Watch: Monthly Political Forum on China and the New World Order

On Sunday, July 17th, Voices for New Democracy hosted our latest monthly political forum on “China and the New World Order.” Moderated by Voices editor José Z. Calderón, our guest this month was attorney, educator, and civil rights leader Stewart Kwoh. Kwoh is the founding President and Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice — Los Angeles, the largest legal and civil rights organization for Asian Americans and Asian Pacific Islanders in the United States.

Across the conversation, Kwoh outlined the evolving geopolitical situation regarding China and the trends in U.S.-China relations. Although the U.S. and China are the two largest economies in the world — and each other’s largest trading partners — the Washington, D.C. establishment is taking an increasingly hostile stance towards China, recently ratcheting up claims that China represents America’s biggest global threat. This posture and new escalatory measures like escalatory tariffs, trade policy, and foreign policy moves could further raise tensions and ultimately impact the global economy and global balances of power — at a moment when the need for global cooperation has never been greater.

Watch the full conversation below, and join us for our next forum on Reproductive Justice with Elise Bryant, the President of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, on August 21st.


Watch: A Brief History of the American Labor Movement

Voices for New Democracy contributor and Director of the UCLA Labor Center Kent Wong recently joined Senator Bernie Sanders and special guests Dr. Cornel West, Professor Tobias Higbie, and Professor Dana Caldemeyer for an hour-long discussion of the history of the American Labor Movement. Watch the full conversation below.


Democracy, Strategy, Modes of Struggle: The High-Stakes Strife in DSA

| Max Elbaum |

This piece was originally published in Convergence Magazine. We encourage dialogue and debate around these questions; if you would like to publish a response, please email

The campaign in Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) to expel U.S. Congressmember Jamaal Bowman is not at the root of the sharp conflict taking place within the organization. But it was the trigger for its escalation into a problem that threatens the future of the organization and has major implications for the entire Left. So before getting to the political differences underlying the bitter disputes underway, let’s start there.

Bowman, a member of the Squad, was first elected in 2020 in a contest where he received DSA’s endorsement. In November 2021, he went on a J-Street sponsored trip to Palestine and met with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet. Then he voted in favor of U.S. funding for Israel’s “Iron Dome” military program.

DSA as an organization is committed to Palestine solidarity in general and to BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) in particular. Bowman did not claim to be representing DSA when taking these actions, and DSA’s membership policies do not forbid members from publicly disagreeing with, or acting in ways inconsistent with, organizational positions. But he is a high-profile figure, and it was both warranted and inevitable that his actions would attract substantial criticism from other members.

A significant number of members raised the demand that DSA should go beyond airing criticism of Bowman’s actions and expel him from the organization. Others disagreed that this was the appropriate response. A major debate within the organization ensued.

From the perspective of building power toward ending U.S. support for Israeli apartheid —the main task of the Palestine solidarity movement in this country—actions other than expelling Bowman would have seemed more in order. For instance, what about DSA committing to a grassroots campaign in Bowman’s district to educate his constituents about Israeli apartheid and U.S. backing for it? Allotting organizational resources, deploying organizers who live in the district and members from other areas, identifying allies, and aiming to build a robust, mass-based voting bloc in that district for Palestinian rights? For that matter, why not launch such campaigns in other districts where there are progressive congressmembers (and local and state electeds) who are on the progressive end of the political spectrum but, because of both their own shortcomings and the weakness of support for Palestine in their districts, do not stand firm on this crucial component of an anti-racist and internationalist agenda?

This kind of effort could help build the clout of the Palestine solidarity movement. By showing that DSA was serious about putting its political muscle where its principles are, it could attract potential allies, including electeds and people considering running for office. It would show that DSA, a disproportionately white organization, is committed to building a strong relationship with progressive Black leaders, Bowman being the most radical Black male in the U.S. Congress. DSA members who participated in such an outward-looking campaign would gain rich experience and be better organizers coming out. And it could educate the entire organization on some home truths about doing politics: you cannot win “at the top” what you haven’t won at the base; elected officials are not the source of radical power; they reflect how much power we do (or don’t) have.

The expel-Bowman effort, in contrast, is inward-looking, focusing more on purifying DSA’s ranks than affecting U.S. policy. And by enlisting non-DSA members’ participation in the campaign to expel Bowman it has added new obstacles to winning broad mass organizations—unions, religious groups, etc.—to adopt BDS; those groups now have to add to their considerations the possibility that their own internal organizational policies will be challenged if, say, a prominent member who does not support BDS indicates that in public. Rather than show that DSA is into building the kind of base that will make it possible for electeds to take positions that are not easy to take in U.S. politics today, it is—consciously or not—a sign that DSA wants electeds to provide a short-cut route to gaining political power.

After a sharp debate in the various bodies and media platforms that DSA members utilize to consider political issues, the matter went to the National Political Committee (NPC) for a decision. The body voted to reject the demand to expel Bowman.

Things didn’t stop there

In a healthy big-tent organization, this vote would have resolved this disagreement.  Democracy means, among other things, respect for majority rule. The national convention is the highest decision-making body of DSA, and that convention elects (or appoints via its elected leaders) bodies that are authorized to make various decisions in between conventions. When a decision is made that some substantial number of members disagree with, they of course can retain their opinions and try to change policy or personnel at the next convention. But until then, decisions of authorized bodies have to stand. Otherwise, an organization descends into a debating society.

That didn’t happen. The campaign to expel Bowman simply continued, with a pressure effort on the NPC to change its vote. Members who disagreed did not simply register that fact, which would be perfectly appropriate. Rather, they utilized official bodies of the organization that are accountable to the leadership (including the organization’s BDS Working Group) to wage an effort to reverse the decision.

The way many of this campaign’s most aggressive advocates conducted it indicated, as noted above, that the issue of Bowman’s mistaken actions in relation to Palestine was not its main driving force. Had that been the case, the central arguments raised would have concerned how elected officials (and socialists’ relationship to them) fit into an effective strategy to build power to change U.S. policy on Israel/Palestine. There is both a rich history and extensive current practice to look at in this regard.

The gains made by the anti-Zionist Palestine Solidarity Committee in the 1980s via work in the Rainbow Coalition, Jesse Jackson’s campaigns, and Harold Washington’s campaigns and administration in Chicago hold important lessons. So do the current efforts to build support for Rep. Betty McCollum’s bill to protect the rights of Palestinian children, which falls well short of BDS but is the key legislative project of groups that are willing to throw down for Palestinian rights, ranging from the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights to M4BL. (A measure of the balance of forces around Palestine in Congress, the bill now has 32 co-sponsors, all Democrats, including Jamaal Bowman.) But no discussion of strategy looking at these experiences was present, much less at the center, of the continuing expel-Bowman effort.

Rather, the political focus of debate shifted to DSA’s relationship to the Democratic Party. The most aggressive proponents of expelling Bowman have expanded their argument and now anchor it in a critique of the Squad, Bernie and other progressives and socialists who believe fighting for multi-racial, gender-inclusive political power at this stage of history requires engaging the fight within the Democratic Party over its direction. The argument is now that those who oppose expelling Bowman don’t take that position because they think it’s better for building Palestine solidarity; rather, they are accused of siding with Democrats against Palestinians and the Palestine solidarity movement.

And, besides the shift in political emphasis, the expel-Bowman forces have shifted their immediate demands and arguments to focus on various organizational decisions made by the NPC.

Let’s sort out both these levels.

The political agenda: break with the Democrats

The combination of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s exciting 2016 Presidential campaign and the victory of Donald Trump triggered a period of explosive growth and political transformation for DSA. Even though Bernie was not a member of DSA, his popularization of “democratic socialism” was a huge boost for the organization sharing that self-definition. The successful campaigns of the four women of color who formed the Squad in 2018, and then in 2020 Bernie’s second effort and the Squad’s expansion to six, carried that momentum forward. DSA works on many battlefronts besides elections, and its members’ involvement in today’s upsurge of militancy and unionization at workplaces is of great importance. But it is mainly DSA’s identification with Bernie and the new wave of progressive congressmembers, and to a lesser extent some important state and local officials, that has driven its growth. And the organization’s capacity to deploy volunteer canvassers has been the main source of its clout.

Despite this trajectory, from 2016 on a portion of the new members who flooded into the organization did not agree with the political strategy of the candidates themselves. Bernie and the Squad operate from the view that defeating a Republican Party now controlled by racist and misogynist authoritarians at every level is a prime task; that this requires building a broad electoral front of all those opposed to the Trumpists and voting for non-progressive Democrats to beat MAGA supporters; and that these tasks need to be done alongside building independent progressive clout. In short, they share an “inside-outside” strategy which involves both unity and struggle with the mainstream forces in the Democratic Party.

A portion of the DSA membership disagrees strongly with this strategy. And within this cohort are several groupings or caucuses with a well-developed alternative. In their view, treating the Democratic Party as a terrain of battle is a fundamental error which inevitably leads to abandoning the socialist project. For them the key task of this period is to establish an untainted revolutionary pole in the mainstream of U.S. political life. To do that it is necessary not only to differentiate this pole’s politics from liberalism and all other left-of-center currents, but also to be completely separate organizationally. Forming a purely working-class revolutionary party is therefore the overriding task, to which all other tasks must be subordinated.

Even with the MAGA bloc aiming to take the country back to some hybrid system combining Jim Crow, Christian supremacy, and McCarthyism, the amount of attention paid to defeating that bloc at the ballot box or anywhere else is seen as a purely tactical matter. So is what kind of relationship should be built with non-socialist progressives or socialists who advocate work that entangles anyone with the Democrats or in any other cross-class alignment. These are to be considered only by the criteria of how they might or might not advance the task of building a revolutionary party, allegedly ensuring the “class independence” necessary for any forward motion in the direction of socialism.

Bernie changes the game

Before Bernie’s campaign, those who held this view opposed voting for anyone on the Democratic Party ballot line without exception. But Bernie’s 2016 campaign, where running as a Democrat he made socialism more popular in the U.S. than it had been in decades, punched a huge hole in that position. It was a factor (though not the only or even the main factor) in the largest group holding that view—ISO—disbanding; in splits within Socialist Alternative; and in many members of Solidarity and partisans of this view with no other organizational affiliation backing Bernie and/or joining DSA.

These activists now acknowledged, as did people with different histories and many newly radicalized individuals, that it was acceptable for socialists to run on the Democratic ballot line. But for many (not all) of these, no engagement beyond that was to be permitted. And DSA should only endorse socialists who promised to prioritize accountability to DSA itself over accountability to the broader progressive coalition that had to be forged for any campaign to be successful. The goal was still to build a self-contained revolutionary party, but the road to a complete break with the Democrats—including a separate ballot line, which was supposed to happen as soon as possible—now lay through the temporary tactical necessity of capturing the Democratic ballot line where possible.

Post-2016 DSA electoral work, often appearing to reflect a unified organizational effort, was in reality a complicated mix. Some members conducted that work as a steppingstone toward a break with the Democratic Party. Others pursued the kind of “inside-outside” strategy practiced by Bernie and the candidates who became the Squad. Tensions existed beneath the surface. But in practice, in campaigns to win a Democratic primary and to win the general election after a nomination was won, alliances with a wide range of other progressive groups were both necessary and possible. And many non-socialist progressives ran for office on programs that were all but indistinguishable from those advanced by socialist DSA members.

So, despite attempts by some in DSA to build a high wall between hoped-for members of a soon-to-be-established pure revolutionary party, serious political alliances and relationships developed between most DSA electoral activists and much wider circles. And in these wider circles, the strategy of Bernie and the Squad, including the high priority placed on electoral defeat of the Trumpified GOP, was—and is—overwhelmingly dominant.

In 2019, when the Left had high hopes for Bernie’s success in 2020 and the mainstream Democrats failed to offer a compelling agenda, the “stay away from the Dems” view in DSA had wide appeal. The result was passage of the “Bernie or Bust” resolution at that year’s DSA convention. But in Spring 2020 Bernie conceded the nomination to Biden, endorsed him and campaigned hard for his one-time opponent.

The vast bulk of progressives and radicals outside DSA, especially those rooted in labor and communities of color, worked hard for Trump’s defeat. And following the election, the extreme danger posed by the Trumpist camp was underscored by the GOP closing ranks after January 6. Simultaneously the Democratic Party mainstream shifted away from their previous neoliberalism. DSA members moved toward a more realistic assessment of the actual balance of forces in U.S. politics than had been the case in 2019. A resolution reasserting the “Bernie or Bust” perspective in different form (demanding that all DSA-endorsed candidates incorporate public advocacy of a break with the Democratic Party into their campaigns) failed at the 2021 DSA Convention.

But a section of those who disagreed with the Convention vote did not reconcile themselves to waiting until the next Convention to re-raise their view. Then came Bowman’s serious misstep regarding Israel-Palestine. Here was an issue that—if Bowman were expelled—could lead to a break not just with him but with the entire Squad, Bernie, and others who identify as radical or socialist but see the Democratic Party as a terrain of struggle.

No doubt those whose main priority is building a pure revolutionary formation believe expelling an elected who is not firm on Palestine is the right thing to do in itself. But their underlying strategy is more rooted in the demand to break with the Democrats. In that context, the Bowman controversy is a convenient “wedge issue” to accomplish that break without a frontal assault on the position adopted at DSA’s 2021 convention.

Internal democracy?

Those are the politics that account for the campaign to expel Bowman continuing and even intensifying after the NPC vote. The effort, at least for a time, crowded other matters off chapter agendas and became a preoccupation in internal DSA media. Rhetoric and accusations escalated, reportedly up to and including death threats. Tensions mounted among people on different sides and within leadership bodies. People with various views on the issues at hand tried to simultaneously lower the conflict temperature and raise the political level of debate. But overall, an all-too familiar pattern characterizing internal battles in socialist groups took hold: issues of internal democracy and alleged “top-down” leadership became prominent, obscuring the political issues underlying the internal conflict.

With respect for majority rule having broken down (it was thin in DSA in the first place) all kinds of uncomradely behavior became common. The leadership—and others—tried to enforce organizational rules. But sorting through the rights and wrongs of each specific situation was time-consuming, wearying, and thankless. With vital external work tasks not getting the attention they required, the NPC succumbed to the temptation to try to move forward by using organizational means. In this case, that took the form of moving to de-charter the BDS Working Group.

Proponents of the de-charter argued that the Work Group was not staying within its mandate as a body subordinate to the NPC, was using organizational channels to oppose majority rule and violating democratic norms; and that several members were making abusive allegations against some NPC members. They made a strong case. But a membership overwhelmingly committed to Palestine solidarity would clearly react differently to the suspension of a BDS-focused committee than to the decision not to expel Jamaal Bowman.

A broader and deeper discussion in the organization about the Working Group’s violation of democratic norms, with more specifics about how it would move forward with Palestine solidarity efforts, would be needed to avoid another round of bitter conflict. Instead, the de-charter, and the rush by some DSAers to galvanize support for the NPC decision before the organization as a whole could obtain and absorb all the necessary facts, caused more problems than it solved. And the decision was later rescinded.

Utilizing organizational means is a perilous course, especially when important political issues underlie internal conflict. Identifying and debating those issues in full view of the membership—putting politics front and center—is a far better course. Failure to do this, and failure to use all available channels to give the membership information and an opportunity to air their views, almost always backfires. It allows those violating democratic norms to assume the posture of victims being persecuted by an allegedly dictatorial leadership.

Especially in a young organization where leadership bodies have not yet earned significant political authority—and given the lack of leadership accountability in so many past socialist groups—this stance generally garners sympathy. By their nature, crackdowns on abusive behavior or rule violations have a large proportion of messy, “they said, they said” charges and sometimes facts and allegations are at least partly confidential. These problems are exacerbated in DSA because the NPC, rather than some independent, non-leadership body, is designated as the arbiter of grievances and other kinds of disputes.

All that played out in DSA in arguments about the de-chartering and applying discipline to certain individuals. Mistakes were made on all sides. These need to be identified and the lessons used to improve organizational practice, and perhaps do some restructuring, going forward. But whatever mistakes were made on this front, they are not the reason tensions in DSA have reached the point they have.

The fundamental reason the political differences shaping this struggle have led to tension and crisis rather than greater political understanding is this: A minority in the organization refused, and still refuses, to accept the will of the majority, as expressed in the last Convention and in the NPC vote rejecting the demand to expel Jamaal Bowman.

Tear members down or lift members up?

An additional factor makes the current fight in DSA so toxic. “Call-out culture”—harsh criticism of individuals that attributes political views a person disagrees with to character flaws or lack of commitment on the part of the target—is widespread in DSA, as it is in all too much of the broad Left. The result is that political debates, especially on the internet, deteriorate rapidly into personal attacks.

My generation is no stranger nasty and destructive internal Left debate. The sectarian wars we conducted during the 1970s and ’80s were counter-productive to say the least. But it was political sectarianism: we lost any sense of proportion, exaggerated small differences, and gave our opponents’ views every negative label in the book. But for the most part, we considered our opponents carriers of bad—even counter-revolutionary—lines, not bad people. We aimed to “win them over” to our supposedly enlightened perspective—”cure the disease to save the patient.”

There are lessons to be drawn on this from my generation’s mistakes. Yes, each of us carries baggage from growing up in an individualistic society founded on racism, sexism and other forms of dehumanization. But people enter the radical movement and join an organization like DSA to contribute to changing that society. They are to be valued and given the tools to grow as they engage in political activity. Except for police agents (when we can identify them with certainty) and the occasional person too damaged to work in any collective setting, our default assumption must be that everyone acts in good faith. Attacking people’s character or treating others in ways you would not want to be treated—not to mention threatening someone’s personal safety—should be out of bounds.

That does not mean that there aren’t political views and practices that are destructive. There are. But they need to be taken on as political views one thinks are badly misguided, not as indications that their proponents are bad people or less committed to social justice than “our side.”

Some kinds of politics are destructive

Keeping that polemical standard in mind, it is still true that there is a political perspective held by some currents in DSA that is not just erroneous but destructive. Whatever the good intentions of its advocates, it translates into the kind of “rule or ruin” practice that has weakened or destroyed numerous broad Left organizations in the U.S. and around the world. This perspective holds that building a purified revolutionary party is such an important priority that it justifies doing whatever it takes within DSA to gain influence and recruits for that perspective. If DSA is badly weakened or even destroyed in the process, that is not just acceptable. It is a good thing.

This general perspective has a long history in the socialist movement. Its clearest expression is not in the words of its critics, but in those of its own proponents. For example, dedicated revolutionary and main founder of U.S. Trotskyism James Cannon voiced it as he offered his summation of the results of his group entering the Socialist Party USA in the 1930s, and then exiting to form the Socialist Workers Party:

“The [SWP Founding] convention adopted the entire program of the Fourth International without any opposition. This showed that our educational work had been thoroughgoing. All these accomplishments can be chalked up as evidence of the political wisdom of our entry into the Socialist Party. And another of them-and not the least of them-was that when the Socialist Party expelled us and when we retaliated by forming an independent party of our own, the Socialist Party had dealt itself a death blow. Since then the SP has progressively disintegrated until it has virtually lost any semblance of in-fluence in any party of the labor movement. Our work in the Socialist Party contributed to that. Comrade Trotsky remarked about that later, when we were talking with him about the total result of our entry into the Socialist Party and the pitiful state of its organization afterward. He said that alone would have justified the entry into the organization even if we hadn’t gained a single new member. Partly as a result of our experience in the Socialist Party and our fight in there, the Socialist Party was put on the side lines. This was a great achievement, because it was an obstacle in the path of building a revolutionary party. The problem is not merely one of building a revolutionary Party, but of clearing obstacles from its path. Every other party is a rival. Every other party is an obstacle.”

James P. Cannon, “The History of American Trotskyism,” Pathfinder Press, New York, 1972, pp 252-253

Let me be crystal clear about this. I think the labels from the pre-1989 Left—Maoist, Trotskyist, Marxist-Leninist, Stalinist, Social Democrat, etc—are mostly useless in understanding today’s Left. Not all those who identify with Trotskyism share Cannon’s views or engage in anything like the kind of practice he praises. And all too many who identify with other ideological currents in the pre-1989 Left do engage in “rule or ruin” adventures. So broad-brush generalizations about any ideological tendency must be resisted. (To reinforce this point: what use are pre-1989 categories when leading voices in the allegedly “Stalinist/Tankie” Communist Party USA vehemently condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine, while three groups from the Trotskyist movement (Socialist ActionWorkers World Party, and the Party for Socialism and Liberation) refuse to criticize the Putin regime’s aggression and blame the entire situation on US/NATO imperialism?)

That said, it would be the height of naiveté not to see that there are groupings within DSA that are operating in a manner that subordinates the integrity of DSA to their conception of a higher good. Some entered DSA as a group with their own discipline; others evolved within DSA since its 2016 explosive growth and transformation.

Political strategy is the bottom line

This is not an issue DSA can resolve by organizational means. It is a matter of identifying the core political issues and the different views advocated by the contending currents in the organization. Peel away all the back-and-forth about who mistreated whom, all the noise and call-out attacks on social media, and all the “gotcha” questioning of people’s character and commitment. Then you get to the bottom-line political choice DSA must make.

DSA can focus outward and continue on the path most connected to its recent growth: establishing itself as a socialist force within the progressive trend in U.S. politics whose most prominent figures are Bernie and the Squad. Taking that course would mean focusing, like the vast bulk of that trend, on both defeating the authoritarian right and building the independent strength of social justice and socialist forces in the process. It would point to synergizing electoral work with efforts to revitalize the labor movement; strengthen the urgent movements for racial justice, gender justice, and environmental protection; and root the organization the multiracial, gender-inclusive working class. And it would involve work to rebuild the tattered and beleaguered peace and solidarity movements, including serious efforts to build a voting bloc committed to Palestinian rights in as many congressional districts as possible.

Alternatively, DSA can prioritize a purification effort and set a course toward building a new revolutionary socialist party outside of and in opposition to that trend. Expel Jamaal Bowman and move to break ties with others in the Squad and Bernie because, according to one of the prominent expel-Bowman advocates:

“DSA’s “electeds” and allies, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, and of course Bernie Sanders, all ceased any semblance of being an opposition and instead branded themselves as the staunchest liberal Democrats who would try to work harder in service of the Democratic Party.”

This choice is at the core of DSA’s current internal conflicts. The debate about it can be conducted in a way that brings more light than heat. It is a multi-faceted debate that in this case pivots on electoral strategy but reflects different assessments of the current balance of forces in U.S, politics, different views on the relationship of the fight for democracy and the fight for socialism, and—of special importance—the inter-relationship of white supremacy with U.S. capitalism and what that means about the nature and danger of today’s Trumpist bloc. (Besides what is in this essay, my opinions on these issues are presented in the 20-plus columns I have written for Convergence—formerly Organizing Upgrade—over the last two years, available here. And for a specific critique of overly narrow views of the alliances needed to effectively challenge U.S. racial capitalism, see the Convergence symposium “The White Republic and the Struggle for Racial Justice,” especially the concluding essay here.)

Once DSA makes this choice, it can and should be tested out for a period of time. Those who disagree certainly have the right to remain in the organization and re-raise their alternative perspective at the appropriate time, likely a national convention. But no socialist organization can function effectively if it is embroiled in constant internal strife over a fundamental question such as where it positions itself within the politics of the country in which it functions.

DSA is the largest socialist organization the U.S. has seen in at least 70 years. Its explosive growth since 2016 has heartened everyone on the progressive side of the spectrum at a time of humanity-threatening crises and a dire threat from right-wing authoritarianism. The entire Left has a stake in the direction DSA chooses to take.


A Tribute to Marty Nathan

This piece originally appeared at We are reposting it on Voices for New Democracy to honor Marty Nathan, who was a comrade to many of us.

The Ku Klux Klan Murdered Five Of Her Comrades And The Father Of Her Six-Month-Old Child.

She remained undeterred in her activism for the rest of her life.

On November 3, 1979, Marty Nathan, Mike Nathan, and other members and supporters of the Communist Workers’ Party were stationed along the route of a “Death to the Klan” march in Greensboro, North Carolina. This multiracial working-class movement’s success organizing textile and hospital workers had attracted the attention of the Ku Klux Klan; “not surprisingly,” Marty explained, “the Klan began to rise in 1979 … [in places] where hard-hitting union organizing and strikes were occurring.” Not only were workers and organizers faced with resistance and threats from employers – they were also confronted with the Klan’s virulent racism, violence, and its efforts to spread fear and confusion as the Klan ran their own recruiting drives in the textile mills to split up the unions and grow its base.

The march, in Marty’s words, “was a response to a threat against unionization by the Klan, which would historically split up workers, black and white, threaten the leaders and essentially act on behalf of the corporate owners.” One of the key organizers of the march, Reverend Nelson Johnson, added that “it was absolutely necessary to have some expression of opposition to racism as manifest by the Klan in order to continue with the work of labor organizing in the textile industry and in order to continue with the work of uniting people from different racial backgrounds.” So, on November 3, 1979, the CWP organized a conference about the Klan and labor organizing, kicked off by the Death to the Klan march.

Marty and her comrades would later find out that the Klan had worked with the Greensboro police, a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agent, and an FBI informant beforehand, which provided the Klan with the route of the march and encouraged them to carry arms while the police mandated that the protestors be unarmed. Before long, the Klan descended upon the march, at that point embedded in the predominantly black neighborhood Morningside, with no police in sight – in fact, a rank and file officer responding to an unrelated call in the neighborhood had been told to clear the area hours before the attack.

As protestors stood on the street, a caravan of nine cars decorated with confederate flags and other paraphernalia approached. The klansmen attacked the protestors, first with sticks and then opening fire, killing five of them and injuring ten others. Marty and her husband Mike Nathan were both doctors stationed at the march to provide medical assistance if needed; she was posted at a later point along the march route running the first aid car when the attack took place and survived the massacre, but Mike, stationed in Morningside, did not. She would rely on her comrades to find out what happened to her husband that day.

In Marty’s words, the premeditated attack killed people who “were organizing unions. They were revolutionaries. They were socialists. And they knew that in order to change society, you have to have an organized working class.” Not only did this movement unite white and black workers with a clear vision, but it understood the importance of internationalism; after the massacre, the survivors linked this “North American death squad” to the death squads in Central America, North America, and South Africa, up to the genocidal violence perpetrated under Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil taking place today (later in life, Marty would at times wear a ring from Brazil’s Landless Workers’ Movement that had been gifted to her “on my middle finger, which I give to Trump,” she told me).

“After you lose somebody, there’s nothing else that you can lose. But what you can hope in all this is that you can change the future. For victims of racist violence, white supremacist violence, that’s the goal,” Marty told Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman on the 40th anniversary of the massacre. “In a time of climate change, threat of nuclear war, and increasing economic disparity, we all have to be in the streets, and we do not want to get shot,” she said. Marty continued to fight against racism and imperialism and for justice even in her last days before passing away on November 29, 2021 from lung cancer and heart disease; she was profoundly shaped by her work with the CWP and by the massacre, and those experiences continued to shape the people around her throughout her life.

Anyone who knew Marty would not be surprised to know that she was undeterred by the attack of the KKK that murdered five of her comrades and took away the father of their then six-month-old child. She fought tirelessly alongside the other survivors and their comrades to expose the direct connection between the KKK, the police, the FBI, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, which also had an informant embedded in the Klan and was aware of the attack before it happened but failed to take any steps to prevent it.

Not only had the police given the protestors’ march route to the klansmen; they were present at the massacre in the tenth car following the caravan in an unmarked police vehicle but did nothing to stop the massacre. Marty and the other survivors successfully proved this and other acts demonstrating the complicity of the police, city, and FBI in the massacre, finally winning a $351,000 civil lawsuit in 1985 after having lost two criminal trials in which the prosecution was more focused on prosecuting the communist victims and survivors of the massacre than the Klan. Only in 2020 would they receive a long overdue apology from the City of Greensboro. Though Marty and her daughter were the only ones awarded money in the settlement, Marty gave her settlement to the other survivors and co-founded the Greensboro Justice Fund in 1980 and, in 2009, the Markham Nathan Fund (MNF) in Mike’s memory to fund grassroots organizations to carry the work forward.

By the time Marty passed away in November 2021, she had fundamentally shaped the organizing landscape in her home of Western Massachusetts, where she moved in 1995. Even when people couldn’t stand each other, everyone seemed to love Marty. She believed in uniting people from a wide range of perspectives, but she never compromised her politics in moments of disagreement. She canvassed for the re-election of Congressman Jim McGovern along with other local officials, and when it came time to hold people to account, she did so unapologetically.

Even as her health faltered in the months and years before she passed away, Marty joined other anti-imperialist activists to call on Congressman McGovern to shift his position on Palestine and to work to lift the sanctions against Venezuela or, in her words, “to inhabit his own skin … – an understanding and compassionate one – … and tell him that he has to follow through because this is not a theoretical issue. This is an issue of people in Venezuela dying everyday… because of the sanctions.” It is in large part thanks to Marty’s work that Congressman McGovern did just that in a letter dated the day of that rally, cited as “the best letter that we’ve ever seen out of Congress on sanctions period” by Alexander Main of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a leading source of research and data on the sanctions.

Not only was Marty a fierce and dogged leader and mentor: she was also the people’s doctor. During her days in the CWP, she ran clinics at Duke Hospital to treat textile workers with brown lung disease caused by the cotton particles they inhaled on the job. In the weeks before her death, she stood with migrant workers at a press conference not only as a speaker but as a doctor, rushing over to a ditch to mend someone’s twisted ankle during the event. After moving to Massachusetts, she co-founded La Cliniquita, where she worked as a doctor primarily for immigrants and undocumented patients for 18 years, building an infrastructure to provide quality care that did not exist until she moved to the area for communities that had been systematically deprived of health care. At her memorial service, her former patients spoke about what she meant to them not only as a doctor but as a friend to whom she opened her home over the years. In 2012, she co-founded Climate Action Now as well as the climate justice group 2degrees and went on to help win the decades-long fight against a proposed biomass plant in Springfield, MA in 2021, always keeping climate justice at the heart of her work and revolutionary organizing at the heart of her life.

Marty’s list of accolades is unending, but those who knew her know that her ability to bring people together and lift up and mentor those around her, her refusal to give up no matter the obstacles or danger that she faced, and her unrelenting determination to fight for justice are irreplaceable. As Marty said, “after you lose somebody, there’s nothing else that you can lose. But what you can hope in all this is that you can change the future.”


Worker to Worker, Union to Union: Building U.S.-China Solidarity

| Kent Wong |

This article will be published in the upcoming volume of the New Labor Forum.

A Toast to Solidarity 

After touring the massive port of Shanghai in 2007, a delegation of Los Angeles labor leaders had lunch at the onsite restaurant hosted by the dock workers union of Shanghai.  In the private dining room with Chinese and U.S. labor leaders seated together around a large, round table, the president of the Shanghai dockworkers union stood up to propose a toast to David Arian, former President of the International Longshore and Warehouse Workers Union (ILWU). This gathering of two dockworker union presidents was remarkable, considering the fraught history of US and Chinese unions.  

The Shanghai union leader thanked the ILWU and the U.S. labor movement for the birth of May Day, International Workers’ Day.  “Every year, workers throughout China have a holiday on May Day thanks to the U.S. working class and the spirit of international worker solidarity,” he said in Chinese as he was accompanied by an interpreter.  

David Arian in turn rose to speak in English.  He thanked the hosts for the lunch and tour of the Shanghai Port, as the interpreter quickly translated his remarks in Chinese.  “While I am happy that the Chinese working class celebrates May Day, back in the U.S. we have to work on the first of May.  However, I want to thank the Chinese working class for celebrating lunar new year each year because during the two weeks that the Chinese dock workers are on vacation, we don’t have to work either because we have nothing to unload on the Los Angeles docks.”

This humorous exchange between two labor leaders from Shanghai and Los Angeles reflects the deep connection between workers in the world’s two largest economies.  The dockworkers provide a special strategic link, as workers who control the largest ports in our respective countries and the logistics flow between the U.S. and China. The U.S. and Chinese economies are deeply interconnected, mutually reliant, and together have a greater impact on global trade and global labor standards than any other countries on earth.  

The history of AFL-CIO’s Racialized Anti-Communism

The AFL-CIO has had a troubled history with China and Asian American workers.  The link between AFL-CIO foreign and domestic policy has historic roots.  Samuel Gompers, the founding president of the American Federation of Labor, was a lifelong opponent of Chinese migration to the United States, and refused to allow Chinese and Asian American workers to join U.S. unions.  Gompers was a staunch advocate of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act.  He wrote: “Racial differences between American whites and Asiatics will never be overcome. The superior whites have to exclude the inferior Asiatics, by law, or if necessary by force of arms.”

During the McCarthy Era, the AFL-CIO purged union leaders with socialist or communist affiliations, and enacted anti-communist clauses.  In the 1960’s and 1970’s, the AFL-CIO joined the U.S. government in the global fight against communism.  The federation’s commitment to anti-communism included support for the U.S. War in Vietnam, the U.S. blockade of Cuba, and U.S. backed military dictatorships in Central America. 

During the 1980’s and 1990’s, the AFL-CIO was at the forefront of anti-China campaigns, among them a boycott of Chinese goods, the petitioning of the George W. Bush Administration to impose sanctions on China, efforts to oppose China’s entry into the World Trade Organization, and calling for penalties against China for currency manipulation, a charge raised again by Donald Trump as president. The AFL-CIO leadership also opposed the attendance of U.S. labor women at the international women’s conference in Beijing in 1995.  In the 1990’s, the Teamsters Union invited right wing politician Pat Buchanan to address their members during an anti-China rally organized by the union, while the International Association of Machinists published a special anti-China magazine using racially offensive language and quoting right wing Republican Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on the military threat posed by China. 

The AFL-CIO anti-China campaigns were a continuation of decades of Cold War ideology, and advanced the erroneous analysis that China was to blame for deindustrialization, capital flight, and worker dislocation caused by U.S.-based multi-national corporations.  Not only were they wrong politically, they failed miserably.  The anti-China campaigns did not result in a single policy victory.  Instead, these campaigns promoted racism among white union members that ultimately provided fertile ground for Trump to make inroads among the white working class with his anti-China, “America First”, protectionist, and nativist rhetoric.    

Breakthrough Exchanges 

In sharp contrast to the official policy of the AFL-CIO, in 2001, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA) invited leaders of the Chinese labor movement to attend the APALA national convention held in Honolulu, Hawaii.  This was the first time an AFL-CIO organization had invited the Chinese unions to speak before their conference.  The APALA leadership met with the Chinese labor delegation at the convention, and discussed a mutual interest in strengthening relations between our two labor movements.  In response, the Chinese union leaders invited APALA to bring a delegation of U.S. labor leaders to visit China. APALA leaders have continued to engage in solidarity delegation exchanges between China and the U.S. over the past twenty years.  

In 2002, APALA arranged for Service Employees International Union (SEIU) President Andy Stern and other key labor leaders to visit with labor leaders of China, breaking with the AFL-CIO policy of no engagement. The Change to Win Federation, in which SEIU is a founding member, established formal relations with the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) in 2005, and explored collaborative projects together.  

One outcome was a joint meeting between ACFTU and U.S. labor leaders to discuss the fierce anti-union policies of Walmart in the U.S.  In subsequent years, the ACFTU successfully unionized 107,000 workers at 411 Walmart stores.  While this represented a major organizing victory for the ACFTU, some U.S. union leaders dismissed this victory and asserted that the ACFTU functioned as a “company union.” 

Although there was an agreement to develop a health care worker exchange program to share front line experiences in combatting the spread of AIDS, the Change to Win leadership withdrew from the initiative before it was launched. The Change to Win Federation’s internal implosion caused them to abandon many of their global and domestic ambitions, including pursuing relations with Chinese unions. 

In 2007, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor established the very first formal partnership between unions in the U.S. and unions in China.  California State Senator Maria Elena Durazo, who was then the leader of the Los Angeles labor movement, led a delegation of Los Angeles labor leaders to meet with leaders of the Shanghai Municipal Trade Union Council (SMTUC).  Maria Elena Durazo and her counterpart, Chen Hao, the leader of the SMTUC, signed a memorandum of understanding between the two labor councils to meet regularly, to promote friendship, and to advance labor solidarity.  During the inaugural trip, the Chinese dock worker union and the ILWU toast was one of many meetings to discuss common interests.  This partnership still continues fifteen years later.

In follow up labor delegation visits, Maria Elena Durazo and Rusty Hicks, another former leader of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, toured the BYD corporation in Shenzhen which manufactures electric buses and cars.  On a separate trip, Hicks and Los Angeles labor leaders also toured the China Railroad Corporation (CRRC) in Changchun.  During the delegation visits, the Los Angeles labor leaders met with the union leaders representing workers at CRRC and BYD.  

Subsequently, in 2013 BYD and in 2014 CRRC opened up manufacturing facilities in Los Angeles County.  In part through these labor exchanges with BYD and CRRC, both Chinese-based corporations agreed to “project labor agreements” in the construction of the factories in Los Angeles, and both agreed to union neutrality.  Workers of both the CRRC and BYD facilities in Los Angeles are currently represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the Sheetmetal Workers Union.  In a separate delegation visit, the presidents of the IBEW and the Sheetmetal Workers Union also toured the CRRC facility in Changchun.  

These exchanges represent concrete mutual advantages of engaging in communication and dialogue between unions and workers in the U.S. and China.  CRRC and BYD are two examples that benefited from U.S. labor engagement where Chinese corporations agreed to project labor agreements as well as union contracts that now are providing high wage, union manufacturing jobs to U.S. workers.

Although the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and the Shanghai Municipal Trade Union Council partnership represents a breakthrough in relationships between unions and workers of our two countries, at the national level, there is still no formal relationship between the AFL-CIO and the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, nor has the AFL-CIO yet articulated a cohesive position regarding relations with the Chinese labor federation.  

A major change in policy came at the AFL-CIO convention in Los Angeles in 2013.  For the first time, leaders of the Chinese labor movement were invited to attend the convention, and a special workshop was held to address union-to-union relationships between the AFL-CIO and the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), representing 302 million workers in ten national industrial unions.  Later that year, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka visited China and met with leaders of the Chinese labor movement.  He was greeted by Chen Hao, the former leader of the Shanghai Trade Union Municipal Council who had since been promoted to the national headquarters of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions in Beijing. 

This was a historic breakthrough, representing the first time the President of the AFL-CIO traveled to China to meet with ACFTU union leaders.  Richard Trumka visited national and local union bodies, work places including the Port of Shanghai, and a university for mine workers.  Unfortunately, this was the first and only trip by an AFL-CIO President, and plans for future exchanges at the national level never materialized. The factors that have led to this set back included the AFL-CIO’s support for the democracy movement in Hong Kong, the heightened geo-political conflict between the U.S. and Chinese governments, and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Relations with the ACFTU, the only legally sanctioned union in China, is not without its challenges.  Greg Mantsios wrote an article in New Labor Forum about the complexities of engagement the ACFTU, which I largely agree with.  The ACFTU does not play the same role as unions in the U.S.  There is no right to strike in China, and the ACFTU assumes many of the responsibilities that would be overseen by government agencies in the U.S. However, Mantsios argued that worker-to-worker and union-to-union exchanges remain the only way to strengthen communication and understanding.    

With the election of Liz Shuler as the new President of the AFL-CIO in 2021, once again an opportunity exists to re-establish relationships between the two largest labor movements in the world, to explore mutual interests. Improving union to union relationships would provide a sharp contrast to the counter-productive anti-China rhetoric that has become so ubiquitous in the U.S. 

Anti-China Rhetoric and Asian American and Pacific Islanders Hate Crimes

U.S. – China relations took a turn for the worse under the Donald Trump Administration.  Not only did the “America First” rhetoric and China-bashing harm U.S.-China relations, but it also functions as a distraction from the central problem confronting workers in both countries: the excessive power of multinational corporations to exploit workers and drain resources from working-class communities.  The anti-China rhetoric advanced by unions confuses American working-class voters and union members, and has provided fertile ground for white workers in particular to embrace the Trump agenda. 

Unfortunately, the U.S. labor movement has a long history of supporting Asia-bashing and the rise in anti-Asian violence, thus obscuring the class interests of U.S. workers.  In the 1970’s and 1980’s, U.S. manufacturing unions blamed Japan for the demise of the U.S. auto industry.  The UAW held public events to encourage their members to vent their anger by smashing Japanese imported cars.  In 1982, two white unemployed auto workers murdered Chinese American Vincent Chin in Detroit who they mistakenly believed was Japanese. The killers were sentenced to probation for their crime, which ignited a national protest from the Asian American community.

In March 2020, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance and a coalition of 188 organizations co-signed a letter to the Trump White House, the Department of Justice and the FBI urging them to publicly recognize and denounce the escalating racist attacks and discrimination against the Asian American community in the wake of rising concerns over COVID-19.  Not surprisingly, the appeal fell on deaf ears by the Trump administration.

The unfortunate reality is that anti-Asian violence has been a facet of life for the Asian American community for more than 150 years.  It has been exacerbated and encouraged by racist rhetoric, including the dehumanization of Asian people and attacks on China, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, and other Asian countries over the years.  

Even elected officials are not immune from anti-China rhetoric.  Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, who is Chinese American, recently enacted public health safeguards due to the pandemic.  She was flooded by racist attacks that called her “Mayor Wuhan.”

The Asian American community has stood up and organized against anti-Asian hate nationally.  The Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance is currently engaged in a national campaign to stop Anti-Asian Hate in partnership with key unions with a large Asian membership base, and to draw the link between the rise in Anti-Asian violence and other forms of racism and anti-immigrant policies, and to forge multi-racial unity.  APALA has stood with Black Lives Matter in actions throughout the country to link the attacks on Black people with attacks on other people of color.  

Opportunities to Build Cross-Border Solidarity

Noam Chomsky addressed the heightened tensions between the U.S. and China in a talk on February 4, 2022 entitled “Work Together or Perish Together.”  He criticized the Biden administration’s provocative actions towards China, and Biden’s continuation of the Trump policy in the region.  Chomsky also challenged the Pentagon framing of the “threat” posed by China as a pretext for U.S. military expansion, and called for diplomacy and negotiations to improve U.S. China relations.  

If relations between the U.S. and China continue to deteriorate, leading to more trade wars and potential military conflict, it is workers in China and the U.S. who will suffer.  It is in this context that union-to-union and worker to worker engagement are critically important.

A new opportunity currently exists with the new leadership of the AFL-CIO to advance a forward-looking approach to develop communication and partnerships between unions and workers of China and the U.S. around mutual interests.  The global pandemic has clearly shown the necessity of global cooperation to address our collective needs to distribute vaccinations and to advance public health practices at the workplace and in the community.  Health care and public health workers of China and the U.S. would benefit by learning from one another during this critical time.

A strategic focus of China-U.S. labor solidarity should be joint efforts to rein in multi-national corporations that have huge joint investments in both the U.S. and China.  Many U.S. based multi-nationals have taken advantage of the massive and growing consumer markets in China.  There are more U.S. automobiles manufactured and sold in China than the entire U.S. domestic market.  Many Chinese-based multi-national corporations are also investing heavily in industries throughout the U.S., and the CRRC and BYD are only two examples.  Exchanges between Chinese and U.S. unions representing workers in the very same multi-national corporations could strengthen collective bargaining and a stronger pro-worker agenda in both countries.

Worker solidarity between the U.S. and China should also train its sights on advancing labor policies that protect worker rights, promote sustainable wages and benefits, and demand that multi-national corporations that are operating in both U.S. and China respect worker rights, provide good union jobs and benefits, and address climate change.  

As the two largest polluters in the world, the U.S. and China have a shared mutual benefit and responsibility to implement aggressive policies to counter climate change. We should demand that the labor unions in both countries embrace changes to green our economy and prepare for workplace policies that actively reduce global warming.  Concretely, there are huge green energy initiatives in China that the U.S. labor movement would benefit from learning about.

Even in this challenging political environment where relations between the U.S. and China are strained and conflictual, the AFL-CIO should expand dialogue, communication, and partnerships to advance the interests of workers in both the U.S. and China.  Asian Americans and the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, who have historically been excluded by the AFL-CIO in the formulation of their China policies, need to be included in this process.  

1 The China Mirage: The Hidden History of American Disaster in Asia, 2015, James Bradley

2 “Tea for Two:  Chinese and U.S. Labor” by Gregory Mantsios, New Labor Forum (2002).  


Power Concedes Nothing: February 27 Monthly Political Forum with Linda Burnham & Max Elbaum

Join Voices for New Democracy and our comrades at Convergence Magazine on Sunday February 27th at 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT for our next monthly political forum hosting Linda Burnham& Max Elbaum, co-editors of the new book Power Concedes Nothing: How Grassroots Organizing Wins Elections.

Burnham and Elbaum will discuss the new book, a collection of essays exploring grassroots mobilization as the key to electoral power, including ousting Trump in 2020. Now, with 2022 posing the greater threats to democracy, all progressives need to unify and work together to preserve it while at the same time building grassroots power. Join us.

Click here on Sunday, February 27th at 7 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. PT to join the forum.


Comment on the Biden Administration’s Continued Support of Trump-Era Immigration Title 42 and Remain in Mexico Policies

| José Z. Calderón |

Biden could have broken with Trump’s anti-immigrant policies and allowed anyone who wished to apply for asylum to be able to do so at a port of entry and increase the possibilities of immigrants from Central America and from places like Haiti to obtain lawful employment (through such measures as H-2B visas).

Instead, the Biden administration has kept in place a Trump-era policy, Title 42, which does the opposite by indefinitely closing the border to “nonessential travel” (to supposedly “limit the spread of the coronavirus”) and increases the deportation of those who are seeking work or who are seeking to apply for asylum. Title 42, under both the Trump administration and now under Biden, allows for the Border Patrol to decide who can enter the process of asylum and who cannot. As a result, in the last year, border authorities applied Title 42 to more than 80% of encounters with immigrants resulting in 530,000 expulsions of which 16,000 were children migrating alone and 34,000 children-plus parents. Adding to the number of expulsions, the Biden administration has moved on speeding up deportations of some migrant families through “expedited removal,” allowing for ICE to deport them without a hearing before an immigration judge.  

In this light, our organizing efforts, in addition to supporting DACA and Temporary Protective Status measures, has to include a halt to the contradictory government policies of Title 42 and a call for humane refugee asylum policies. 

Along these same lines, it is important to organize against the Biden administration’s reinstating of a Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy, that is part of a deal struck with the Mexican government forcing asylum seekers to stay in that country until their U.S. immigration court date. Under this policy, about 70,000 immigrants have been returned to Mexico. Although the Biden administration justifies its actions by claiming that it is only following court orders, that it is applying “humanitarian speed-ups” of court proceedings of migrants and refugees, and that it is providing avenues for access to legal counsel, there is no getting around that the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policies are resulting in mass deportations and inhumane treatment. There are thousands of immigrants, seeking protection from increased violence in their home countries, who are being deported back to areas where they are met with brutal attacks and kidnappings perpetrated by deadly cartels and corrupt officials.  For instance, according to Human Rights First, there were at least 1,544 publicly documented cases of rape, kidnapping, assault, and other crimes committed against individuals sent back under these policies this last year. 

Meanwhile, Kamala Harris has been assigned to focus on the “root” causes of migration in Latin America, announcing that the plan will deal with issues of  economic insecurity and inequality, combating democratic corruption, and promoting respect for human rights. 

While some of us in the immigrant rights movement have promoted policies that would focus on changing the economic conditions in the sending countries that are forcing so many to migrate here, the reality is that they are meaningless in this time period when there is a need to prioritize the passage and implementation of pro-immigrant legislation here in the U. S.  These gestures by Kamala Harris, focused on the conditions abroad, affect very little in the immediate and, with the Republicans already making immigration a central issue, the prospects for building the kind of movement that is needed to ensure the defeat of the right in the mid-term elections is further damaged.


Movement Building is Essential to Advance Immigration Reform

| Kent Wong |

This article will appear in the next issue of the New Labor Forum.

Fundamentally, we need to build an immigrant rights movement to create the change we need.   Reliance on the Democratic Party or on policy formulations alone will never result in meaningful change unless we can successfully build a movement led by immigrant workers and immigrant youth.   

The Obama-Biden administration was responsible for more than two million deportations, the worst record in U.S. history.  During his 2020 presidential election campaign, Biden promised immigration reform within his first year in office.  Not only do those promises remain unfulfilled, but unfortunately, Biden has maintained some of the repressive anti-immigrant policies implemented by Trump.

We support the necessity of building a broad-based alliance to advance meaningful immigration reform.  The alliance must include undocumented immigrants themselves, the labor movement, African Americans, youth and students, environmentalists, and the faith-based community.  

While we obviously supported the Biden-Harris ticket, and celebrate the end of the horrific Trump administration, we should not be surprised about Biden’s lukewarm commitment to immigration reform in light of his track record.  The Biden administration will only do the right thing if there is a strong movement demanding change.

DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) was one of the few immigrant rights victories that was won during the Obama-Biden administration.  DACA was a breakthrough in providing a relief to more than 800,000 immigrant youth who otherwise would still live under the constant fear of deportation and would not be able to legally work.  

The immigrant youth movement played a decisive role in securing one of the few immigration reform victories under the Obama-Biden administration.  Yet it is important to note that DACA was not prioritized or actively supported by major immigrant rights organizations.  Even the Federal DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) was not a priority of major immigrant rights organizations, because of their fear that if the DREAM Act moved forward as a stand-alone bill, this would undermine the passage of comprehensive immigration reform.  

We strongly disagree with this analysis and approach.  The one-sided push for comprehensive immigration reform and reliance on the Democratic Party has been a failed strategy, that has effectively yielded nothing. 

The right wing understands the benefit of incremental change on immigration.  They have tried to secure anti-immigration victories wherever and whenever possible, at a federal, state, and local level.  They have built an anti-immigrant movement grounded in racism and nativism, and have used the anti-immigrant issue to mobilize their primarily white constituency at the ballot box.

Instead of relying the Democratic Party, we believe that we must focus our energies on movement building.  And two major movements that have helped to shift the national debate on immigrant rights are the immigrant workers movement, and the immigrant youth movement.  We would benefit from deepening an understanding of the role of each, in order to confront the challenges ahead. 

Immigrant Workers Movement

The U.S. labor movement has a decidedly mixed history when it comes to immigration reform.  From their support of the passage of the racist Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, U.S. labor has historically embraced anti-immigrant policies.  During the last major immigration legislation passed by Congress, the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, labor advocated for employer sanctions to impose civil and criminal penalties for employers who knowingly hiring undocumented immigrants.  They erroneously believed that this would safeguard jobs for U.S.-born workers. 

Employer Sanctions has been a disaster that has done little to nothing to punish employers for hiring undocumented immigrants.  Instead, employer sanctions have caused great to harm to undocumented immigrants who been viciously exploited with little legal recourse, and driven further into the underground economy.  

The emergence of the immigrant workers movement was a powerful force that helped to reinvigorate parts of the U.S. labor movement, and harness the power of a new generation of predominantly Latino immigrant workers to transform parts of the labor movement.  In Los Angeles, the legendary Justice for Janitors Movement and the organizing of the Hotel Workers under the leadership of Maria Elena Durazo represented historic breakthroughs in not only immigrant worker organizing, but the embrace of social movement unionism.  The victory of the Home Care workers, led for years by black women, also greatly diversified the labor movement of California and brought more women, people of color, and low wage immigrant workers into the labor movement than any other organizing campaign in decades.

The national debate on the AFL-CIO policy on immigration came to a head during the 1999 convention held in Los Angeles.  On the opening day of the convention, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor organized a march within the convention hall with hundreds of recently organized immigrant workers of color.  The marchers jumped on to the podium where the largely aging, white male AFL-CIO Executive Council was seated, dramatically contrasting two distinct parts of the labor movement.  A remarkable change in the AFL-CIO immigration policy came the following year, in 2000, led by a progressive coalition of key unions including UNITE-HERE, SEIU, UFCW, and the United Farmworkers of America. For the first time, the AFL-CIO lined up on the right side of history on immigration, calling for full rights and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. 

In 2003, UNITE HERE launched the Immigrant Worker Freedom Ride, a series of national bus tours that drew on the tradition of the Civil Rights movement.  In states and cities throughout the country, the Freedom Ride built union and community alliances with a movement-building orientation.  Congressman John Lewis and Rev. James Lawson Jr. worked with the Immigrant Worker Freedom Ride to connect the emerging immigrant rights movement with veterans from the Civil Rights movement from decades before. 

In 2006, the largest May Day marches in U.S. history held in dozens of cities across the country were organized to respond to draconian anti-immigrant legislation in Congress.  It was a profound reflection of the power of the immigrant workers movement, that successfully led to the defeat of the pending legislation.  Ironically, the largest May Day in U.S. history was not led by the U.S. labor movement, but by immigrant workers themselves.  In fact, some conservative union leaders watched from the sidelines, refusing to support the just demands of immigrant workers to end deportations and for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. 

The election of Tefere Gebre as the AFL-CIO Executive Vice President in 2013 was a breakthrough.  For the first time in history, a black immigrant and political refugee became one of the top officers of the U.S. labor movement.  Gebre was previously the leader of the Orange County Federation of Labor, where he mobilized the power of immigrant workers to not only reinvigorate the labor movement, but to change the political landscape.   Orange County in 2016 voted for a Democrat for President for the first time since the 1930’s, and in 2018 Democrats swept the entire Congressional delegation in what was previously a bastion of right-wing politics.  

In 2021, Liz Schuler was elected as the first woman President in AFL-CIO history.  Currently, her two other national officers are black men, another historic first.  The first leadership team of women and people of color within the AFL-CIO could change the national political environment through building a grassroots movement to support immigration reform.  

Immigrant Youth Movement

Immigrant youth have been at the forefront of securing meaningful immigration policy victories over the last decade. Though immigrant youth have been organizing for a long time, the year 2010 was a game changer. 

In May of 2010, five undocumented youth held a nonviolent sit-in at the office of Senator and former presidential-candidate John McCain, risking arrest and deportation.  This courageous act exposed McCain’s political opportunism as a Senate leader who had previously co-sponsored the DREAM Act, yet instead withdrew his support to align with Sheriff Joe Arpaio.  

In the coming months, immigrant youth engaged in unprecedented activism from hunger strikes in Los Angeles and Texas, a 1,500 mile march on-foot from Florida to Washington known as the “Trail of Dreams,” a “Dream Freedom Ride” caravan from Los Angeles to Washington D.C., and many other forms of nonviolent civil disobedience. The emergence of United We Dream, a national coalition of undocumented youth organizations, as well as “Dream Teams” of undocumented activists in states and cities across the country set the foundation for a new immigrant youth movement. 

For more than twenty years, the DREAM Act, overwhelmingly supported by the public, has been blocked in Congress.  The DREAM Act could provide a pathway to citizenship for qualifying immigrant youth and could change their lives, as well as the lives of their families and their communities. Despite the tremendous efforts made by immigrant youth, the DREAM Act was unable to get through the Senate because of a threatened filibuster in December of 2010. This was a bipartisan failure.  A handful of Democrats voted against it, while some senators like John McCain and Joe Manchin, did not even show up to vote. As heartbreaking as this loss was, immigrant youth did not give up. Instead, they directed their attention to other efforts that could harness their energy and collective power.

The failure of the DREAM Act in December 2010, was the impetus for the launch of “Dream Summer” in 2011. Dream Summer is the first and only national fellowship program run by and for immigrant youth, launched by the UCLA Labor Center with support of United We Dream. The program aims to empower the next generation of social justice leaders by providing leadership and professional development opportunities to immigrant youth that embraces an intersectional, intergenerational, cross-racial approach. In its first year, the program received over 1,000 applications from eager immigrant youth that were ready to join the movement.  Since its founding, the Dream Resource Center (DRC) of the UCLA Labor Center has emerged as a national source for innovative research, education, leadership development and policy on immigration issues. 

Dream Summer centers the immigrant youth voice in local and national conversations that directly impact them in order to achieve representation, opportunity, and justice for immigrant communities. Over the past ten years, Dream Summer has played a pivotal role in developing immigrant youth leaders who have secured legislative victories such as the California Dream Act, DACA, and Health4AllKids in California. 

In 2011, immigrant youth organized actions across the state of California to secure the passage of the California Dream Act, which for the past decade has provided tens of thousands of immigrant youth access to state financial aid for eligible undocumented Californians. Between 2016 – 2017 alone, more than 54,000 California immigrant youth applied for the California Dream Act. 

Undocumented immigrant youth, many of them leaders of Dream Summer such as Neidi Dominguez and Ju Hong, were instrumental in advancing a national strategy to push President Obama to introduce Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in 2012. Today, over 800,000 immigrant youth have been able to work and have protection from deportation as a result of this victory. 

In 2013, Dream Summer launched the Health Ambassadors Fellowship. The late Beatriz Solis from The California Endowment led the effort to support 114 immigrant youth to work at the intersections of health and immigration. The Dream Summer fellows produced a  series of reports entitled, Undocumented and Uninsured, which informed policymakers about the need for health care for all Californians, regardless of legal status. In 2015, California passed Health4All Kids, which expanded full-scope medical to low-income children under the age of 19, regardless of immigration status. Most recently, immigrant youth were also key in securing the passage of the California Values Act, which limits collaboration between law enforcement and immigration officials in the detention and deportation process.

2021 marked the 10th anniversary of Dream Summer. Since its inception, more than 820 immigrant youth from across the country have participated in the program. Dream Summer has also developed partnerships with over 265 social justice organizations. Many Dream Summer alumni have gone off to hold leadership positions in various national, state and local social justice organizations. Undocumented immigrant youth continue to be at the forefront of the fight for immigrant justice.

Movement building is essential to advance Immigration reform.  Unfortunately, some immigrant rights organizations speak on behalf of undocumented immigrants, while not promoting undocumented immigrants in key leadership positions. This is problematic, and has contributed to a failure to focus on movement building and a commitment to undocumented immigrant empowerment.  History teaches us that we must build the immigrant workers movement and the immigrant youth movement to secure meaningful immigration reform.


1/23 Forum on Black Liberation with Robin D. G. Kelley

Please join Voices for New Democracy for our next monthly political forum on Sunday, January 23rd at 4 p.m. PT / 7 p.m. ET for a conversation about the past and future of Black liberation with UCLA professor Robin D. G. Kelley. Click here to join the forum when it begins.

Professor Kelley will discuss the past and future of the latest iteration of Black liberation (BLM and more), and also reflect back on where we were 25-30 years ago as a way to think about the folks we recently lost and the lessons we might take from that moment, which Kelley believes was as dynamic and potentially transformational as 2014-2020.

As background reading, Professor Kelley encourages participants to read this short piece by Jamala Rogers, which sums up some of the internal crises facing the BLM movement: “things we don’t want to talk about but must.”


12/12 Forum on the Climate Crisis: Background Reading

Join Voices for New Democracy on Sunday, December 12th at 7pm ET / 4pm PT for our next monthly political forum on the climate crisis. Join the conversation at

José Z. Calderón will moderate the forum with Bob Eng and Harrison Carpenter-Neuhaus to discuss the scale of the climate crisis, its roots in the capitalist mode of production, and the financial and political tools we might use to mitigate climate change and transition to a low-carbon economy. Following their presentation, we will open the floor for questions and conversation.

In advance of the forum, our panelists have assembled a list of background readings and videos to help ground a shared understanding of the climate crisis.

Longer articles discussing the current state of the climate crisis, the climate movement, and political possibilities:

Picking Winners, Alyssa Battistoni, New Left Review

Plan, Mood, Battlefield – Reflections on the Green New Deal, Thea Riofrancos, Viewpoint Magazine

Green Growth vs. Degrowth, Beth Stratford, Open Democracy

Zero-Sum Game, Cédric Duranc, New Left Review

The Extractive Circuit, Ajay Singh Chaudhary, The Baffler

A Coal Mine for Every Wildfire, James Butler, London Review of Books

Ecological Leninism, Adam Tooze, London Review of Books

Short pieces, including refresher videos:

We Don’t Have To Halt Climate Action To Fight Racism

Opinion | Think This Pandemic Is Bad? We Have Another Crisis Coming (Published 2020)

Kristen Bell + Giant Ant: Why is the world warming up?

Kristen Bell + Giant Ant: What is net-zero?

Kristen Bell + Giant Ant: Why is 1.5 degrees such a big deal?

Kristen Bell + Giant Ant: Why act now?