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Thinking in systems, with Maria Poblet


Maria Poblet has spent eighteen years organizing in the Bay Area with community group Causa Justa Just Cause, and the political moment we’re in now, she says, is different than anything she’s ever seen. The threats are bigger, but the opportunities for talking about deep change, systemic change, are greater than they have ever been. The question, she notes, is what do we do with this moment? We talk about building organizations that express the whole of one’s political commitment, and much more.

I think there is a danger when you have been in community organizing in grassroots communities that have been marginalized for a long time to say to everybody else, “Well, where have you been all this time?” That is a completely understandable emotional response, but politically…politically, it is a huge opportunity to say, “These are problems that you never even knew were problems. We have been fighting to resolve these problems for twenty years, thirty years, forty years. Come along. Let’s tell you what we have learned so far. You tell us what you have to contribute.” It is a different posture of leadership which our movements need to take on at this point. It is a time of polarization. Neither of the established parties are really going to offer anything to everyday people. It is a time for social movements to lead.
A lot of people and organizations who sort of believe that things were generally working turned around in this moment and said, “Wait a minute. It doesn’t seem like things are working and you guys have been saying this this whole time. So, what should I do?” It is a very interesting moment. Part of what we did in response was to, with a lot of other organizations, help start Bay Resistance which is—I think now we are fifty organizations building a network of individuals who aren’t part of our base. They aren’t service workers in SEIU. They aren’t Black and Latino families fighting displacement at Causa Justa. They aren’t Asians fighting pollution in Richmond that are in the Asian Pacific Environmental Network. They are people that haven’t joined organizations before and they want to take action now.

Up at Truthout.

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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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Running the movement for office, with khalid kamau


In the wake of the massive political shake-up that was the 2016 election, khalid kamau, a Bernie Sanders supporter and local movement activist, makes the argument that change has to come from below, not from the election of one leader to the top office. Accordingly, he’s running for local office, in the newly-incorporated city of South Fulton, Georgia, part of the greater Atlanta metropolitan area. A member of Democratic Socialists of America, a union activist, and an early part of BlackLivesMatter Atlanta, kamau argues for bringing the message of democratic socialism to a Southern, majority-African-American city.

I think the thing that is most powerful about this race, or even my campaign, is that I love Bernie, but I think where his campaign failed – I don’t think this is a personal failure of Bernie, but perhaps of the people that were around him and advising that campaign – is that there wasn’t enough attention paid to people of color. I am not sure that people of color who were in that campaign were listened to the way they should have been. Bernie didn’t make—he made a very excellent class argument. I think it is implied that people of color are more disproportionately affected by class disparities than whites. I think there was an assumption that people of color would understand that and would understand that the arguments that he was making about class and equality were implicitly also arguments about racial inequality.

I think that, frankly, because Bernie was an old white man, black folks, people of color, did not implicitly get that he was speaking to them. I did think he was speaking to them, but I am not sure everyone else did. One of the things that the progressive movement is going to have to do is find leaders of color and candidates of color to carry this message. When I speak about it, rightly or wrongly, when I am talking about income equality and when I am talking about working class families, the black and brown audiences that I speak to do implicitly get that I am speaking to them and that I am speaking for them and that I am speaking about them. I don’t necessarily go around making a lot of racial arguments. I think that my bona fides of BlackLivesMatter speak volumes about my own racial politics and that I can make these arguments of class and people of color get, because this city is 89% African-American and because I am African-American, people know that I am talking about them.

Up at Truthout.

Up at The Baffler.

Up at In These Times.

Up at The Progressive.

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.