Hard Times and Wild Kingdom

Nairobi

water buffalo coming down to water

water buffalo coming down to water

The stories on the streets here and the headlines around the world are daunting. The law trimming back collective bargaining in Ohio seems even worse than Wisconsin. The banks and servicers managed to scuttle another foreclosure avoidance program which would have used $1 billion to bridge losses of income and has not accepted one single application yet. Yet Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac figured out a way to pay themselves princely sums and not much has changed on that account either. A bunch of folks led by Wider Opportunities for Women put together a more realistic budget and established that single or with families people are miles away from meeting their basic financial needs even with a job: a single person would need $30,000 about double minimum wage for example.

Here in Kenya more than year ahead of the elections politics is all the talk from the street vendors to the cab drivers to the NGO crews, expats, and casual observers. The best news is that many do not expect the post-election violence to repeat itself at least at the same level of intensity. The bad news is that most seem to not expect there to be much change in the gridlock, corruption, and indifference in government. Parties are assembling lists, but the programs are hard to distinguish and the campaigns most seem to think have more to do with hope than with change.

This would be tragic of course. A problem which has occupied days in our organizational planning for ACORN Kenya has been the need to construct new schools in Korogocho. While we met about this at length yesterday afternoon, Drummond Pike, my Paladin Partner would search for information on whatever topic was at hand on the computer. One of the first items he pulled up on this issue is the fact that the United States and United Kingdom had both suspended aid grants for $7M and $9M respectively for new school construction in Kenya because they had no confidence the money would actually be used for schools rather than simply ripped off. Many simply pretend there is a solution by believing the problem of equity and justice does not exist. At breakfast I read in a Kenyan business magazine a glowing puff piece on the 5600 “scholarships” to secondary schools being offered annually by Equity Bank and the Mastercard Foundation based in Toronto and others. Their strategy was to look the other way about the problem dealing with the masses of school children and hope that they could craft an elite program for the top 5% of the students who tested out of primary schools so they would be able to go forward. Depressing!

giraffe munching on the trees

giraffe munching on the trees

Since Paladin Partners were committed to our professional development program for Judy Duncan and would soon be leaving her for another several weeks to work with ACORN Kenya’s staff and leaders, we tried a different tact for a change. Years ago when as a boy I lived in Denver, I would hear comments that you could live hard in Denver, because you could look at the Rocky Mountains along the western horizon and always feel there was hope and a future. Early Friday morning we headed out for the a Kenyan National Park less than 10 kilometers away. We drove in through green forest cover and were quickly in the savanna. Looking at rhinos, lions, giraffes, water buffalo, zebras, and more, we would sometimes see the entire city down the ridge as the two worlds of Africa meld together. Nairobi or Denver? Doesn’t solve the problem, but reminds us why it matters.

We have to do better.

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Initiative Campaigns Could Save Unions and Obama in Ohio in 2012

NWisconsin Budgetew Orleans In a wild case of unintended consequences the current Republican attack on unions in New Jersey, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Ohio could end up insuring the re-election of President Obama and possibly save public sector unionism at the same time though like all political struggles it would be a high stakes gamble.

How?  We could do this by upping the ante and putting protection of collective bargaining on the 2012 ballot with the Presidential election in Ohio, perhaps still the most critical of all battleground states.

Wisconsin has the right of recall and this is being engaged currently by unions and others in reaction to Governor Scott Walker’s moves to eviscerate public sector worker collective bargaining rights.  This was the successful strategy in California several years ago fueled by Congressman Darrell Issa’s resources which dislodged Governor Gray Davis within two years of his election and then replacing him with Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Wisconsin does not have a initiative and referendum procedure at the state level, so despite positive opinion polls in the state currently to protect bargaining there is no way to get there from here.  Neither New Jersey nor Indiana allow statewide initiatives and referenda, though about 20% of New Jersey’s local jurisdictions do so depending on the map this could be an opportunity to construct a tactical and strategic bulwark against some of the more draconian measures being proposed by Governor Christie there.

Were protections for union workers on the ballot in Ohio in 2012 there is no question it would energize the low-and-moderate income base, and this was certainly in evidence several years ago when ACORN and allies moved to put an increase in the minimum wage on the ballot there.  A revitalized labor movement in Ohio aligned with Obama there could make a huge difference in securing his re-election.  Tactical protective initiatives in Missouri, Nevada, Washington, and similar states that are important in the Obama column could also be important, and in several of these states workers are desperate for more protections.

There are two problems.  First, it takes a huge effort to put a measure on the ballot, mount the campaign, and hang on for the victory more than 18 months from now with the same fervor labor is showing today, even though now is the absolute perfect time to be preparing for just such efforts.  Secondly, Ohio is one of the few states that allow off-year initiatives, and given the current assault there are undoubtedly many pushing an immediate effort to place the measure on the ballot in Ohio for the fall of 2011.

A 2011 effort – and victory – might also break well for both labor and Obama if it finally proved again that these were fighting times and we had the will and way to win.  The residue of such a struggle and success might embed deeply enough to secure deeper participation in Ohio and still put Ohio in the best place for a union future and an Obama second term.

Either way these are not times for holding your cards, but demand laying down big bets while it’s still possible and it’s we are still a player in the game.

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