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A New Social Contract, with Cathy Albisa

It can be so easy to get bogged down in the unending horrors coming from the news every day. But while we get stuck watching the bad news, organizers across the country have been engaged in creating solutions that democratize the economy, broaden participation, and fundamentally change our society for the better. A new report from the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative looks at these efforts and pulls them together to lay a blueprint for “A New Social Contract,” and NESRI’s executive director Cathy Albisa took the time to explain what the report entails and why it matters to look forward to a fundamentally different world.

The first thing we wanted to do was make sure we were looking at things that were truly structural, that would address the various intersections of injustice that people were experiencing today. Structural solutions will deal with economic, racial, gender, climate justice, all at once because they are looking at the root cause and these root causes are integrated. Once we looked at those structural solutions, we did see certain things that they had in common.
The first one should be no surprise to anyone, which is that they are driven by values. Too much in our economic and social policy is driven by profit, driven by hate, driven by things that we would consider completely anathema to our values. These solutions that are driven by core social justice and human rights values.
The second thing we noticed about them is what I mentioned earlier. They really are better for everyone. They center people that are most marginalized, but they are systemic solutions that if we really scaled up would really lead to universal systems that addressed people’s basic needs and offer opportunities for neighborhoods not to just survive, but thrive all over the country.
The third is that almost all of them had a really central component that involved reenvisioning local democracy. It is no secret that our democracy is in peril right now. We have been downgraded by The Economist from a “full democracy” to a “flawed democracy.” Even before this election a report was coming out of Princeton, hardly a radical institution, they deemed that we were no longer a democracy, but really more of an oligarchy. It is clear that communities are feeling this and that they are coming up with new forms of local democracy, community control, worker ownership to rebuild that sense of collectivity from the ground up.

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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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Defeating the attack on food assistance–for now, with Rebecca Vallas

A lot of things wind up embedded in the massive, regularly-renewed piece of legislation known as the “farm bill” each year, and one of the most important–at least, to the 40 million Americans who rely on it–is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, previously and still commonly known as food stamps. The program has been in the sights of Republicans, fresh off a victory on tax cuts, who want to pay for those cuts by slashing benefits to working people and the poor. Rebecca Vallas has been following the progress of these attacks and the broader push by the Right to put “Work Requirements” on everything, and she joins us once again to talk about how the farm bill was defeated and how SNAP might be saved.

A little bit of background on what the SNAP program is. It used to be called food stamps. People might be familiar with that name for the program, but today it is called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It helps about 40 million Americans put food on the table in any given month. Now, the benefits that it provides are already extremely meager. Just $1.40 per person per meal. Just pausing there for a second. Imagine that as your food budget, but you have got Republicans in Congress saying, “Nope, that is too much. We have got to actually take some of that away from people who are struggling to put food on the table.”
That is what this what this farm bill would have done, is to make a program that is already incredibly meager, where families already, by and large, report running out of food by the third week in the month. It is to make that program even harder to access for people when they are facing hard times. And the people that it targets, by and large, are people who are struggling to find work or can’t get enough hours in their job. That is who would be most hurt by this proposal.
Now, what happened last week, is we saw total unity among Democrats. We saw Democrats saying, “This is a heartless bill that I can’t vote for” and we saw that from every single Democrat in the house. What we saw in the Republican caucus was really disarray. Not super dissimilar from what we have seen on a number of occasions with a number of pieces of legalization where Republicans can’t quite seem to agree on how heartless they want to be.
We actually saw the bill go down literally in the middle of the voting. It seems like Republicans weren’t aware that they didn’t have the votes to pass the bill. So, we saw Democrats in lockstep say, “No, I can’t vote for a piece of legislation that takes food away from as many as 2 million Americans,” which is what this bill would have done. And we saw Republicans split between wanting to see the bill be even crueler and take even more food away from even more people. In some cases, in the case of moderate Republicans, we saw them saying, “Actually, I am realizing this is going to be bad for me in November.”

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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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Work requirements for Medicaid and other attempts to dismantle healthcare, with Rebecca Vallas


Children’s healthcare was a bargaining chip in the latest showdown in Congress, but with the government shutdown over for now, Republicans are planning more healthcare cuts. Much of this will happen on the state level, as the Trump administration has given states the green light to impose restrictions on Medicaid that include work requirements–the same kind of work requirements that helped destroy the program formerly known to most people as “welfare.” Rebecca Vallas of the Center for American Progress joins me to talk about the unending attacks on healthcare, why calling things “welfare reform” is wrong, and how to challenge the attacks on these popular safety net programs.

I think the first thing that we need to do is learn from 2017, where we actually saw Medicaid’s overwhelming popularity across party lines be what stopped Republicans from being able to unilaterally repeal the Affordable Care Act and dismantle our healthcare system. It was Medicaid that saved the ACA. I think the lesson to learn from that is, for starters, Medicaid and nutrition assistance and affordable housing and more, all these programs that help families stay afloat when they fall on hard times or when wages aren’t enough, they are incredibly popular programs.
Rather than talking in the Republican talking point terms about these programs being for “the poor” or sort of following their lead that this is about some other, we need to be talking about and thinking about these programs as for all of us when we need them when our wages aren’t enough, when we lose a job through no fault of our own, when we end up needing to care for a sick loved one or when we get sick ourselves. The more that people think and talk in “us” terms as opposed in pity or charity terms as though it is about some group of other people that they are protecting these programs for, the more that we will get to a place where not just Republicans in Congress—I should say just policy makers, generally–understand this, but also that the media starts to understand that these programs are there for all of us and these fights are ones that matter to the American people across the board.
I think that is incredibly important to hear and to think about because so often and for many, many years progressive folks who have been well-intentioned in talking about these issues have really done it in terms of “protecting the least among us” or “the most vulnerable,” all of which really reinforces that myth that somehow the poor are “them” rather than us.

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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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Launching the new Poor People’s Campaign with Rev. Emily McNeill


When Martin Luther King Jr. died, he was in the middle of building the Poor People’s Campaign–a multiracial endeavor challenging America’s persistent class divide. But the campaign was left unfinished, and the class divide has only gotten worse and will continue to do so under the latest policy from the Republican Congress, a massive package of tax cuts for the rich and tax hikes for everyone else. So a group of organizers and faith leaders is coming together to finish the work that King started and launching the new Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. Rev. Emily McNeill is part of that campaign in New York State, and also director of the Labor Religion Coalition in New York, and she looks back on the year that was and forward to the campaign coming up.

I think that is a really important aspect of the campaign and it is intentional—to be pushing back on this myth that we all could raise ourselves up by our bootstraps and just continue to accumulate and become rich. It has obviously never been a reality in the history of the United States. But, there is also this history of people on the bottom, in all sorts of ways, coming together and organizing and claiming their identity.
One of the explicit goals of this phase of the campaign is about changing the moral narrative of all these issues; around racism and poverty and militarism and ecological devastation. Part of the narrative that the campaign wants to shift is that being poor is something to be ashamed of and instead to say, “No, poverty is something that our society should be ashamed of. We have nothing to be ashamed of if we are not making ends meet because there are structural reasons for that and people are getting rich off the fact that we are poor.” To claim that, that “We have nothing to be ashamed of, the people that are perpetuating the system are the ones who should be ashamed” is a big part of the messaging that we want to get through to people.
That is what comes across in the testimonies that the campaign has already been putting out from directly impacted folks from around the country, people standing up and saying, “There is nothing wrong with me. I am not…” There is a great video from this young woman who was part of the launch event. She is from Grays Harbor in Washington State and talking about, “I was homeless not because I am lazy, but because society doesn’t have any problem with me being homeless” and just really naming that she is not ashamed and she has no reason to be ashamed to be poor.

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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.