Tea Party, Taken Over and in Trouble at the Base   Usually when you see a headline that says something is “far from dead,” it pretty much always means that it’s on its last legs. That was the headline in the Missoula Independent on a piece written by the co-founder of the Bozeman Tea Party. Now, I was interested!

Then I noticed a piece in Mother Jones by Andy Kroll that featured yet another inside look at the fading, or should I say, aging Tea Party. Jason Cline, an Arkansas political consultant, was the director of Alliance for Progress – Arkansas, described as “one of AFP’s strongest chapters,” wrote an internal memo noting the decline of the Tea people, which had made its way to Mother Jones. Here’s his cut on the matter:Cline writes in response that he was not biased against elderly activists but rather sought out younger activists for AFP-Arkansas due to a dropoff in support among older tea party followers. He explains:

We have a declining tea party engagement and we need to engage new forms of activists. The comment [made by Cline to a fellow activist] was specifically, ‘These old people are not gonna get it done. These kids are workers.’ Not in the sense that they can’t accomplish it, but that there are too few of them.

The problem of declining support from older tea partiers, Cline continues, is a national problem:

On my very first phone call with Jen Stefano as my new [AFP] regional director, I asked her if declining tea party engagement was just an Arkansas problem or if everyone was experiencing that. Her comment was that it’s a problem everywhere.

At the time, Cline and Stefano were prominent figures within AFP. As the director of AFP-Arkansas, Cline led one of AFP’s strongest chapters. Stefano is a national regional director for AFP and a fixture on Fox News and Fox Business News. If they believe tea party support is drying up, the problem is probably real. AFP spokesman Levi Russell declined to comment, and Stefano did not respond to a request for comment.

Henry Kriegel, the Montana Tea person, somehow thought it was a sign of robust health that pollsters have found one-third of Americans support the Tea Party. He also claims the remaining membership is “somewhat better educated, slightly more affluent, and have slightly less minority involvement.” The way Kriegel uses the term, “slightly,” makes you think he is involved in way more horseshoe games that political struggles. Interestingly, Kriegel is now deputy director for the Koch Brothers, Americans for Prosperity – Montana.

It has already been well documented that this political season the Tea Party has been lacking. Their adherents in US Senate and other high profile races have all been crushed by the establishment candidates within the Republican ranks.

I wonder if it’s not more than a long-in-the-tooth membership that’s the issue for the Tea Party, because god knows angry old people are still a dime a dozen, and they vote faithfully. You can’t build any party or organization by losing, no matter how much money coagulates with the fiery, blood thirst of the members.

I wonder if the Koch Brothers looked at all of the teeth when they bought the Tea Party leadership and ensconced them in paying jobs within the AFP structure. I wonder if their greed at acquiring a grassroots base and movement on the cheap by buying off the leadership didn’t also bleed the heart of the movement as they sold their agenda, rather than the populist pleadings of the Tea Party.

Admittedly, this is their problem, not mine, but organizations are organizations and parties are parties, so like it or not, they are all more the same than they are different.

The Unwinding and the New America

17139513Missoula     Unwinding is kind of a funny word. You know what it is, something unraveling, rope or wire coming off the spool. It takes a while for it to sink in as a concept or in George Packer’s sense as a statement of the modern condition of the politically and economically fractured America in his National Book Award for nonfiction, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America. I had the book sitting on a stack since last Christmas, a gift from my brother, and had thought about reading it several times, but was in no hurry. I had read Packer’s pieces in The New Yorker, and some of them were substantially included in The Unwinding, so I figured, what was my hurry, so much to read and learn, and so little time.

Nonetheless, eleven days off-the-grid without total confidence in my jerry-rigged solar power system had me throwing the book into the extra room in my son’s bag along with what is turning out to be a great book on the revolution in Nicaragua by Stephen Kinzer called Blood of Brothers: Life and War in Nicaragua and the new book about Regan and the 1970’s, whose 800 pages, should more than get me home along with my Kindle. The short story is that The Unwinding turns out to be a strange and wonderful book, and that’s not just because it mentions ACORN several times, features as one of its profiles a community organizer from Youngstown, Ohio, looks at Tampa, Florida without blinders, and for that reason alone could be one of my daughter’s favorite books when she reads it, lambasts banks, features the tragedy of workers without work and foreclosures catching families and flippers, and unmasks the transactional, superficial nature of big-time Washington politics. No, it’s not “just because,” but it’s because all of that is in one book painting a stark picture of America without any sugar in the coffee.

And, I didn’t even mention the fact that his piece on Andrew Breitbart is objective, relentless, and unforgiving. Nor did I include the fact that his portrait of tech-master, PayPaler, hedgefunder Peter Thiel and his libertarian makes it seems like Silicon Valley is one long look into an abyss without a bottom, just coreless, valueless, and vapid. Heck, I might as well mention, with ACORN International sitting on a 20,000 gallon per month mobile biodiesel rig in the garage of our new building, Packer at the very end of book gave me a clue at how we might salvage some cash flow to finally make that baby pump some sweet diesel for the people. If I made enough to ever itemize, and this book weren’t a gift, I could deduct it, that’s how valuable it was to me.

John Russo, my colleague and comrade who used to run a center for working class studies at Youngstown State gets some well-deserved props and he and Sherry Linkon clearly had significant influence in Packer’s look at what happens in deindustrialization. Tammy Thomas is the feature of that set of stories, and darned if she doesn’t become a community organizer with the Mahoning Valley Organizing Committee (MVOC), whose organizers I met and worked with a couple of years ago along with Kirk Noden, who continues to do important work with his Ohio organizational formation. I might have recommended this book for organizers just for the section that talks about how much Tammy and some of her members “love actions.” Rarely do we stumble on such kernels of pure truth in mainstream works. Couple that with the profile of the Working Families Party organizer, Nelini Stamp, and her intersection with Occupy Wall Street, and, yes, the anonymous Bill is really our old comrade, Bill Lipton, making a cameo appearance, and you have a book that should be on all of our reading lists.

Maybe the fact that this book won a big award means that some people actually read it. Let’s hope so because this is a book of sad tales and courageous struggle without a happy ending, but an ending that is still in all of our hands and in the making to see if we can rewind what has now been unwound everywhere in America.

Congress Declares Truce with ACORN – Finally We Hope!

300-congressMissoula    There may be signs of a thaw in the blood war that Republicans in Congress have been waging against ACORN’s corpse in the United States. According to the best count by the Huffington Post there were thirteen times that ACORN was banned from receiving any support from the government after leadership and management threw in the towel and formally declared bankruptcy for the US organization in November 2010. Given the attention that has been paid to this weird necrophilia by the House Appropriations Committee, it now appears that none of the “banning” language has been included in any of the minor or major appropriations bills since mid-January of this year.

Spokespeople for the Committee have refused reporters’ requests for comment on whether or not they have finally stopped this silliness, but earlier they had referred to such bans as boilerplate language inserted in all appropriations. All of which was bizarre to read in things like the Defense budget and many others that had never funded any of the ACORN family of organizations. My old Latin teacher from high school, Dr. Romeo, himself a polio victim, used to call this a coup de grace and then ask the class what that phrase meant in English, and demand that the answer had to be “kicking a cripple.”

All of this was kind of ticking me off to tell the truth. This year I spent no small amount of time with several lawyers looking at the legal avenues to sue to stop this foolishness which was chilling and intimidating to organizations doing the work. Some of the bans were ridiculously broad and named ACORN, “its subsidiaries,” and “its successors” all of which in my view, and I would believe anyone else’s with sound mind and judgment, was way, way past the original language of the Congressional resolution in 2009 and essentially nothing more than a pile-on. This year, I finally read the court’s decision claiming this was not a “bill of attainder” barred specifically in the Constitution, but a huge part of that decision was based on the premise that this ban was temporary and limited. Continuing to embellish and expand the ban to other organizations, including many unions and other nonprofits who never could have been classified as even remotely part of the ACORN “family” undermined the decision, and of course keeping it evergreen for years after the original ban, made it permanent, not temporary.

My good legal friends and scholars kept dissuading me because in their view for a plaintiff to prevail there had to be an immediate injury. An organization named, and there were hundreds, and willing to be a plaintiff would need to establish that they had applied for such funding and been denied because of this ban. The fact that it was chilling to many organizations activities and work because the ban even existed and named them was a grievous injustice, they had no doubt, but in the American legal system, justice and the courts have been delinked. Essentially my legal brothers and sisters were patient and sympathetic, but I could tell that they were really telling me, “hey, Wade, we love you buddy, but call us when you’re not tilting at windmills.”

So I want to believe this ban is now finally moot. I would like to believe there is finally a truce of sorts. The Huffington Post headline had blared, “House Republicans Finally Surrender to ACORN,” but I know that’s not true, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed and my eyes peeled on those bad boys, because they’re up to no good and not to be trusted. I’ll let you know when I think differently, but for now it seems it’s safe to allow small children out in the yard to play and organizers to do their work in the USA again.

Trombone Shorty and Brown Trout

Top Hat Lounge logo in Missoula where Trombone Shorty played

Top Hat Lounge logo in Missoula where Trombone Shorty played

Missoula   Don’t get me wrong, the pluses of some time off-the-grid in the beauty and harshness of the great American west in Montana, also come with some minuses. A 1978 Airstream stands long and tall against the rocks on the mountainside, but is a constant, shiny target for every possible critter with four legs that takes it as a shining beacon hiding who knows what goodies and presenting a personal challenge. A 1979 Toyota pickup is the tortoise to the many hares of the highway as well. The spare tire was stolen over the winter by someone who understood how hard it might be to find another, and we’re still looking if you have a clue. Having the gas gauge and the lights work, we called a “win,” and laughed at the fact that the air conditioning and radio still were even held in place.

All of which of course means that coming back to civilization isn’t easy either. Puttering into town on four-cylinders in a 35 year old ride with 60 mph our top speed on Interstate 90 posted at 75 mph, or the rutted dirt that marks a normal tour on Rock Creek road and becomes an obstacle course of washboard and water pools potted along the route after the rain. A 45 mile journey easily drifts into an hour-and-a-half each way, sucking out a substantial part of the day when Missoula is calling with emails to be answered, Skype and cell calls to be made, and provisions, supplies, and repairs being required. Add to that a shower and a quick visit doing a load of wash at a friend’s, and we felt lucky to see the Silver Bullet at 6pm, having left in a morning fog at 9am.

We were undaunted though. Having been chased away twice the evening before by lightning and hard rain, Chaco and I were on either side of the creek, several hundred yards from each other, casting for all our might in no time. He was working the bank, and I was in the cool water up to my shins, glad to be out of the heat of town. Within five minutes a small trout picked up my lure in a riffle fifteen feet away in an almost lazy way, and spit it out five feet later, as if to say, “Hey, my mistake, this never happened.” You say to yourself, oh, well, it’s beautiful, but this is going to be one of those days. A half-hour later, still working myself down the river in the stumble bum, spastic way that humbles every fisherman on the tricky, slippery rocks who ever thought he had good balance on dry land. Casting towards the road side of the creek, I was snagged for a bit, so ended up wading across in my sandals and jeans until I could jerk the line free. I was surprised how much faster and deeper the water was on the other side next to the steep bank that Chaco always embraced, and I had always avoided.

But, if that’s where you find yourself, you make the best of it. Several minutes later I had a hard strike casting towards the middle. Another couple of minutes and the line tugged downstream and it wasn’t long before I had pulled a small brown trout up to the bank and in the creel. It was what we call a “breakfast brown,” large enough to keep, but more a snack than a meal. Always nice to catch the first of the season though, if for no other reason than to get it out of the way and relax the rest of the week. I would settle if I had to. I had spotted Chaco upstream off and on, so I knew he either had reel problems or was catching a few.

I cast out towards a rock downstream and reeled the line through a pool below me under an overhanging tree branch. Suddenly my whole rod was pulled down and bent at an arc from the tip. Something big had grabbed me and taken the line down and was fighting. Moments later the water boiled twenty feet down from me as the fish fought the hook in a frenzy. I still couldn’t see what I had, but I kept trying to reel whatever might be there into me so I could figure out whether I could get it into a net or take a chance of flipping it into the grass on the bank. All the while the trout kept fighting and pulling. Finally only feet away from me, I could see the fish, while gripping and pulling the rod, I managed to stagger near enough to the bank to lift the fish up into the weeds about chest level. It seemed huge, but my first thought when the sun hit the specks along the glistening beauty of the trout, was, “Please don’t be a rainbow!” Last year and again this year, rainbows on Rock Creek require a release, and I was already debating whether I had the character to let him go, when, seeing no rock at hand, I grabbed him by the gills, twisted the hook out of his mouth, and forced his fat, brown and red speckled body into the opening of the creel, firmly fixed under my arm, where my elbow held him tight. He was one of the biggest brown trout I’d ever caught on Rock Creek without a doubt!

Exhilarated, I took ten more casts, counting them carefully, because I knew this was going to top my evening. Scrambling up the bank, Chaco must have had the same idea, because he was already walking up the road towards me. He signaled “three” to me and I signaled “two” back. Suddenly it had become a great day!

Getting to the bridge, a US Forest Service ranger was pulling out and stopped by us. A helicopter had been steadily flying overhead with a bucket since we had been on the river, so we asked how close the fire was. “Around the ravine,” he replied, “but only about three acres.” We commented that we had been sensing smoke since we hit Rock Creek, and he thought it was mainly coming from Oregon. I mentioned how bizarre it had been to watch giant helicopters with 200 gallon buckets fight fires in New Orleans after Katrina, flying back and forth to the Mississippi River to fill up, but was there a lake around here or how were they managing to get water. He said their bucket was smaller, only about 160 gallons, and there was a deep spot in the river below us not far, and the current filled up the bucket quickly.

“But, you’re from New Orleans, right? You know Trombone Shorty? He was in town last night. It was a great show! Wow! I didn’t want to come to work this morning.”

I smiled and said, “Or any morning on a day like this, huh?” He grinned, we all waved. He drove away, and we walked over to the other bank and cleaned our fish, giddy with happiness.


Best of the Blog – Fair Trade

Wade is off the grid, so please enjoy this re-posting of a blog on Fair Trade from October 2011.

NeFairTrade-300x300w Orleans While I was out of the country it seems Paul Rice, the CEO of FairTrade USA, came to speak at one of the local colleges, Tulane University, as part of a promo for a new department on civic engagement and social entrepreneurship there.  He seems to have argued that “profitability and sustainability were compatible” according to the report in the Times-Picayune by Naomi Martin.  Though Martin raises the issue of whether or not producers are “compensated fairly” at one point, she reports perhaps more correctly that with “’fair trade’ goods…suppliers are compensated at a higher rate than they would be otherwise.”

ACORN International is preparing to issue a report that looks more carefully at the claims of fair trade products and attempts to sort out the substance from the sizzle.  Additionally, since I’m wrapping my arms more firmly against the real business of buying and selling fair trade coffee and other products at Fair Grinds Coffeehouse in New Orleans, I’m also learning the real lessons that can be wildly different than what we hope might be the case every time we take a gulp.

I originally became skeptical of some of these claims while visiting with our partners, the women’s coffee and aloe vera cooperative, COMUCAP, in Marcala, Honduras in the mountains of the La Paz district, several hours from Tegucigalpa.  The way fair trade certification works there is a slight premium for fair trade certified coffee over the bulk market price of roughly a 10% per pound and if also certified as organic, then add roughly another quarter a pound.  This is what the actual producers with dirt on their hands receive at the point of production.
In the article Tulane professor Rick Aubry averred that “FairTrade USA has leveraged the consuming power of people who buy coffee and bananas in a way that lifts the millions of people who grow those products out of poverty.”  Wow!  I wish!!!

Looking at a Food First! Study a couple of years ago, the real economics are clearer:
In March of 2007, FLO [the international certifying agency] raised the floating Fairtrade premium from 5 cents to 10 cents [per pound], and the Organic differential—the additional premium for coffee that is certified Organic—from 15 to 20 cents (FLO, 2007a). This move came in response to a cost study by a farmers union that showed that Fairtrade prices were below the cost of production for many farmers.

Couple this with the fact that a that time the pricing by the certifiers was:
The trademarked Fair Trade Certified packaging label informs consumers that farmers received a $1.26 price floor and a 10 cent (floating) price premium above the market price.

By the time Fair Grinds makes a purchase either through national suppliers like Café Campesino on the West Coast or Gene’s Beans in Boston or wherever the cost after roasting and delivery is pushing $10 bucks a pound now.   Getting fair trade right off the docks at the Port of New Orleans, which we are now doing since we started managing the coffeehouse, we are paying almost that same rate for the finished beans.  The premium that is still sitting at the bottom of that cup of coffee for the real producers is mighty damn small and puny, and certainly not a ticket out of poverty for the farmers I have met and spoken to in Honduras and elsewhere.

The notion in a competitive market that Fair Grinds can charge more than Starbucks and other local competitors also seems wrong.  FairTrade USA (formally TransFair USA) may have some surveys that indicate that people say they will pay substantially more, but many on the other side of the counter do not hear the willingness in a recession to go as high as the claim.  Of course Costa’s, the big international coffeehouse chain, charges a quarter more for a fair-trade cup of coffee and simply keeps the quarter, while the customer is hoping somehow that they just helped the poor farmer in the global south.
What’s my point?  Yes, we need to support fair-trade.  But, we also need to do more to make sure that this is not simply marketing and hype and that the money really does move to improve the livelihoods of the producers and their communities.  This is part of real transparency as well, and we owe it to ourselves and our neighbors in the rest of the world to not just feel good, but to do good.

Best of the Blog

Please enjoy this repeat of a blog in 2012 on equal pay for women. Wade is off the grid, but will be posting some new material soon.

Negotiating Skills for Women and Comfort with Conflict

Vancouver    An article the other day on “Narrowing the gender wage gap” by Erin Anderssen in the Globe and Mail caught my eye not because of the title but because the subtitle seemed to perhaps make this piece different than the usual “oh, my!” because it went to the heart of an important issue:  “Young women should be better trained in salary negotiation and income expectations if pay equity is to be achieved, experts say.”

Partially why it caught my eye is that my daughter, Dine’, works with me at Local 100, and I’ve heard her make a similar observation about some women in her cohort who have trouble expressing their issues and interests because they are uncomfortable with the possibility of any conflict.  Negotiations, give-and-take, bartering around self-interest are all tense expressions of potential conflict with other people, including peers and employers.

The article quoted economist Nicole Fortin for the University of British Columbia here in Vancouver suggesting that a “negotiation divide” is part of the unmitigated differential that has not been addressed even as women have come closer to men in wages (85 cents to $1 in Canada for example, all factors being equal).  Fortin speculates that “young women start with a lower ‘reservation wage’ – the amount at which they feel a job is no longer worth the time….”  Fortin argues that increasing “stronger negotiation skills” could narrow the wage gap by another 5%, which is significant.

Borrowing from my daughter though, this is more important than merely wage equity, even as critical as that is in achieving over all gender equality.  A general willingness to put up with less in all areas of expectations coupled with a reticence about conflict and a skill deficit in bargaining ability and confidence, gives men in every area of life, work, and social relationships a critical edge that would doubtlessly be used whenever opportunity arises.  Visiting other countries and cultures, where women are still stuck in more traditionally submissive roles, is another unwelcome reminder of the work needed in this area.

I have been fortunate to live my life, work, and family among strong women, but I also know that in these kinds of negotiations, men will not surrender advantage, but will have to be forced to concede, which puts a greater weight on us, once we recognize the truth of these comments whether in the paper or across the cubicle to my daughter’s office, to do something extra in training and development to make sure that women can hold way more than simply their own at the table.

Conflict sucks, but until that utopian time is reached where we have achieved perfect harmony and equity prevails, we better start working overtime to make sure women have greater skills to assure that they get a fair shake, and that even if as men we can’t concede without a struggle, at least we start having their back when they are in the fight.  I think this is something organizing methodology is particularly well suited to teach, so we should jump to make this contribution!