Supporting Grassroots Struggles over Immigration

New Orleans   In the wake of the Trump-Ryan debacle of play-pretend healthcare reform, the Republican gunfighters of the circular firing squad are now talking tax reform, debt ceilings, and other intricate problems that will confuse the living bejesus out of the American people. Oh, and of course in the current mess it is easy to forget the other mess that is still front-and-center since the inauguration, but is now framed in “bans,” “extreme vetting,” dropping foreign student applications, canceled school trips to the US from Canada and other countries for fear of border problems, reduction and stalled business investment in Mexico, and all manner of very personal trauma and uncertainty in communities all around the country, and of course the president’s “big, beautiful wall.” Yes, we’re talking about immigration. For all of us keeping score, let’s remember that the healthcare disaster is the second major domestic policy disaster of this new administration, because immigration is at heart a local, not a foreign policy issue.

Talking to Mireya Reith, the founder and executive director of the Arkansas United Community Coalition, recently on Wade’s World, was a constant reminder, if anyone needed one, that the fight for immigration reform and the life decisions that teeter on every twitch and tweet from the White House are daily dilemmas at the grassroots level of millions and millions in the United States now. Reith is based in Walmart and Tyson country in northwestern Arkansas, but with seven support and information centers around Arkansas in places like McGeehee, DeQueen, and Fort Smith, not to mention Little Rock, it’s hard to get more grassroots than her operation.

Reith worked heroically in the interview to keep her remarks positive, but it was a medal winning effort, because the stories were rending. For every school district she mentioned that was stepping up to support children afraid to go to school, the list was obscuring the silence from many more as well as from the state, not to mention her story of some teachers telling children in their classrooms right after the election that they needed to leave the country and do so now. Whole families are retreating into the shadows now all over the country, and Reith and the United Community Coalition know their names in their communities.

That part of her job is hard, but perhaps not as thankless as her reports of having recently been in Washington talking to her local and state Congressional delegation about the continued need for immigration reform and the human faces of these issues in the community. Once again Reith was relentlessly positive about the reception she received, including from Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, who has been touted as something of a Trump “whisperer” in the early days of the administration. Cotton, whose raw ambition and extreme conservativism has him on many short lists on the right as a comer nationally, is also the architect of one of the most anti-immigrant pieces of legislation introduced in the Senate. Not satisfied with drumbeating about undocumented immigration, his proposal is to reduce even legal immigration more than half and more than even the Administration is proposing.

Only eight years ago the fight was to get real immigration reform on President Obama’s agenda in the first hundred days, which we lost. Now the fight is almost to keep so-called immigration reform off of the agenda for the first two hundred days of this Congress, when most believe is the only time the legislative window is open before mid-term elections make most anything impossible to pass. We have to hope that Reith’s work and that of the Arkansas United Community Coalition and other grassroots pro-immigrant groups around the country are successful in saving America’s reputation and principles as an open and welcoming country to all, and we have to support their work as much as possible in these chaotic and dark times.

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Many Lessons from the Dutch Election

Dutch Freedom Party leader (Partij Voor De Vrijheid, PVV) Geert Wilders (L) holds a banner reading “Get out! This is our land” during a protest in front of the Turkish embassy at The Hague on March 8, 2017. (EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty)

Montreal   As I tried to make my way through the snowageddon between the US and Canada, I kept trying to get updates on the election results in the Netherlands. In some ways my interest was less about the populist hoopla revolving around the party-of-one for Wilders, the Trumpish anti-immigrant, hate spewing rightwing candidate, than the fate of the other parties on the list. Waking up, the headlines heralded that the right-center party and the current prime minister had out polled Wilders, but there were many, perhaps more important stories hidden beneath those headlines.

My interest was more than casual. I had visited the Netherlands for several weeks in the fall discussing strategies around a campaign to restore national health insurance in the country and advising on various field, phone, and GOTV programs with the Socialist Party of the Netherlands, so I was very interested in how my friends and colleagues there had fared against the populist surge. The short answer, somewhat reassuring in these troubled times, though perhaps disappointing when compared to our hopes, was that they essentially held their own. Where they had 15 seats in the Parliament or 10% of the total, they polled enough to hold onto 14 seats. The Prime Minister’s party, while outpolling Wilders, still lost 8 seats or 20% of its total, while he added a third more seats or 5 to his total. There are 28 or so different parties in the Netherlands vying for their share of the national vote to apportion out accordingly the 150 total seats between each party, making it all something of a multi-party mess when it comes to governing.

The real loser was the center-left Labor Party, which was decimated in the election falling from the number two party with 38 seats to the Prime Minister’s party with 41 seats, in this election to only 9 seats, losing more than three-quarters of their seats. And, why? Because they had agreed to help form the governing coalition, and their members saw it as a sellout as the center-right governing party pushed more conservative programs and policies. The lesson for many parties was clear. Not only would they not be willing to join a government with Wilders and the populist rightwing, but they might also be committing political suicide by following Labor’s move and being whipsawed on program.

The SP/N base may not have grown, but the work and campaigns held country-strong for the most part giving them clear paths to build their future. The math seems to indicate that seventeen of Labor’s number might have gone to the Green Left Party which went up ten seats from four to fourteen, now tying SP/N, and the centrist party, Democrats 66, which went from twelve seats to nineteen. This is obviously a very fluid situation as parties try to construct a permanent home to house their new seats and to attract the almost dozen seats Labor lost that dissipated among parties both right and left.

The overriding problem might be how does Netherlands govern with so many fractions? The Prime Minister’s party won in some ways by going right to block Wilders, but that’s not a governing strategy, and that may leave it harder pressed to find a coalition with constructive values and policies that can construct a vision. Meanwhile the center and left parties have the opportunity to construct an alternate program and vision, and the SP/N’s work on healthcare reform may be a template worth modeling in the Netherlands and elsewhere, but it’s likely going to be an unsettling time for a while before bridges can be built towards the future.

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Resisting Deportations

Edinburgh   In the new orders being rolled out by the Trump Administration targeting immigrants and possibly Muslims and others, many have pointed out that we are now going to be creating secret communities of immigrants unprotected by usual law and order, victimized by employers and wage theft, susceptible to human trafficking, and devolving into slums. Bill Quigley, professor at Loyola Law School, and longtime friend and comrade recently provided eleven ways that people are resisting deportations around the country, and I thought it worth sharing, so here they are.

Here are eleven recent examples of how people are directly resisting.

One. Blocking vehicles of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. A coalition of undocumented immigrants, faith leaders and other allies blocked a bus in San Francisco which was full of people scheduled for deportation. Other buses were blocked in Arizona and Texas. People blocked streets outside of ICE facilities in Los Angeles.

Two. People have engaged in civil disobedience inside border highway checkpoints to deter immigration checks. People have called neighbors to warn them that ICE is in the neighborhood and held up signs on highways that ICE is checking cars ahead.

Three. Cities refusing to cooperate with immigration enforcement and targeting. Hundreds of local governments have policies limiting cooperation with immigration enforcement.

Four. Colleges and universities declining to cooperate with immigration authorities and declare themselves sanctuary campuses. Dozens of schools have declared themselves sanctuary campuses and over a hundred more are considering some form of resistance to immigration enforcement.

Five. Churches sheltering and protecting immigrants scheduled for deportation in their sanctuary. Over a dozen churches are already doing this with hundreds more considering sanctuary. The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles declared itself a Sanctuary Diocese in December 2016 and pledged to defend immigrants, and others targeted for their status.

Six. Detained people demanding investigation into illegal actions. Over 400 detained immigrants in Broward County Florida wrote and publicized a letter to government officials challenging the legality and conditions of their confinement.

Seven. Divesting from stocks of private prisons. Private prison companies CCA and GEO have pushed for building more prisons for immigrants and have profited accordingly. Columbia University became the first university to divest from companies which operate private prisons.

Eight. Lawyers have volunteered to defend people facing deportation. People with lawyers are much less likely to be deported yet only 37 percent of people facing deportation have an attorney and of those already in jail the percentage drops to 14 percent. Los Angeles has created its own fund to provide legal aid to those facing deportations. Other groups like the American Bar Association recruit and train volunteer lawyers to help. Know Your Rights sessions are also very helpful. Here are CAIR Know Your Rights materials for Muslims. Here are Know Your Rights materials for immigrants from the National Immigration Law Center.

Nine. Restaurants declaring themselves safe space sanctuaries for undocumented and LGBTQ workers. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 25 percent of workers in restaurants are Latino.

Ten. Sit-ins at elected and appointed officials at government buildings. Bodegas have gone on strike.

Eleven. Social self-defense. Jeremy Brecher pointed out that decades ago communities in Poland organized themselves into loose voluntary networks called Committees for Social Self-Defense to resist unjust government targeting. This opens resistance in many new forms in addition to the ones identified above including: setting up text networks for allies to come to the scene of ICE deportation raids, to document and hopefully stop the raids; identifying and picketing homes of particularly aggressive ICE leaders; providing medical, legal and financial assistance to help shelter people on the run from authorities; and boycotting businesses and politicians that cooperate with ICE.

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Chaos in the White House Can’t Stop Progress in the Streets

Bristol ACORN

Bristol   Maybe President Trump needs to get out more? Perhaps there’s something in the air in the White House that is clogging up his so-called “fine-tuned machine” and bringing out the crazy? Maybe from the outside looking in, it would be easier for him to understand better why the rest of us are scared sillier every day?

Who knows, but for me it was relief to jump off the merry-go-round of the Trump-Watch and back onto a plane again. And, though sleepless and a walking-zombie imitation, sure enough it was possible to find signs of continuing progress away from the maddening vortex of chaos in Washington.

Visiting with the ACORN organizers in Bristol, the big problem of the day was one every organization likes to have. On the eve of ACORN’s first all-offices, national action scheduled only days away from Edinburgh to Sheffield, Newcastle, Bristol, and beyond against the giant multi-national bank, Santander, they threw in the towel and caved in. The issue was a requirement that Santander attaches on any loans in housing that tenant leases mandate rent increases. ACORN was demanding the provision be dropped from all leases, and Santander announced that it was doing so, and in a bit of dissembling claimed that they had never really enforced it anyway. Hmmm. I wonder if they had told any of their landlords, “hey, ignore that part, we don’t really want you to raise the rents, we’re just kidding, it’s only money.” Hard to believe isn’t it? And, we don’t, but a win is a win, and the action will now become a celebration and a demand that all other banks in the United Kingdom also scrub out any such language.

Back home, ACORN affiliate, A Community Voice, was front page news as they laid the gauntlet down once again around an expansion of the Industrial Canal that divides the upper and lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. The expansion would dislocate homes and further bisect this iconic and beleaguered community.

Meanwhile, as we get closer and closer to being able to target big real estate operations and private equity that are exploiting lower income home seekers in the Midwest and South through contract for deed land purchasers, there was progress in the courts. A federal judge ruled that Harbour Portfolio, a Dallas-based bottom-fishing private equity operation with a big 7000-home play in FNMA, would have to abide by a subpoena from the much embattled Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and disclose information on its use high-interest, predatory contract-for-deed instruments in its home flipping. As we get closer and closer to having our arms around not only terms and conditions of these exploitative contracts, but also lists of potential victims in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, this is good news, even though far from the relief and victory families will be seeking.

All of which proves that if we can keep our focus away from the chaos created in Washington and our feet on the streets, there are fights galore and victories aplenty to reward the work and struggle.

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The Sweet Sounds of the Street in the Mexican Pueblo

Puerto Aventuras   Ok, I’ve fretted about hawkers on some of the world’s most famous archeological sites in Mexico, the current and coming crisis around water for the burgeoning local – and tourist – population draining the Yucatan Peninsula dry, and the socio-spatial apartheid exclusion of Mexicans from their legally entitled access to beaches on the Mayan Riviera at the hands of industrial tourism, so why are we enjoying our time in Mexico and especially in this small pueblo so much? You simply have to love the people and especially the sweet sounds of the street in the community.

I’m not saying it’s for everyone, but sound in the streets is everywhere from the pre-dawn until late in the night. One of our favorites is the clown-car like horn for the helado or ice cream bicycle vendor as he slowly pedals up the side streets. The moto-taxis like to honk at each other as they pass on the street with a toot-toot wave of their own to their fellow drivers. The collectivo jitneys picking up service and hotel workers, already uniformed to head for neighboring resorts up and down the coast, all have a distinctive horn as they begin before 5 am and drop off after nightfall.

There is music everywhere in a low key battle of the bands from various businesses and casa to casa, house to house, as any walk along the few streets lined with small houses will greet you. The music is delivered, almost as a community service, from boom boxes in the front patios amidst cooking grills and hanging laundry in a symphony provided to someone’s own taste. In other houses, the streets are lit with the reflections of television screens from inside the front door, always on, but rarely being watched it seems.

Everyone is in the street all the time. Walking to work and walking back. Children playing. The sidewalks are for show, the street if for travel. When business is slow, a plastic chair sits in front of the open doorway of the establishment as the proprietor watches – and listens – as the world goes by.

And, then there are the loudspeakers built into the trunks of cars or on top of pickup cabs or protruding from back windows. The is a community outside of the range of television and internet advertising, so the hawking, whether for politicians or goods and services, is loud, direct, and sometimes even funny. In Mexico City we fell in love with the song of the junk dealers driving up and down and looking for whatever might be ready for them. In Puerto Aventuras, bread, vegetables, and fruit all have their carts or bicycle vendors with their own songs and shouts.

For several mornings we have heard a sermon of sorts down the block for an hour or two. No one minds. People proceed calmly within the cacophony of sounds. After a while it all becomes natural in the way one tunes out train whistles and ship foghorns near the train tracks and along the Mississippi River where we live in New Orleans. All of these are the sounds of security, safety, and community, and a reminder of how all of our communities may have been when they were loud with people out and about, rather than locked behind closed doors.

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Lives They Lived: Denis Murphy and Asian Community Organizing

Denis murphy and Alice

Puerto Aventuras   Recently my friend, comrade, and brother, Na Hyowoo from Korea, sent me a message asking if I knew Denis Murphy had passed away. Denis was the father and founder of many initiatives in community organizing, certainly in the Philippines where he mainly lived and worked, but also in India and Asia where his work also inspired many organizing programs among the urban poor. He and his wife, Alice, also a community organizer, trained and inspired organizing in Kenya as well. Denis and Na had invited me to several meetings of Asian organizers in Manila in the LOCOA, a network of Local Organizers and Community Organizations of Asia. I had visited with him as well in New York City, where he would spent a month or so living in Manhattan near Union Square with his sister, who was a nun, just as Denis had been a priest. His organizing was old school, focused on building “peoples’ organizations” among the poorest and most powerless, so he saw many affinities with ACORN, though always scratched his head about dues, he invited me to the Philippines to tell the story and teach the model. His shadow is long over the work in Asia, and his passing will be missed, but also honored for its contributions.

Here is an obit from the Philippine Daily Inquirer:

Denis Murphy: As Filipino as most of us

By: TJ Burgonio – Deputy Day Desk Chief Philippine Daily Inquirer / 01:14 AM October 10, 2016

Denis Murphy cut his teeth organizing the urban poor in the late 1960s. It became his lifelong advocacy even after he left the priesthood. He even tried to convince Mother Teresa to get involved in it, his widow said.

The founder of Urban Poor Associates died on Oct. 2 at 86, capping more than 40 years of community organizing in the Philippines and in other Asian and African countries.

In death, many remembered Murphy for championing the rights of the poor—from slum dwellers in Tondo to fishermen in typhoon-ravaged Tacloban—and teaching them to have a voice of their own.

Vice President Leni Robredo, former President Benigno S. Aquino III, Senators Bam Aquino and Rissa Hontiveros, and former Cabinet members Dinky Soliman, Florencio Abad, Teresita Deles and Carina David, among others, came to pay their respects.

But it was the community organizers from around Metro Manila and elsewhere who packed Arlington Memorial Chapels in Quezon City where his ashes were to pay him tribute.

‘Daunted by the odds’

“He had always accompanied us to dialogues. If an American was helping the poor, who were we not to help the poor?” community leader Bernadette Sabalza said in her eulogy.

“There were days when I felt daunted by the odds. But I’m holding on to my promise to Sir Denis to fight for my members. I’ll fight for our cause till my last breath,” she said in Filipino.

“Denis was passionate and committed, a true Irishman, but no less Filipino than most of us,” said Inquirer Opinion editor Rosario Garcellano.

“In fighting for better conditions for the urban poor, he was in there pitching, even during the dangerous days of martial law. He was in Tacloban before he fell ill, helping the homeless get their bearings in more ways than one,” she said.

And he was such an evocative writer, Garcellano added.

“Whether describing the misery of a coal-packing community in Tondo with its sooty sad-eyed children or the windswept cemetery where his brother is buried, the leaves turning into the colors of fall, he brought the reader to the precise, chilling moment,” she said.

Murphy first came to the Philippines with the Jesuits in the 1950s. After completing theology studies in Woodstock, Maryland, he returned in 1967 as a priest.

From that time until 1976, he served as deputy director of the Institute of Social Order in Manila and was put in charge of urban social work across the country. It was here that he became involved in community organizing.

From the ’70s onward, he helped kick-start community organizing by founding the Philippine Ecumenical Committee for Community Organization and Community Organization of the Philippines Enterprise.

He even invited American Saul Alinsky, considered the father of modern community organizing, to Manila.

Love and shared advocacy

Murphy left the priesthood in 1976 when he married Alice Gentolia. Community organizing became their shared advocacy. They have a daughter, Marifel.

He also founded the Asian Committee for Peoples Organization, an ecumenical body that introduced community organizing to India, Hong Kong, Thailand and Indonesia, and offered training in Pakistan, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore.

Murphy also helped set up a community organizing program in Nairobi, Kenya, with COPE sending a team to train young Kenyans in organizing on such issues as garbage collection, water, jobs creation and evictions.

Journey with Mother Teresa

In his visits to Calcutta, India, he often called on Mother Teresa, according to Alice.

“He would go around. Calcutta was one of his favorite cities and Mother Teresa was there. What he did was talk to her, trying to convince her to get involved in community organizing,” she recalled.

In New York, Murphy joined the 1965 Freedom March in Selma, Alabama, led by civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., Alice said.

Murphy was born in New York on Sept. 18, 1930, to parents who had migrated from Cork, South Ireland, and who were members of the Irish Republican Army. He studied at the Jesuit-run Regis School in New York.

His brother Ned was also a former Jesuit priest and sister Margareth was a nun. Their brother Tim was a soldier who served in the Korean War.

Murphy wrote a novel, “A Watch in the Night,” short stories and commentaries for the Inquirer.

Respect well-earned and gratefully given!

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