Calculating the Prospects for Change

First Native American women elected to Congress: Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland
Source: CNN

Houston    It’s still difficult to fully assess the election and its lessons, but some patterns continue to emerge in bits and pieces.

A text from Houston after the midterms underlined the hopes for Texas to move elsewhere along the color spectrum.  Democrats picked up eleven state representative seats for example on the Beto O’Rourke coattails.  This result won’t show up in a calculation of total control of the legislature which is still all Republican all the time, but it might make a difference in the election for Speaker which could stop a lot of terrible legislation and keep it bottled up in committees.

That may be too much in the weeds at this point, but there’s going to be a lot of that kind of data to absorb still.  Looking at highlights though:

  • The first two Native Americans were finally elected to Congress, one from Kansas and one from New Mexico.
  • The first two Muslim women were elected to Congress.
  • Michigan voted to legalize the sale and use of marijuana, while North Dakota did not. Medical marijuana was approved by voters in Utah and Missouri.
  • The San Francisco initiative that put a tax on large employers to pay for homeless housing and support prevailed, while the statewide initiative that would have allowed more cities to enact rent control failed by a 2 to 1 margin after huge opposition by developers and some smaller city mayors.
  • Washington State did not approve the first tax on carbon dioxide pollution although voters in Nevada approved a measure that would require electric utilities to get 50% of their power from renewable sources by 2030.Arizona on the other hand overwhelmingly rejected a similar measure in that state after fierce opposition by the local utility.

On the healthcare front and protection of the Affordable Care Act, the news was virtually all good on all accounts.  Voters in Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah – all red to the core – approved ballot initiatives to expand coverage under the ACA, which is a message Republicans can’t fail to hear.  Furthermore, as we have seen in Louisiana for example, the election of Democratic governors in Kansas and Wisconsin may finally move them into the coverage column.  In Maine, where the fight has been protracted and the now former governor has stood in the emergency room door to prevent expansion, the election of a Democratic governor there just about guarantees expansion now.  Of course, Democratic control of the House of Representatives also means that any repeal is now virtually impossible over the next two years, and, as we all know, the longer we have healthcare protection, the harder it will ever be to end it and not to expand it.

Sure, the election didn’t change some things.  President Trump is going on “war footing,” whatever that means.  Many of us thought that’s what he was already on.  For a second he was afraid less than 100% of the attention was on him, so within minutes of a post-election press conference, the White House announced that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, no win for the people, was being temporarily replaced by a Trump hand puppet, guaranteeing that Russia will once again be in the headlines to drown out the increasingly loud voice of the people.

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The Contradictory Worlds of Political Struggle in Morocco

inside the grand mosque in Casablanca

Montreal   The magic of the Organizers’ Forum is that we immerse ourselves in the work of counterparts in diverse areas of change making, along with as much of the local culture as we can absorb. The risk and constant caution is not deceiving ourselves that this deep dive ends on solid ground once on shore. We seize on clear visions, even while recognizing that they may only a mirage. Where we think we see democracy, may only be a face mask for a subtle repression. Where we embrace the energy and passion of individuals, we have to be careful to examine where everything is going and whether it is sustainable, whether it will actually work.

We always want to be positive and supportive, but we recognize that we are visitors. We are not tourists. We want to be seen as comrades in struggle, looking to learn, but we recognize that as North Americans and Europeans, we are seen as privileged and often opportunistically, no matter how humbly we try to represent ourselves. Finally, we are organizers, bred and trained to question, to be skeptical, to analyze and doubt, to test words against action, presentations against reality, all integrated into our every thought. In that spirit, a first-time participant turned to me after a long and exciting presentation from a labor organization, and asked me if I thought it was a “real union” or not. That’s just how we are.

working cart

All of which led me to reflect on some of the contradictions that emerged from all of our meetings that, if accurate, concern me. Among the people we met there seem to be divisions, perhaps irreconcilable, between the forces for change. On our first afternoon I was surprised to hear a journalist and activist from the 20th of February movement express an opinion indicating that most nonprofits and unions were essentially tools of the state. One activist pointing out the problems of minorities laid the blame on the King, but was also clear later that he did not want his photo used, and that he was leaving the country to make money in hopes of making change later. Other activists, including our favorite firebrand, Betty Lachgar with M.A.L.I., the Movement for Alternative Individual Liberties, resisted becoming nonprofits in the same way because of the requirements of the state. The issue was the usual requirement that in registering with the government, the organization was required to express some allegiance to the state, and in Morocco that also means the King and Islam, the state religion. Is that so different from the requirements that many US and Canadian organizations accept in order to get tax exemptions by pledging not to be political? Yes and no, but it’s only a difference in degree.

clock tower in Casablanca near old medina

On the other hand we met with cultural organizers with vibrant programs in art and theater and deep community roots and political programs, who had registered and received most of their support from foreign and EU sources, and were enthusiastically embraced by some of the same activists that scoffed at unions and organizational registration. Women’s organizations were also extremely politically active and essential in changing the family code and winning protections for women, but also registered and supported by the younger activists.

It seems the contradiction was more between activists and organizers. The organizers accepted the compromise of state registration in order to build more stable structures to sustain and fight for change. The activists were more committed to movements, solidarity, direct action, cultural events, education in the public space, mobilizing rather than organizing, social media rather than institution building. For the younger activists, their commitment was deep, but it was not their work in the same way it was the full-time commitment of the unionists or even the cultural and community center nonprofits, who also saw it as their life job. I’m not sure either realized the trade-off or the consequences.

In Morocco, they clearly knew each other and in many cases got along well and with respect, but would they have the ability to come together and find that they had built the capacity to make change when the opportunity presented or not? That question would stay with me a long time and leave me waiting to watch and see.

stop sign

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