The Human Cost of Globalism: New York Nannies and Georgetown Slaves

The grave of Cornelius Hawkins, one of 272 slaves sold by the Jesuits in 1838 to help keep what is now Georgetown University afloat. Source:thenewyorktimes

The grave of Cornelius Hawkins, one of 272 slaves sold by the Jesuits in 1838 to help keep what is now Georgetown University afloat. Source:The New York Times

New Orleans   The argument changes when the global economy acquires a human face. Rarely has that been clearer than in two recent stories, one about a Filipino nanny in New York City and the other tracing the descendants of slaves sold by Georgetown University to their graveyards and relatives in Louisiana.

We talk about the predatory nature of remittances frequently because they bleed immigrant families and migrant workers of critical financial resources that they are sending their families and communities in their home countries as well as the quality of living and employment conditions where they work. The New Yorker ran a long story about a woman they called “Emma” from the Philippines, college educated in accounting with nine daughters and a husband. At forty-four years old with her oldest two daughters in college she came to the realization that there was no way on the wages paid in the Philippines that they would be able to pay for seven more to also go to college. She then made the wrenching decision to join a migrant “mother’s march” of sorts, joining a sister, women from her church, and a former home economics teacher in illegally migrating to the US to work as a nanny and caregiver.

The article points out that more than half of the workers surveyed several years ago by the Domestic Workers Alliance were undocumented. It also makes clear that the new, 21st century migrant is more likely to be a women and someone employed in the service industry as a caregiver than in older migrations of construction and factory workers. A huge export from the Philippines is workers, known as OFW or Overseas Filipino Workers since “a tenth of the population now works abroad, supporting nearly half of the country’s households and leaving some nine million Filipino children missing a parent.” And, it’s usually the mothers now, since “in the past decade, three-quarters of OFWs have been women.” Emma has not seen her children or husband or been home in 16 years. She has missed her mother’s funeral, though she and her sister paid for it. She has gotten her daughters through college but the exchange has been living on $20 per week and afraid to go home because she could be prevented from returning and now doesn’t have enough money yet to retire in the Philippines either. Besides the predatory exchange rate on remittances, she now has lived the bad bargain of trading hoped for opportunity for her family with her own life and a list of payments in small tragedies of loss in her family.

The story of Georgetown University’s reckoning with the its actions as a slaveholder and slave seller is the same type of story except under a more coercive commerce when globalism was even more ruthless in finding labor for jobs few wanted at unconscionable pay rates. Prices were put on human life, families were ripped apart, children and adults were chattel. The New York Times detailed how the Catholic priests presiding over Georgetown sold 272 slaves from plantations no longer able to fully support the school to “save” the university and pull it out of debt. The records of the sale and the work of genealogists have allowed them to track down relatives of many of the families that ended up in Louisiana. A great-great granddaughter of one who was sold as a child was able to find his burial place, and she and others are demanding Georgetown do right in partial exchange for its historic wrong by offering scholarships to descendants of that horrid sale. It would seem to be the least they could do.

At the end of these articles, detailing the terrible costs of exploitation, forced or voluntary, it was almost impossible not to have tears in your eyes for them, for ourselves, and for the wretched waste of people ground up in the gears of our unfeeling global economy and the unequal price paid for the wealth of nations and the people who spend it so freely.


The Big Mac Tactical Dilemma


Action at France’s Eurodisney

New Orleans   For the fourth year there was a tactical “strike” at McDonald’s stores. Organizers claimed there were actions of one sort or another in 300 cities around the country. Much of the action was wrapped up in the slogan, Fight for $15, pointing out the inability of workers to live on McDonald’s wages.

In the United States, caring about this issue, it was hard to find the heartbeat nationally. Not a word was printed in The New York Times or Wall Street Journal on the mid-April actions. A French researcher working as a post-doc with the Kennedy Center in Berlin on a 2-yearlong study of the Fight for $15 movement met with me while in New Orleans, and was mystified that he could not find any notice of the action so that he could attend. There were no notices on the coffeehouse bulletin board. It took a couple of emails and calls, to locate any call to action. The local papers were silent for days about anything happening. When something finally appeared in the Sunday paper, days later, it was one of those “for the fourth year” protestors chanted in a local McDonald’s and tried to get workers to leave the counter to strike without success.

Talking to organizers of ACORN’s affiliate in France, there were vivid reports of huge actions in Grenoble, Rennes, and Paris. In each location stores and streets were blocked and the business was shut down for hours. The protests engaged students, unionists, and community organizations and were dramatic and militant. There was no pretense of workers’ striking, but straightforward protests aimed at McDonald’s wages and working conditions.

The picture in the paper, when it finally appeared in New Orleans, featured the back end of a straggling march down Canal Street in the center of town. Whether in New Orleans or elsewhere, it seemed to be a “tree falling that no one heard.”

The tactical dilemma is common: repetition blunts the impact, no matter how initially successful. In France, there was a newness. In the US, the action has become stale. That is not to say that it was irrelevant and unnecessary. Something has to be done. We have to maintain the pressure and the campaign. The challenge now is how to both keep the flame alive and exerting heat under McDonald’s, and with the actions seeming more rote and attracting less attention, there is a feeling of being stuck in a rut. Believing that workers in any real numbers will leave work to join protests at random stores might project strength, if it shut the store down, but in ones and twos and nones, it projects weakness more than strength. It underlines the fear and desperation of the workers, but to the public and in the mouths of company spokespeople it translates as lack of support.

The campaign has been wildly successful in lifting up the need to raise the wages of workers. Even Walmart has had to spend billions to bump up the pay scales. Now the organizing problem is how we can couple the pressure for more pay with the understanding that it requires workplace organization as the engine that delivers that result. We need solid tactics and strategies to build that bridge, but in any case we may need something new next year to keep the drive alive.


Finally, Something We Can Agree on with Bill Gates!

Peruvian workers and activist protest against the 2015 IMF/World Bank Annual Meetings in Lima, Peru, Oct 9, 2015.

Peruvian workers and activist protest against the 2015 IMF/World Bank Annual Meetings in Lima, Peru, Oct 9, 2015.

New Orleans   There’s an old saying that the sun shines on an old dog’s, how shall I say this, hind quarters, eventually, and that’s about how often we agree wholeheartedly with mega-billionaire Bill Gates, but when it does shine on his rear end, we should all have the grace to acknowledge it.

While we’re just trying to make it to the weekend, Gates laid out his weekend plans to the Wall Street Journal where he is attending the spring meetings of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund. Yes, I know, I’d rather join you on a worm dig as well, and believe me, we’re definitely not invited. But, on this rare occasion Gates is publicly arguing a position that ACORN International and I have advocated for years, including in the Social Policy Press book I edited, Global Grassroots, so instead of having to cringe at Gates and his foundation’s unending efforts to break teacher unions, promote charter schools, and redirect all health aid to a few diseases rather than generally, we are totally on the same page.

The issue may seem narrow, but it actually involves whether or not billions of dollars in foreign aid can be given to countries that desperately need the money to advance health, education, and opportunity to poor families living in precarious positions. The problem is that the World Bank and the IMF, creatures from the last century, classify countries based on average income in determining whether they are poor or middle-income, and it matters. Several years ago in Gatineau, Canada we met with the well-respected Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) seeking support for the work ACORN was doing in mega-slums in various countries in Latin America. The program officers could not have been nicer or more supportive, but they were clear with us that the standards followed by the conservative government at the time mandated that any new allocations of CIDA support could only occur in countries that the IMF and World Bank classified as poor. In Latin America that mean that only Nicaragua and Bolivia were eligible. La Matanza outside of Buenos Aires, San Juan de Lurigancho in Lima, and the Neza outside of Mexico City were three of the ten largest slums in the world, but Argentina, Peru, and Mexico were all classified as middle-income countries, so we were out of luck.

Gates correctly makes the point that, “Today, more than 70% of the world’s poorest people – those living on less than $1.90 per day – live in countries defined as middle income, according to the World Bank.” How absurd! He also references another study that, “Countries with huge pockets of poverty like Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Ghana and Vietnam could lose as much as 40% of their development assistance in the next few years….,” all because of this out of date classification system and its deadly consequences.

Of course now that he’s more of a politician than a philanthropist, he throws out some red meat for the conservatives about how we can make these countries better at collecting taxes, which seems a little like trying to get water out of a stone, but, whatever, he’s right that the IMF and World Bank – and all of the countries griping the purse strings – need to get with the 21st century and get over their post-World War II thinking about countries and look at what is really has to be done to reduce poverty, rather than some bright light test that fails to help the poor. They may not have been willing to listen to us, but Gates’ voice needs to be heard, and they might just listen to him, and that would be a good thing for a change.


Hard to Win Back Hijacked Schools


New Orleans    One of the ongoing crises of the 21st century thus far has been the struggle to control schools with all sides of this massive political and cultural war pretending and presuming that they are best capable of speaking for children. Schools have been batted about like ping pongs. Some school districts have been taken over by city mayors, Chicago being the best example, and others by the state in Michigan, Arkansas, New Jersey, Louisiana, and elsewhere empowered by the Bush passage of No Child Left Behind. The so-called “charter school” movement has controversially allowed public schools to be run by private companies, some for-profit and some nonprofit, in many districts around the country with various degrees of accountability and a contentious argument over the results. Foundations from Gates to Walmart to Eli Broad and others have put their beaks deeply into the mess funding pilots, lawsuits, and various initiatives to unwind the role of teacher unions. The short conclusion of years of these struggles is undoubtedly that no one has really won, few are happy, and it’s still “god save the child.”

One thing that should be clear though is that two things speak to the foundation blocks of almost everyone’s view of America: free public education and direct election of local officials. The “privatization” of many public schools through the charter “movement” challenges the guarantee of education and the accountability of elections of public officials empowered to hold charters accountable, since they create in often mysterious and opaque ways, a separate governance structure at arms’ length from the voters and taxpayers, more often than not populated by the appointment of friends and family of principals and charter operators. Even more unsettling is the loss of local democratic control of schools when the state takes over a system. Lawsuits are still raging in Little Rock after the state was prodded to take over their system despite the fact that only a couple of schools were failing. Detroit school parents and the district are suing the State of Michigan for mismanaging the system and starving it of resources under its management. The Supreme Court in Kansas has been at loggerheads with the state legislature and governor there for starving the school system of resources.

Then there’s New Orleans, the largest charter pilot in the country in the wake of the state seizure of schools after Katrina from the local school board. Now ten years later with a new Democratic governor in office supported by the teachers’ union, married to a teacher, and not a fan of charter schools and appalled by the poor success rate of the voucher program, there have finally be a flurry of different bills that would return all the schools to the taxpayers and voters of New Orleans. That should be good news, but in these days and times, it’s not so easy to claw back schools once they have been hijacked and pirated away. Close inspection of many of the bills, supposedly returning the schools, finds numerous escape clauses and buried mechanisms seeking to allow many of the charters to ostensibly be part of the school district and under the fiscal and political control of the elected school board, while continuing to be totally unaccountable. The bill being reported as closest to passage trickles the schools back almost on a trial basis with ten the first year and then more over several years until they are all returned to local control.

At the hearing a spokesperson for one of the larger charters, Firstline, wanted to make sure they could go back to state control if somehow “things didn’t work out.” The unbridled arrogance of entitlement and contempt for the democratic process of local school control and the property tax dollars of local citizens that pay the bills won’t be so quickly ended given the fact that the tug of war on even our most basic principles is still raging. Where people simply ought to be ashamed of themselves, they have ridden the high horse so far and long over the last ten years that they have lost sight of any solid ground where they might have stood. Meanwhile politicians, currying contributions and favor, join in the conspiracy to coopt the process without a shed of embarrassment either.


Hillary: Forget the Young Women, Go for the Moms

Lucia McBath, left, mother of Jordan Davis, and Maria Hamilton, mother of Dontre Hamilton, react as Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, talks about her son next to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during a rally at the Central Baptist Church in Columbia, S.C. Image: Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press Juana_summers By Juana Summers Feb 23, 2016

Lucia McBath, left, mother of Jordan Davis, and Maria Hamilton, mother of Dontre Hamilton, react as Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, talks about her son next to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during a rally at the Central Baptist Church in Columbia, S.C. Image: Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press

New Orleans    Hillary Clinton is having well-documented problems appealing to young women. Backers like Gloria Steinem have been no help to her. She can talk about student loans and the need to get a woman elected, but where she’s getting traction, very cleverly, is with the “moms,” and if we were whispering advice in her ear, it would have to be: “do more of that, sister!”

Brilliantly, she seems to have reached out and courted African-American mothers of young men shot by police. The Times detailed her outreach, and it’s a textbook example of the advantage of a well-organized internal campaign organization and uber-professional campaign staffers. She sent them handwritten notes on Christmas cards about their losses. She followed up with other hand-written notes. She got some of them together for a 3-hour dinner in Chicago, and this wasn’t a Michelle Obama healthy sprouts special, this was old time, down home, Southern cooking, featuring pork chops, fried okra, and apple pie. She did what she does best as the every diligent, super-student in the room, listening and taking notes while they told their stories. She put them on the road together to appear at meetings and rallies, where she smartly introduces them to much better applause than she gets on her best lines. OK, sure the story was planted with the Times and pushed along and facilitated by the campaign, but that also proves my earlier point about how well organized and professional her campaign has the ability to be. Undoubtedly, this kind of outreach has been pure gold in sending her message, silently and with strength, to the African-American community. Who wants to see another grinning politician or wannabe, if you can stand in applause for sister in pain?

If something is working, why not do more of it? Hillary should double-down on the “mom” vote. Heck, they vote more than young women anyway, when push comes to shove.

But, why not do more and prove to the rest of us that you will be our standard bearer?

Why not argue more aggressively for family leave that means something? Not just some unpaid leave if you’re lucky enough to work for a big company, but real leave for pregnancy with support and pay for everyone?

Why is Clinton not making paid sick leave a bigger issue for working mothers – and fathers! There’s increasing support for such leave in statehouses and cities, why not carry that banner?

And, here’s the kicker? Isn’t it finally time to talk about universal daycare? The advantages are immense: job creation, more women in the workforce, less loss of working hours, earlier education of children, huge financial savings for families, reduced inequality, and just plain peace of mind. You want moms – and a heck of a lot of dads – then finally fix daycare and take it out of the shadows of always low-waged and often informal employment and create something that supports families and children. Moms would crowd the rallies and stand in line for a candidate really committed to delivering on this issue.

And, besides we should all whisper to Secretary Clinton, universal adequate and affordable daycare for children is a core feminist issue. Surprise yourself, go one-hundred percent for the moms, and see if positions like these, sincerely felt and strongly argued, don’t bring even young women to your side as well.


Please enjoy The Jayhawks’ Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces.  Thanks to KABF.


Canvassing for LGBT Equal Rights

Using a method called “deep canvassing,” activists at the LA LGBT Center were able to transform opinions on LGBT rights. Source:

New Orleans    In a generic way “canvassing” is a big methodological bucket that holds everything from doorknocking to GOTV election efforts to “chugging” or charity mugging, as it’s called in the United Kingdom to door-to-door cause-based fundraising to support various organizations and issues. Canvassing is part of the nuts and bolts of many organizing efforts and when deployed as a fundraising tool has had a pivotal, though largely behind the scenes role in financing numerous organizations over the last forty years of its implementation. As a funding mechanism the technique has evolved from street canvasses emphasizing door-to-door work to phone canvasses based on list building from the streets, and what we used to call “petitioning” at ACORN, which is a form of canvassing popular in many countries in public spaces and high trafficked high streets, malls, and tourist zones.

Canvassing has been so much a part of the back shop infrastructure of many organizations and issue campaigns, that it was surprise to see an article focusing on the tool in — of all places — the Sunday New York Times Magazine. Their interest had been piqued by the role canvassing was playing at the friction points of the current headline divisions around the human and equal rights for LGBT individuals as well as a scholarly dustup around the drama of contending articles about the effectiveness of canvassing and particular canvassers in the well regarded journal, Science.

I had followed the Science controversy closely because it involved Professor Donald Green, a political scientist formerly of Harvard and now at Columbia, who is probably the foremost expert on the effectiveness of various political campaign techniques in the country. ACORN had invited Green to study our work which he did in Arizona some years ago to measure the effectiveness of door-to-door voter contact and persuasion compared to direct mail, advertising and other methods. The results helped rebalance the importance of field work and the ground war compared to the air war. The controversy in Science had involved a piece with a student whose dissertation Green was monitoring and his finding that using LGBT individuals to do direct contact voter work or canvassing was more persuasive than not in moving voters more positively towards equal rights for LGBT individuals and families. The results struck me as common sense then and still do. People respond to people. The controversy had to do with some over enthusiastic handling of the data and inability to retrieve it, leading to the article being withdrawn from Science and unfortunate stories in the Times, enshrouding what should have been simple empirical proof for something self-evident.

The Times Magazine story focused on the canvass program called the Leadership Lab run under the auspices of the Los Angeles LGBT Center by Dave Fleischer. He and his team made the case that something they called “deep” canvassing through door-to-door conversations was persuasive enough to not only move potential supporters to a positive position on the issues, judged numerically as a “10,” but also would be sufficient to inoculate the folks canvassed in this way to withstand the negative, not-in-my-bathroom type of anti-rights campaigns directed at the LGBT community. What’s more a new article in Science by another set of professors that used the Leadership Lab as a field case study confirms the argument and experience on the doors.

And, you know that makes sense too, and confirms what any organizer could tell you from their own experience in listening and talking to people over and over, house by house, street by street, community by community, city by city, state by state, and country by country. We just need a lot more of it, no matter what it’s called, because it makes a huge and permanent difference. It’s part of what change is about.