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Democracy: Rule of Law & Elections Economic Justice

Watch: May Day Forum with Gerry Hudson

On May Day 2022, Voices for New Democracy hosted SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Gerry Hudson for a discussion on the state of the American labor movement. Throughout the conversation, Gerry discussed his history at 1199SEIU, outlining how the union’s participation in struggles for racial justice and immigrant justice mobilized membership and helped secure important victories; how 1199’s emphasis on rank-and-file organizing and leadership was key to their strength; and what lessons these experiences hold for today’s wave of union organizing across gig workers, Amazon workers, delivery drivers, Starbucks workers, and more. Gerry also reflected on SEIU’s political mobilization around the 2020 elections — playing an important role in Biden’s victory — and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in 2022 and 2024.

Watch the full forum below.

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Democracy: Rule of Law & Elections

Watch: Forum on Progressive Electoral Organizing with Linda Burnham & Max Elbaum

This past Sunday, Voices for New Democracy joined our comrades at Convergence Magazine for a conversation with Linda Burnham and Max Elbaum around their new book, Power Concedes Nothing: How Grassroots Organizing Wins Elections, a collection of essays exploring grassroots mobilization as the key to electoral power. Burnham and Elbaum discussed their work with Convergence, pulled out key highlights from the book and examples of progressive organizing in action — including its pivotal role in ousting Trump — and emphasized the need for progressives to unify and work together to defend democracy while building grassroots power.

Watch the full conversation below.

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Democracy: Rule of Law & Elections

Remembering Lani Guinier

Voices for New Democracy joins our friends across the country in mourning the passing of Lani Guinier, a tireless fighter for political and social justice.

As an educator, Guinier blazed trails as the first woman of color to be appointed as a tenured professor at Harvard Law School. As a legal scholar and theorist, she devoted much of her life to wrestling with thorny questions and innovative ideas around the structure of our democracy, the importance of social inclusion, and the centrality of racial justice in fighting for progressive change and broader social justice. And as an activist and friend, she touched many of us with her thoughtful and compassionate spirit.

As we remember Lani Guinier, we invite you to listen to her words about the lessons of the 1979 Greensboro Massacre, which she delivered at an anniversary event in 1999. While her remarks are over two decades old now, the lessons about power and community are timeless.

Click the link here or below to watch the video and join us in honoring Lani Guinier’s memory.

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Democracy: Rule of Law & Elections

Watch: Forum on Voting Rights with Penda Hair & Dayna Cunningham

On Sunday, November 14th, Voices for New Democracy hosted our monthly political forum on the importance of voting rights, the ongoing assault against them, and key insights for today’s Left as we work to build a more democratic country.

Moderated by civil rights lawyer and new Dean at Tufts University Dayna Cunningham, the discussion was led by longtime voting rights lawyer, Senior Counsel at Forward Justice, and national leader in the fight for voting rights Penda Hair. Throughout the wide-ranging conversation, Penda provided an important historical view of voting rights in the 20th century (including the Voting Rights Act of 1965) and highlighted the intimate links between voting rights and racial justice. She also gave an important update on the latest right-wing efforts to restrict voting rights, including SCOTUS rulings undermining the strength of the Voting Rights Act, redistricting and gerrymandering efforts aimed at securing Republican minority rule, and the dire implications these trends have for the Left, including in the 2022 election cycle. We also discussed signs of hope, understanding that the forces of reaction have been triggered by the real progress and momentum that the Left has made around the issue, and highlighted several promising bills in Congress that could strengthen our democratic rights.

Watch the full conversation below.

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Democracy: Rule of Law & Elections

Join us November 14th: Forum on Voting Rights with Penda Hair

This Sunday, November 14th, join Voices for New Democracy for our next monthly political forum discussing voting rights with civil rights lawyer Penda Hair.

The forum will be held on Sunday, November 14th, at 4pm PT / 7pm ET. Join the conversation at bit.ly/3b1xlp7.

Penda Hair is the Legal Director for Forward Justice, a law, policy, and strategy center dedicated to advancing racial, social, and economic justice in the U.S. South. A graduate of Harvard Law School and former director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, she also co-founded the Advancement Project, a multi-racial civil rights organization committed to building a just and anti-racist democracy. Under her direction, the Advancement Project spearheaded legal challenges to voting restrictions across the country, including a fight against the disenfranchisement of Black voters in Florida during the 2000 election. She has also led more recent campaigns for the restoration of voting rights for people with felony convictions, and against voter ID restrictions and other discriminatory voter suppression tactics.

The forum will be moderated by Dayna Cunningham, civil rights attorney, founder and executive director of the Community Innovators Lab (CoLab) at MIT, and Dean of the Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University.

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Democracy: Rule of Law & Elections Economic Justice Environmental Justice

Watch: Voices for New Democracy Forum With The Poor People’s Campaign

In our latest monthly political forum, Roz Pelles and Lucy Lewis from The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival joined Voices for New Democracy to discuss the important work of the campaign and its strategy of weaving together diverse struggles that center impacted communities.

The Poor People’s Campaign draws on the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s organizing and the Civil Rights Movement to bring the fight against poverty back into the national conversation through grassroots organizing in communities across the country and nonviolent direct action with their diverse coalition.

In the forum, Roz Pelles discusses the outlook and strategies of the movement, highlighting the leadership by directly impacted individuals and the ongoing work of bringing together diverse social, political, economic, and environmental movements to build a unified voice demanding common goals. She also discusses the Campaign’s work of submitting a “moral budget” to Congress, highlighting priorities for investment in family care and community support, which may have influenced the recent Congressional infrastructure bills that would deliver historic investments in these areas.

Watch the full forum below.

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Democracy: Rule of Law & Elections

“A Season of Action”: Women at Center of Fight to Protect Voting Rights Step Up to Save Democracy

| Roz Pelles & Dr. Liz Theoharis |

This article originally appeared in Ms. Magazine.

On Monday, July 19, nearly 100 women were arrested with the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington, D.C. while protesting the filibuster and demanding full voting rights and living wages. These women—a multiracial group of leaders from major labor unions, religious denominations, national organizations and grassroots communities that represent millions of people—demanded action from Congress and the president by August 6, the anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. 

The attack on democracy currently playing out in D.C. and in state legislatures like Texas is the worst we have seen since Reconstruction. Since January, there has been a wave of voter suppression laws across the country—while in the Senate, members of both parties continue to use the filibuster to block the political will of the majority of Americans. At the center of this crisis are poor women, especially poor women of color, who are facing increasingly unlivable conditions, none of which will change without a democracy that works for them.

History has circled back in the most wicked of ways, forcing a new generation of women to step into the breach to save this democracy. 173 years ago, on July 19, 1848, hundreds came together in Seneca Falls, New York, to denounce the outrage of second-class citizenship for women. Seneca Falls is often remembered for the issue of suffrage. At the time, though, it was too radical for some. But others including leading abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who attended the convention, urged the women to make voting rights a key priority, knowing that their struggle was connected to the fight for what W.E.B. Du Bois would later call “abolition democracy.” 

Indeed, the demands in Seneca Falls largely echoed the unheralded efforts of Black women stretching back decades, and their rising discontent under the leadership of women like Sojourner Truth. Three years after Seneca Falls, at a women’s convention in Akron, Ohio, Truth famously said:

“If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back and get it right side up again.”

Take Action

On Monday, we carried the spirit of all of these women into the streets of D.C. We reminded the nation that unshackling our democracy from voter suppression and procedural rules like the filibuster is inextricably linked to the work of building a nation where every person’s needs are met. At this critical crossroads, we cannot let up on the demand for racial and economic justice, including the raising of the minimum wage to at least $15 an hour, which would immediately lift the pay of 32 million people, disproportionately poor women of color. 

That is why on Monday we committed ourselves not just to one day, but a season of action. Next week we will bring the fight to state legislators, with actions in dozens of states, including a Selma-inspired three-day march to the Texas legislature in Austin.

The following Monday, on August 2, we will converge again en masse in D.C., fueled by a growing movement of women and others who are willing to move beyond calls for quiet conversation and compromise, and into bold action.

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Democracy: Rule of Law & Elections Economic Justice

Is a Progressive Majority in Texas Possible?

| Matt Perrenod |

Democrats have been talking about flipping Texas for at least a decade.  It’s not hard to understand why.  Nearly 40% of Texas residents identify as Hispanic, according to the 2020 Census.  An additional 20% identify themselves as African-American, Asian-American and other non-whites, meaning that only slightly more than 40% of the state’s residents identify as non-Hispanic white, and that number is shrinking as a percentage of the whole.  

Further, the state is large, with a population and electoral strength nearly equal to Georgia, North Carolina and Arizona combined.  If Texas were to become electorally competitive statewide, it would completely change the electoral calculus in the U.S. as a whole.  And both Dems and progressives have noticed, giving the state increasing attention over the last few years.  They have, nevertheless, been disappointed: the GOP continues to hold every statewide office, including both U.S. Senators, and dominate both the Congressional delegation and both houses of the state legislature, with no erosion in 2020.  Biden did narrow Trump’s margin in the Presidential race, but still lost by nearly 6%.

With this in mind, I spoke with Mike Siegel, who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Congress from Texas’ 10th Congressional district in both 2018 and 2020. Mike is an attorney and longtime progressive activist in the Austin area.  Mike’s campaigns were strongly progressive in content and tone, and he surprised many when in 2018 he came within 4% of beating a well-financed GOP incumbent in 2018 in a Republican-leaning district stretching from east Austin to the western fringes of Houston.

With more support and considerably stronger fundraising in 2020, he actually fared slightly less well in 2020, reflecting a statewide pattern.  “We raised a lot more money in 2020, and probably 80% of that went to polling and media,” he says.  “I think we need to get a chunk of that fundraising into grassroots organizing.”

In 2021, Mike and Julie Oliver, another progressive Congressional candidate who outperformed expectations in 2018 and 2020, have created a new organization called Ground Game Texas, with an aim “to organize and mobilize voters community-by-community, collaborating with partners on the ground to meet voters at their doors, hear their concerns, and highlight popular issues that are on the ballot.”

“Obviously I think they’re important, but electoral candidacies are a limited form,” Siegel says.  “They’re about a specific candidate, in a specific race, and specific location.  And to the extent ordinary people have bandwidth for politics, they may be thinking more about Joe Biden versus Donald Trump than about the local race… If we’re going to make real progress, we need a long-term horizon.”

Ground Game Texas is meant to address that, drawing on the lessons in places like Arizona and Georgia, and applying them to the Texas context.

“The folks who successfully fought to roll back SB 1070 (the Arizona anti-immigration laws enacted in 2010) kept working,” Siegel says.  “Now Arizona has two Democratic Senators.”  The New Georgia Project went door to door for ACA (Obamacare).  Organizing for health care led to voter registration, which led to fighting for voter rights, which led finally to some big wins.  If the goal is to build a progressive Texas, we can’t rely on shortcuts.  But Texas may be even tougher: “We need twenty Stacey Abrams.  We’re big, and we’re diverse.”

Siegel believes strongly that a sustained conversation around key issues is central to this long-term thinking.  To this end, Ground Game Texas will put money and organization behind a set of issues they characterize as “Workers, Wages & Weed.”

“These are wedge issues that work in our favor,” Siegel says.  “And in Texas, a key tactic is to put these issues on city ballots throughout the state, to excite progressive voters and stimulate political conversation, and address the disconnect between Democratic policies (which are often popular), and the Democratic brand (often seen as disconnected from popular concerns).”

Ground Game Texas hopes to promote progressive causes and candidacies throughout several electoral cycles by providing campaign expertise and funding to a combination of candidacies and ballot issues, sustaining an ongoing conversation among voters that will gradually swell to a progressive majority that matches Texas’ perceived potential.

One issue is how to constantly be advancing electoral work that galvanizes voter interest and turnout. “Safe seats are a problem,” Siegel says.  “Turnout is reduced, even in strongly progressive communities, when there’s not a closely-contested race.  So we’re looking to ballot issues as a key tactic.”

Citizen-initiated ballot issues are not allowed statewide in Texas, nor at the county level.  Citizens can petition for ballot measures at the municipal level, and Ground Game Texas hopes to promote these all over the state.

“You could put an initiative on the ballot to require a living wage in city contracts, for example,” Siegel says.  “Or you could limit enforcement of marijuana laws for possession of small amounts.  These are progressive ideas that majorities support.” 

Siegel hopes to take the fundraising capacity demonstrated in progressive candidacies and direct that toward grassroots organizing.  He notes that there is already strong grassroots organization in some parts of the state, citing as an example the Texas Organizing Project, which is active in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio.  In those cases, he says, Ground Game Texas can provide tactical support, including funding and legal help.  Progressives are less well organized in many other parts of the state, however.

“For example, there is Grand Prairie, outside of Dallas,” he says.  “It has over 100,000 people, and is majority Hispanic, but lacks political organization.”  He described how a city that leans Democratic continued to be dominated by white conservative Republicans.  “We were able to help two progressive people of color win city council elections for the first time.  And you’ve got places like Grand Prairie all over the state.”  

Again, Siegel emphasizes a prolonged effort.  “It would have been nice if one exciting candidacy could flip the state,” he says, referring to Beto O’Rourke’s unexpectedly strong showing against GOP Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018.  “But that’s not how it’s going to happen.  To be real, we need to be thinking about 2028.”

Ground Game Texas starts with $1 million, and a goal of raising another $2 million this year, and funding organizers to knock on a million doors throughout the state. You can find them at www.groundgametexas.org.

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Democracy: Rule of Law & Elections

Political Possibilites in the South & Sun Belt

| Matt Perrenod |

In the wake of the 2020 election cycle, there has been renewed attention among progressive electoral activists to Sun Belt states where people of color are a large part of the electorate in a region that for several decades has been dominated by conservative whites.  The Biden electoral victory resulted not just from his winning three northern states Trump won in 2016 (Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin), but also from victories in Georgia and Arizona, where Democratic candidates were unsuccessful for decades.  Similarly, the narrow Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate arguably rests on Georgia and Arizona, where Dems flipped four seats in 2018 and 2020.  There has also been significant attention given to North Carolina and Florida, where the GOP eked out a series of narrow victories in the 2018/20 electoral cycles, and Dems won the NC governor’s race.  Dems now control the state government in Virginia, as well as a majority of that state’s Congressional delegation.  A coalition of Hispanic, Native American and progressive white voters have delivered Dem majorities in New Mexico for several cycles.

Through much of the South and Southwest, however, the GOP retains an electoral majority, and progressives have been working on how to extend the successful experience in states like Georgia and Arizona to other areas.  Major states like Texas have drawn the attention of progressives for several cycles, but remain locked in the hands of the GOP. Stronger candidates have come forward in places like Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina and Alabama, but all of these states continue to be dominated by the right, despite large African-American populations.  With few exceptions, Republicans dominate the border states of Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia as well.

The South and Southwest have become centers of demographic diversification in the U.S.  Much of the growth in Latinx voters has been in the region, and AAPI communities have become a major component of urban centers like Houston and Atlanta.  The region remains the largest concentration of African-Americans in the country.  Given this, we ought to continue to look closely at the opportunities for progressive political power in this region, while acknowledging that demographics doesn’t automatically confer success.  Rather, we should be asking, and acting upon what it will take. I believe the successes in Georgia and Arizona point to the importance of prolonged grassroots organizing to breaking the conservative white lock on the Sun Belt.  For this reason, I hope to post occasionally on the intersection of grassroots and electoral organizing in my native region, and highlight emerging examples of how these movements are striving for political power.  I will look to both electoral contests as well as community campaigns, help amplify regional voices, and try to identify the lessons as they’re being tested and learned.  And I would like to hear from others living and working in the region, and your perspectives on the current situation.  Please comment on my posts, and feel free to email me directly at mperrenod@gmail.com.

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Democracy: Rule of Law & Elections Economic Justice

Forum on Labor’s Future: Labor and Social Justice Movements

As part of our recent Forum on Labor’s Future, panelist Joe Alvarez delivered a presentation on his experiences and insights around the relationship between the labor movement and the growing social justice movements across the country. The following is a summary of the key points he presented, and the full presentation is available to watch below.

The Black Lives Matter uprisings of summer 2020 shook up the labor movement significantly. In one illustrative protest in Washington, D.C., protesters defaced the AFL-CIO building, putting up signs challenging the inclusion of police in the labor movement. This was followed by calls across the country to expel police unions from the AFL-CIO. A number of unions even joined the calls, with some teachers unions going so far as to launch their own campaigns to expel police from their schools.

While labor would typically be a natural ally in the fight for social justice, events during the uprising suggest a rift between social justice movements like BLM and unions. In this national moment of reckoning, we will continue to see fights and debates around the role that unions have to play in these social justice struggles. But if unions can find the right ways to ally with these movements, it could reignite the labor movement’s momentum in tremendous ways.

In fact, we are already beginning to see these trends in the new generation of labor leaders. New generations of young Black and other activists of color have been creating pressure on their unions to support social justice struggles — and notably, they have not always been doing so from a position of power. Even as outsiders, rank-and-file union workers are increasingly organizing to make demands of their unions and of the labor movement more broadly to advance a bolder vision of both social and economic justice.

There are a few key trends driving this momentum:

  • New organizing
  • Diversifying leadership
  • Changing paradigms around bargaining
  • Leadership development
  • Generational change

New organizing, for one, is bringing new populations into the labor movement, particularly people of color. In doing so, we are seeing a dramatic transformation of the face of labor. And with that comes new insight into the concerns of those communities and the need for the unions that represent them to fully stand up for the rights and needs of their communities.

Efforts to diversify union leadership are likewise transforming the what unions stand for. Diversity is important in and of itself to ensure that leadership reflects the demographic makeup of the membership. But this also comes with new understanding of the role that unions can and should play in advancing rights of workers and their communities, both in and out of the workplace.

Changing paradigms around bargaining and campaigns are also driving these transformations within the labor movement. While major union campaigns have traditionally focused almost exclusively on economic issues (e.g., the workplace, safety, conditions of employment, etc.), there has been a recent rise in bargaining that involves the broader community and that demands more fundamental changes, often targeting finance and Wall Street. Teachers, in particular, in places like Chicago have recently led campaigns demanding changes in how education is funded, as well as changes in non-workplace issues like municipal relationships with banks. Likewise, strikes in West Virginia have demanded taxes on the wealthy, and strikes in Oklahoma have targeted tax breaks for oil and gas interests. Increasingly, the labor movement is embracing a new understanding of its role in driving broad social change.

The growing emphasis on leadership development within unions is also changing the trajectory of the labor movement. Union leaders are increasingly grappling with questions about how to change culture within unions themselves to make them a stronger vehicle for leading social change: i.e. “How do we change ourselves to better lead change?” And importantly, leaders are not only thinking about leading change in the workplace, but also about how unions can contribute to broader social movements. By cultivating relationships between labor and social movements, leaders can strengthen their own unions and also play a larger role driving in social change.

Finally, the generational changes in the labor movement are also transforming it. New generations of union members are advancing new visions for social and economic justice, and the role that labor can play in both. It bears noting that these changes are themselves the result of historic victories that enabled new workers to enter into the labor movement to begin with. While these are important victories in and of themselves, they have also laid the groundwork for further change and we are currently seeing the baton being passed to new generations bringing new momentum to the labor movement.

Labor organizers must take note of these trends and recognize where momentum is growing to strengthen our movement. If we can do this and embrace new visions for our unions and social/economic justice more broadly, the labor movement will only grow more powerful.

Hear the full presentation from the Forum on Labor’s Future below.