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Building nationwide political power, with Joe Dinkin

The Working Families Party began in just a few states with a very specific strategy, utilizing “fusion” voting laws to gain a ballot line and cross-endorse progressive Democrats. But lately it’s been lending its weight to elections far outside its usual orbit, from Birmingham, Alabama to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Communications director Joe Dinkin talks to me about the wins for the WFP’s endorsed candidates on November 7, the expanding and changing strategy for the party, and whether working within the Democratic party is the best way to pass social democratic policies.

 

I think down ballot what we saw was Democrats picked up something like 15 seats in the House of Delegates. I think most of the Democratic Party operatives were expecting to pick up more like 3 to 5 or 3 to 6 seats. The candidates actually won in some of the toughest districts, the more uphill, Republican leaning districts were some of the most progressive candidates running, people like Hala Ayala and Elizabeth Guzman, who were the first two Latina candidates to be elected to the state legislature in Virginia; Danica Roem, the first trans candidate; Lee Carter, Democratic Socialist and member of DSA. All those candidates were running as sort of full-throated and bold progressives.
I think it blows up this prevalent myth in the Democratic Party that the way to win swing districts is with these boring, moderate, uninspiring, white men, generally, who run these cautious campaigns where they try really hard not to offend anyone. These candidates in some of the swingiest races in Virginia who won were candidates running really as full-throated progressives and they were a diverse slate and really blew up that idea of the Democratic Party and proved that, at the very least, there is another way to win; which is having a progressive vision and actually inspiring people with the change that you want to make in their lives and telling them how you are going to do that.
And this wasn’t just Virginia. Around the country there were municipal races. The Working Families Party, in total, endorsed a thousand candidates in 2017, over a thousand. Around the country we were seeing a new crop of movement progressive candidates picking up the mantle to run for local office and winning. These are a lot of candidates who are not out of the traditional structures of the Democratic Party, but whose backgrounds are often in union organizing or in community organizing groups or in social movements, and that kind of candidate was running on these very bold and transformative visions in a lot of cases and being rewarded by the voters for it.

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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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Defending Immigrants, Rebuilding Texas, with Greg Casar


Even as Hurricane Harvey battered Texas’s coast, its politicians were adding more fear to the state’s immigrant residents. From the rumors of immigration checkpoints along evacuation routes to looming bills to further criminalize undocumented people to the threat from Trump to revoke DACA protections, there was a lot to be afraid of. Yet Texans beat back one big threat to immigrants, and the coalition they built, Austin city councilmember Greg Casar says, will help them turn the tide in the future.

[Senate Bill 4] has become a statewide issue, so there have been statewide calls by organizations for all local elected officials to join in on this lawsuit. What I think was really important and special about this moment was that community organizations on the ground, like Texas Organizing Project and Workers Defense Project and United We Dream, were on the demanding that local elected officials stand up and fight back and sue. There were grassroots attorneys that were advising those organizations through their work. Local Progress, which is the national network of progressive local elected officials, set up infrastructure in Texas to coordinate progressive city council members and county commissioners to play sort of an inside/outside game to stand with the activists, but also work on the inside to move the rest of their local government to join this lawsuit.
I think, if you read Judge Garcia’s opinion, it becomes so clear that both the overwhelming damage that SB4 could have caused, that community members themselves raised, was critical for his decision, but also, it was critical to his decision with how many jurisdictions and municipalities stated that there could be irreparable harm caused by the law to those jurisdictions’ safety and wellbeing if the law went into effect. I think it was really critical that both grassroots organizations like United We Dream, Workers Defense, and TOP and an organization like Local Progress were helping to coordinate something that had never been done in the State of Texas before, which was local governments all joining together to sue the governor and state on an immigrants rights and social justice issue like this one. It wasn’t just the mayors sweeping in to save 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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Self-determination in Mississippi, with Chokwe Antar Lumumba

n 2013, radical attorney Chokwe Lumumba was elected mayor of Jackson, Mississippi on a platform of economic self-determination for the people of Jackson, a plan that as Kali Akuno explained (in Interviews for Resistance #1) aims at Ȑtransforming the economy, creating a democratic economy leading towards the creation and construction of a socialist economy, but through a democratic bottom-up process. Lumumba’s untimely death less than a year into his term put some of those plans on hold, though the movement continued its work outside of political power, founding the organization Cooperation Jackson to create a network of worker cooperatives in the city. Now, Lumumba’s son, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, is running for mayor of the city, to expand on the work that began years ago.

[W]hen people ask, “How did you feel the Wednesday after the election?” I said, “Well, I woke up in Mississippi.” What that means to me is that no matter whether Trump is president or whether Obama was president, in Mississippi if you were poor before Obama, you were most likely poor after Obama. Mississippi has not had the opportunity to feel great booms or big busts in the financial market of our country, because no matter whether the country was excelling or on a decline, we still were at the bottom. We have always been at the bottom. Mississippi has been largely neglected by everyone.

The real opportunity to win Mississippi or to organize in Mississippi is to address the needs of the people in this space. I think it is a real opportunity to develop, because if you take a place like Mississippi, which has been the haven of oppression in many regards, whether we are talking about racially, culturally, socially, or even economically. It is a haven for bad employment practices. If you can change the conditions in Mississippi, right here in the belly of the beast, then it speaks to what we can achieve across the globe. We no longer want Mississippi to be the refuge for companies that want to pay low wages and create conditions in which employees are treated in a devastating fashion. If we can change that dynamic here, then it makes it unsafe for them to go to any place to do that. We start creating an agenda and creating the model for what we can achieve as a people and what principled leadership can achieve, so there is no safe space for that type of oppression.

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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.