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Mitigating the medium-term disaster and making long-term change in Miami, with Jennifer Hill

Miami is recovering from Hurricane Irma slowly, but weeks out from the storm, secondary effects are creeping in. Organizers from the Miami Workers Center have seen up close the primary and secondary effects of the disaster now, and how they impact unequally, how opportunists use the storm to push through already-existing agendas of displacement, how race and gender and immigration status shape the relief people receive. Jennifer Hill is an organizer and attorney with the Miami Workers Center and Advocacy Parters Team and she talks about the work they’re doing to rebuild and strengthen the community against systemic problems.

Like many other people, we have gone back and forth about what makes something organizing versus servicing. It is not necessarily the nature of the work. It is more, I think, the approach to the work, how one carries out the work. In the wake of a disaster, people need a lot of services. They just need a lot of very practical help. It might be giving out water and it might be helping with disaster unemployment applications, and it might be many other things. What we have started to think about that it is important to be able to respond to some of the immediate needs in the community with actual services that are helpful and we want to partner with different groups that have different expertise if they can do that. But, it is also important to try to inject political education into the delivery of services. We want to make sure that when people get information and they go to a legal clinic, like when they came to our disaster relief legal clinics, that in addition to getting information about FEMA applications and disaster unemployment applications and disaster food stamp applications, that they get time to talk and that we have time to talk with them about their rights on the job and what to do if there is a problem and they face a threat or what to do if they are not paid or whether they anticipate any problems with access to healthcare and where they go for healthcare so we can try to make sure that the healthcare centers are open and that they have the ability to get all the services they need and they know about the sorts of programs for reduced fees or for access to healthcare. We try to set up these clinics, so they get to go from one station to another station and they get the services that they need. Then, they go to a station that is really a political education station where we talk about what is needed to make sure that people have their rights and how they can access and express their rights, but also, what is needed to make the changes that will make this better.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.

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Organizing for no more Harvey Weinsteins, with Mariame Kaba and Shira Hassan

Sexual violence is in the news again thanks to allegations against Harvey Weinstein, and in the past week we’ve seen plenty of discussion about how prevalent harassment, assault and rape still are. But what does ending it really entail? What can we do to end it? Shira Hassan and Mariame Kaba are longtime organizers against sexual violence and against the violence of the prison system, and they share their thoughts and ideas for how to organize for a world where, as Mariame says, interpersonal violence is “unthinkable.”

MK: I think that is another aspect of this, for people who are counting on a criminal punishment response to this…I understand feeling completely depressed and debilitated, because that system doesn’t actually know how to hold firm for survivors. It doesn’t know how to transform harm that occurs. It is a system that most people don’t access, most survivors still never access. For lots of reasons: because they don’t want to, because they have been traumatized in the past by the system, because they don’t want the person who harmed them necessarily caught up in the system. There are a million reasons. Because they don’t want to be raked over the coals, themselves. Because they try to solve problems in community. When people do access the system, they are screwed over by it, literally, in all different kinds of ways. They, also, then feel a sense of disempowerment. I can understand that if the way you think we are actually going to solve this problem, is through that system, I can understand that sense of complete debilitating depression, because that system actually can’t do that. SH: Not only can’t the system do it, but I think our belief that it can is the part that I think we feel most betrayed by most often. I think there are some of us who have let go of that betrayal because we have just stopped trying to get water from a stone. Frankly, the stone is being thrown at us. So, we are now trying to build shelter from the stone and talk to everyone who is coming inside the shelter about what we can do. That, for me, is perhaps why I feel less overwhelmed. It isn’t that I don’t feel like “Wow, we have an unbelievable amount to do” because I do feel like that. But, I do feel like we have so many more things to try away from the system than with it. What we have begun to create is this shelter together where we really can focus on who is inside this huddle and work with each person who is there in a more meaningful way to move forward.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.

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Challenging the frame around gun violence, with Patrick Blanchfield

After the Las Vegas mass shooting, calls to do something once again fill the airwaves and the press. But what can be done? The answer is not so easy; there is not a fully-formed, workable policy apparatus simply being held up by the NRA’s cash and Republican votes. Patrick Blanchfield is a writer who has gone deep into gun culture and gun violence in America, and he joins us to discuss what does work, what doesn’t work, and how our knee-jerk desire to “do something” can actually be put to good use close to home.

The big theme, there’s two parts. One is just resist the frame. The Democratic Party does not need you to support expanding the no-fly list in order to give the NRA what it deserves. The Democratic Party can take care of that themselves. They will keep doing it. That is the one thing that they will do a sit-in for, they are willing to go to bat for it. Instead of even falling into the wormhole of gun control debates on the national level, think about gun deaths on the local level. Think about who in your community is the most vulnerable to winding up dead because of a bullet.
When you start asking that question, you see across the country some really surprising grassroots coalitions coming into being, or operative for some time, that are doing really substantive things that are helping lower that toll of violence.
This is two things. One: Where is the activism happening? Two: What is the room for actual interventions that are meaningful? I won’t get too inside baseball, but the way in which gun laws have taken shape, particularly over the last 30 or 40 years, means that most interventions that are meaningful are happening on the state or even more often on the municipal levels. That is legislatively, but also in terms of activism.

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A platform for progress, with Nina Turner


Since the 2016 election, there have been a lot of debates about the direction in which the Democratic party should go. Our Revolution, the organization that grew out of the Sanders campaign and now headed by former Ohio state senator Nina Turner, has been working to provide an answer to that question, and is now backing a “people’s platform” of legislation to tackle inequalities of all kinds, from voting rights to abortion rights to slowing climate change. The Democratic leadership, though, didn’t exactly welcome Turner when she went to deliver the platform.

The reason why we decided to take legislation is because we did want it to be tangible. Sometimes we talk about these issues in ways where people can’t see that they can be realized, and the beautiful thing about the People’s Platform and the coalition that we have of supporting organizations of the People’s Platform is that it is tangible, it is real. The Education for All bill has been introduced that will require the federal government to pay 2/3rds of college. We know how important that is to make sure that we have a workforce that is highly educated and highly skilled. That is what this is about. It is about making that kind of investment.
Medicare for All, which is the signature, was the signature of Senator Sanders campaign. It is the foundation of what we do, which is affirming that we as a country can have Medicare for All, we can create an environment that doesn’t leave anybody behind, that is not attached to a job. To me, that kind of thing can spark an entrepreneurial spirit if somebody knows that their healthcare is not tied to a job and they can dream bigger and they can do things that probably ordinarily they would not do.
And what we are saying to the Congress, but particularly to the Democratic Party, particularly to the Democrats that serve in the Congress is “Here it is. Your members introduced these pieces of legislation. Sign onto them and let us show the people of this country, the folks of this country that this is what we stand for, this is what we are fighting for.” It is important to have all of these options, because for some people the environment might be the most important thing, to other people economic justice might be the thing, for other people racial justice. So we have something in the People’s Platform for everybody.

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Postmortem for the GOP’s repeal attempts, with Sarah Christopherson


Sarah Christopherson of Raising Women’s Voices for the Healthcare We Need joins us for a breakdown of what went wrong for the Republicans, the movement that stopped “repeal and replace,” and what comes next in the budget fight.

If [Republicans] are going to stick with nice sounding phrases like “freedom” and “free market” they can get away from the fact when people think about healthcare, they don’t want to be exposed to market risks. They want good coverage at reasonable prices with the accountability of knowing that coverage is going to be there even after they get sick. People don’t want to have to, on their way to the ER stop and say, “Wait, is this in my health plan?”
Then, of course, you mentioned the so-called skinny repeal bill. They immediately tried to re-brand that as the Freedom Bill. I think that is the freedom to lose your insurance, have-your-insurance-taken-away-from-you bill. But, where they wanted to get rid of the individual mandate, which was originally a conservative idea. That is how you create market participation in a private insurance market, but you still have the consumer protections, you need that individual mandate. They were perfectly willing to get rid of the individual mandate and then let the private insurance market blow up.
I think that would push more and more people towards a single payer model or a public insurance model of some kind. Their efforts could really, really backfire on them. They have already backfired on them in terms of making the Affordable Care Act more popular and making single payer more popular.
The repeal effort isn’t dead. It is sort of undead procedurally. So, what they voted down last week, these three amendments, they could still, theoretically, bring back that underlying bill, ram I through with 50 votes and the vice president. But, they could really, if they somehow manage to do that, end up sabotaging themselves.

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The family leave shell game, with Ellen Bravo


Donald Trump’s budget slashes social programs to the bone, if not outright eliminating them. Yet he’s followed up–sort of–on a campaign-trail promise, credited to his daughter Ivanka, of providing paid family leave. Yet longtime labor organizer and family policy campaigner Ellen Bravo says the proposal isn’t worth much to anyone but the wealthiest people, and is designed to create still more cuts.

I have been thinking a lot about shell games. In order to win a shell game, the person has to get your eyes on one shell while they are manipulating the others. That is what this budget is. They are hoping that by naming “paid leave” we won’t notice that they are slashing and destroying everything from Medicaid to food stamps to childcare to disability payments, etc.
Secondly, the paid leave itself, they call it paid family leave, but of course it is paid parental leave. It doesn’t deliver even for parents. The problem is it is relying on an unsustainable funding source, state unemployment insurance. They are already grossly underfunded and leave out large numbers of people. The states will get to set the eligibility and amount of payment for your benefit and it is only for six weeks. So too little time for too little money for too few people. It is going to be another shell game to say that the money will come from reducing fraud in unemployment insurance, which is greatly exaggerated as a problem. Essentially it will mean that states will have to cut unemployment benefits to laid off workers in order to have money for the parental leave and of course it’s the same people. There will be someone who needs one and later the other or their partner. Then, they get to decide who qualifies. So, if you are an unmarried couple, same sex couple, adoptive parents, how do you get certified, who gets to be considered legitimate?

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Real talk on abortion access and reproductive justice with Eesha Pandit


Feminism–and debates over what it means–have been central to the movement known broadly as “the resistance.” But around the country, attacks on abortion rights continue, in the states and in the federal government. Those attacks, longtime organizer Eesha Pandit says, are part of the larger worldview of Mike Pence and his cronies. Now based in Houston, Texas, Pandit has been part of new organizing that connects attacks on abortion to attacks on trans people’s rights to use the restroom; connects immigrants rights to LGBTQ rights and sees different communities showing up for one another.

Those coalitions that came together to form those electoral victories are now working together in the resistance. One of the things that you will see is folks from the LGBT community and from the racial justice advocacy community showing up to lobby and to speak and to testify against the anti-immigrant bill and vice versa. It’s one of the most beautiful things that is happening in the Texas Legislature now, and it is really satisfying to see the shock on the legislators faces when they are like, “Wait, what are you doing here? You are not an undocumented immigrant. What are you doing here to talk about this?” and things like, “What are all these folks doing here to support reproductive justice?” It is really kind of amazing to see that happening.

By necessity, folks in red states have to organize intersectionally. That is just a truth that some of those organizers, in particular, know, because of critical mass and issues being connected and common enemies, etc. It is really amazing to see that resistance happening now in Texas and to see it happening intentionally and specifically and to be actually building momentum. That a Texas legislature actually puts the bathroom bill and the anti-immigrant bill at the top of their agenda and it has been the testimony that people came to offer that has shelved, I think at least the anti-immigrant bill, at least for the time being. Texas’s legislature meets only every two years for like twenty-five minutes or something. It is really an acute period of time that we are in this ring with them. It is hard to know how it will all shake out now, but there has been an inordinate amount of pressure and that pressure has been intersectional. That is really a singular sense of hope for us in Texas.

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Feminist organizing in Pence country, with Megha Anwer & Melissa Gruver

Lafayette, Indiana organizers are used to struggling with a repressive administration–they’ve dealt with successive governors who want to crack down on labor rights and women’s rights. Mike Pence, they note, was behind in the polls for re-election because of the work they had done to defeat him when he was swept up into the Trump campaign and ultimately the vice-presidency. Now “Pence country is spreading” and their organizing is getting correspondingly broader. The March 8 Women’s Strike offered them an opportunity to connect to a growing national movement.

Melissa Gruver: Our letter mentions that we are striking to reflect on the work that women have done throughout history to labor for us all. Then, to reflect on: What is our next move going forward? I think a lot of those conversations will happen here, even as we are kind of tugging away. Hearing people talk about the Affordable Care Act and sharing their own stories with that. I believe in the power of storytelling and counter-storytelling where people can connect with one another over that and raise their consciousness.

But also, for Younger Women’s Task Force, this is a really good opportunity to continue to build our base and to continue to have conversations about our own campaigns moving forward; which, right now, we have been focusing a lot on reproductive justice and sexual violence against women with an anti-racist framework. Younger Women’s Task Force is really thinking right now about strategic ways to continue to build our organization as it relates to working class women. For us, this was a really great way to connect with some people that maybe we have seen a couple of different times before–you are always thinking, “Hey, we will see you at the next meeting.”

We know that every time we do a public action like this, we gain more folks. Then, with more folks, we can strategize our organizing in the future. We are really focused on our work with Indiana Reproductive Justice Coalition right now, but we really want to make sure we are thinking about and looking to see where working class women are affected in our own local communities and our state.

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Feminism for the 99 percent, with Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor


Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor is the author of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation and one of the organizers behind the call for a Women’s Strike on March 8, International Women’s Day, in solidarity with feminist organizers around the globe. The call for women to strike, she says, is a call for feminism to get in touch with its radical, working-class roots.

At a very basic level, there is an understanding that the problems experienced by women in our societies today are rooted in an economic system that privileges the 1 percent over the 99 percent and that sometimes we think of women’s issues unto themselves, but really these are issues that arise out of an inherently unequal economic arrangement in this country. The fact that women make less, that women don’t have access to childcare provisions, that women don’t have access to reproductive healthcare. They are not just economic questions, but they are related to an economic arrangement that relies on the free labor of women to, in fact, reproduce itself as a political system.

In some ways, as this economic inequality, people have really been talking about with greater specificity and focus since the eruption of the Occupy movement in 2011, that within that context, those unequal economic relationships have disproportionate effect in the lives of women. I think that in this past election where you literally have a billionaire who has made his money through exploiting loopholes in the system and who has sort of ascended to the political top through his abusing women and his visceral sexism and hatred of women—it is not surprising given the centrality of sexism in Donald Trump’s campaign that the very first protests have been organized by women, mostly attended by women, that have become a focal point of the resistance movement.

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