“This ain’t the time or place for you to prove somethin’, cut the star-gazin’ yo move somethin'”
One of the great, and terrible things about this moment is that because everything and their mother is under attack (geddit?), there are about a million things, wherever you are, that you can get involved with to participate in the great upsurge that is going on. I hope that the movement that is being stirred by the fight for Wisconsin public employees’ rights to workplace democracy also embraces and supports the numerous other resistance movements that were initiated by attacks against both their funding streams and very integrities in the rush to fiscal ‘austerity’. That’s certainly the indication I get from Van Jones, but let’s hope there’s some follow-through.
I say this because we have seen, over the last couple of years, no shortage of assaults on not just isolated organizations, communities, and individuals, but assaults on our sources of power, mobilization, and movement capacity, what Chris Bowers calls the ‘Progressive Feedback Loops‘; assaults that have left our ability to respond to further assaults weaker than before. The destruction of ACORN, the witch hunts against Van Jones and Shirley Sherrod, and all the attempts to degrade and undermine Obama and progressivism in general, was not just about taking out random institutions. It was about knocking the wind out of progressive organizers, it was about demobilizing and taking out the engines and fuel supplies of the movement that is so much more than Barack Obama. And so far we have not seen the rush that we see now to support, on a national level, those key communities that are under attack, all at once. We are all in this together, and they’re attacking us all for the same reason- to diminish our ability to fight back. Let’s remember that going forward, and know we can’t afford to lose a single piece of progressive infrastructure. With that being said, here are just a small slice of the struggles that are going on, and a small sample of the ways to get involved:
- First is the struggle for workers’ (specifically public employees’) rights, that has spread from Wisconsin to Ohio to Indiana and to other regions throughout the country. If you didn’t read Kevin Drum’s piece that I linked to last post, read it. It goes into a lot of what the struggle to destroy the labor movement has been about, and why it’s so important that we revive, if not the existing structures of the labor movement (which are in serious need of updating and revitalizing), what it has stood for: providing a voice for working people to shape their own destinies. I saw a great piece on Democracy Now! a while back that also really hit home for me the centrality of the struggle over public employees’ rights. Not only is the public sector one of the only parts of the economy where organized labor has real strength and density (while these days only about one in ten workers is represented by a union, it is dramatically unequal by economic sector. One third of public workers are union represented, where about one in sixteen private workers are), but public employees unions are consistently the defenders of, you guessed it, public spending. You know, for education, transportation, safety and security, anti-poverty and economic development. Those things that make life bearable for most of us, and are so reviled by the ‘there is no alternative‘/privatize everything crowd. So this is not just about budgets and momentary fiscal issues- this is about whether there is any kind of voice in support of public education, public transit, and adequate public safety. Finally, one of the most hopeful things we’re seeing out of Wisconsin and Ohio is the real beginning of solid relationships between labor and the rest of the progressive constitutency- youth, civil rights, environmentalists, women’s rights and health activists, and immigration advocates. We need to continue to build these relationships, this shared sense of purpose, this solidarity, if we’re going to have any hope of pushing back and reviving our movement. Ways to get involved: MoveOn has endorsed a 50-state call for actionfor tomorrow, Saturday, February 26th. Groups where you can get news and get connected to ways of getting involved also include Stand Up For Ohio, Progress Ohio, and Van Jones’ ‘Rebuild the American Dream’ movement with a page that will link you up to Rallys to Save the American Dream across the country (endorsed by a quite dope collection of organizations, if I may say so myself). There’s one going on in Columbus. If you’re in the area, or can get there, I highly recommend it.
- In a similar vein (and on the same day), there’s an organization which has spread from the UK to the US called USuncut. Based on a very successful movement that took off in Britain, and has been called the ‘Progressive Tea Party‘, the premise is to put pressure on corporate tax-dodgers who have done so much to contribute to the fiscal and budget crises that have given rightists openings for attacking public employee unions. Long story short, this had a huge role in the Wisconsin budget crisis, and is also emblematic of the fact that, let’s face it, most of our current economic situation has to do with irresponsible ultra-wealthy actors whose profligacy has been paid for overwhelmingly by working folks already on the brink. I hope that this directed and focused movement can work in collaboration with the burgeoning ‘American Dream movement’, to provide the one-two punch of both analysis of what brought us here and envisioning of how we can be better. Way to get involved: The USuncut link above goes to a page that can similarly take you to events being planned across the country for Saturday, February 26th. If you’re too busy (at a Rally for the American Dream, for instance), hopefully there should be more in the future.
- Moving from the Midwest to the Southwest (and Sun Belt more generally, and anywhere that immigrants face challenges), as though the defeat of the DREAM Act wasn’t enough, we’re now seeing a renewed assault on undocumented immigrants (what you might call ‘those people who most want to fight for their right to exist in this country as citizens’) across the region, and my folks in New Mexico tell me that, while it’s no Arizona, shit is still eminently real there as well. Beyond new legislative initiatives, old and routine applications of pressure and force continue apace against undocumented workers, and it will take all of our support to make sure that this issue is not dropped over the next couple of years due to the Republican-led House. And as Chris Bowers puts it when he talks about progressive feedback loops, this is not just about racism or bigotry towards particular groups (though that does, unfortunately, have mobilizing potency)- it’s about whether we progressives have the capacity to make our community as inclusive and empowered as possible, and have done what we can to demonstrate to the community that represents the demographic future of our country that we serve them. We fail to defend them in their times of need at our peril, and we lose valuable organizers for issues like education, health care, the environment, and workers’ rights when undocumented workers are fighting just to stay alive and present. The other side knows that if they can weaken and undermine the immigrant community they’ve gone a long way towards undermining the progressive coalition in this country over the long term. We need to stand against it. Ways to get involved: Folks actually in areas where these struggles are more widespread would be better able to talk about specific opportunities for engagement, but I try keeping up with DREAMActivist.org (which obviously focuses on the DREAM Act), Reform Immigration for America (which supports broader comprehensive immigration reform), and Presente.org (which does not focus specifically on immigration, but on a broader array of Latino issues) for national-level updates.
- Similarly, the initiatives to defund both Planned Parenthood and AmeriCorps represent twin assaults on the capacity of women and youth not just to organize, but more fundamentally, to survive. Turning first to Planned Parenthood, the assault on women’s health and reproductive freedom has the effect of both 1) making key conservative constituencies think more about social than economic issues, leaving the rich and powerful more free to do what they’re doing without attracting attention and 2) totally diminishing the capacity of already over-burdened women (and men) to take care of their basic needs, giving them less time, effort, and energy for organizing and resistence. Planned Parenthood is a key community of survival and support for those without access to essential health resources, and those who face persecution in more ‘traditional’ hospitals and doctor’s offices, and it’s important that these safe spaces be maintained. In the same vein, the defunding of AmeriCorps has a huge number of effects beyond just shaving some millions from the budget. The immediate effects are 1) fewer job opportunities for young people, 2) a non-profit sector that is catastrophically diminished in capacity, 3) huge gaps in the poverty services provided not by the government, but by the private sector. All of these affect the very survival of my generation, the non-profit sector, and over-burdened poor communities. Even beyond this though, what’s so strategic about this from the conservative point of view is that 1) AmeriCorps volunteers and alumni are much more civically engaged, and aware of the impact of poverty on communities, for the rest of their lives. By cutting AmeriCorps, you undermine long-term constituencies that care about poverty, and respect the value of government’s role in alleviating poverty, to say nothing of pushing potential AmeriCorps to work (at a crucial juncture in their lives, for the young) in something that may have less of an impact on their civic outlook, if they can get work at all (and of course, unemployment early in one’s career has huge impacts for individuals long-term. Cutting AmeriCorps equals more unemployed young people, equals more dispirited young people equals fewer civically engaged and passionate young people, which mostly equals fewer progressive voters). Just as Kennedy created the Peace Corps both to improve our standing abroad through direct service, he also wanted the Peace Corps to serve as a domestic constituency for enlightened foreign policy. The same is true of AmeriCorps and poverty, the other side knows it, and that’s why they want to kill it 2) AmeriCorps volunteers, and others engaged in service more generally, are much more likely to continue on in service and the non-profit sector. By cutting AmeriCorps, you undermine the long-term effectiveness and innovation of the non-profit sector as a whole. Conservatives like to say that government shouldn’t be involved in service, that private organizations can pick up the slack. But many of those private organizations benefit from AmeriCorps volunteers or are created by AmeriCorps alumni. It’s like saying the government shouldn’t be involved in transportation (ahem, highways) or research (ahem, internet) 3) Finally, the attack on AmeriCorps is generally an attack on the whole idea that government has any role in taking care of people. AmeriCorps are one of the most visible demonstrations of that. They have the potential to build hope in communities, build connections between poor and working class people and other constituencies. And they know the power that represents. Ways to get involved: Check out the Save Planned Parenthood site and facebook page for updates. The Planned Parenthood Affiliates of Ohio page is listing events going on, also on Saturday, and there’s of course a petition to sign. For AmeriCorps there’s a Stand For AmeriCorps page on facebook, a Save Service District (and call-in) Day today (talking points here, even if you don’t call today, I encourage you to call other days), and of course, a petition.
- Finally (though there are like, a billion other communities of struggle and ways of getting involved, including the fight over NPR and public broadcasting, net neutrality, the repeal of health care, incarceration and drugs, etc. etc.), there are serious environmental battles going on. At the national level, the GOP-led House is trying to gut the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases through the Clean Air Act, and also just regulate pollution in general. This, despite the Clean Air Act being kinda popular, no matter what party you affiliate with.I know I’m biased towards environmental issues and environmental justice, but I think that long-term, the struggle for a green economy and a just climate policy is the struggle that has the potential to unite all the issues, all the communities, all the groups we’re talking about in our coalition. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting there. By undermining the fundamental pillars of that movement, conservatives are buying insurance against a movement that, if united, could change this country for the good, forever. In addition, like the labor movement, the environmental movement has the potential to shine a light on the greatest challenge our country faces, which ties together all of our obstacles- the absolute corporate capture of the state. We need to hold onto our basic achievements such as the Clean Air Act, which prevents thousands of deaths a year and is right now one of the only greenhouse gas control measures we have, given the failure to pass comprehensive legislation. And we need to maintain the focus on climate change (even as renewable energies and green jobs are used as an alternative, rather than a complement to talking about climate change, by too many Democrats and progressives) and the corporate actors who are working on stalling necessary transitions. Ways to get involved: the ever-innovative 350.org is launching a new campaign against ‘dirty money pollution’ and the Chamber of Commerce, which looks to be very promising.And of course, there’s Power Shift, coming up soon, April 15-18. Power Shift is (along with Obama’s election) undoubtedly the event that got me started on this path I’m on more than anything else, and it comes along this year at a crucial moment for movement-building. They’re going to be doing amazing work on leadership development and long-term movement building this year, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
I cite a wide variety of struggles for survival and movement capacity, but I hope it’s clear that these are all part of the same fight. We are all part of the same community for change and struggle, we are all part of the movement for improving this country, making it the country it needs to be. We owe it to ourselves to give where we can, participate where we can and where we’re most passionate, and remember how our work is a part of that larger struggle. And we also need to recognize that this is a moment of great urgency amidst opportunity- they are doing everything they can to weaken our movement for the long-term, and we need to do everything we can to keep it going so we’ve got a chance of getting back to a posture of forward momentum rather than defense of our vital assets. Hopefully this moment serves as a wake-up call for all those (like myself, at my weaker moments) who contemplated staying on the bench at times. I’ll try to keep updating on these, and other opportunities, and I hope you’ll join me in re-energizing and getting engaged and active, where and how you can.