Good Advice for Big Organizing from Sanders Campaign Innovators

New Orleans   Having already read a number of pieces about the guts of the Bernie Sanders campaign from different perspectives, when I saw that my friends and comrades Becky Bond, who I’ve known back when CREDO was Working Assets and I would run into her in their San Francisco office, and Zach Exley back to his early days at SEIU, had written a book, I made a mental note to put it on my long to-read-list, but I wasn’t in any hurry for another slog in the “look at me, I was there” campaign book genre. I was wrong. This is an organizing book and should be on the top of the pile for anyone who wants to see serious organizations and social movements built from the ground up to build power and make change. I mean it. This book will be required reading for our organizers meeting in January.

The book is entitled, Rules for Revolutionaries: How Big Organizing Can Change Everything, which is a little tongue and cheek riff off of some of their slams at old school Alinsky organizers and precepts. I actually agree and embrace their critique of one-on-ones and the wrong-headed cult of paid and so-called “professional” organizers and the limits of its scalability, although some of their other shots miss the target, but “big organizing” as the title would have spread the net wider, and this book needs to be read by anyone who wants to organize for change. Having just spent months with a political party in the Netherlands devising a system to maximize their volunteers and go whole hog with phone auto-dialers, I read the book excitedly in the way scientists in different parts of the world might marvel at how parallel our work was without having any idea that others were on the same track. I found myself scrolling for their emails and excited to reach out for them.

This is not the Sanders model book. Becky and Zack are clear that they failed to convince the campaign to endorse their approaches as fully as they felt warranted by the results. Like all organizers running field operations, they rue the millions spent on sending television ads out into the void, rather than investing more in the field where the differences are real, immediate, and measurable. Of course a lot of the book is a thank you note to their colleagues and props for their stars, but the meat of the book is invaluable as an outline for their “barnstorms” and phone operations.

Importantly, for real-police organizers, the book is also refreshingly hard headed and pragmatic and aligns well with what so many of us do day to day. Here are some examples from the one chapter that specifically lists “rules” of a sort:

· Be outcome-focused
· Respect and learn from volunteers
· Practice “high input, low democracy” as a team
· Choose speed over perfection
· Embrace productive conflict but not yelling
· Keep out of email trouble
· Operate on East Coast time
· Don’t be defeated by meetings
· Eat your own dog food
· Take care of yourselves and each other
· Be grateful for your team

See what I mean. This is actually great, solid advice for any organization and organizing effort. I might add even for political campaigns. It’s not the Ten Commandments. For example you could pick any time zone, but picking one would help reduce confusion, but all of these “rules” are good examples of the kind of solid, nuts and bolts, no baloney advice that Zack and Becky provide in this book that, taken seriously, will advance all of our work.

Read this book!


What Happened to the Push for More Nonprofit Community Development?

New Orleans    Community development corporations, once seen as an important tool for neighborhood revitalization, may not have fallen on hard times, but it has become increasingly invisible in many cities. Partly the strategy, heavily funded and much-touted in the late 1960’s and 1970’s, shriveled as the huge federal funding programs diminished and the ideological dominance of private sector and market-based development suck the money and air out of the development space. Partly the strategy receded as studies like those by David Rusk, former mayor of Albuquerque and something of an urban expert, could not prove that CDCs, as they were called, had been successful enough to make a difference in deteriorating areas, especially compared to gentrification. Many CDCs became more service operators than jobs or housing developers. There were, and are, of course huge exceptions some of them very successful, but there numbers are no longer legion and their record more mixed.

When CDCs were ubiquitous, community organizations were often pushed, carrot and stick, by funders and their own search for stability and institutional status in this direction, building grocery stores, small businesses, community centers, and housing developments. Unions like the Teamsters in St. Louis and the AFL-CIO local federation in San Antonio became known for their senior housing and other services. Churches, as anchor institutions in many cities, tried to take on the task. Not so much anymore. It was hard work, requiring significant resources and managerial skills often stretching organizations far outside of their missions and expertise.

I was thinking about this while in Buffalo and talking to my friend and comrade Bill Covington and hearing about his church and how much they have continued to buck this diminishing trend of abandoning community development by doubling down in Buffalo’s predominately African-American east side and creating something rare, a buffer zone protecting the community from the expansion of the medical center. St. John Baptist and its social conscious isn’t a new thing. They pride themselves on being in the Martin Luther King, Jr. wing of the Baptist Convention and having committed civil rights Reverends Jesse Jackson, Fred Shuttlesworth, Ralph Abernathy, and Al Sharpton speak and preach to their congregation. They started down this trail of community commitment first by creating a credit union, but more recently they have expanded to a community center and school projects, including a charter school, and, most importantly, a clutch of community development corporations focuses largely on reviving and creating affordable housing in the East Side Fruit Belt area.

Their community development corporations consist of McCarley Gardens housing complex which are 150 unit 2, 3 and 4 bedroom tri-level apartments and St. John Tower a 150 unit Senior Citizen unit. The St. John Fruit Belt Corporation is the producer of a $54 million combine of single-family, subsidized housing units and town homes. Listening to Bill Covington on Wade’s World, it seems that they are continuing to break ground on additional affordable housing projects, including more desperately needed rental units. The financing, not surprisingly, largely comes from state, federal, and local pubic sources.

Community development is not for everyone, and it is not a magic bullet for curing poverty and turning around deteriorating neighborhoods, but it makes a difference, and it’s encouraging to see a success story in some faith-based institutions that are still committed to making community contributions and playing a leadership role benefiting everyone, regardless of theology and ideology.


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.


Fighting Fake News, One Source at a Time

New Orleans    On a soul-killing wait at an airport recently, I found myself mindlessly scrolling Facebook, and I happened to notice that one of my real friends, Christine Allemano, who is also a Facebook friend, had posted an interesting query on her update. She wanted to combat “fake news,” and wondered what her friends read in order to try and puzzle out the facts of the world and combat the flood of false information, which is often no more than a lie in the skin of an opinion. Last weekend, I also found myself in a discussion with friends who read newspapers, but did so on-line, about whether they could really get the whole story that way, and, frankly, I was skeptical.

These questions struck me as not only interesting, but important somehow, prompting me to stand back and take account of how I personally puzzle out our wide world both physically at hand and at the keyboard, even though I’m not sure anyone but me and the rat in my pocket really cares, at least listeners and readers can know when they disagree with me, that for their sake and my own, I at least made an effort.

I guess the first disclosure is that, sure, when I’m on the road, I read The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal on-line, but I also have to admit that I don’t trust the process. First, it takes more time to scroll, click, close the popups, and then read. Secondly, the headlines are the guideposts, and they often point wrong directions or at least don’t disclose some of the hidden treasures. I regularly find key stories that I had missed on this physical, second go-round. Therefore, when I’m at home I go back through both papers as well as read my daily paper, The New Orleans Advocate, and what has become my occasional hometown paper, The Times-Picayune. I don’t read them on-line. Both rely heavily for national and world news on wire services, so I think I’ve got that covered, and anything really breathtakingly important locally will find its way to my in-box from my family. I’m not sure I know how to get the news from Facebook or Twitter to tell the truth, and although I think there are probably good internet news sources of various kinds, but I only go there if it’s a link driven by my Google Alerts for various sources like community organizations and ACORN. I guess I should also admit that I do read the editorials and op-eds in the Wall Street Journal, so I know what the right is thinking or at least arguing about. I don’t read most of editorials in the New York Times. I figure I already know the Times’ opinion, though I do religiously read their conservative columnists and guest op-eds, I try to keep away from the echo chamber and don’t trust Tom Friedman’s globalization program or Kristof’s bleeding heart. I check on The Guardian on-line every couple of weeks, and scroll through their protest section, whenever I want something to finish one of my radio and web, Daily Peoples’ News reports.

I get magazines and read them, not necessarily when they hit the door, but when I can. The list includes The New Yorker, Harpers, The Atlantic, The Economist, Wired, Scientific American, Science, and of course the journal Social Policy word by word. I read High Country News to keep up with the West. Recently I started reading the New York Review of Books, because another friend and one of my board members kept recommending that I read articles she had found there. It usually only takes me a minute to get through In These Times, but I think it’s important to support. I used to get The Nation on-line, but something happened to it, and now I look at their emails instead. I make sure I look through Shelterforce regularly on housing policy. I support The Lens, the online news source in New Orleans, but only look at the site during elections to tell the truth. For years I’ve subscribed to Granta, but am many issues behind, and not sure why I still hang in.

On line I go more for specialized list services that come right to my box. I started getting “Medium Daily Digest” in several subject areas when the head organizer for ACORN in Britain began forwarding links. I get “Truthout,” but probably only read something every month or so. I look at the almost daily bulletins from the Economic Policy Institute. Local 100’s Texas State Director turned me onto Politico’s Morning Shift on labor news, which I religiously read, but don’t follow the links. I regularly go through the headlines on the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) daily Latin American News Report and scan their regular economic bulletins. For years I got LACLA’s quarterly on Latin America, but when they went on-line, I didn’t go with them. I’ve tried to figure out something better for India, Asian, Africa, and Europe, but don’t feel like I’ve solved the puzzle though both The Economist, despite its conservative, business bias, and The Guardian help.

Maybe there’s more, but who can keep up? I mean really? The print business model allows me to skip the ads at the flip of a page, while the online model is noxious and time consuming. To get around it is an investment of both time, and, frankly, money. I think that’s at the heart of the fake news problem. It’s just so much easier to pretend to be up to date by letting Facebook and the let them curate your news via your friends or their algorithms. The problem is that you won’t know much, and finding the facts is a dialectical and contentious process of allowing various voices and opinions to confront and challenge your own, as well as bolstering and refining your own views.


For one of our loyal readers, Ry Cooder’s John Lee Hooker for President



They’re Coming After Unions at Every Level

The Great Philadelphia Textile Strike of 1903

The Great Philadelphia Textile Strike of 1903

New Orleans    There is little question that the conservatives are coming after unions, even while they make the outrageous claim that they are now the workers’ party in the wake of the recent election.

Since the Wisconsin counterrevolution when the right was successful in eliminating union shop for public employees, the drums have been beating all over the country. Most observers believe that the challenge in California to union security provisions allowing dues or servicing fees to be collected for teachers would have prevailed on appeal at the US Supreme Court level if Justice Antonin Scalia had not suddenly passed away, leaving a tie vote and saving union security for another day. With Trump likely to nominate a hard right conservative justice as soon as he sits in the Oval Office swivel chair, there will be new challenges wending their way to the Court as quickly as they can be filed, and there are likely challenges already in process.

Kentucky Republicans tried an end around by allowing local counties to adopt so-called right-to-work laws eliminating union shop provisions, since they couldn’t get it done on a statewide level. The US Sixth Circuit Court of Appeal unanimously overturned a local federal court that had nixed that maneuver. Right now that means this is possible in that court’s jurisdiction where Kentucky and Ohio are still union shop states, while it is still amazing to write that Michigan is a relatively new right-to-work state and Tennessee has long had right-to-work on its books. The Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity is touting the fact that this is also the strategy for the far right Illinois governor, and should be a precedent. They don’t mention that according to research, “Decisions issued by the Sixth Circuit were reversed by the United States Supreme Court 24 out of the 25 times they were reviewed in the five annual terms starting in October 2008 and ending in June 2013 — a higher frequency than any other federal appellate court during that time period.” With the new Supreme Court maybe they don’t need to do so, but it’s not a slam dunk since the issue is whether home rule provisions within a state can preempt the ability of a state to prevent patchwork measures like this.

Reportedly, there are going to federal bills for a national right-to-work. It might not make it through the Senate of course, and perhaps despite the huge wall that Trump will build between himself and his buildings, construction unions can drop their tools until the kids figure out a way to send smoke signals or something down to DC until he gets the message.

Meanwhile this will all be Koch Brothers everywhere you look, which means bills re-introduced in Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, and elsewhere to eliminate all payroll deductions for unions. I’m not sure the United Way and insurance companies are going to save us, and an equal protection suit could be dragged out for years while local unions starve to death.

It won’t be the end of the world for unions, but it could be the end of the world as we know it now.


Gil Scott-Heron and his Amnesia Express sing “Three Miles Down” from March 14, 1990 in London, UK. A song for the Coal Miners.


Some Stories Shouldn’t Stay in Vegas

ap391840591794New Orleans   There are some stories from the last election that should speak more to our future than any nostalgia for the past. One big story is from Las Vegas, and it’s not a story that should stay there, but one that should travel everywhere, although it may be too late.

In the butt whipping administered by Donald Trump and Republicans throughout much of the country, there was one battleground state where Democrats turned the tables and that was in Nevada. There are always many parents of victories, but there is no way to ignore the fact that one of the strongest local labor unions in the country is located among service workers in Las Vegas hotels and casinos, the impressive Culinary Workers, Local 226, affiliated with UNITE HERE. Their work is getting major credit for the fact that two House districts held by Republicans were upended and moved to the Democratic column, Harry Reid’s long contested seat in the US Senate was retained with the election of a Latina, Catherine Cortez Masto, and the party gained control of state legislative bodies. Oh, and Hillary Clinton won the state as well, by the way.

How did it happen? D. Taylor the longtime head of the Vegas local and now the president of the national union was straightforward, saying,

“It meant going door to door, talking to people, listening to people, trying to move people. I think that’s very, very doable. That’s what Democrats and labor used to do.”

The union believes their work contributed more than 50,000 votes. Once again we hear the refrain, door knocking, door knocking, and more door knocking, but there’s also an edge to the sentence when Brother Taylor notes that it’s “what Democrats and labor used to do.” In some ways that’s Taylor’s warning that comes with this accomplishment.

Given the results in some of the rust belt states where Trump even won a majority of union members’ votes, as much as many might hope Vegas could be a model, it may be too late. Few locals in the Midwest – or anywhere else — are as large and concentrated as the almost 50,000 members of the Culinary Workers in Las Vegas. Few are as politically active in races from the bottom of the ballot to the top. Few are as aggressive in organizing and policing their jurisdictions. None have built this kind of membership in a right-to-work environment where Culinary has thrived taking its members from hotel referral to training programs to their work on the job in some of the most creative and effective bargaining programs anywhere in the country thanks to both John Wilhelm and D. Taylor and their stewardship as presidents of the local over the last several decades.

The AFL-CIO in the last weeks before the election touted the fact that they would have more than one-hundred thousand people on the doors in the battleground states, and that was welcome news. There is a difference though between a last-ditch election push and the day-to-day work of the Culinary Workers in Vegas in every election where they have an interest and it’s the difference between a day tripper and a powerhouse.

A local like the Culinary Workers is not built in a day or even in four years. As the clock winds down on labor’s capacity, it is almost too late to create this culture for many locals, but the work needs to start today. Members will do the work and the doors are waiting, but it takes leadership and resources, both of which are desperately needed now.