Building a “Full Service Movement”

New Orleans   The afterglow of the giant women’s marches around the country – and the world – has been warm and illuminating. Obviously the intriguing question is whether or not this is going to be a wonderful opening act or the beginning of long run engagement that could mold the future?

Certainly all sides are moving. Numerous sponsoring groups made the best of the opportunity to engage supporters and activists for the future. Planned Parenthood reportedly trained 2000 after the march to fight to protect women’s healthcare. Many other sponsoring groups are no doubt convening meetings to discuss next steps. Given that the organizers original steps were organizing via Facebook and the internet, undoubtedly there are scores of established and putative organizations and leaders volunteering to lead to the future. From his perch near the New York Times masthead, Charles Blow almost giddily labels the march an “uprising.” Conservative pundits at the Wall Street Journal argue that the centrifugal force of so many competing issues under the big tent of the march will blow the fledgling movement apart, while others argued that diversity and inclusiveness has to be the strength of the movement. In a potential Achilles heel for organizers, women in majority-black cities like New Orleans, Atlanta, and elsewhere pointedly noted the very low participation of black women, other African-Americans, and minorities in general.

Todd Gitlin, the frequently quoted Columbia University professor and former head of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) more than 50 years ago, noted that where marches had had significant historical impact they were the product of deep organizational efforts that both preceded and followed the marches. To succeed, he cautioned in building something sustainable requires a “full service movement.” I find that constructive and helpful advice worth some thought and discussion.

Often what moves America forward from these movement events is the pure outpouring of energy and excitement that emanates from such a march. My daughter is a veteran organizer with a decade of work under her belt and her reaction to having been a participant in the Women’s March on Washington with her friends was a straightforward, unambiguous message on our family’s WhatsApp, saying: “Wow, Wow, Wow, it was so special!”

Such raw energy could generate the power to move whole countries. The problem is that often existing organizations see their role as not clearing the paths forward for it to move, but trying to bottle the energy like a magic potion to be used for their own purposes. A full-service movement has to be able to support existing infrastructure, which means long standing organizations and their issues, so that it can prove it can deliver on the cares of its coalition, but also has to rise to its own level – with their help – exceeding what others might have previously thought impossible and unachievable.

The other challenge in allowing a movement to grow in these times is that it cannot thrive only in resistance, no matter the fact that the opportunity and need will be constant. To be sustainable, such a movement has to be create and demand, not simply resist and obstruct.

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Steadfast Marchers

New Orleans Women’s March

New Orleans    Organizers of the sister march in New Orleans said that 10,000 people were in attendance. The crowd was large enough that people were still leaving Washington Square on Elysian Fields Avenue at the same time they were arriving in Duncan Plaza, a distance of almost two miles.

Of course New Orleans was small potatoes next to the Women’s March on Washington where more than 500,000 gathered, infuriating President Trump since the number of celebrants for his inauguration was less than many other presidents as well as being fewer than those protesting. Other cities also reported huge crowds not only in New York, the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Chicago, but also Austin, Atlanta, and points near and far joined by other marches around the world. We’re talking millions now.

I’ve been on hundreds of marches. This one was different. This march was not simply a protest of Trump. It was an affirmation of women. It was women finding and raising their voices. The zany, pointed power of the individual posters created by women were almost as inspiring as the raw numbers themselves. From the “nasty women” t-shirts to the cat’s ears on the top of bright pink knit caps to the occasional sashes that harkened back to the days of the suffragettes, this was a march like none other.

President Trump reacted on Twitter of course, but his response continued to indicate that he was still looking backward, rather than forward. Essentially, he tweeted a question about where all of these women were during the election, saying, “Why didn’t these people vote?” He seems not to fully comprehend that the election is over and that he’s president, but that in America, people don’t only have a right to speak, act, and protest during an election. As the marchers demonstrated, these are rights we have every day. He also misses the fact that will be recognized by most professional politicians that these marchers were committing to continue to vote as well for their beliefs and against those who stand against them.

My favorite quote was from one of the primary organizers of the women’s march when she stated that she came from a family of “steadfast marchers.” Steadfast is such an archaic word that you really don’t hear it that much, though I read it more than once in connection with the march. Steadfast is a word with power, indicating for hundreds of years that we will “stand fast.”

Steadfast marchers were a message to President Trump that we will stand fast in the future for our rights, our beliefs, and our dreams for America. We will be steadfast in opposing his actions as president which threaten our commitments to an America for all. We will vote with our feet, and if this march were any indication, we will put our bodies on the line with our beliefs whenever they are challenged.

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Women’s March on Washington Has Stepped Up to a Strong Platform

New Orleans   More numbers have started to roll in on the delegations coming from the states to the Women’s March on Washington the Saturday after the Inauguration. Two thousand have signed up from Texas, three hundred from Arkansas, and twelve hundred from Louisiana. A story in my local paper had a picture of women making purple and silver sashes for the march, recalling those worn by the suffragettes one-hundred years ago.

The one knock I’ve heard repeatedly about the march though is, “what’s it about?” Is this just a stepping for solidarity or is there a platform undergirding the marchers and pushing for change? It was a fair criticism at least in the beginning when the initial organizers seemed to be resisting a real program thinking that a big tent was enough message in itself. For whatever reason though, they have one now. Maybe organizers were responding to criticism. Maybe they just thought the numbers were a strong enough hammer that it was time to add the nails. Whatever the reason, the platform is out, and the Women’s March on Washington has stepped up.

Unity Principles

 

We believe that Women’s Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are Women’s Rights. We must create a society in which women – including Black women, Native women, poor women, immigrant women, Muslim women, lesbian queer and trans women – are free and able to care for and nurture their families, however they are formed, in safe and healthy environments free from structural impediments.

 

ENDING VIOLENCE

 

Women deserve to live full and healthy lives, free of all forms of violence against our bodies. We believe in accountability and justice in cases of police brutality and ending racial profiling and targeting of communities of color. It is our moral imperative to dismantle the gender and racial inequities within the criminal justice system.

 

REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS

 

We believe in Reproductive Freedom. We do not accept any federal, state or local rollbacks, cuts or restrictions on our ability to access quality reproductive healthcare services, birth control, HIV/AIDS care and prevention, or medically accurate sexuality education. This means open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people, regardless of income, location or education.

 

LGBTQIA RIGHTS

 

We firmly declare that LGBTQIA Rights are Human Rights and that it is our obligation to uplift, expand and protect the rights of our gay, lesbian, bi, queer, trans or gender non-conforming brothers, sisters and siblings. We must have the power to control our bodies and be free from gender norms, expectations and stereotypes.

 

WORKER’S RIGHTS

 

We believe in an economy powered by transparency, accountability, security and equity. All women should be paid equitably, with access to affordable childcare, sick days, healthcare, paid family leave, and healthy work environments. All workers – including domestic and farm workers, undocumented and migrant workers – must have the right to organize and fight for a living minimum wage.

 

CIVIL RIGHTS

 

We believe Civil Rights are our birthright, including voting rights, freedom to worship without fear of intimidation or harassment, freedom of speech, and protections for all citizens regardless of race, gender, age or disability. We believe it is time for an all-inclusive Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

 

DISABILITY RIGHTS

 

We believe that all women’s issues are issues faced by women with disabilities and Deaf women. As mothers, sisters, daughters, and contributing members of this great nation, we seek to break barriers to access, inclusion, independence, and the full enjoyment of citizenship at home and around the world. We strive to be fully included in and contribute to all aspects of American life, economy, and culture.

 

IMMIGRANT RIGHTS

 

Rooted in the promise of America’s call for huddled masses yearning to breathe free, we believe in immigrant and refugee rights regardless of status or country of origin. We believe migration is a human right and that no human being is illegal.

 

ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE

 

We believe that every person and every community in our nation has the right to clean water, clean air, and access to and enjoyment of public lands. We believe that our environment and our climate must be protected, and that our land and natural resources cannot be exploited for corporate gain or greed – especially at the risk of public safety and health.

That may be too many words to put on a sash, but we can all print them out and put them in a pocket close to our hearts.

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The Women are Coming to Washington

New Orleans    The number of bus permits issued for the Women’s March in Washington on the Saturday after the Inauguration has passed 1800 and reportedly all the seats on Amtrak between DC and New York City are booked. Police and other city officials, rather than the march organizers, are saying that from their experience, the numbers will exceed the 200,000 estimated in the march permit.

One-thousand fewer bus permits have been issued for Inauguration Day itself, yet the Metro, the DC subway, is running a rush hour schedule from 4 AM until on that date. On the Saturday of the march despite the huge expected crowd, they have thus far announced that they are only running a normal Saturday schedule beginning at 7 AM. I talked to two young women planning to attend who are planning to drive in on a Thursday in the middle of the night just to beat the crowds and are debating exit plans for Saturday afternoon. One of the co-owners of the bar next to Fair Grinds Coffeehouse on St. Claude surprised me by saying she was absolutely going to attend.

In the age of Trump, if these are the kinds of crowd estimates coming into the nation’s capital then it won’t be long before the Chamber of Commerce starts to apply a multiplier for how much the tourism and visitor revenue delivers to the city. Mass protest may become big business.

It’s not just DC. There are local marches popping up everywhere.

There are four marches in super-red state Wyoming in Cody, Cheyenne, Sheridan, and Casper. In Montana, over two-thousand women have signed up on a Facebook page that they are marching in-state so that they can be heard. In New Orleans there is a women’s march on Saturday at 3PM, and events throughout the state. They even have a name for this spreading phenomena: sister marches.

And, that’s not all. More than twenty countries are listed as having marches to show solidarity and stand with American women from Australia to the Netherlands to our neighbors in Mexico and Canada. I was surprised not to see Google ads, jumping on the website for comfortable shoes!

God knows what the new President and Tweeter-in-Chief will have to say, but who cares, really.

Solidarity, sisterhood, resistance or whatever you want to call it. The issue is not whether or not Trump is President, but is more about the world being assured that human rights, all rights are important to Americans.

In this case, women are going to lead. There’s an opportunity for all of us to follow.

***

Please enjoy Sheryl Crow with Burt Bacharach Dancing with Your Shadow

Thanks to KABF.

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Leslie Dunbar, John Lewis, and Heeding the Call of the Civil Rights Movement


Leslie W. Dunbar speaking to the Loyal Democrats of Mississippi Convention in 1968. Credit Tony Dunbar

New Orleans   Thus far President-elect Trump and his office have said nothing formally in commemoration of Martin Luther King Day. His Twitter-attack on civil rights warrior and Atlanta Congressman John Lewis capsulizes his own special oblivion to the struggles and aspirations of tens of millions who don’t live in Manhattan and winter in Florida.

I was struck by the contrast as I recently read the obituary of Leslie Dunbar in my local newspaper when he passed away at nearly 96 years old. I didn’t know Leslie well, but I knew him from his time as executive director of the Field Foundation when I tried to raise money from him in the 1970s. During the time that Field operated the foundation was famous, especially under Dunbar’s direction as a funder of voting rights and civil rights efforts, particularly in the South.

Several years after founding ACORN in 1970, as we made our first ventures to New York in 1974 to try and raise foundation money, Leslie and Field were on the short list as “naturals” to support a growing community organization with roots in Arkansas. My first visit didn’t go well and in a follow-up letter when I described ACORN’s mission as trying to build an AFL-CIO of membership-based community organizations of low and moderate income families, he dismissed the whole effort somewhat brusquely with a hand scribbled note saying that, “the last thing we need in this country is another AFL-CIO.” That stung, even though decades later, I can concede the point as the AFL-CIO becomes more and more sclerotic, and eventually Field became one of our consistent funders until it closed its doors. After Hurricane Katrina a decade ago, it was great to talk with Leslie and his son, Tony, when he visited New Orleans before moving to the city in the last years of his life.

His obituary spoke to the transformational power of the civil rights movement though and the clarity of its call to men and women who cared about people and equal rights and justice for all. It turned out Leslie had a PhD in political philosophy and constitutional law from Cornell and had bounced around on the track between academia and government service until ending up running the political science department at Mount Holyoke when in 1958 he jumped into the fray. Remember that the Montgomery Bus Boycott which propelled Martin Luther King, Jr. into national prominence ran from early December 1955 until about the same time 1956. The power of this emerging civil rights movement was life changing for millions, and Leslie Dunbar was clearly one of the many who ached for a way to align their convictions with their actions or move in Trump’s sense from all talk to as close to all action as they might get. In Dunbar’s case he moved to the Southern Regional Council, which was a mainstay of research and advocacy around race and voting rights at the time and for many years thereafter. When I’m in Little Rock I still take note on most visits of the plaque that remains in our building’s meeting room when ACORN was named by the SRC as the outstanding organization in the South in 1973.

Leslie’s obit notes with some pride his role at the SRC along with King at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the NAACP’s Roy Wilkins in establishing the Voter Education Project, and the 2 million people it helped register. In these early years of ACORN we were proud to work with VEP during the years that John Lewis ran the project from 1970 to 1977. As organizations ran from voter registration and the modern attacks on voting rights that have accelerated in the 21st Century, there is no organization that began in the South as ACORN did in Arkansas in 1970 that didn’t understand that every peoples’ organization had a commitment forever to expand and protect voting rights, regardless of the consequences, if was to be accountable to his membership and their aspirations.

In the sense that John Lewis today is a headline example of such lifetime commitments, Leslie Dunbar and tens of thousands like him, playing roles large and small, uprooted their lives and sometimes gave their lives, as King did, at the call and in service to doing whatever they could and whatever they were able in order to build a movement to change America.

We watch the first African-America president leave office in the legacy of that movement at the same time we watch a new president move to office while trying to ignore and perhaps destroy that movement. He has to be taught once again that we shall not be moved.

Civil Rights activists lead the March on Washington on August 28, 1963 including John Lewis (far left) and Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. (middle). (Photo by Robert w. Kelley/Getty Images)

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A Personal Remembrance of Martin Luther King’s Pivot to Poverty

New Orleans    Every once in a while something falls into your hands that begs to be shared. In this case S.M. “Mike” Miller, one of my infrequent, but invaluable correspondents and a faithful subscriber and sometime contributor to our journal, Social Policy, sent me, and others, a remembrance of Martin Luther King, Jr, which seems timely. Including Mike’s piece, which I’ve lightly edited below, seems especially timely on the eve of the national holiday and a week before President Obama leaves office, as President-elect Trump tweets abuse at civil rights icon and Congressman John Lewis.

VINDICATED

By S. M. Miller

I was heartened by a comment by Henry Louis Gates [in a three-part PBS series on race] that Martin Luther King Jr. had moved in the last period of his young life to emphasizing economics in dealing with racial issues in the United States.

I had been trying to influence King in that direction for a couple of years. I met him at the annual meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Council in Natchez, Mississippi in 1965 when he was in bed, suffering from a cold. I was there as a speaker invited by his educator advisor who liked what I had written about school dropouts and pushouts. The advisor, a professor at Michigan State, had taken a leave from the university to work fulltime for King and earlier on a plane with King had begun to read the speech that he had asked me to write for Ted Kennedy for the convention but when King looked at the speech, he said, “don’t give it to Kennedy, I’ll use it.”

In the following seven years, I was an advisor and then a staff member at the Ford Foundation as well as a professor at New York University. One of my three self-appointed missions at the Foundation was to widen the Foundation’s support of black organizations beyond the National Urban League. That effort led to my spending time with King and building a successful case for broader funding.

In my discussions with King I raised the issue for not only overcoming racial barriers but to more directly improve the economic situation of African Americans by affecting the shaping of the American economy. He did not see why he should talk about national economic policies. After the second or third time I raised this issues, Martin said I still don’t understand why you want me to talk about national economic policies but since “I owe you, I’ll do it.” I replied, no, you are too busy to do something that you don’t feel strongly about.

Sometime later, I received a call at home on a Saturday morning—Martin wants to have a chapter on economics in his new book and wants you to write it. Will you? I agreed, only to learn that it was needed by Monday morning. My wife, psychiatrist Jean Baker Miller, consented to take over my weekend family and household responsibilities, and I dashed off the chapter. The publisher did not want to use it. Martin insisted, and it appeared as the appendix to “Where Do We Go From Here.”

Earlier, when I was still at Syracuse University, a senior aide in Senator Rubicoff’s office called me, saying that the Senator is planning a series of hearings on urban issues. We are looking for topics and issues. Would you please look me up when you are next in Washington? We met. I was really “on” that day and reeled off 10 terrific ideas. No, no, the aide said. I asked the aide, “What’s up? You are tossing off this good stuff?” The aide said, “I’ll level with you. My senator is addicted to golf, so I have to offer something compelling to get him off the course. He is lazy so it can’t be a topic that requires him to spend time studying the issue. Third, he is vain; he wants his name in the media.” I replied that I could not meet those requirements and left.

Sometime later, Martin decided to testify before the Rubicoff hearings on urban issues and I was asked to collaborate with Stanley Levison, a chief aide to King, on preparing the testimony. I organized a meeting at my home in New York City of leading New York urban thinkers. Stanley and I wrote Martin’s presentation which dealt with racial economic issues in housing situations. Martin testified. The next day the front page of the New York Times had a front page picture of Martin and the senator. So I helped deliver for the senator.

Much more importantly, I contributed to that emerging stage of attention to economics in the King legacy. Gates’ view vindicated my pressures on King.

All I can add is that the arc of history is long and leans toward justice, and like Miller, that’s worth remembering as we gird ourselves for the future. Thanks for sharing, Mike!

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