Categories
Economic Justice

Robin D. G. Kelley Interview & Forum

As we enter the new year, Voices for New Democracy is proud to announce our next monthly political forum will take place on January 23rd at 4 p.m. PT / 7 p.m. ET featuring UCLA Professor Robin D. G. Kelley.

In anticipation of the upcoming forum, we are reprinting an interview with Kelley from March 2021 by the writer Vinson Cunningham, which delves into key themes of his work and analysis. In it, Kelley discusses Black Marxism and the legacy of Cedric Robinson, highlights the role of the Black radical tradition in the summer 2020 uprising, interrogates and clarifies our understanding of racial capitalism, and highlights the importance of solidarity in advancing movements for justice. Among other wide-ranging topics, Kelly also touches his experience with the Communist Workers Party and his personal history of activism.

The interview (below) was originally published in the L.A. Times. We look forward to joining you later this month in our forum with Professor Kelley.

The future of L.A. is here. Robin D.G. Kelley’s radical imagination shows us the way.

| By Vinson Cunningham |

Robin D.G. Kelley is, for my money, the great historian of our era. He has written groundbreaking works about, among other things, Alabama’s Communist Party during the Great Depression; the life of Thelonious Monk; and the visions of activists and thinkers from the African diaspora. On top of his work at UCLA — where he is a distinguished professor and holds the Gary B. Nash Endowed Chair in U.S. history — he issues a steady stream of limpid, persuasive, almost casually brilliant essays on politics, current affairs and cultural matters for Boston Review and other outlets. He keeps an eye on grassroots movements and on how maintaining a fertile, humane vision for the future creates new opportunities for radical action in the present.

In the year 2000, Kelley led the charge to reissue “Black Marxism,” a great, globe-spanning work of political history by one of his mentors, Cedric Robinson — successfully rescuing the book, then out of print, from near-obscurity. Since then, he has quite accidentally become the foremost authority on the late Robinson’s work and ideas. (“I did not want that,” he told me, sounding good-naturedly harried by the distinction.) Last year, after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among others, at the hand of police officers, and the global protest uprising that followed, UNC Press decided to reissue “Black Marxism,” which — as Kelley had predicted two decades earlier — had become more relevant than ever.

Kelley wrote a rousing foreword for the new edition of “Black Marxism” and is working on a book called “Black Bodies Swinging: An American Postmortem,” about how the protests of 2020 are connected to a long history of resistance.

———

Vinson Cunningham: I’ve been thinking about you and Cedric Robinson. I love how, in your foreword to “Black Marxism,” this new foreword, you always call him by his first name. It’s like: Marx and Engels and Cedric. That’s moving to me. It reminds me of one of my favorite essays, “Looking for Zora,” where Alice Walker goes to find Zora Neale Hurston’s grave. There’s a kind of artistic and intellectual lineage that’s not only about reading — there’s an affective aspect, something to do with feeling and familiarity. What is it about Cedric for you?

Robin D.G. Kelley: I was a student of Cedric’s. He was on my dissertation committee. I was in awe of him. Reading “Black Marxism” that first time in 1984, it just blew my mind and changed my whole orientation. Everything I do as a scholar can be traced back to that book — everything.

He passed in 2016, and with his passing, that’s the first time I ever really dug into his biography. His widow, Elizabeth Robinson, knew that I was close to Cedric intellectually and in other ways. She said, “Look, no one’s writing an obit. We can’t get an obit anywhere.” And I said, “I’ll write one.” I interviewed her, talked to her, and learned all these details that I was kicking myself. I was like, “If I had asked the question … .” I didn’t ask the question because I’m a very shy person. I know that I’m in the public and stuff, but it’s a different thing.

VC: Why did you think the time was right for this third edition?

RDGK: I confess, I’m not the one who came up with the idea of putting it out again. It was UNC Press: Brandon Proia. In the midst of the protests — you had 26 million people on the street. He emailed me and Elizabeth and said, “Look, now’s the time to put out a third edition.” With the new foreword I wanted, one, to really tell Cedric’s story, to situate his intellectual biography to understand where this book came from. Two, to situate the book in relationship to the rebellion of 2020 and talk about it as a manifestation of a black radical tradition. So much of the conversation in political circles, coming out of or preceding the 2020 rebellion, all use terms like “racial capitalism” more than anything else. So I wanted to try to understand this movement, while also trying to clarify what Cedric meant by (a) Black radical tradition and (b) racial capitalism.

VC: What are the difficulties in defining what racial capitalism means?

RDGK: The slightly more traditional Marxist scholars reject the idea that capitalism can actually be racial. They say, “Race is real. It’s a phenomenon. But it’s not really the fundamental one. It sort of gets in the way of what’s really the root of oppression: the reproduction of a capitalized class.” That’s class reduction. And then meanwhile, the so-called race reductionist position — you could call it Afro-pessimism lite — is that we’re just for Black people. They say, “The whole structure of Western civilization is based on anti-Blackness and anti-Blackness alone. And therefore, there can be no allyship, there can be no solidarity.” This kind of standoffishness, saying Black people need to just be for Black people, is not Cedric’s position at all.

The class reductionist versus race reductionist debate doesn’t really advance us. Cedric advances us by helping us understand how capitalism is based on racial regimes. So, for example, property may be capital, in the Marxist sense, but property values are dependent on things that are nonmaterial — that are ideological, or superstructural — like race. Capitalism is rooted in a civilization that is based on difference. This doesn’t at all mean that white people are the enemy, or that Black people are all victims, which I totally reject. It doesn’t mean that all white people benefit. It just simply means that capitalism is structured through difference.

I have made a point of the fact that Cedric was writing a critique of Marxism — but not a hostile critique. He wasn’t rejecting all of Marx and Engels’ ideas, but he felt like Marxism was a window to understanding forms of radicalism that neither Marx nor Engels, nor Lenin, and others, could really grasp. Ironically, some people have gone to a kind of extreme, saying, “There’s nothing in Marxism that’s useful. It’s just a white man making up some stuff, and Cedric is right.” And I’m like, “No.” I find myself actually becoming more of a Marxist in my defense of Cedric.

VC: What do you view as your role as an intellectual? As you write “Black Bodies Swinging,” how do you make sure that what you’re describing is not only scrupulously true but also feeds into a politics that helps us both survive in the present and get somewhere more free in the future?

RDGK: That’s a great question. I feel like it’s not mandatory but it’s really important for me to be engaged in these movements, to make no pretense about some kind of dispassionate, detached objectivity. I think that we need to practice something that’s even better than objectivity. And that is, as you know, critique. Critique, to me, is better than objectivity. Objectivity is a false stance. I’m not neutral. I’ve never been neutral. I write about struggles and social movements because I actually don’t think the world is right and something needs to change.

As a historian, as a writer, I’ve got to try to be as critical as possible. I’m always trying to be truthful. As I write and produce this work, I learn things that we didn’t see before, but then, the work also reveals things that I failed to understand. And so to me, it’s always a process.

VC: Speaking of that kind of deep involvement, I would love to hear you talk about what California — and maybe Los Angeles, specifically — has meant for you in terms of your life but also in terms of your imagination of struggle.

RDGK: I came to California by way of Seattle in high school at the age of 15. It was in Pasadena. I was able to go to a state university where the tuition or the fees were $90 a semester. Cal State Long Beach. This was a time when we had a lot more Black students and brown students in college. I was involved with the Black student union. I had a part-time study group that was organized by the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party in Long Beach. That’s where I read Walter Rodney and Samir Amin and C.L.R. James — not so much in classrooms but in study groups.

A lot of the young people at the university and older people were working-class people — these were not the elites. In the ’80s we had the invasion of Grenada, we had the sanctuary movement, and the wars in Central America that were just driving Central Americans into Southern California; there was the anti-apartheid movement.

I ended up joining the Communist Workers Party at some point around 1983 or ‘84. I can’t remember when. [Jesse] Jackson’s 1984 campaign was really, really important. We had the Olympics come to Los Angeles in ’84. We organized a whole protest around the Olympics called Survival Fest. And we had a march down Wilshire Boulevard, MacArthur Park. There were like 10,000 people. Got no press, but 10,000 people marching down Wilshire Boulevard. Demanding what? Our demands were jobs, peace and freedom. It was a very exciting time.

VC: I’m glad you mentioned Jesse Jackson, because I have often lamented our resistance to his idea of a Rainbow Coalition. He was explicitly tying rural whites to Latino immigrants to Black working-class people, and putting forward the idea that we can only do this together. Solidarity was in the air.

RDGK: And, of course, where does Jesse Jackson get the idea of the Rainbow Coalition? It comes from Fred Hampton. He coined the term. The Black Panther Party, Illinois chapter, coined the term. And it’s through, specifically, a man named Jack O’Dell. I knew him. Jack was a former Black Communist, a close associate of Dr. King’s and then of Jesse’s, who bridged the generations and brought a left orientation to the civil rights movement. He was the one who introduced the Rainbow Coalition to Jackson. In our current moment, it’s hard to talk about things like a Rainbow Coalition politically. It goes against the white-ally idea, which I’m not really big into, where the ally is perceived to stand aside, standing there ready to be …

VC: … happy to help.

RDGK: Yeah, “happy to help.” The Rainbow Coalition’s more like, “We need to build a movement and we’re all in it.”

VC: And my freedom is a part of yours. I can’t get mine without you getting swept up too.

RDGK: Absolutely. The Rainbow Coalition notion really happened at the grass roots. It had less to do with Jackson and more to do with all the organizing on the ground. When Jackson ran for office, there was a vacuum because the Democratic Party establishment did not like him. The Black Democratic Party establishment did not like him. So that vacuum meant that all of these left-wing organizations basically swept in and became his advisors, Line of March, Communist Workers Party, the Communist Labor Party. I can name them because I was part of it. I was a member of the Communist Workers Party working on the Jackson campaign, all part of this underground of left-wing forces.

VC: You’ve said that in some ways the Black radical tradition comes together at “the crossroads where Black revolt and fascism meet.” What does fascism have to do with our moment, and what resources do we have to fight it?

RDGK: Yes.

VC: In order to fight it, you have to fight it everywhere it exists and be in solidarity with — show love for — everybody who lives under it.

RK: Internationalism is the Raid for the cockroach of fascism. Because fascism, it’s always about using nationalism, and the nation, as a bludgeon to generate support for death policies, on behalf of death governments. For violence and repression and exploitation, internationalism is the antidote, always.

Categories
Ecological Justice Economic Justice Environmental Justice Global Peace & Collaboration

Watch: Forum on the Climate Crisis

On Sunday, December 12th, Voices for New Democracy hosted our latest monthly political forum exploring the climate crisis and what it means for today’s left.

Moderated by our very own José Z. Calderón, the discussion was led by Voices for New Democracy friends Bob Eng and Harrison Carpenter-Neuhaus, starting with a presentation highlighting the scope of the climate crisis and the path toward a decarbonized world. The discussion touched on important and challenging issues raised by the specter of climate change: the disruption of extreme weather events, demobilization due to “climate grief,” a new era of geopolitics driven by demand for clean energy commodities like lithium, and the threat of exploitative business models driving the global energy transition. Conversation with the audience also raised important questions about how the left should orient itself politically amid these headwinds: whether we must embrace the movement for “degrowth,” prioritize indigenous liberation and anti-colonialism in our efforts (as advocated in The Red Deal), and how to engage with more mainstream labor-climate proposals like the Green New Deal.

Given the scope of the climate crisis, our presenters believe that climate politics represents the political terrain of the 21st century. But big questions remain about how the left can rise to the moment, and we need your analysis.

With that in mind, we encourage our readers to write to us to share their thoughts and analysis around these questions. If you’re interested in responding to any points raised by this discussion, please email voicesfornewdemocracy@gmail.com.

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.

Categories
Economic Justice Global Peace & Collaboration

Watch: Forum on Palestine, 2021 Unity Uprising, and Beyond

In our latest monthly forum, Danya from the U.S. Palestinian Community Network joined Voices for New Democracy to discuss political developments in Palestine and recent uprisings throughout the occupied territories. Exploring the history of Zionism, Palestinian activism and resistance, and ongoing developments in the region, the conversation offers an important overview of the status quo in Palestine and possibilities for political change.

Watch the full forum below.

Categories
Economic Justice

Post-Industrial Systemic Transformative Thinking in the Contemporary Period

| José Z. Calderón |

Hidden too often in the mainstream’s version of history in this country are the many collective efforts that have created economic and political models of systemic structural change — models nationally and globally which have sought to create structural changes in Capitalism.  

We have the commonality that there is a need to advance a dialogue on the contradictions inherent in the system of capitalism, deepen research on the new local and global economic models that are emerging, and promote the growth of a movement based on the creation of transformative structural models of equity.   

With the inability of traditional politics and politicians internationally not being able to come up with viable solutions to a growing economic crisis, there is a growing movement to advance theories and practices for a new economy.  

This movement is one that is based on rethinking the nature of ownership and rethinking the definition of “growth” as a basis for gauging whether there is progress.  This is a movement advancing a transformation of the economy so that the public, rather than a small elite, little by little come to control the productive assets in the society.  

At the base of this rethinking is the turning around of a system that survives on the existence of an unequal stratification system and the divisions it creates on the basis of wages, wealth, and opportunity.  

An emphasis on the quantity of profit over quality of life has led to the rise of a right-wing movement to make sure that our potential power is scattered and decapitated through: deregulating and allowing corporations to spew chemicals in the air that result in more of us dying (particularly in people of color and low-income communities); through the cutting of our cutting health care; through incarcerating us (we have more African Americans in jail now than we had in slavery); through keeping us from voting by gutting the voting rights act and unjust gerrymandering; and through increased enforcement, deportation, and limits on asylum of our immigrant young people, families, and refugees. This movement, particularly evident in the policies of the past Trump administration, continues to rear its head by waging a war against our communities (and particularly those who have been in the forefront of any gains made in civil, human, and environmental rights in the last decades).  

We have the Alt-Right, the Bannons, the Rockford Institute, the neo-conservative movements in this country who promote white supremacist, racial-nationalist and neo-fascist ideologies, who push a deregulated free enterprise system, more funding for the military, and stand against anything that promotes a system based on equality. These are movements that continue to defend and promote the privatization of our economy and that, rather than advancing spaces and places of a more just and equal world, are seeking to foment a politics of individualism and ignorance about global warming and the economy.

This trend promotes an unregulated economic system where corporations rule, where the needs of our communities are put aside for the priorities of profit-making interests, and that advances a form of neoliberalism that places emphasis on privatization and consumerism with the outcome of destroying any ideology that truly advances practices for the collective good.  

To combat this right-wing conservative trend, we need a program that: transforms power at the top; abolishes a structure that allows the wealthy, the corporations, and businesses to manipulate the tax system in their favor; reverses banking concentration and supports a system of decentralized community accountable banks and credit unions; combats unjust gerrymandering; abolishes the electoral college; moves toward a form of proportional representation and builds a social movement in support of a living wage; health care with universal coverage; accessibility for everyone to a quality education; a guaranteed basic income; investment in pre-school, K-12, and higher education; public financing of elections; and trade agreements that ensure environmental and labor standards. 

At the local level, we need a social movement to create transitional forms of a new structure or a new system that is based on the collective and not just the interests of the individual. Some of these transitional forms include employee-owned enterprises; cooperatives; and businesses that are used in the interests of the community.  

About 130 million people in the country are members of various urban, agricultural, and credit union cooperatives. In Cleveland, Ohio, a group of worker-owned companies has been developed that is supported in part by the purchasing power of large hospitals and universities. The cooperatives include a solar installation and weatherization company, an ecologically advanced laundry, and a greenhouse capable of producing over three million heads of lettuce a year. The Cleveland model is not simply about worker ownership but the democratization of wealth and building community particularly in the low-income areas. They are doing this through the creation of community-serving non-profit corporations, a revolving fund, agreements that the companies cannot be sold outside the network and that they must return ten percent of profits to help develop additional worker-owned firms in the area. Further, an important element are the agreements with  local hospitals and universities who, until recently, spent their $3 billion on goods and services per year, outside the immediate neighborhoods. The “Cleveland model” has now won over these entities to be responsible as publicly-financed institutions and to allocate part of their spending and assets to the worker co-ops in support of a larger community-building vision. There are other cities now creating similar models (Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Amarillo, Texas, and Washington, D. C.) and there are unions, such as the United Steelworkers, that are developing co-op union models of ownership.

This is about an alternative form of municipal development and land use.  In some cities, such as Washington, D. C. and Atlanta, cities bring in millions by capturing the increased land values that their transit investments create. The town of Riverview, Michigan has been a national leader in trapping methane from its landfills and used it to fuel electricity generation (providing both revenues and jobs). There are 500 such projects nationwide. Many cities have established municipally-owned hotels.  There are nearly 2,000 publicly-owned utilities that provide power and broadband services  to more than 45 million people — generating $50 billion in annual revenue. In Alaska, state oil revenues provide each person living in the state,  dividends from public investment strategies.   

Related to this is the creativity of Community development Banks, like the Bank of North Dakota (a state-owned bank founded in 1919) that are designed to facilitate economic revitalization of poor communities.  In recent years, the bank returned $340 million in profits to the state. In Oregon, there are efforts to develop a similar bank, a “virtual state bank,”  with no storefront. The South Shore Bank in Chicago is another example (developed in 1973) that provides real estate management, technical assistance, job training, equity investment, and economic consulting. It has assets exceeding $1 billion with $150 million invested in low-income communities.   

All these models are closely related to what the New Democratic Movement (that many of us were part of) advocated in the 1980s: the development of a post-industrial society with concrete  innovative economic “transitional” forms.  

The Post-Industrial Society thinking of the 1980’s proposed a “struggle to develop the material basis for a strong cooperative movement” — and a society, not just based on “high levels of productivity” but on the maximum involvement of all the people. This outlook encouraged the development of small businesses, worker-owned cooperatives, and investment in human capital (particularly in education, housing, and health). It called for a society based on a revolution in the current mode of production where high productivity is possible through the development of the most advanced technologies. 

This direction, in the contemporary period, includes some contemporary writers and thinkers that are thinking along the lines of the need for a new economy. Some of the ideas that relate to the post-industrial thinking advocated in the 1980’s by the New Democratic Movement are now being promoted by such economists as Richard Wolff, Emeritus in Economics at the University of Massachusetts; Gar Alperovitz, historian and political economist; Marjorie Kelly and Ted Howard of the Democracy Collaborative; and Joe Guinan, Executive Director of the Next System Project and Martin O’Neill, Political Philosophy at the University of York.  There are many names being given to these models that, in addition, to post-industrial a post-industrial economy, include:  stakeholder capitalism, the solidarity economy, new economy, sharing economy, regenerative economy, and the living economy.

In connecting with some of these themes, in the contemporary period, economist Richard Wolff, proposes systemic change “where the nature of work is transformed;” where people “once again control production;” where the creativity of workers is valued, and where they are in “control of the entire product.” Agreeing with Marx’s notion of surplus value, Richard Wolff proposes “workers self-directed enterprises where workers, who produce the surplus capital, are in charge of the profit (and not the managers or executives). Similar to aspects of the post-industrial article, Wolff proposes that production works best “when performed by a community that collectively and democratically designs and carries out shared labor.” The transformative element for Wolff is the “reorganization of all workplace enterprises to eliminate exploitation … where the workers become collectively self-directed at their work sites.”  

In his book Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism, Richard Wolff proposes that these models are fine but that what needs to change is the class structure of production and that many of the systemic models, including private and state capitalism have had the commonality of advancing state-capitalist class structures of  top-down production that exclude the workers from production decisions and the distribution of their production. He proposes that even in the transitions from capitalist to socialist economic systems in various countries, there was a lack of prioritization or did not “explicitly include, or if they came to power, institute an economic system in which the production and distribution of surplus was carried out by those who produced it.” Overall, he argues that even in those countries categorized as “socialist,” there was a lack of prioritizing what he proposes as workers’ self-directed enterprises (where the workers who produce the surplus generated inside the enterprise function collectively to appropriate and distribute it). His solution of “workers’ self-directed enterprises” emphasizes that workers must partly or completely own the enterprises where they work and have a decision-making voice in the surpluses they produce. Such a transformation, from his outlook, will also advance the abilities of “workers to become informed, competent, and full participants in the democratic governance of the communities in which they reside.” 

Similarly, Joe Guinan and Martin O’Neill in The Case for Community Wealth Building propose that organizing at the local level, in what they call “local justice,” can be a means of developing models (such as the ones that have been presented here as examples) that both take on the power of corporations and “build a more equal and democratic economy.”  

Gar Alperovitz, in What Then Must We Do, proposes a direction that builds models of democratizing wealth and the building of a cooperative and community-based economy from the ground up. Like aspects of the post-industrial article, Alperovitz proposes cooperative models that include community land trusts, worker-owned businesses, and employee stock ownership plans.

In this vein, Marjorie Kelly and Ted Howard, in The Making of a Democratic Economy, present models that are “making what was once radical seem more like common sense.” These models include: “cooperatively-owned work places; of cities committed to economic policies rooted in racial justice; of ethical financing and investing; of communities on the frontline of crisis-building” to show us that “a different economy is not just a theoretical possibility but that it is something happening in right now in the real world.” The models include policies such as that of the  Green New Deal (proposed by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) to shift to 100% renewable energy in 10 years, to create tens of thousands of new jobs, and to advance the implementation of publicly-owned banks like the North Dakota Bank. Already, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and California Governor Gavin Newsom have committed to establishing state public banks. This follows with the thinking of Gar Alperovitz that a whole new economic system is emerging that already include models of economic development with racial justice at the forefront, employee-owned companies, and local purchasing by anchor institutions. Agreeing with other economists, Alperovitz presents “anchor” models that are not just about theory but are “real models” that have taken the example in Cleveland (the Cleveland Model) and are now being constructed in other places ranging from St. Paul, Minnesota, to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Rochester, New York, and to Richmond, Virginia.

The rise of this new economy include worker-owned cooperatives ranging from the “Si Se Puede” cooperative (a Brooklyn house-cleaning enterprise owned primarily by Latinas) to union cooperatives (such as the Communications Workers of America Local 7777 in Denver (Green Taxi) where the leadership and board is made up entirely of immigrant drivers from East Africa and Morocco). Further, worker coops are being implemented now in New York City, Newark, Oakland, Rochester, and Madison. There are more than 6,600 employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs) throughout the country with $1.4 trillion in assets and “businesses owned by the people they serve” (that include credit unions, agricultural cooperatives, and consumer cooperatives) that represent $500 billion in revenue and employ more than 2 million people.

There are four principles that involve moving in this direction:  

  1. Thinking of new ways to democratize wealth  
  2. Placing the building of community and what is in the interests of community in the forefront in all development  
  3. Decentralizing power in general – so that there is community input 
  4. Planning in the interests of quality of life  

The character of capital and corporations is that they have the highest level of planning in individual corporations that do everything competitively to reap the most profits with a culture of greed and selfishness in the forefront.  However, there is the capacity for a new kind of planning, with a culture of collectivity in the forefront, to use the earth’s resources to solve the many problems threatening our survival.   

Categories
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.

Categories
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.

Categories
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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Uncategorized

Signe Waller Foxworth Responds to “The Dollar as the World’s Reserve Currency”

| Signe Waller Foxworth, PhD |

In this piece, Signe Waller Foxworth responds to Dennis Torigoe’s recent article, “The Dollar as the World’s Reserve Currency.”

Thanks to Dennis Torigoe for a very informative piece in Voices for New Democracy about the privileged position the U.S. has in global finance due to the acceptance of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. I am wondering about the relationship between Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), that has captured the enthusiasm of many of us, and the sovereign role of the dollar in global finance. 

We are excited about MMT because it exposes the myth of deficit spending and describes the actual working of the economy. MMT shows the deceitfulness of rationalizing the government’s failure to provide for the basic needs of the people with excuses like we don’t have the money for this or we would have to raise taxes to pay for that. These rationalizations are false because the U.S. Government is the sole currency issuer and creates fiat money by spending it into existence, a feat none of us can accomplish, at least legally. It is no more difficult to find the money for universal health care, housing, living wages, education, immigration reform and addressing environmental destruction and climate catastrophe than it is to find the money for bombs, drones, guns, corporate bailouts and aid to foreign countries that are human rights abusers. The failure to provide a decent living standard for its population is exposed as due to a failure of political will and moral values, not a shortage of money. MMT opens the door to a more democratic process of managing the U.S. economy.

What I find challenging is what is precisely the relationship between MMT and the international financial arrangements that lead to U.S. dominance over other nations. The sovereign dollar plays a major, if not decisive, role in promoting U.S. imperialism. Could we, or would we even want to, create a paradise in the U.S. by trampling the rest of the world to death with imperialistic and financial action afforded by our privileged position in the global financial system? The relationship between MMT, with its potential benefits toward democratizing our national life, and the global financial system that fosters U.S. imperialism challenges our thinking in the fields of Economics and Ethics.  Could we (is it even economically feasible) or would we want to (is it even ethically justifiable to) utilize the tools of MMT domestically to fund education, housing, living wages, immigration reform, universal health care and avoiding the worst climate catastrophes if the US sovereign position in global finance continues to allow us the latitude to address Americans’ needs by immiserating other peoples?

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Uncategorized

At Last. Progressive Power Assets Itself.

| Steve Clark |

Clark’s essay was first published on his GlobalTalk blog.

Perhaps, I should quit being surprised by Biden’s acumen. He has a next-to-nothing Democratic majority in the Senate, and critical pieces of that majority are reluctant allies. Yet, he’s playing it like a violin.

Or, to mix metaphors, he’s playing from a deck stacked by broad, energized, progressive-driven, public opinion.

Either way and both ways, the American people seem to have found a leader who will pursue our demands.

The bi-partisan deal that Biden announced yesterday with 11 Republican Senators (enough to overcome the threat of a filibuster) has two key pieces:

First is $570 billion in new infrastructure spending (roads, bridges, water system, electric grid, broadband, etc.) with no “pay-for” restrictions. This is part of a $1.2 trillion, eight-year infrastructure investment plan. Because 11 Republicans support it, the infrastructure plan will get and win an eventual floor vote in the Senate.

Second is $2-6 trillion in additional federal allocations for childcare, education, healthcare and the green new deal (details to be decided), none of which are supported by any Republican Senators (though a few may eventually go along). Because of the filibuster rule, this family care package cannot get a floor vote in the Senate, but the same 11 Republicans (above) stood quietly, then spoke heartily of bi-partisanship (see, some of us Republicans can get things done), after Biden explained that these family care matters may be included in September’s “reconciliation bill” when the official FY 2022 Budget is approved by a simple majority vote of the Senate (thus, avoiding a filibuster).

With a summer of negotiations ahead over the actual content of these bills, plenty of time remains for political defections. It’s been less than 24 hours, and, already, some of the 11, feeling rolled by the direct linkage of the two bills, are threatening to pull out. But the threat of House progressives (supporting progressive allies in the Senate) to refuse the stand-alone infrastructure bill and, instead, put them both in reconciliation and pass it without any Republican support (and leaving the 11 hanging) may have set the deal in stone.

The decision (when final) of the 11 Republicans to go along with Biden’s deal is a concession to the political reality that the Trump era is over, and the nation will continue its political life in traditional democratic, two-party fashion, finally rebuking Reagan’s long-ago, fool-hearty assertion that government IS the problem. Going forward, they agree that government is part of the solution… and, at least as far as physical infrastructure goes, they’re putting their toes back in the water.

After the deal’s announcement, Bernie Sanders, chair of the Senate Budget Committee (that will draft and approve the specifics of the Senate’s reconciliation bill), expressed the gleeful opinion that the Senate would soon pass the “most important piece of legislation for working people in America since the 1930s.”

This deal ensures that money will flow and the economy will pick-up all next year when the midterm elections roll. This should produce a landslide for Democrats and a big haul for progressives.

But this deal is not enough, and many progressives in and out of Congress are saying as much. It is a “down payment” on the trillions that must still be spent…and, after 2022, heading into 2024, progressives will be advancing and passing additional legislation in a host of areas. Indeed, 2022 through 2028 is likely to be the most creative, active period of progressive legislative action in the history of the nation.

This week’s deal sets a basic framework for the coming social contract, but key features are still big blanks: reparations for slavery and indigenous dispossession; financial democracy and public investment; and international financial justice/opportunity for the Global South.

We’ve entered the last, fateful phase of this Fourth Turning. Now, codifying and institutionalizing programs to rectify these remaining injustices — while moving ahead with public investments in infrastructure, education, healthcare, climate justice and a federal job guarantee — is this revolution’s practical next steps.

For this, progressives have three jobs: (a) designing constructive problem-solving programs to achieve social justice and avert climate change; (b) educating and mobilizing Americans to pursue the progressive agenda; and (c) electing enlightened progressives to public office to enact our agenda.