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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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Pulling down the statues in Durham and everywhere, with Angaza Laughinghouse


In the wake of the white supremacist attacks on Charlottesville, Virginia this weekend, protests sprang up around the country. In North Carolina, a place laden with its own history of white supremacist violence, protesters pulled down a statue of a Confederate soldier outside of the Durham County Courthouse. Arrests and raids on activists’ homes followed; so have further protests in solidarity with those who took down the statue, including, on Thursday morning, an attempt by hundreds to march on the jail and turn themselves in to protest the arrests and call for charges to be dropped. Angaza Laughinghouse is a longtime organizer in the area and he talks about the protests, the long fight against white supremacy in the South, and workers’ role in that struggle.

One of the things that we do as a union is we oftentimes go to the workplaces, whether it is street maintenance or it is the sanitation yard and usually they are in areas where people have to drive down a road to get into their workplace, to pick up their trucks, their sewer trucks or their equipment. While we are handing out the flyers, oftentimes some of the anti-union people, some of the people that have old white supremacist ideas and they are union haters, “You goddamned union communist organizer…” They try to hit you. So, it is very important that the governor stop this, make sure people are held liable as criminals when they hit or try to run over people as they hand out flyers in front of workplaces.
It is not just a question of protests and rallies. In the “right-to-work” South, where less than 3 percent of all workers in North Carolina are unionized, there is a lot of anti-union feeling. This white supremacist thinking is institutionalized. It is everywhere. In the history, in the workplace. Part of the anti-union right to work climate. These supremacists who are now calling the county government telling them to prosecute these folks who pulled down the statue to the fullest extent of the law. It is fully institutionalized, it is systematic, this white supremacy thing. It is not just a few crazies as some people want to write it off.

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Defending Charlottesville from White Supremacy, with Lisa Woolfork


Photo by Jill Harms.
The eyes of the country turned to Charlottesville, Virginia this weekend when a so-called “Unite the Right” rally turned deadly when a white nationalist plowed his car into a crowd of people, injuring 19 and killing Heather Heyer, 32, an activist and counter-protester. But organizers in Charlottesville have been fighting white nationalism for a while. Lisa Woolfork of Charlottesville Black Lives Matter shares some background on the community’s response to its “summer of hate,” connects the dots between the fights over Confederate monuments to violent white supremacy, and tells us about what she saw on the ground.

As well as seeing the Nazis and the “alt-right” retreat from Emancipation Park after their event was declared an unlawful assembly. That was quite a parade of hate. As they were leaving the area, they threw flares, they spit on people. There were several altercations of shouting matches and shoving matches. But still, it was a very powerful display of how love conquers hate. To stand there shoulder to shoulder to shoulder with neighbors, with colleagues from my department in English, with other faculty from around the university that I have seen a few of, from people in my own organization representing Black Lives Matter Charlottesville, which is a very small and new group, has since developed allied connections.
These were all examples of how the community wants to stand together against the threat and the promise of racist violence. Something that I thought was, again, very heartening, was that too often people want to believe that symbolic hatred and symbolic racism has no real world consequence, that if we are to maintain symbols of white supremacy, those are completely devoid from the practices of white supremacy. That is false.
….
What does it mean that someone’s personal identity is bound up in a racist confederate monument, a monument to white supremacy? For me, the argument about re-contextualization has already been made. I think the best and most honest context for these monuments is white supremacy. Nothing says what these monuments really mean like a thousand white supremacists coming to defend them.

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Moving pieces for system change, with Jeff Ordower


It’s been nearly eight months since the inauguration of Donald Trump, and things could be a lot worse, notes longtime organizer Jeff Ordower. Yet it is not enough to simply congratulate ourselves for saving the Affordable Care Act or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, he says. Instead, we should be thinking about how to move the protests and uprisings of recent years onto the next level.

I think the story is really critical. Uprisings and movements happen because something horrible happened or something that affects people is going to happen. They are going to poison the water on indigenous land at Standing Rock or there is yet another police massacre in cold blood or there are people who are worried about their healthcare and what is going to happen to them and more importantly what is going to happen to their children. That is really important and can’t be underestimated as a starting place. How we tell that story and who is affected and having affected people take the biggest and boldest risk, being in the front is critical.
Then, I think a lot of times as organizers we sometimes fall into the trap where we want to have the perfect thing; either it is the perfect narrative, the perfect story—I know in the early days of the healthcare fight, for example, people were like, “If you want to move McCain, you have to get seven veterans to go to McCain’s office.” I think sometimes we try to be too strategic. Really, if people want to move, we have got to give them something to do that makes sense. Sometimes that is occupying a park or putting your bodies on the line and sometimes that is just like, “Show up with a handwritten letter. Here is your toolkit for organizing this alternative town hall.” I think creating those containers where everyone can take action is really, really important.
It is no different than when I was first training as an ACORN organizer back in the 1990s and you sit on someone’s couch and you’re talking about neighborhood issues. The way people were going to get involved or not, you are saying, “What do you think it would take to get a stop sign on the corner?” and they would say, “I don’t know. We have got to get some people in the street” and you are like, “How many people would it take to block the street?” “Thirty.” You would say, “Great. Could you be one of those thirty?” and if they could see themselves doing that, then they were going to join. And if they thought it didn’t make sense, they wouldn’t. I think creating things that people can see themselves doing is really, really critical to all the fights. That ask is different. It is not always an easy thing to do. People will go and be in the streets as we saw in St. Louis, as we saw in Ferguson, night after night after night, because they felt like that was the most important thing that they could do.

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Shutting down white supremacy in Charlottesville, with Laura Goldblatt and Mimi Arbeit


The Ku Klux Klan held a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia this weekend. The people of Charlottesville were ready. Over 1000 people showed up to counter-protest the Klan, rejecting the violent white supremacist history that the Klan sought to evoke. Laura Goldblatt and Mimi Arbeit are two organizers who helped put together the mobilization that massively outnumbered the white supremacists and made sure that the headlines would read that the city rejects the glorification of the Confederacy.

LG: I think today people in Charlottesville showed up in an act of community of self-defense when the city showed that they would not defend us, nor would the police. In that sense, we celebrated our strength as a community and our ability to stand with each other and provide some measure of safe space in the midst of a really hostile moment.
People showed up at the park early in the day. People started with prayers and more and more people gathered. There was music. There were people with signs. There was this beautiful crane installation of a thousand cranes because cranes are a Japanese sign of solidarity. It is believed that if you fold a thousand cranes, you will be granted a wish. So, people embedded in the cranes their wishes to end white supremacy.
There were thousands of people there. It was a really moving show of the community coming out despite the fact that the city had officially discouraged people for coming and instead organized a variety of alternative events. Then, the police provided safe passage for the Klan to enter the park. They violently removed protestors who were standing at the entrance that the Klan had intended to use in order to prevent them from entering and from endangering our community. Police brutally removed those protestors, but nonetheless, activists remained chanting at the Klan and lingered long after following the police as the police, again, provided safe passage to the Klan back to their cars.

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40 acres for liberation, with Chinyere Tutashinda


Juneteenth is not a federal holiday–but it should be. It is the day that the news of emancipation reached the last group of enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, months after the Emancipation Proclamation and even the official end of the Civil War. To mark the day, and its unfulfilled promises, a group of organizers planned a day of action: of reclaiming vacant land, 40 acres in 40 cities to be precise. From Atlanta to Oakland, Chicago to New Orleans, anchored by the BlackOUT Collective and Movement Generation, black people claimed and held land, taking space to have community dinners, put vacant spaces back into the commons, and challenge gentrification as well as amplify the demand for reparations. Chinyere Tutashinda of the BlackOUT Collective told me about the plan.

There are a lot of people who are out on the streets… I think there is a lot of interest and a lot of people who have been newly politicized and woken up to the fact that now Trump is our president. But, when I think around what has been going on within the Movement for Black Lives and organizations that are part of that constellation–because this is not new for us and because a lot of folks, particularly those in the South, have been living under conditions very similar to the ones that Trump is trying to enact nationally–there was just a different level of “What does that mean for us?”

People have been really focusing on strengthening their organizing and strengthening their base building and trying tto build and do strategy in just different ways. People are noticing there are less people on the streets, but they are not necessarily less people in our organizations or less people doing local work. I think as people are building and are slowly growing, the work that you will see come into fruition in the next year or so.

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A unified working class movement, with Nijmie Dzurinko


The conversations since the election have mostly hinged on how divided Americans are, on the splits between rural and urban, black and white, immigrant and citizen. But there are material issues that affect many, many people in this country right now, starting with healthcare, and Nijmie Dzurinko of Put People First PA has been organizing across divides in the deeply split state of Pennsylvania for years, using healthcare as a way to unify working-class communities around the things that matter most.

To speak to a long-term organizing strategy, I think we have got to get clear on a few things. One is that my work is still around the idea that we have got to be organizing an intersectional working class movement. That means that we have got to be organizing the folks who are forced to work for wages and particularly folks who are the most marginalized workers and/or folks who can’t work, who are locked out of the system of work, but who need to in order to survive. That group of people is representative of every race, every gender, every status of documentation. That group of people is very broad. We need to make sure that the most marginalized people in the class are in the center of our work, but we have got to be organizing a working class movement.

One of the things we have got to recognize in that sense is that to build a long-term strategy is that the 1% is not necessarily going to fund the unity of the 99%. The 1% is pretty comfortable funding segments of that group to fight for their own piece, but not necessarily for the coming together of that class as a class. I think that in terms of long-term strategy, we need to be okay with that. We are going to have to do some things that might not get funded. We are going to have to put in some work that might not get paid. No one wants to hear that necessarily. We are in this moment where there are some dreams about how everyone is going to have a career, everyone is going to be able to do some kind of revolutionary work and get paid really well to do it and that is still a contradiction. It never hasn’t been and it always will be because, again, the 1% is not going to put their money behind a class struggle that is aiming at them. They might put their money behind a struggle that was aiming at better representation among their class of a certain group of people, but they are not going to put their money behind a unified group of folks that are coming for them.

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Fighting Wall Street for Racial Justice, with Saqib Bhatti and Maurice Weeks

There have been a lot of debates recently about Wall Street and its role in fights for racial justice. For Saqib Bhatti and Maurice Weeks, co-founders of a new organization, the Action Center for Race and the Economy, understanding and combating the power of finance is an indispensable part of the struggle for both racial and economic justice, fights that cannot be separated out from one another.

MW: To me, the Trump administration is actually a perfect example of the demonstration of our analysis. On the one hand, you have a group of people who are just outright racist, who are just pushing forward the most hateful, xenophobic ideas that you could possible imagine. And on the other side, you have this group of people who are some of the economic justice targets that we have been fighting for the past ten or twenty years. Folks from Goldman Sachs, Steven Mnuchin, and that whole bunch.

In our analysis it makes a lot of sense that those two camps of people came together. There is a wealth extraction plan that they are pushing forward and the tool to do it is the racist hate language. Blaming the problems of the economy onto Black and Latino, brown folks and whoever else they can blame. It makes perfect sense that those two things are together and it is a really important calling for us to focus on race as a central piece of the work that we are doing. Because, if we don’t, it can be used as a tool against us.

SB: I would add that one of the original sins of the Democratic party going into the 2016 election was the failure of the last administration and the supermajorities in Congress to actually offer meaningful relief to struggling families in the aftermath of the financial crisis. The focus was on “How do we make sure that we can keep the financial system afloat?” and they left working families, struggling families behind.

One of the things that really is important about that is that one of the ways in which Wall Street ensured that they were able to push through their agenda was by racializing the issue. It was that the home owners who were facing foreclosure, they are irresponsible Black and Latino families who got into loans they couldn’t afford and so they didn’t deserve help. The reality is, we know, that Black and Latino families were actually targeted with predatory mortgages.

But, the other side of that, though, is that while it is true that Black and Latino families are disproportionately the people who impacted by the foreclosure crisis, in raw numbers it was a lot more poor white folks who were foreclosed on because there are a lot more poor white folks in the country than there are poor Black and Latino families.

The “white working class,” they very much were impacted by the same pro-Wall Street policies that were justified by scapegoating people of color. What is interesting now, of course, you had Donald Trump who really appealed to a lot of folks who felt left behind by the Democratic Party by saying the system is rigged. He wasn’t wrong that “The system is rigged.” It was rigged. Of course, it was rigged by the very people that he has put in his cabinet. So, it is this vicious cycle. As Maurice said, this is the perfect example of how race and class and racial and economic analysis go hand in hand and come together to give us the moment that we are in now.

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