generosity of our organizers and their friends when I’m passing through who are constantly offering tea or coffee or in many cases surrendering their beds and bunks to an unexpected American squatter. Within the organizing culture that’s pretty standard and to the degree “birds of a feather flock together,” it shouldn’t be a surprise that it rubs off on their friends and supporters.

My brief for a new and friendlier France is not because this has been a big push from the tourism industry or the government, both of which are true, and both of which are undoubtedly totally ignored by the French people, but is based on my experience in the endlessly confusing Metro and train stations, particularly in Paris. On several trips, I’ve been flummoxed by the problems of getting Metro tickets from the machines. Several times I’ve been helped through a tough spot when someone employed by the metro system or the state railway came to save the day, but I started counting the times it was just random situations where I was bailed out by complete strangers passing by when it was obvious I was clueless who wordlessly stepped in to save me.

In the giant Paris Nord on this very trip, I had jumped off a bus and had gone in the first door to the station with the crowd to catch my train and somehow had ended up in the Metro complex rather than the city to city train station. I followed folks through the turnstiles, but then I was caught going through successfully, but not getting my bags through that were stuck on the other side. While wrestling with the situation a man coming through the other way saw me, and without saying a word, walked over and waved his pass across the scanner so the gates opened allowing me to go through. Having found out from an information officer how to get to the train station, the ticket from the bus, which should have worked, but didn’t, I was stranded in between another set of turnstiles unable to move forward or backwards. A woman, her baby in a carriage and a friend saved me there. I wish I could say these were isolated examples, but I’m afraid they weren’t. I could easily cite another three or four times when total strangers have stepped forward and gotten me on my way, as I thanked them profusely in English, as they politely waved me off and walked away.

The one common denominator in all of these situations has been that virtually every one of the folks. epitomizing the kindness of strangers, have almost all originally been strangers themselves at one time. They have almost all uniformly been Afro-Caribbean or Afro-French or possibly just Africans and presumably as foreign to all of this in the past as I often am now.

I don’t want to extrapolate past the point of all reason, but just maybe this kind of empathy with the lost, confused, and foreign by others who have been in the same boat will be one of the saving graces of not only French civility and manners, but also the same in the United States and other countries. Utah will invariably not end up in the Clinton column, but the fact that many citizens there thought about it because their foreign experience was such that they were unwilling to join the Trump anti-immigrant call, might offer us hope here as well. The French like the English, Americans, and other countries are all dealing with waves of anti-immigrant feeling, but it may be the empathy of those who choose our countries, rather than many of the natives who want to return to some foggy, archaic times in the past by forgetting about their own experience in order to adopt a bankrupt and false ideology, that end up saving all of us at the end of the day.

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Arizona is in Play in November and It Could Matter

Promise Arizona Get Out the Vote Float

Promise Arizona Get Out the Vote Float

Rock Creek, Montana    Whenever a state is compared to Mississippi, it’s a sure fired signal there’s trouble coming, so I hunkered down to read an article in the recent New Yorker that referred to Arizona as “the Mississippi of the West.” Trust me, that’s not a complement, and trust me on this as well, Arizona has earned every piece of this putdown in the way that it has dealt with its Latino population, calling to mind in excruciating detail the way Mississippi has been infamous for its discrimination against African-Americans over the years.

No surprises, the article focused on the fact that there are huge efforts to register 75,000 Latinos to expand the voting pool. Most of the groups mentioned in the article are organizations we know well and have worked with at various times in the past in one way or another: Puente, Promise Arizona, and One Arizona. These are good people with deep commitments. There’s a real organizing community in Arizona, which makes it a pleasure to work there.

Given the fact there is always more turnout in a general election year, and that Republican nominee Donald Trump has gone out of his way to alienate the Hispanic population nationally, and especially along the border, this is an important peoples’ effort to make a difference and prevail despite incredible efforts by the state legislature to suppress voting access and create voting barriers. There isn’t a poll tax, but there’s’ almost everything else, including the kitchen sink that politicians have thrown in the way of voters. The recent scandal when polling places were reduced in Maricopa County, home of Phoenix the state’s population center where 40% of the electorate is Hispanic, to about one-third of what they had been, thereby creating huge lines and waiting periods is just one example. What’s at stake may not be the Presidential election, because there are other, larger battlegrounds like Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania that will play a larger role, but to the degree that longtime Senator and former Presidential candidate, John McCain, could lose his seat, affecting the Senate majority, and that arch nemesis Sheriff Arpaio could finally fall make this coming election worth watching.

Last time a joint effort called Adios Arpaio came very close to throwing the Sheriff out of office. This could be the time, but only if the registration effort succeeds and voter turnout is high. A recent effort, covered in the article, was successful statewide when all groups joined together to push through a ballot proposition that will reallocate $3.5 billion from the state’s land trust to the public-school system where 44% of the population is Latino. Importantly, the measure won by 20,000 votes.

Much of the article focused on Petra Falcon, a former Industrial Areas Foundation organizer and longtime activist in the state, who directs Promise Arizona. It was fun to read that she still uses the old Fred Ross house meetings as a regular part of their methodology. The piece didn’t paper over the fact that the Latino organizing community is not monolithic. The religiosity Falcon and her organization attach to the work is not shared as widely by other groups and her support for the Gang of Eight immigration compromise, roundly attacked by almost all other immigrant groups when proposed, puts her a bit out of step with others.

More importantly though, on this election, everyone in Arizona is united and that could mean something great for the whole country and speed up the process of taking the Mississippi out of Arizona in the future.

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The Human Cost of Globalism: New York Nannies and Georgetown Slaves

The grave of Cornelius Hawkins, one of 272 slaves sold by the Jesuits in 1838 to help keep what is now Georgetown University afloat. Source:thenewyorktimes

The grave of Cornelius Hawkins, one of 272 slaves sold by the Jesuits in 1838 to help keep what is now Georgetown University afloat. Source:The New York Times

New Orleans   The argument changes when the global economy acquires a human face. Rarely has that been clearer than in two recent stories, one about a Filipino nanny in New York City and the other tracing the descendants of slaves sold by Georgetown University to their graveyards and relatives in Louisiana.

We talk about the predatory nature of remittances frequently because they bleed immigrant families and migrant workers of critical financial resources that they are sending their families and communities in their home countries as well as the quality of living and employment conditions where they work. The New Yorker ran a long story about a woman they called “Emma” from the Philippines, college educated in accounting with nine daughters and a husband. At forty-four years old with her oldest two daughters in college she came to the realization that there was no way on the wages paid in the Philippines that they would be able to pay for seven more to also go to college. She then made the wrenching decision to join a migrant “mother’s march” of sorts, joining a sister, women from her church, and a former home economics teacher in illegally migrating to the US to work as a nanny and caregiver.

The article points out that more than half of the workers surveyed several years ago by the Domestic Workers Alliance were undocumented. It also makes clear that the new, 21st century migrant is more likely to be a women and someone employed in the service industry as a caregiver than in older migrations of construction and factory workers. A huge export from the Philippines is workers, known as OFW or Overseas Filipino Workers since “a tenth of the population now works abroad, supporting nearly half of the country’s households and leaving some nine million Filipino children missing a parent.” And, it’s usually the mothers now, since “in the past decade, three-quarters of OFWs have been women.” Emma has not seen her children or husband or been home in 16 years. She has missed her mother’s funeral, though she and her sister paid for it. She has gotten her daughters through college but the exchange has been living on $20 per week and afraid to go home because she could be prevented from returning and now doesn’t have enough money yet to retire in the Philippines either. Besides the predatory exchange rate on remittances, she now has lived the bad bargain of trading hoped for opportunity for her family with her own life and a list of payments in small tragedies of loss in her family.

The story of Georgetown University’s reckoning with the its actions as a slaveholder and slave seller is the same type of story except under a more coercive commerce when globalism was even more ruthless in finding labor for jobs few wanted at unconscionable pay rates. Prices were put on human life, families were ripped apart, children and adults were chattel. The New York Times detailed how the Catholic priests presiding over Georgetown sold 272 slaves from plantations no longer able to fully support the school to “save” the university and pull it out of debt. The records of the sale and the work of genealogists have allowed them to track down relatives of many of the families that ended up in Louisiana. A great-great granddaughter of one who was sold as a child was able to find his burial place, and she and others are demanding Georgetown do right in partial exchange for its historic wrong by offering scholarships to descendants of that horrid sale. It would seem to be the least they could do.

At the end of these articles, detailing the terrible costs of exploitation, forced or voluntary, it was almost impossible not to have tears in your eyes for them, for ourselves, and for the wretched waste of people ground up in the gears of our unfeeling global economy and the unequal price paid for the wealth of nations and the people who spend it so freely.

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Looking Under the Hood at the Pasadena Workers’ Center

DSCN0940Los Angeles    A couple of years ago I spent a fascinating period over almost a year working with Casa de Maryland. They began as a collection of workers’ centers and have become the largest immigration rights statewide organization in the country with huge victories to their credit in winning drivers’ licenses and a state DREAM program along with a membership of over 25000. All of which is a long way of saying that I jumped at the chance to take a good look and visit with the folks at the National Day Laborer’s Organizing Network’s (NDLON) operation at the Pasadena Job Center in Los Angeles County.

Intake

Intake

After years of hand pressing identification badges both with ACORN and in various ways still with our street vendors and hawkers’ union in India, the first thing my eye fell on at the Pasadena intake desk was a good sized oval machine that I just knew had to be the best looking automatic computer driven ID contraption this side of the public driver’s license people. One thing led to another and the next thing you know Angel Olvera, the center’s coordinator, was waking me through “MACHETE,” which is NDLON’s very sophisticated data base system. Not surprisingly the system did more than record name, address, cell, and whatever by also cataloging each individual worker’s skills, so that they could more easily be matched with job calls from employers. And, that’s not easy either because of the 500 workers regularly working out of the center over the year and a center operation that puts out 13,000 people annually, there are also almost 1300 employers in the database that the Pasadena center has to manage. In the same that a workers’ center is handling workers, virtually one at a time, on an almost daily basis, the same can be said about many of the mom-and-pop employers who may be only calling in a couple of times a year for odd jobs, gardening, and whatever. For example, the center was running a special for employers who needed a hand putting up Christmas lights, especially since December is not the busiest time of year.

dressed up for the holidays

dressed up for the holidays

With a line out front at 6AM every morning in Pasadena, the natural question is how do workers actually get the jobs? Several decades ago I had spent an interesting early morning period watching the hiring hall operation of the janitors’ union in San Francisco in the early days of Radio Shack computers and dot matrix printers where they were pioneers at using computers to match workers and jobs. At the time as they registered the computer would spit a number and location out of the printer on the match as hundreds of jobs were sorted out every morning. In Pasadena, there are usually 50 workers on average for 35 jobs early in the morning, so I was curious how they used the computer system for that. With a laugh, Angel pointed me to a big roll of red raffle tickets and a plastic bin, I laughed too, and agreed you sometimes just can’t beat a transparent system that everyone can eyeball for fairness compared the mysteries of the machine.

workers relaxing after the job calls are done

workers relaxing after the job calls are done

You ask, how are the workers’ paid? The center and its members years ago set $15 per hour as the base rate and that’s what the employers are informed by the center, but the workers actually negotiate directly as subcontractors with the employers and are paid directly as well. In a small move toward self-sufficiency the center now collects one dollar per job.

Pasadena, like so many of the workers’ centers around the country, is in some ways like the old classic multi-purpose center that cities once built around the country offering everything but a gym. Gardening skills are displayed in elaborate, native plant beds along the side of the city provided building. A garage is being turned into a tool and work space for some of the more complex jobs the center is handling. They handle immigration issues obviously and advocate aggressively in that regard but also in the areas of wage theft. A small household workers cooperative also works out of the space. Joining with the rest of the community they have become a meeting place and gathering point for the fight for $15 for the entire city.

leaving the center

leaving the center

Pasadena is a good example of a deeply rooted base laying a firm, practical foundation that could support a very expansive membership and movement for informal workers and the entire community. There are models that could be built here, and for now it was a great place to take the tour.

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Immigration Made Scary, Yet Again

refugeesNew Orleans  Republican scaredy-cats are embracing the contemporary adage, often attributed to current Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, to never waste a good crisis. The tragedy in Paris has now been seized on by governors throughout the country clamoring to bar Syrian refugees from the United States, despite the fact that state governors don’t have two cents to do with immigration policies that are handled by the federal government. Politics being politics, Congress desperately wants to get in the act, so new House Speaker Paul Ryan has weighed in on the issue for what it’s worth and the red meat caucus will undoubtedly have a resolution on the floor soon.

But, let’s look at “just the facts, ma’am.” The Administration had announced an intention to accept ten thousand Syrian refugees in 2016 which is next year, but thus far despite the huge multi-year crisis which has displaced millions of Syrians in their civil war, now complicated hugely by the Islamic State, we have only allowed the smallest trickle imaginable into the country. A list of the top cities where Syrian refugees have settled in the four year period including 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2014 is headed by Houston with a mere 109 people resettled during that period. The rest of the top ten are Chicago, Louisville (Kentucky), San Diego, Atlanta, Tucson, Troy (Michigan), Glendale (Arizona), Dearborn (Michigan) and Elizabeth (New Jersey). In the number ten spot in Elizabeth there were only 47 people. Louisiana’s governor, fresh off the presidential trail, voiced his opposition to them coming into the state and there seem to have been less than twenty that have come in during the crisis. Needles in a haystack is an appropriate metaphor.

But, wait a minute. Is my reading comprehension going down? From what we know so far weren’t the terrorists implicated, and largely killed, in Paris mostly French and Belgium? Why are the Republicans not calling for us to close our borders to these two countries, our longtime friends and allies? What’s the cure for crazy? France, Great Britain, and a number of other countries, including the United States have documented hundreds of citizens who have jumped into the mayhem in Syria. Last I read we were counting more than 500. Caution needs to be exercised and passports reviewed, but why are we supposed to feel safer with a blanket ban on one country and its desperate refugees?

This seems another battle in the now old anti-immigrant fight on the right. Part of the issue as well is the drum-beating that some are unscrupulously engaging against Muslims. They aren’t like us, goes the argument, and maybe that’s a good thing, might be the rejoinder. None of these groups are assimilating.

Once again, just the facts, ma’am. A comprehensive report on immigrant assimilation in the US, finds that new immigrants are doing as well, if not better than any previous generation. The report looked at 41 million foreign-born, including 11.3 undocumented immigrants and their children born in the US about 37 million. The two generations total 25% of the US-population. 85% speak a language other than English at home, 62% of them speak Spanish. 50% say they speak English well, too.

Terrorism is an unconscionably hard problem, but before we allow demagoguery to plot the path forward, let’s focus on the real issues without blaming the victims.

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Please enjoy Shoegaze by Alabama Shakes.  Thanks KABF.

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