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What could we spend $95 million on rather than police? With Monica Trinidad

Chicago plans to spend $95 million on a new police academy, but Chicagoans are organizing against it. A coalition of groups that have worked together successfully to bring about reparations for police torture survivors and to replace state’s attorney Anita Alvarez has now turned its attention to demanding that the money earmarked for the new academy be spent on things that the city actually wants and needs. Monica Trinidad of For the People Artists Collective and People’s Response Team explains why the fight isn’t over despite the city council’s vote for the academy.

There is so much we could be doing with that money! It is just absurd that they want to put more money into the police department when $95 million could pay for running 259 mental health clinics in our city. It could mean one brand new high school. A new school in Englewood would cost $75 million. It could build 6 new Chicago Public Library branches. $15 million is the cost for a new library that happened in Chinatown. We are being given this one option from our city that says, “Oh, we are going to give you more policing.” Then, people say, “Okay” because everybody wants more. More, more, more. We want resources. But no one is stopping and asking our communities, “What would you actually like to see done with $95 million?” That is where we are coming in and informing our communities and saying, “Here are all the things that we could actually incredibly benefit from in our city and here is what they are proposing.” This is not okay. This is not right. And, also, just making it clear that this isn’t a transparent process. This plan was well-developed long before it even was made public. And there has been no public comment or input at all whatsoever on the plan at any stage. We are making this clear to our communities that this plan is being put forward without our input in a time when our mayor is saying that the city is broke. But apparently, he can find money when he wants to. That is where we are coming from with the invest/divest. Let’s ask our communities and folks that are directly impacted by a lot of the violence that is happening and say, “What actually would make this violence stop?” That would be job training, that would be after-school programs. I think that imagination piece is what is often missing in the conversations around what we could actually invest our money in.

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Putting Socialists in Office, with David Duhalde


The Democratic Socialists of America had a good night on election night, electing two endorsed candidates and 15 of its members to offices in cities and states across the U.S. From Peekskill, NY to Knoxville, TN, Billings, MT to Pleasant Hill, IA, socialists will be taking office. What does that mean for the political trajectory of the country and for next year’s Congressional races? I spoke with David Duhalde, deputy director of DSA, about the organization’s electoral strategy and where it fits in the overall spectrum of left groups winning elections in 2017.

we really wanted people to show us that they had a pathway to victory. We didn’t need somebody to say, “I am 100% a shoo-in to win” but we wanted people to really show us they have been thinking about what were the steps to win their races. We wanted people who really were going to be out there hitting the pavement and talking to voters. From this, we were able to select six candidates. Then, really built a national infrastructure to support them through our base. Social media is a huge asset, especially for local races trying to draw national and potentially international attention and donations. But also, using our network of hundreds of volunteers and thousands of members to do phone banking and to do door knocking. For example, in Seattle, Jon Grant who ran as a great housing advocate who unfortunately ran against a very good liberal Democrat, so it made it a hard race. The DSA knocked on 22,000 doors and we made sure to send out emails for them to reach other members in the State of Washington they might not have reached.
The same thing with Carter. We worked hard to talk to the media and raise awareness, especially in the D.C. Beltway about his race which helped generate attention he might not have gotten. So, strategically, we shifted and we are trying to look to 2018 about how we are going to expand this program, because 2017 was kind of the test run. We will see what happens, but we definitely want to be more sophisticated, we want to increase the standards to get endorsed, and also, look at now we helped people win, so we want to make sure we hold them accountable. We don’t want people coming to us to get volunteers and leaving. There are a lot of questions that are going to come up that the national political committee, which is DSA’s leadership, the national electoral committee are working on to really make sure we are still a very relevant and democratic organization that is electing Socialists who will be held accountable by their constituents.

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“As goes the South, so goes the nation,” with Libby Devlin, Saladin Muhammad and Rita Valenti


The Southern Movement Assembly is on its seventh year of bringing together movement organizers from across the U.S. South to strengthen relationships, build a deeper political analysis, and connect different struggles. It’s something different from a conference, its participants say–its goal is to build a different kind of movement that challenges the structures of capital and white supremacy. Libby Devlin of National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United, Saladin Muhammad, retired international rep for the United Electrical Workers union, founding member of the Black Workers for Justice, and Rita Valenti of National Nurses Organizing Committee, Healthcare-NOW! all worked to pull together the Movement Assembly and in particular the Workers Justice Assembly part of the gathering, and they joined me to talk about the movement they are building and what the rest of the country can learn from a place that has been Trumplandia for a long time.

RV: I really want to underscore this notion of not just mobilizing, not going backwards in history to a time that is past, and not just a series of workshops, but actually deep political organizing that produces a change of consciousness and begins to actually discuss the vision of the world that we want to build in this hugely transitional and chaotic period. And development of strategies.
I think the South has had much more of a handle on that because we have had a lot less, since our inception, resources that we have had to rely on each other and respect each other and understand the centrality of our history based in genocide and slavery. Wall Street has controlled the South and through that control has really controlled the nation. We see that in not just this Trump era, but more so in the history of Right to Work in terms of labor, the history of “state’s rights,” particularly in terms of healthcare and failures to expand Medicaid. What we bring, I think, to this table is that we try to listen to each other and not just tell each other.
LD: I guess I always kind of hoped that the standards in the northern states would move South, not vice versa. So, when you look at income inequality, it is worse in the South. Health outcomes are worse in the South. Education quality is worse in the South. Infant mortality rates are worse in the South. The percent of unionization rates is directly linked to all of that, as well. Particularly, income inequality and wealth inequality, there’s a reverse correlation between union strength and income inequality. The stronger the union is, the less income inequality is.
I think what we bring from the South is that we have been living under these same conditions that the existing government and their funders would like to see brought throughout the country. We have existed. We have survived. We can say we have done that. I think a lot of people in places like Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, they are all going to be faced with the same conditions that we have now. I know that they are working to try to figure out “How do you fight back in that environment?” because the political climate has been different there. One thing that people can learn from us is how to be scrappier. How do you fight in that context? There has been a lot of cross-state discussion that has been going on and I think that is helpful and useful.
SM: Historically, the labor movement, in particular, has not recognized the strategic role of the South in a national strategy. The south is a zone of global capital very much like, and that pre-existed, NAFTA, the maquiladoras, etc. The South hasn’t been looked at almost as if it had maquiladoras, but international capital is now seeing it as a region of concentration that is protected by a state that is dominant internationally. Economists have said that the regional economy of the South would be considered as the world’s fourth largest economy, following Japan. If we are not recognizing this concentration of global capital in the South and understanding how to challenge the outrageous actions of US and global capital then I don’t think we are looking at a strategy correctly.

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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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Taking back control of Philadelphia’s public schools, with Antoine Little and Arielle Klagsbrun

Philadelphia’s public schools have been a political football for years, under the control of the state and systematically underfunded. But after sixteen years of organizing, a new mayor and a new governor, the Philadelphia school district is going to come back into the city’s control. Arielle Klagsbrun and Antoine Little of the 215 People’s Alliance and the Our City Our Schools coalition join me to explain how, in the midst of a war for public education, they won a victory for public control.

Our City Our Schools coalition started about a year ago, under the 215 People’s Alliance umbrella. We started this fight a year ago because we knew that our children here in Philadelphia deserved more, so we decided to take on the challenge of getting rid of the SRC either through self-dissolvement or through whatever method needed to be done to get it done. We took on the fight.
It was a hard fight because we had to go out and organize communities, we had to have tons and tons of meetings with the powers that be, the stakeholders that are in place, and we had to sit down and have conversations with them and give them our vision of what the fight would take and what we would have to do in order to win the fight and be able to move forward and to regain local control.
Now, for myself, I got involved with the school situation when they decided to close sixty-four schools. One of the schools that they were deciding to close was, number one, my old alma mater, T.M. Peirce Elementary School, but it was also the school that my children attended. And not just my children, but many children in that school and from that neighborhood would be forced to walk almost over ten blocks just to get to the next school that they were talking about sending these children to. So, I got involved to say, “Hold up. No, we can’t do this.”
We went out and we organized the community, sat at different SRC meetings, testified, meeting after meeting challenging about having to walk this distance that some of these children would have to walk through and some of the communities and the neighborhoods that they would have to walk through in order to get to this school weren’t the best. So, we had to show them what he was deciding to do with this one particular school and then, from there, T.M. Peirce was one of the schools that was saved, but unfortunately, many of the other ones weren’t able to be saved. But, again, they were only in the Black and Brown communities.

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Out of the headlines, the labor movement works to rebuild Puerto Rico, with Dan Maldonado

The rumors always come when disaster strikes, it seems–failures of the disaster recovery system are blamed on rank-and-file workers. As Dan Maldonado of Teamsters local 445 notes, the rumor this time was that Teamsters went on strike rather than deliver relief supplies across the island. The rumor was demonstrably false, and indeed the Teamsters sent workers down to the island for weeks of volunteer work. Maldonado was one of those workers–of Puerto Rican heritage himself, he has family still on the island–and he tells us what it’s still like down there and why recovery is likely to take a long time, and likely to slip from the headlines.

When you look at the death toll…and right now, they are saying it is 51. It may not seem like a lot, 51. But, the bigger concern is the long-term health effects. Let me give you two examples: one from what I knew from another Teamster and a personal one, myself. One, being that there was a Teamster that went to a neighborhood with a group of nurses and the lady had gangrene. Basically, she was in such a condition that her daughter kept obeying all her commands and we basically had to tell the daughter, “We understand that you respect your parents, but her mind is not there. The gangrene is getting inside of her.” We were able to get a VIP room for her. Unfortunately, her legs were amputated, but that was the only way for her to survive. Me, on a personal level, I have an uncle who is a diabetic, he had no electricity… So, for 7 days he didn’t take his diabetic medicine and he has the funds, he is economically stable to come over here, but now, because [he didn’t take his medicine], his legs got swollen which affected his kidneys and now he has got a pacemaker. So, he is in a catch 22 where he can’t get on a plane because he has got a pacemaker and he has got to stay in Puerto Rico. So, a lot of the long-term ill effects are something that we are concerned with down the road.

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From the Fight for $15 to city council, with Stephanie Gasca


Stephanie Gasca is one of many people this year moving from social movement, community, and labor organizing work into campaigning for office. She got her start with the Fight for $15, and works for Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha, which translates to Center for Workers United in Struggle, a worker center that helped bring Target to the negotiating table for retail janitors with several years of strikes. Now she’s running for a city council seat to make sure that the communities where she lives and works are represented by people who understand their struggles against state violence, against poverty wages, against racism and a vicious immigration system.

I am a mother first and foremost. I have a 14-year-old black son that I am raising here in North Minneapolis where the police have killed black men before, where the police harass our black youth on a regular basis. My politics are automatically different because of my life experiences.
Because of my background and where I come from and being one of nine children and having my step-dad being impacted by the broken immigration system and having our family being hit by poverty wages and a lack of access to education and opportunities and having my mom being impacted by not having paid sick leave, all of these things, all of these disparities, all of these specifics that everyone loves to go on about the numbers and this and this and that, that is my real life. I have a brother who just came home from federal prison in August who I am trying to support right now, helping him and ensuring that he gets a job and ensuring that he has access to the resources that he needs so that he is successful at re-entry and that he is not trapped by the system, because the system is designed to slap folks with a felony and they just keep them going back into the system.
When we talk about children being highly mobile, my niece is living with me right now who hasn’t had stable housing in 5 years because my sister cannot afford the rising cost of rent. All of these things that we talk about, I am living them every single day. So, my politics are automatically different because this is my life. These aren’t reports that I am reading. These aren’t statistics that I am looking at. This is my life and it is about a fight for my survival. It is about the fight for the survival of my family and my community. That is how I always approach my work because that is what it is. I can’t approach it any other way.

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Disrupting education for fake free speech, with Thomas Gunderson

The battles over “free speech” on campus have loomed large in the era of Trump, with conservative provocateurs invited to campuses across the country only to claim that they are being silenced when students protest them. In one of the latest salvos in the battle to claim “freedom of speech” for the Right, Scott Walker and his allies in Wisconsin are pushing a policy that would suspend or expel students for protesting in ways the university deems infringe on the free speech of another. Thomas Gunderson is a student at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and is organizing against the policy.

It is especially annoying that they are just trying to do this in the UW system right now, because just in the recent year they have politically attacked both professors and students. Members of the state legislature have openly attacked professors and students whose expression, whose free speech they have found disagreeable. For anything like a free speech legislation to have any sort of legitimacy to it, the restrictions upon free speech have to necessarily be viewpoint and value neutral restrictions. That this would be the case in the UW system at the current moment is just completely unrealistic. I think that is what has many students, at least in my circles, very concerned about this, that they will be people who are targeted. Particularly a lot of minority groups at the university, those that are here are really worried about it.

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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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Taking a knee for the Right to Know Act, with Victoria Davis and Victor Dempsey


Colin Kaepernick’s original protest, taking a knee during the national anthem during football games when he was quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers has spread across the country. Yet this year, as Donald Trump has inserted himself into the fight, many felt that Kaepernick’s original meaning–his protest against state violence against black people–was being lost. Victoria Davis and Victor Dempsey lost their brother, Delrawn Small, to an NYPD officer’s bullet last year and they are part of a coalition fighting for reforms to the NYPD’s process of stopping and searching people. And to them, taking a knee–as they did recently outside of the New York City Council demanding passage of the Right to Know Act–has a very particular meaning that they are fighting not to lose.

Victoria: The thing is that people were forgetting. It started to become a hashtag with some racist rhetoric. For the past few weeks, people have been forgetting the reason that Colin Kaepernick had originally taken the knee. He wasn’t against the national anthem, the flag, or any of those things. He was taking a knee in solidarity with the victims and the families of police and state murders. For the murdered. For families like us who have loved ones who were killed by a police officer who was hired to serve and protect.
Victor: We wanted to align ourselves with that and stand up with him and take the knee with him to show that we see what he is doing, we appreciate what he is doing and we are fighting, as well. We are not just sitting here. We are fighting. And we are going to do whatever we can in our power to help make a change, because it has to stop.
Victoria: And we don’t want anyone to forget why it was done in the first place. I think that sometimes people take hashtags and they do it for different reasons, it becomes almost like a fad, a hashtag. Taking the knee and putting faces to these victims and putting faces to the hurt, like I always say, we – meaning the families – cannot take a knee and then everything is right in our lives and we are just able to move on and move forward. We take the knee and that is taking a stand.
We still have to go back to our lives without Delrawn and Delrawn was a huge part of our lives. Things have been terrible since he has been gone. We just want people to remember exactly why the take the knee action was taken in the first place and not to stray away from that. I think too often people forget because things move so fast in life. If they feel strongly about taking the knee, then please feel strongly about supporting the families in any way that you can. It can be kind words. It can be coming to a vigil, a rally, or even just… I have seen people hashtag #taketheknee and they will write something and someone else will write something and I will counter something negative, it’s like changing the narrative. Because once we change the narrative and the way we see these police killings, then we will see it as not just a hashtag, but we will see that these are humans, these are people. Delrawn was a human. He was a kind person. He was a reliable person. He meant everything to us.

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