Sanctuary Cities and Counties Gearing Up for Anti-Deportation Fight

mnNew Orleans    Big cities with large immigrant populations are stepping up and shouting loudly towards Washington that they will refuse to be attack dogs for any new administration initiatives to forcibly deport undocumented workers and families from their jurisdictions. According to an estimate from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, an advocacy and legal assistance group in San Francisco and Washington there are an estimated 500 local city and county governments around the country that have refused at some level to forward information from police to the Department of Homeland Security as part of the local communities program. Checking the data would allow DHS to determine if someone is in the country legally.

There are interesting bits of irony at play that give local jurisdictions some reason to believe that their resistance could be effective. Some of President-elect Trump’s biggest drumbeaters on this issue including Kansas Secretary of State and counsel to FAIR, the hardline anti-immigrant rightwing group, Kris Kobach, and former mayor of New York City and current wannabe Secretary of State, Rudy Giuliani, both have made the case that local jurisdictions have rights that supersede the federal threats. The Times twists the knife here, saying:

In the past, conservatives have embraced the notion that state and city officials can assert themselves with immigration laws. One of Mr. Trump’s immigration advisers is Kris W. Kobach, who helped write a law in Arizona that allowed the police to question people they detained about immigration status. That provision was upheld by the Supreme Court. Rudolph W. Giuliani, an adviser to Mr. Trump who is expected to join his administration, unsuccessfully sued the government in 1996, when he was the mayor of New York, over a federal law he said infringed on local protections for undocumented immigrants.

I would love to see Kobach’s Arizona anti-immigrant strategy for the now defeated Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Phoenix’s Maricopa County turned against them.

The case that cities like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and others are making is that their local police departments are not federal agents and therefore should not be forced to act as enforcers of federal immigration policy. There’s a federal agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), part of the Department of Homeland Security that is charged with that responsibility, so locals are essentially saying “do your job, we’re not going to do it for you on our local taxpayer’s dollar.” A Trump Administration’s case would almost be stronger if they were funding a presumed mandate for enforcement rather than trying to compel cooperation.

The threat from the right holds its own irony because most of it is a threat to withhold federal money from states and cities. Turns out the philosophy of local and state’s rights is really founded on no particular principle other than whose ox is being gored and who gets to say it’s their ball when the game is played. For millions this is no game, and so continues the resistance.


Realtors and Redlining Destroyed Neighborhoods – Was Alinsky a No-Show?

redliningNew Orleans   Looking into the rising return of the family crushing and neighborhood killing predation involved in contract-for-deed property transactions being revived by Wall Street veterans and facilitated by weak regulations and federal off-loading of foreclosure inventory from the real estate bubble of 2008, I stumbled onto an interesting book, Family Properties:  Race, Real Estate and the Exploitation of Black Urban America by Beryl Satter.  Published in 2009, Satter is not only a historian and chairperson of that department at Rutgers University, but has skin-in-the-game, since she was driven to the subject to understand the conflicting family story of her own father who died when she was a child and whether he was a crusading civil rights lawyer and advocate in Chicago or a slumlord himself.  

            Being only half through the book so far, I can’t definitively answer her question, nor have I arrived in my reading to the sections on the Contract Buyers’ League, which was central to my motivation in uploading the book to my Kindle.  On the other hand, I’m knee deep in an excellent, well-written, and researched history that puts race and real estate speculation squarely at the heart of urban neighborhood deterioration from the post-war decades until our current times.  In Little Rock, where I first ran into contract-for-deed exploitation, it was always clear that if there was a power structure anywhere in the city it was centered in the real estate interests, and from our 1972 campaign to “Save the City” forward, including forcibly confronting blockbusting in the Oak Forest neighborhood, they were our main opponents.  In that sense, Family Properties was a deep affirmation and an extension of the argument and those experiences across the urban battlefield of America.

            Somewhat unexpectedly though, I’ve found nothing subtle in Satter’s critique, and condemnation of Saul Alinsky and his community organizing in Chicago during those years.  She bells him repeatedly, beginning with his antipathy for organizing the poor, who were most exploited by all of these practices, and for his inability to strategically and tactically embrace the reality of race in his organizing and the practices of the organizations they built in Chicago.  She doesn’t argue so much that the problem was direct racism, as more fundamentally a weakness in the Alinsky organizing model itself, saying that

“…ineffectiveness of the OSC [Organization of the Southwest] and TWO [The Woodlawn Organization] highlighted the two major flaws of Alinsky’s model of organizing:  his insistence that organizing efforts be fully funded before they could be launched, which left him vulnerable to pressure by the wealthy donors, and perhaps more serious, his belief that they should tackle only issues that were ‘winnable.’”

Sharpening her point she argues that, “Unfortunately, Alinsky’s insistence on fighting only for winnable ends guaranteed that his organizations would never truly confront the powerful forces devastating racially changing and black neighborhoods.”  Ouch!

            She piles on evidence to the extent that her arguments are almost irresistible, include his scolding of his lieutenant, Nicholas von Hoffman and others, for getting too involved in real estate issues when he was in Europe, that he thought were jeopardizing organizational funding, his opposition to fighting black displacement in Hyde Park, and his view that fighting “racial discrimination that lay at the root of community decay…was ‘too complicated.’”  Satter adds that,

“Alinsky often cast urban renewal as an ‘unwinnable’ issue to be avoided.  TWO’s attitude toward housing was similarly confused.  The group apparently felt that the redlining policies that forced black Woodlawners to buy on contract were too complex for effective community mobilization.”

Satter even cites Alinsky’s own biographer in the claim that killing the Square Deal campaign was done on a totally transactional basis,

“According to Alinsky’s biographer, the Square Deal campaign was ‘intentionally terminated by Alinsky and von Hoffman’ because TWO wanted the financial support of merchants when it turned to ‘larger issues such as urban renewal.” 

Twisting the knife, she adds,

“The net result was that, instead of blazing a new path for community activism, TWO became yet another demonstration of the perils of reformers’ financial dependence on the very people they needed to challenge.”

            Adding insult to injury she argues that the creation of the West Side Organization and its achievements were “an overt challenge to Alinsky, who had warned him against organizing the very poor – an action that Alinsky believed would divide the larger community.”   During the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Martin Luther King effort to take the civil rights movement north, she includes an assessment from one of the movement’s legendary organizers that was equally devastating, quoting…

“…James Bevell, a charismatic Mississippi-born African American who had participated in virtually all of the major Southern civil rights crusades.  In Bevel’s view, too, Alinsky ‘simply taught how to, within the context of power, grab and struggle to get your share.’”

            None of this is definitive, but it’s a critique that has weight and can’t be ignored.  Having organized and fought redlining, realtors, and neighborhood deterioration for decades, as organizers we may have to confront whether or not Saul Alinsky, as a primary architect of community organization, was not only a no-show when it mattered in Chicago, but abetted the problem by skirting the battlefields that counted, by not using issues to build power for the bigger fights, but instead running from the fights themselves.  If that’s the case, the legacy of that shadow could still be crippling the work that needs to be done in addition to the way the work is done.


Fighting the Next War or the Last War with Trump

huge-2-14539New Orleans    Decisions, decisions, decisions.  It’s so hard these days for so many people to make up their minds.  Do they fight the next war over where Trump and his partners are trying to take the country or do they fight the last war over the results of the election?

            I interviewed a political activist on Wade’s World the other day named Gary Krane who was advocating a series of steps to attempt to overturn the recent election.  Clinton supporters in some of the battleground states have been calling for a challenge and recount in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, though Clinton and her campaign have expressed no support for these efforts, even as her vote lead has surpassed two million over Trump.  Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate for President who polled a little over 1% of the vote, has a claim of standing in asking for a recount, and says that she has raised $5 million to fund the effort.   People are asking whether or not this is where they should put their energy.

            Nasty women are planning a huge march in Washington on January 21st, the day after the inauguration to send a message about how they hope to be heard and heeded in a Trump administration.  Busses are already filling up.  Plans are being made.  Numbers should be high.  This would seem to be an entry in the “let’s fight the next war, not the last war” campaign.

            The Wall Street Journal and some of its columnists, like former presidential speechwriter, Peggy Noonan, are arguing that Trump should totally divest himself of all of his business interests in order to guarantee that the Oval Office will not be wheel-and-deal central for Trump’s brand and interests.   There is no liberalism in their position.  They don’t want a classic blind trust, they want him to liquidate all of his holdings and take the losses.  Noonan says his career as a businessman is over, and now it is time for him to be a patriot.  Trump on the other hand claims he could run his business from the White House, and it would be legal since there is no statute determining a conflict-of-interest by a President.  Perhaps there should be.  Or, he argues, that his children could somehow handle it all without his say so.  His buddy, Ruddy Giuliani, while taking time out from his horrific campaign to be Secretary of State, says that would be fine, because he can’t put his children out of work.  This is an interesting campaign from the right.  We have to wonder if it has traction, and if it could use a push.

            Speaker Ryan and the conservatives in Congress are already moving towards their own version of a coup in order to try and capture a Trump presidency for their anti-people programs of privatizing Medicare, decimating what is left of any safety net, cashing out food stamps, and one draconian measure after another.  That seems like a battle worth engaging as well.  Add environmental issues to the list, holding onto the Affordable Care Act, the Consumer Finance Protection Board, labor unions, banking regulations and more, and it would seem we have more than enough coming fights that we need to be ready and able to suit up to wage.

            I don’t want to seem like a ninny, but I don’t know how to drive forward with my eyes on the rear view mirror.


Interstate Crosscheck May Have Removed One-Million Legitimate Voters from Election

Al Jazeera's Greg Palast looks over the Crosscheck list, searching for these supposed double voters.

Al Jazeera’s Greg Palast looks over the Crosscheck list, searching for these supposed double voters.

New Orleans   There’s a saying in almost every language that the “devil is in the details.” There’s a lesson in that expression though, and it’s one we all need to learn more carefully about how to work the levers of intricate bureaucracies at every level of government in order to implement our programs.

The particularly infamous devil who is teaching these lessons about details includes the notorious and dangerous Secretary of State in Kansas, Kris Kobach, who we have seen recently in conference with President-Elect Trump on how to establish a registry for Muslims. Previously he has not only been in the thick of litigation to repress the human rights of immigrants, but the prime mover in voter identification and other efforts to block access to the ballot particularly for poor and minority voters. Kobach has long been on my radar, but I had still missed some of the incredible damage he wrought.

The Kansas Secretary of State’s office was an early adopter of a small program around 2005 with four neighboring states participating: Iowa, Missouri, and Nebraska. The intention of the program, called Interstate Crosscheck, was to identify people who might have been voting in more than one state. Ray Thornburgh was the Secretary of State when the annual use of Interstate Crosscheck began, but its use exploded in recent years since Kobach took office as Kansas’ Secretary of State in 2011. According to his reports, the number ballooned up to 15 states in 2012, 22 in 2013, and 29 in 2014, and according to some reports 30 in 2016, all of whom were involved in a shared data dump and list purging annually. The roster of states in 2014 included many red states, but several important blue states as well. The 29 include Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

Although ostensibly checking for duplicate voting, what may or may not have been realized fully in each state is that Interstate Crosscheck, according to investigative reporter Gary Palast, was removing hundreds of thousands of minority voters from the rolls. This was a brute tool which was unable to distinguish between common names in minority communities like Jose Sanchez or Joseph Johnson and so forth. Virginia was unique in reporting the number of voters it dropped using Interstate Crosscheck and the number was significant at 12.1% of the rolls, almost one of every eight registered voters. Nationally across the thirty states, seven million names were identified. If the Virginia data were replicated at the same percentage nationally among the participating thirty states as many as one million legitimate voters may have been disenfranchised.

Does this mean the election was stolen? No, because this was just one of many ways that millions of voters were disenfranchised across the country through various efforts to deny legitimate voters access to the ballot because of income, language, or information. Kobach and his crew are on to something. A wolf in sheep’s clothing can deny voters and tilt the even playing field of an election by sneaking in the back door, as surely as some of the more pronounced – and successfully challenged – legislative efforts can do that were more widely publicized.

We need to learn how to operate more successfully in the darkness of the little reported bureaucracy over coming years. We also need to look at this list of states and take action to disengage as many as possible from vote purging software apps like Interstate Crosscheck being manipulated by conservatives. Not easy perhaps, but certainly necessary on our “to do” list pretty darned quick.


Individual Acts of Solidarity

US Census records were used to locate Japanese Americans for Internment Camps

US Census records were used to locate Japanese Americans for Internment Camps

New Orleans   Watching Kris Kobach, the uber-controversial Kansas Secretary of State who has been a one-man wrecking ban of voters rights, ballot access, and the human and legal rights of immigrants, walking hand in hand with President-elect Trump and giving him advice on how to set up a Muslim registry was another in a long list of scary moments in recent weeks, I don’t care how much sugar he put in the coffee of the crowd at the New York Times in his meet and greet. People all over the country are debating where to open their minds and where to take a stand. I’m a collective action guy, but as we all realize, enough individual actions put together are also collective actions.

Recently many of us saw an example of this on Facebook of all places. When it became clear that the sheriff in North Dakota was monitoring the Facebook check-ins to determine who and how many people were part of the Standing Rock Sioux anti-pipeline protests, people from all over the world registered that they were there in order to put a monkey wrench in the sheriff’s plans.

Earlier a common strategy for individual actions to thwart NSA snooping and mass government profiling, as revealed by Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks, was not only to be opaque on social media but to shuffle the deck widely on sites like LinkedIn. I have no idea how people really use LinkedIn to get a job, and having several, I’ve never worried about it. The simple strategy is to accept all requests to link. For me that means music promoters and rock acts, radio djs, organizers, publications people, random sales personnel, and even old friends. Let them figure that out. It’s not foolproof, but it’s a fool’s errand.

The other day I heard an interesting individual action strategy to protect undocumented immigrants. In cities where there is a municipal IDs that can be used for basic identification when lacking other documents, similar to how we used our ACORN membership cards for our waste pickers in India, many are now moving to ask for one. NYCID for example in the Big Apple is being flooded with non-immigrants in order to make it an unattractive target for Homeland Security, if it comes to that. Furthermore, in New York having such an ID gives the holder premiums and discounts in some places. This is Trump-city, so who would be surprised if business didn’t find a way to benefit.

I saw a posting the other day from a friend who said he was ready to sign onto the Muslim registry, if one was created by Kobach and the new gang. Might be hard to do that since it was pointed out to me that most of the touted registry is designed to nab you as you enter the country from foreign lands. I’m actually not sure, but in some countries, once again India is an example, applying for a visa demands you state your religious preference. Even if the United States is asking for that information, right now it’s protected as confidential, so presumably the Kobach’s on the right want to break down any kind of privacy walls that exist, just as they want to build other walls.

On the other hand if they are thinking about reinvigorating the same laws used to force Japanese-Americans to register during World War II, and some experts have recently argued that many of those laws, though in disuse, were never repealed, then that’s another matter. If such a list is passed around and mandated for Muslims, many of us will have little choice but to register in hopes that we can break that bank by the overwhelming volume of the protest.


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.

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