Support for Khimki Forest Campaign, Affordable Housing in Central Cali, & Post-Industrialism

Protest at the Khimki Forest

New Orleans  It was wonderful to see a rare smile on the face of Evgenia Chirikova, our friend and ally, who has been the sparkplug of the feisty, though failing, effort to reroute the construction of a highway that would cut through the supposedly protected Khimki Forest.  She has been named one of the grassroots environmental activists awarded a Goldman Environmental Prize.  Not only does it open this small group to potential support from donors, but the prize itself comes with a $150,000 check to Evgenia, which could be a huge boost to their hand-to-mouth operation and help them with legal and medical costs incurred in the constant police actions they have endured in trying to stand in the way of the construction.

            Just to refresh everyone’s memory, ACORN International has stood strong with our sister and the efforts to Save the Khimki Forest.  We have protested with them in front of the construction company offices in Toronto, Buenos Aires, Lima, and Tegucigalpa.  We have created a Facebook page for them in English.  We have told their story on our website and in Global Grassroots:  International Perspectives on Organizing after we first met Evgenia and listened to her when she was just beginning this fight as a young mother stumbling on the problem while walking her children near her apartment.  We have been proud to support this hard fight and are pleased to see them win attention and more resources in their difficult battle.    Join them!

In other news, I was fascinated to learn yesterday on the Firedoglake.com Book Salon in the discussion of Global Grassroots about the work of the Coalition for Low Income Housing (CLIH), based in San Luis Obispo, California.  Having now checked out their website, I was impressed by their willingness to fly the flag and engage the battle for affordable housing in central California.  Here’s a shout out and the hope that we can lend them a hand.  They seem like our kind of people!

Keeping an eye on the “race to the bottom” or the race to somewhere, the debate seems to be joined in Japan now.  Interesting quote in the Times:

“It is time for Japan to find a new model for its economy,” said Masatomo Onishi, a professor of business at Kansai University.  “We can follow the United States into a more postindustrial economy, or we can follow Germany into high-end manufacturing, but we shouldn’t be trying to compete with China in mass production.”

We’re not so sure how this post-industrial, service economy thing is working out over here, so be careful before jumping on this path!

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O’Keefe Payday, Bo’s Dog, Firedoglake, Upfront Credit Card Fees, and Cape Breton Slumlords

New Orleans    News you need to nose.

  • In a affidavit produced in court in San Diego brought by a former ACORN Housing Corporation employee fired as part of the James O’Keefe / Hannah Giles fake prostitution video scam, O’Keefe under oath was finally forced to reveal the financial arrangement between them and Andrew Brietbart and his BigGovernment.com related websites.   The total pay package was $130,000 with each of the co-conspirators raking in $65,000 a piece for their dirty work.
  • “Analysts say that by moving to bury Ms. Gu and her husband, party leaders [China] are trying to send a message to allies of Mr. Bo who are still putting up resistance.  ‘This is why the dog who has fallen into the water is still being beaten,’ said Steven Tsang, director of China Policy Institute at University of Nottingham in England.”  Hats off to the Times’ Andrew Jacobs for turning over enough rocks to get that quote from Tsang in the hollows of the UK!
  • Speaking of dogs, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the new supposedly consumer “watchdog,” blinked first and finally closed their eyes to credit card companies’ efforts to charge “upfront fees” for lower income consumers as a way to get around the limits finally placed on them for excessive charges through the Credit Card Act of 2010.  It seems this is a total cave in to the most craven of credit card practices for lower income card holders.
  • Firedoglake Book Salon on Sunday, April 15th is hosting an on-line discussion of my book, Global Grassroots:  International Perspectives on Organizing.  Firedoglake.com is excited about the upcoming Book Salon on Sunday, April 15th from 5:00p – 7:00p Eastern / 2:00p – 4:00p Pacific time.   That’s 4 PM central standard time.  Join us if you can!
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Clean Rivers, Working Families, and Big Ideas

Some of our group in Pittsburgh, oldest leader still in the fight at 102

Pittsburgh     Hit the United Association of Labor Educators conference running in Pittsburgh and then connected with Maryellen Hayden Deckard, former ACORN office director in Pittsburgh now doing the same for ACTION United.  In no time we were visiting with CWA and other union workers rallying at Verizon to support their contract fight, and then sitting down for lunch at Mexico City with a bunch of labor cartoonists.  It was going to be that kind of wild ride in Pittsburgh!

In the afternoon I stumbled into two very interesting developments.  Both are undoubtedly worth further discussion in more detail later, but give a sense of the excitement and potential in important directions these days.

When you first hear the term Clean River Campaign, it runs right by you.  Must be another environmental thing, so good luck to them, next please!  A long conversation with Barney Oursler, the executive director of Pittsburgh United, who is the driving force behind this campaign reveals something much, much different in my reckoning.  For years I have said that any organization that comes up with comprehensive solutions to “loose dogs, bad drainage, and crummy trash pickup” might just have the formula for creating power everywhere.  Well, the real deal on the Clean Rivers Campaign is coming to grip with the issues that lie at the heart of sewer, drainage, and wastewater systems.  Pittsburgh, like literally hundreds of other cities around the USA, is confronting EPA compliance agreements which require billions of dollars worth of infrastructure investment to appropriately assure clean water and upgrade deteriorating infrastructure suffering from age, lack of maintenance, and design problems.  In Pittsburgh, not unlike many other cities, the problems are magnified because of the three rivers but also the 526 different municipalities and other governmental structures that are in the watershed and have water in this race as well.  Barney and his partners, including ACTION United, are contending over coming years with pushing aside bad plans but also getting a good program which is “green,” provides community benefits, and is affordable, all of which are high barriers.  From experience fighting water privatization triggered by EPA compliance agreements, including in New Orleans where we are still in the throes of this mess, I think this is worth real study and investigation.

Discussion at Big Idea

I also ran into a team of organizers and canvassers with the Working Families Party who are now expanding into Pennsylvania.  This is fantastic news!  The Working Families Party in New York, Connecticut and elsewhere has emerged as an important ballot-line effort giving real tools to progressive issues and low-and-moderate income families.  This would be a wonderful development in Pennsylvania.  Need to find out more about this and see if you can get this Party building in a neighborhood near you!

The fun part of my day in Pittsburgh was two back to back discussions about politics, organizing, and the state of movements for change in these days and times first in the late afternoon at the Big Idea Bookstore & Café, which is a workers cooperative operating over the last 10 years and expanding, and then a more informal discussion with leaders, activists, and organizers with ACTION United in their offices over pizza.  The excuse for both of these great events were talking about my books, Citizen Wealth, Global Grassroots, and Battle for the Ninth Ward, but the conversations were fascinating on a variety of topics.

Just to share some of the pleasure at the Big Idea several folks around the circle had been active in the Occupy movement in Pittsburgh, and we had a provocative discussion about the emerging role for anarchism emerging in progressive work.  There was still a lot of mourning for the death of ACORN as well in these times when change is increasingly high on the “demand” list.  I was optimistic that a new formation might be possible, but not that we would ever be able to get the genie back in the bottle.  Similarly at ACTION United, there was deep interest in “citizen wealth” campaigns around credit card debt and collections and student debt.  People could palpably feel the future slipping away and see lives of running from debt collectors and harassment as central parts of their future.  They were groping for organizational response.

No such meeting is complete without a discussion of Fox News of course, and the first reaction when they heard I had agreed to be interviewed for a voting special they were doing on the issue of voter suppression, was that I was “crazy.”  Once I had conceded that point as factual, I made the case that we still had no choice but to try and communicate whenever we could and advance the right and just positions on issues as important as full citizen participation and the prospects for democracy.  How could we ever refuse to take the side of democracy in the debate when so many were so arrogantly now arguing for repression?

I left with lots to think about from my discussions with my new and old friends in Pittsburgh, but I left them thinking about some “big ideas” as well.

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Consumer Relief at Continental Airlines and Confusion at Amazon

frustrated New Orleans Ralph Nadar may not know anything about politics, but he still knows a thing or two about effective tactics for consumers, specifically threatening and moving to small claims court to resolve obstinate problems.

Recently I wrote desperately about problems Local 100 was having in getting a refund on a plane ticket for an organizer who was going to a meeting in Honduras and suddenly had to have major surgery so was unable to travel in what would have been her first plane trip anywhere ever.  I wrote about Nadar’s tactic, as reported in the New York Times, when he was refused a refund of writing U.S. Airways for a refund and then going to small claims court, which buckled the company into doing the right thing.  Orell Fitzsimmons, Local 100’s field director based in Houston, read the blog, talked to me, and zipped a letter to Continental Airlines, also headquartered in Houston (though undergoing a merger with United holding the whip hand), describing the situation, demanding full repayment, and offering them the convenience of settling the matter in small claims court in Harris County (Houston) where they could both travel by car.  Continental Airlines (where I am an frequent flyer incidentally, which made this even more painful), immediately promised a full refund within 7 to 10 days, and we await it now, expectantly.

That’s the good news.  Here’s comes the bad news.

Next up on our list though ironically is Amazon.com, where CEO billionaire regularly cites their customer service as the secret of their success.  Social Policy has a selling account on Amazon as every magazine and book publisher has to have these days to stay in business.  We have been paying for it on an American Express card on a monthly basis for years.  Unfortunately we cannot access the site, nor can potential subscribers or customers do so, hurting us in “let me list the ways….”   With Global Grassroots:  Perspectives on International Organizing now out and Battle for the Ninth Ward:  ACORN, Rebuilding New Orleans, and the Lessons of Disaster coming out within days, we once again saddled up to solve this problem.  We had a handle on the problem.  The site had been created by a former, long gone employee so we did not know the exact email and password in order to access and fix the problem.  Good luck finding any customer service at Amazon.com!

First in dealing with Amazon Marketplace and any other possible source for a solution none of the listed emails on their website worked.  Neither did the 800 type phone number.  Sigh.  So we called customer service to learn of course that this was not their area and then be transferred to the queue at Marketplace for what turned out to be a minimum half-hour wait on the phone, and then a frustrating 45 minute conversation with many more holds of three to five minutes, where we were essentially asked to “guess” the account number (which miraculously at the 1-hour mark we were able to do, were refused access to a supervisor (or “leader” as they call them), and were not allowed to simply close the account and start over.  They finally told us they would call us back, which of course did not happen!

The next day we steeled ourselves and started all over.  To spare you the pain I suffered, I’ll cut to the chase.  They assigned me to “leader” named Ryan.  He talked to me.  It looked like we had a plan.  He told me he was going on vacation though in 30 minutes, and I would be called back by another “leader” named Spencer.  For two days I never was able to actually talk to Spencer.  He called a couple of times, but of course there was no callback number and the number he called from in Seattle did not work for incoming calls, because believe me I tried.  The final message from Spencer was that they still had not found our account.

So Friday we gave up.  We created a new account for Social Policy to offer our magazines and books.  Sometime today we will be able to see the account.  We gave them another credit card number.  Of course we also immediately upon setting up our account saw our old account under Social Policy Magazine come up – that’s the one that Amazon.com cannot find, right? – offering our first book, Lessons from the Field, for sale.

God knows what it will take to ever get Amazon.com to admit it is there, take it down, and reimburse us for those charges on the inaccessible site?  And, more than likely we are now paying for two sites on two different credit cards.

If this is customer service, kill me now!

So our next step is…?  You guessed right!  Small claims court in Orleans Parish.

Ironically, one of the email addresses that did not work for this all-about-the-internet company was resolution@amazon.com which the company advertises as a way to settle disputes with them before ending up in court.  Ha!

It also turns out, and we are no longer surprised, that when you start Googling around, yes, Amazon.com had good service ratings for the biscuit cookers, the individual customer accounts, but terrible ratings for everything else.  It seems that they are notorious for creating and killing email addresses and phone numbers, leading customers in an abyss rather than forwarding them to the new paths for solution.

I love Amazon.com guiltily for its speed, pricing, and the Kindle, but it’s unrequited it appears.  But, hey, they can explain that all to a Judge at this point, and see how it works out for them.

Try this small claims court.  You won’t like it, but it works!

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The Curious Contradictions of Community Organizing and the United Kingdom – Part I

New Ostudent-riots-chrisjohnbeckett-360x270-300x225rleans Another day of rioting in the United Kingdom finds more police on the street, more protestations from conservative Prime Minister David Cameron about “criminality,” and little relief or recognition of the crises stripped bare by the mess and mayhem.  Given the rise of community organizing in the UK and the reported government efforts to enlist “community organizers” as a legitimizing force behind their position in quelling the riots, it is important to understand the backstory that community organizing is playing the UK political and social situation.

Certainly the discussion starts squarely with the growth and ambition of London Citizens, its chief organizer, Neil Jameson, and the strong work and record it has assembled over the last dozen years in London and other cities as it has expanded.  Over the years I have been an admirer of their work and have met and collaborated with Jameson as we have compared our experiences on Living Wage campaigns in the USA and Canada versus their work in London.  (More detail on Citizens UK is included in an essay by Kirk Noden on starting Birmingham Citizens and my discussions with Jameson in the recently published Global Grassroots:  Perspectives on International Organizing available now at www.socialpolicy.org).

Over the last year the national profile of the organization has changed dramatically.  Their ambition to begin a national training institute for organizers drew the major party candidates in the British elections to a large 2500 person gathering solicited a much heralded commitment of support to move forward in this direction from David Cameron, who emerged as the Conservative Party’s Prime Minister and Nick Clegg, who was dealt in as Deputy Prime Minister in making creating the government.

From this point on it becomes very, very tricky to follow, particularly from over here across the pond.

Cameron’s government has driven a major austerity and social services cutback program, part of which is being harvested now in riots in the streets of lower income communities spreading around the UK.  At the same time perhaps shrewdly and contradictorily he trumpeted a so-called “Big Society” program that was claiming to focus on reducing poverty.  In the catch-22 of modern politics it is bizarrely ironic that one can deliberately increase poverty while simultaneously claiming to be committed to programs to reduce poverty.  Fortunately for many of the politicians since they are mainly just screwing the poor there is often little downside payback for the contradiction, which Cameron is no doubt no ruing while whining about “criminality” and the consequences of his government’s actions.

A centerpiece of the “Big Society” and a seeming tribute to the decades of developing relationships and growing love affairs between political figures and Citizens was the announcement that 5000 so-called “community organizers” would  be hired, trained, and dispatched to communities throughout the country so that they would enable more participation in the radically downsizing government and ostensibly more accountability.  The universal assumption was that the huge contract being tendered for bid was being designed and written as a shoo-in for Citizens UK (Guardian, 2.14.11).  Citizens UK was cited in the “request for proposal” as was Saul Alinksy, which continues the ironic and embarrassing bear hug from the right of his work and principles. Despite the obvious philosophical conflicts between the rightwing government and its programs and community organizing’s core commitment to empowerment, Citizens UK continued to rationalize and legitimize this effort as an important step in realizing its vision of a national training institute in the UK.

Meanwhile in the throes of budget cutbacks the “promise” of 5000 “community organizers” was whittled down to a three year program to develop 500 such people.  There were additional curiosities like the problem of sorting through how these “community organizers” would be essentially government employees, yet also be involved in pushing on local governments for accountability.  There was speculation that rather than being about power, accountability, or whatever, these “organizers” were a Cameron stink bomb being planted in local communities as problems for local mayors and officials.

There was remarkably little discussion about what organizations would be built and how they would operate.  Importantly, the entire program seemed a lot like the old Texas Rangers slogan, “one riot, one ranger,” which takes on even more meaning given the events of these days in the United Kingdom.

And, tomorrow in Part II we will discuss that issue and look at the surprising development of this Big Society program when the announcement of the contract winner was made earlier this year.

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Global Grassroots: Perspectives on Organizing

ggrootsMissoula It’s been fun to look at the first, advance copies of the new Social Policy Press book, Global Grassroots:  Perspectives on Organizing. Sharing a copy with friends and family, the reactions have been positive.   People are finding surprises as they open the covers.

The book combines a pile of essays from organizers around the world including John Bauman, PICO founder on organizing in Africa and Latin America, Lawrence Apiyo, head of COPA-K in Kenya on training and organizing around Africa, Denis Murphy from Manila on decades of work organizing in Asia, Kirk Noden now in Ohio on his experiences organizing with London Citizens in England, Paul Cromwell and Chuck Hirt on organizing in Europe, Na Hyowoo on his work in Korea and elsewhere, and a great piece by Judy Duncan of ACORN Canada on their work and experiences with tenant organizing in the North, along with other reports from India, Peru, and Mexico by ACORN International organizers.

There is an entire section on campaigns.  This part includes an interesting analysis of how community organization and its principles were important in Eritrea and the resilience of its recovery.  There are also pieces on education organizing in France (Shane Adler), successful anti-privatization campaigns in Peru (Luis isarra and Lisa Donner), winning the first municipal living wage measure in Canada in New Westminster (John Anderson), green organizing in Toronto by environmental and community organizers as part of the Live Green project, and reports from Australia by Amanda Tattersall on education and ACORN Canada’s Jill O’Reilly on the tough fight for living wages in Ottawa.

The last section on “global footprints” includes a piece on organizing in Indonesia from Craig Robbins and Jenny Arwade and another on South Africa by Louis Jamerson which came from their experiences on Organizers’ Forum delegations in recent years.   Some of my blogs on organizing filed from the field during my travels are included in “Footprints Around the Globe,” as well as an introduction on the spread of community organizing for power around the world and a final essay on the challenge of sustainability and scaling in this work.

Right now the book is only available through the Social Policy website at www.socialpolicy.com, where there is now a “shopping cart” feature.  The pricing is organizer-activist friendly at $15 plus shipping.  Eventually the book will list on Amazon and be at some book stores and events, but right now we want it to be a tool that advances the work.

The book was a struggle to assemble over thousands of miles and different languages, but holding it in our hands and hearing feedback from the organizers with copies now, it was a journey worth traveling, like so much of our work.

Time to get a copy and see a world of organizing open up for you!

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