Basketball Needs to Hold the Line in North Carolina

New Orleans   North Carolina is arguably one of the most basketball crazy states in the country. I would hate to get in an argument about whether it is first or second, but right now as one of its premier teams, the University of North Carolina, is part of the NCAA’s Final Four, they are poised to dominate again. They aren’t alone of course. The NBA’s Hornets are in Charlotte. Duke is in Durham. Kansas, Indiana, Kentucky are all on the list, but North Carolina is basketball crazy for sure.

It also turns out that they are bathroom crazy. The hard right, Republican dominated state legislature last year became obsessed about bathrooms and transgender men and women and where they should go. Aided and abetted by a Republican governor willing and excited to put the state at the forefront of this new battleground in the national culture wars, they combined to create a law that required transgender individuals to go to the bathroom assigned to them by their birth certificate. You’ve heard of voter IDs that are so popular with conservatives, well this was an effort I guess to suppress urgent bodily needs, rather than lower income and minority voters, by requiring the equivalent of bathroom IDs.

We love our sports and our teams, goodness knows. But the price is often sitting and squirming in shame as they cheat, ignore the physical damage to the athletes, create billionaires and deride the fans, and too often allow and ignore the worst possible behavior imaginable with each other, with women, and whatever as part of their worshipful entitlements. Huge scandals about drug use in baseball and bicycling and now sexual abuse in gymnastics endure years of cover-ups damaging the sports for decades.

When it comes to political and social issues, usually these are seen as distractions and are forced out of the arenas and stadiums and suffocated in silence. The North Carolina conservative cabal must still be in a state of shock that somehow a cherry bomb must have been hidden in the toilet after they passed their bathroom bill and now it has blown up all over them, and it has been big time basketball, first the NBA, and then marching behind them the usually slow footed NCAA, that have done it by refusing to allow high prestige and high dollar sports events to be held in North Carolina. The NBA’s All Star game was suddenly moved to New Orleans recently. The NCAA and the Atlantic Coast Conference have refused to schedule playoffs or championship games in the state. Athletes have stood firm. Coaches have spoken out against the bathroom bill.

The Republican governor paid the price when Roy Cooper, the Democrat, won a heartbeat close election, campaigning on the lost revenue of $3 billion plus over the next dozen or so years and making the bathroom issue a central part of his campaign among other issues. The legislature has been unyielding and tried to punish the governor for winning in one hyper-partisan move after another.

Now they have announced that they have come up with a compromise to repeal House Bill #2 as the bathroom bill is known in Carolina. They are hoping it ends the boycott, but it shouldn’t. The governor agreed to a weak bill, because it was the best he could do, but basketball is stronger and needs to hold the line. The bill would not offer any protect against discrimination for transgender individuals even though supposedly opening bathrooms. The bill also blocks the ability of local municipalities, like Charlotte, from enacting better protections until after 2020.

The governor did his best, but doesn’t have the clout to do better, but better has to be done, and basketball has proven that it is strong enough to force change. The NBA and the NCAA need to hold the line here, and send a message to crazy Carolina that they will not allow profit and playoffs based on discrimination.

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Bannon and Conway: Part of a Movement, Just Not Ours!

New Orleans   I’ve come to a conclusion that has been obvious in many ways, but I was refusing to recognize it probably because I was still in denial at some level. Unbelievably, I, along with probably a gazillion others, have been waiting for the evil axis of Stephen Bannon and Kellyanne Conway to explode and disappear, caught in the vortex of one mind thumping disaster after another, victims of their own self-delusion and President Trump’s mercurial impatience and narcissism. I’ve finally realized that’s not going to happen, because they are walled in behind the embrace and ideology of a movement which ensconces them totally, allowing them to perfectly rationalize every sting and arrow of outrageous fortune as simply “haters,” as Conway calls them and a broad “opposition party,” as Bannon has referred to the press.

I get it now. Part of the prerequisite for working within movements and organizations dedicated and determined to win change is a relentless conviction of the rightness of your cause, the expectation of constant attack, and the resilient ability to bounce back and continue on course no matter what obstacles and arguments are thrown in your path. I’ve been there and done that. In the middle of such operations you always have to work hard to keep some doors and windows open to the outside or you’re caught in a tactical and strategic jail cell of your own making. What finally slapped me awake to recognize my own mirror was reading a long piece by Molly Ball in a recent issue of The Atlantic which took Kellyanne Conway as it’s subject with extensive quotes from Stephen Bannon, working as her cheerleader.

Let me share the clues:

Stephen Bannon says, “Remember, Kellyanne was not a mainstream pollster. She had every marginal act out there, Social issues, security moms, immigration – she was a movement-conservative pollster.”

Bannon told me [Molly Ball] Sean Trende’s “missing whites” theory and Conway’s polling on immigration formed the “intellectual infrastructure” of 2016’s populist revolt. He added that Conway was part of a “cabal” he had started to build with Jeff Sessions and Sessions’s then aide Stephen Miller, who is now a senior White House police adviser. “This is her central thing,” he said, “the reason I got to know her.”

The idea that she was merely a spokeswoman rather than a true campaign manager misses the point, Bannon said: Communications was everything to Trump…”No offense, this wasn’t the Bush campaign.”

“She can stand in the breach and take incoming all day long,” Steve Bannon…told me [Molly Ball]. That’s something you can’t coach.” She’s figured out that she doesn’t need to win the argument. All she has to do is craft a semi-plausible (if not entirely coherent) counternarrative, so that those who don’t want to look past the façade of Trump’s Potemkin village don’t have to.

Anyway, she [Kellyanne Conway] contended, nobody cared about “alternative facts” except the elite, out-of-touch intelligentsia who spend all day winding one another up in the echo chamber of Twitter and cable news. “It was haters talking to each other and it was the media.”

Quoting Jason Miller, a Trump campaign and transition team member, “One thing people don’t quite get is that she is a living, breathing folk hero for millions of people around the country.”

Need I say more? You get it right? In their movement they have created their own closed circuit channel where they are only interested in talking to the base for their revolution and only – at least for now – really communicating to their people where both of them are heroes in their own parade. The problem for their movement, like every movement, is that you at least have to neutralize the opposition to win, not simply discount and ignore them, and to the degree their movement depends on one leader, Donald Trump, they face the same risk as any charismatic movement faces, especially if the patience and support of the public continues to wane.

Until that happens, in the rush and adrenaline of their moment, the rest is all just water off a duck’s back, and haters going hoarse who they don’t hear, who are just spitting in the wind.

***

Please enjoy Ani DiFranco’s Play God.

Thanks to KABF.

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Museums for the People, Rather than the Elites

Street Art Museum in Amsterdam

New Orleans   Ok, maybe it’s not the very highest thing on everyone’s list, but that doesn’t mean it is not important. Recently, we talked about the efforts to rid books like Howard Zinn’s Peoples’ History of the United States from school libraries and classrooms. We all know that’s wrong, but how about the constant efforts to erase peoples’ history, by just not telling it at all? Or, not making it accessible? Or, the constant elite cultural and political bias reflected in most museums of any kind? Well, it’s not a tidal wave, but there is at least a slow dripping of resistance and activism that is trying to imagine and implement a different kind of museum.

A recent article in the New York Times reported on a unique museum in London called the Museum of Homelessness, which not surprisingly does not have a physical building or location, which given the subject matter seems appropriate. The organizers see their museum as being “about doing something special, about creating events where you’re taken on a journey.” Their venues are often open spaces, including on the streets themselves, or in theaters, shelters, or temporary showings from friendly cultural institutions.

The Street Art Museum in a neighborhood of Amsterdam is another experiment along these lines. This novelty consists of 90 commissioned works in a 1.5 mile square area which are linked through a walking tour conducted by the museum. Another effort is the Museum of Joy in San Francisco which does pop-up operas at mass transit stations and hides happy experiences in gold colored Easter eggs in a dozen branches of the city public library. There’s also the touring Empathy Museum in a shipping container that looks like a shoe box and displays shoes, urging people to imagine themselves walking in the path of those lives.

These efforts have a common theme of bringing museums to people rather than waiting for people to come to them. There are other efforts, some of which we have discussed before, like photographic museums of city life on web and Facebook sites, including the ACORN Museum. There may not be a thousand flowers blooming, but there are definitely some sprouting up around the world.

This is all exciting stuff, but fragile, and perhaps unsustainable. Grants that might support such experiments are largely hogged by huge institutions and on the chopping block with the gutting of the Endowment for the Arts proposed in the current Administration budget. Giving large institutions their due, there are certainly curators who knock on the door of social change with some exhibits and programs, though that does eliminate the questions of access and audience along with cost, all of which are central in considering the collection and distribution of peoples’ history.

A lot of us aren’t throwing away any artifacts or remnants of the silent history of uncommon common people, but there’s still a long gap in knowing where to put them before they end up, like so many other things, in the dustbin of history.

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Supporting Grassroots Struggles over Immigration

New Orleans   In the wake of the Trump-Ryan debacle of play-pretend healthcare reform, the Republican gunfighters of the circular firing squad are now talking tax reform, debt ceilings, and other intricate problems that will confuse the living bejesus out of the American people. Oh, and of course in the current mess it is easy to forget the other mess that is still front-and-center since the inauguration, but is now framed in “bans,” “extreme vetting,” dropping foreign student applications, canceled school trips to the US from Canada and other countries for fear of border problems, reduction and stalled business investment in Mexico, and all manner of very personal trauma and uncertainty in communities all around the country, and of course the president’s “big, beautiful wall.” Yes, we’re talking about immigration. For all of us keeping score, let’s remember that the healthcare disaster is the second major domestic policy disaster of this new administration, because immigration is at heart a local, not a foreign policy issue.

Talking to Mireya Reith, the founder and executive director of the Arkansas United Community Coalition, recently on Wade’s World, was a constant reminder, if anyone needed one, that the fight for immigration reform and the life decisions that teeter on every twitch and tweet from the White House are daily dilemmas at the grassroots level of millions and millions in the United States now. Reith is based in Walmart and Tyson country in northwestern Arkansas, but with seven support and information centers around Arkansas in places like McGeehee, DeQueen, and Fort Smith, not to mention Little Rock, it’s hard to get more grassroots than her operation.

Reith worked heroically in the interview to keep her remarks positive, but it was a medal winning effort, because the stories were rending. For every school district she mentioned that was stepping up to support children afraid to go to school, the list was obscuring the silence from many more as well as from the state, not to mention her story of some teachers telling children in their classrooms right after the election that they needed to leave the country and do so now. Whole families are retreating into the shadows now all over the country, and Reith and the United Community Coalition know their names in their communities.

That part of her job is hard, but perhaps not as thankless as her reports of having recently been in Washington talking to her local and state Congressional delegation about the continued need for immigration reform and the human faces of these issues in the community. Once again Reith was relentlessly positive about the reception she received, including from Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, who has been touted as something of a Trump “whisperer” in the early days of the administration. Cotton, whose raw ambition and extreme conservativism has him on many short lists on the right as a comer nationally, is also the architect of one of the most anti-immigrant pieces of legislation introduced in the Senate. Not satisfied with drumbeating about undocumented immigration, his proposal is to reduce even legal immigration more than half and more than even the Administration is proposing.

Only eight years ago the fight was to get real immigration reform on President Obama’s agenda in the first hundred days, which we lost. Now the fight is almost to keep so-called immigration reform off of the agenda for the first two hundred days of this Congress, when most believe is the only time the legislative window is open before mid-term elections make most anything impossible to pass. We have to hope that Reith’s work and that of the Arkansas United Community Coalition and other grassroots pro-immigrant groups around the country are successful in saving America’s reputation and principles as an open and welcoming country to all, and we have to support their work as much as possible in these chaotic and dark times.

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Membership Proves the Value of Strong Links

New Orleans   In this moment of social network ascendancy we are being bombarded by the presumed power of even the flimsiest connections. We are asked to click a “like,” retweet a comment, get linked to various networks, hit a button for a petition, and forward an email to someone or another.  Buy something on a site, and you’re asked to trumpet it on social media presumably so your purchase for whatever reason might act as a shiny lure attracting someone you know well or marginally in their own life stream.  Meanwhile all of these actions, large or small, are packaged and sold by sundry companies trying to chart the path of our digital footprints from all of these transactions.

Decades ago my friend and colleague, Joel Rogers, professor of almost everything at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, introduced me to the political theory that focused on the strength of weak links.  I had been marveling at the way the almost tiny central body of the AFL-CIO in the smallish Plains and Panhandle city of Amarillo, Texas, was still able to speak for the working class there while commanding some capacity and political voice despite their small membership and distance, if not estrangement, from the rest of organized labor in the state and nation.  They had weak links indeed, but as the active and legitimized voice of labor, they also had strength.

The strength of weak links has always been my touchstone in understanding the influence and perhaps the power of social networks.  In the absence and alienation of other ties, these links, no matter how fragile, perform with some level of strength.

When it comes to organization though we are now more often mobilized rather than organized.  The meaning of membership even begins to be increasingly diluted in many organizations as variable donations distort the meaning of membership dues in the eyes of some organizers and activists.

All of this came to mind as I quickly flipped through the local newspaper.  While breezing through the final pages of the first section without even reading the obituaries that now find their home there, something caught my eye, long trained in an almost Pavlovian way to see  the word, “ACORN,” whenever it crops up. I stopped and focused, and, sure enough, there it was in the obit of Lemealue Lewis Robinson, celebrating her long life and mourning her passing, her family, her many activities, her church, and then in a separate paragraph saying,

“Mrs. Robinson was also a member of Louisiana ACORN (Association of  Community Organizations for Reform Now), and a helpful neighbor, seeking to encourage and assist anyone who wanted to better their situation.”

This isn’t unusual either. It shows up on my Google alerts regularly, and a month doesn’t pass by in my hometown without such a mention.  All of this serves as a reminder of the importance of ACORN in the lives of our members and more significantly the immense value of their membership to them personally as part of the highlight reel of their lives. What few understand, or perhaps resist, is coming to grips with the unique strength that an organization forges with strong ties, rather than weak ones. Maybe some leaders and organizers are intimidated about building this level of loyalty and the accountability and stewardship it demands, when the attachment and dedicated of the members goes from shallow to substantive and profound? I don’t know? I do know it’s hard to build, but I also know once those links are welded like steel, the strength those ties create surpass pushing back to allow us all to forge forward.

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Healthcare Lives Another Day, but Does Trump Have a Way to Win?

New Orleans   The Trump Tower has now been reduced to rubble. Ryan’s House is a shambles. Obamacare is now with us “for the foreseeable future,” according to the Speaker.

Right now the Affordable Care Act is better than nothing, but it could be nothing better.

The best news of the Trumpcare debacle and the inability of all of the concessions and arm twisting producing nothing is that it may have taught the President to write off the so-called Freedom Caucus, committee of no way. After having given away the store of all of the essential guarantees of the ACA, even the inclusion of children on parents’ policies until 26, which reportedly even the President understood was past the pale, the no-birds were still flying and demanding more, more and more. They had already pulled the bill so far right that what remains of moderates in the House of Representatives were forced to run from the bill and declare they would vote no. One lesson we can hope that Trump has learned is that these folks don’t negotiate in good faith, and it is worth walking away from their demands and their skinny 30 odd votes in their secret caucus, if you have a job that you want done.

Given the obstinence of the Republicans to countenance any fixes over the last seven years – and, yes, many are needed, as we have argued continually, especially capping deductibles – there might be an opportunity to get something good done if the President, the moderate Republicans, and the Democrats in the House and the Senate finally looked at “repair,” rather than “repeal and replace.” The polling on this recent abomination of a bill, thankfully pulled off the calendar, had indicated only 17% support and 56% opposition with 26% undecided. The Republican effort was failing most miserably among the so-called Trump base where as conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan wrote that it was 26% “underwater” among non-college educated whites and an amazing 46% “underwater” in the 50 to 64 year old age group where people are more likely to forget to take their pills that day than they are to forget to vote. Trump couldn’t threatened to punish Congressman by mobilizing his base because they were in the bathroom losing lunch at the prospect that they would lose the healthcare they had gained under the Affordable Care Act.

If Trump wants to govern and we want to live through these next couple years, the President needs to stop all of this alt-right baloney and crazy flirting with the far right wing, and get closer to the where real deals are made. Even his former Breitbart Rasputin Stephen Bannon was reportedly disgusted with the concessions and bargaining posture of the far right, and that’s saying a mouthful.

I can remember presidents in Peru getting so low in popularity that they were hardly making it to two-digits. Trump is on his way there and the slope is no longer slippery, but fully greased unless he figures out a way to put the brakes on. Experts estimate that any new Congress only has about 200 days to get anything done for good or evil until mid-term elections suck the votes out of the room. For Trump and his gang 60 of those days are already gone, and we’ll all be counting on the death watch now.

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