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The Deep Roots of Anti-Asian Violence

| Kent Wong & Stewart Kwoh |

The following article was originally published in AFT Voices.

The outcry against anti-Asian violence triggered by the mass killings in Atlanta on March 16, when six Asian American women lost their lives, has ignited protests throughout the country. As we join together to denounce violence and to create a better future, we must also turn to the past to evaluate the fundamental causes that have resulted in the thousands of documented acts of anti-Asian hatred and violence, in many instances directed at Asian American women and elders. This analysis must include the long history of U.S. anti-Asian animus in the global arena.

Although Asian Americans have been an integral part of the United States since the 1850s, we have consistently been viewed as foreigners. Even Asian Americans like us, with deep, multigenerational roots in this country, are inevitably asked, “Where are you from?” We have lost count of the many times we have been complemented on speaking English without an accent, although English is our first language.

During World War II, 110,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry were forcibly removed from their homes and placed in U.S. concentration camps. No similar acts were taken against German or Italian Americans, although the United States was also at war with Germany and Italy. Even after returning to their homes and communities, Japanese Americans were subjected to racial hatred and discrimination.

The long, tragic legacy of anti-Asian violence in the United States is directly related to U.S. foreign policy in Asia. During the Vietnam War, Asian people were dehumanized. The brutal massacre of Vietnamese women and children in My Lai, Vietnam, was conducted by U.S. soldiers who viewed the Vietnamese people as less than human. The U.S. military used napalm, Agent Orange, antipersonnel weapons and massive bombings to target and kill millions of civilians, all justified through the lens of white supremacy and anti-communism.

The dehumanization of Asian people has had tragic results for Asian Americans. In 1989, five Vietnamese and Cambodian schoolchildren were shot and killed in a schoolyard in Stockton, Calif., and more than 30 people were wounded, including a teacher. The white gunman expressed hatred toward Asian immigrants and blamed them for taking jobs from native-born Americans.

In the 1980s, Japan was blamed for the demise of the U.S. auto industry. Auto workers gathered in union parking lots to smash Japanese-made automobiles, venting their anger based on the misguided belief that Japan, not U.S. corporations, was responsible for their factories shutting down. In 1982, two unemployed white auto workers in Detroit killed Chinese American Vincent Chin with a baseball bat, mistakenly believing he was Japanese. The two killers were sentenced to probation and a $3,000 fine.

Today, China has emerged on the world stage as the main economic competitor of the United States, but too many see China as the enemy. We are witnessing a new Cold War perpetrated by leaders of both Democratics and Republicans and by U.S. corporations. This new Cold War has been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. More than half a million people in the United States have died from COVID-19, more than in any other country.

The former administration refused to accept responsibility for the disgraceful failure to contain the pandemic and instead chose to blame China and Asian people. The president referred to COVID-19 as the “China Virus” and “Kung Flu” and promoted the lie that Asians were spreading the virus in the United States. This racist messaging had a direct impact on the spike in anti-Asian violence. The organization Stop AAPI Hate has documented nearly 3,800 anti-Asian incidents since the beginning of the pandemic.

The demonization of the people of Asia by the U.S. government and U.S. military has had a direct impact on the rise in anti-Asian violence throughout the country. Today’s crisis is an opportunity for Asian Americans to stand with people of conscience to demand a multi-racial democracy that the United States has never fully embraced. Asian Americans have joined in the massive protests for Black lives. We mobilized at the airport to oppose the Muslim ban and have traveled to the border to protest the separating of families. And Asian Americans are opposing new Jim Crow voting policies in Georgia and other states and defending affirmative action.

It is time to confront the history of white supremacy in this country. The United States has never confronted the legacy of slavery, lynching, mass incarceration and police violence directed against Black people. Racism is at the core of the separation of families and the caging of children at the U.S.-Mexico border, and the Muslim ban introduced by the last administration. The current attacks on voting rights are also motivated by white supremacy and intended to disenfranchise people of color. It is time to build a true multiracial democracy that represents the hopes and aspirations of the vast majority of people in this country.

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Economic Justice Global Peace & Collaboration

Forum on Labor’s Future: International Solidarity

As part of our recent Forum on Labor’s Future, panelist Carolyn Kazdin delivered a presentation on her experiences in the international solidarity movement and the links between the American labor movement and the international context. The following is a summary of the key points she presented, and the full presentation is available to watch below.

To understand the possibilities for international labor solidarity, it is first essential to understand that the American labor movement has traditionally been a reactionary one on the international stage. The U.S. trade union movement has been known for engaging in “trade union tourism” in visits to other countries, rather than building relationships and forging solidarity. While progressive unions around the world have already been working together, U.S. unions have largely been left out of the picture.

Fortunately, this is beginning to change. And as the American labor movement begins to explore international possibilities, it is worth taking a look at the trends already unfolding across the world.

The Brazilian labor movement is an important place to start, as they elected one of their own as President of the country with the election of Lula da Silva of the Workers Party (PT). In his 8 year tenure, Lula and his movement lifted 40 million people out of extreme poverty, and created 20 million jobs. While the movement has since faced significant setbacks under the Bolsonaro administration and the corrupt trials that jailed Lula and his associates, their successes are an important reminder of what a robust trade union movement can achieve when it wins power.

International solidarity work also offers an important illustration of the ways that global capital works. During NAFTA struggles, for example, amid all the anti-immigrant rhetoric a number of U.S. workers were sent on delegations to Mexico to see where their jobs went. Those American workers saw firsthand what had happened to their jobs with heightened exploitation, which is why these jobs were offshore to begin with: to exploit workers in the Global South, where their governments would allow it. And when they came back, those workers were able to speak to other workers across the U.S. to explain what was really happening with NAFTA, why Mexican workers are allies not enemies, and why global capital is at the root of the issues they face.

When these international bonds are forged, they pay dividends. When Brazilian companies bought steel mills in the U.S. and mines in Canada, workers across these countries resisted the union-busting efforts and launched campaigns forcing those companies to respect unions and right to bargain. When the UAW attempted to unionize Nissan workers in Canton, MS, they recognized that the U.S. is the only country where Nissan workers are not unionized, and brought in unionized Nissan workers from other countries to show why their unions are so important to them. And when the tire maker Firestone opened new sites in Liberia, the Steelworkers union sent delegates to the Liberian workers to help them in collective bargaining.

International solidarity work also casts an important light on the intersection of class and race. As the U.S. and Brazilian labor movements have built relationships, they’ve also been able to explore how racial struggles fit into the labor struggles both domestically and internationally. Brazil’s is over 50% Black, home to the largest Black population outside of Africa, and Black Brazilians face many of the same struggles as Black Americans. In particular, Black Brazilians suffer from an epidemic of police murders and a growing prison-industrial complex. With that in mind, Black Brazilian workers have been inspired by the recent resurgence of racial justice movements in the U.S., and have been eager to learn more about how the Black Lives Matter movement was launched so that they could develop their own.

All told, international solidarity work offers an important reminder that the labor movement is a global struggle. And in building relationships between labor movements across countries, we can both strengthen our own campaigns at home and gain new insight into how we can advance our shared struggles.

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

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Democracy: Rule of Law & Elections Economic Justice

Forum on Labor’s Future: The State of the American Labor Movement

As part of our recent Forum on Labor’s Future, UCLA Labor Center Director and moderator Kent Wong began the discussion with a recap of the state of the American labor movement. The following is a summary of the key points he presented, and the full presentation is available to watch below.

On May 1st, 2006, 1 million immigrant workers in Los Angeles held the largest May Day action in US history. Billed as a “day without immigrants,” the informal strike brought the city to a standstill and successfully defeated a major anti-immigration bill. But while this represented a major victory for the immigrant rights movement and demonstrated the power of organized labor, it is notable that this action was not led by the American labor movement.

The May Day action is just one illustrative example of broader issues facing the labor movement in the United States. It has faced years of assaults by federal and state governments, shocks of austerity and deregulation, and fissures within the labor movement that have sometimes left it at odds with other social justice movements like the struggle for immigrant rights. With that in mind, it is critically important to understand how we got here, so that we can craft the right strategy to rebuild stronger than ever before.

Since the 1950s, union density in the United States has been steadily on the decline. American unions reached their height in the 1950s with roughly 35% union density across all sectors of the American economy. But since then, this number has declined to just ~10% today, with only 6% of private sector workers represented by unions. Today, the public sector is the last stronghold of the American labor movement, with major unions like SEIU, AFSCME, NEA, AFT, UFT holding strong.

Faced with this reality, the key task for the labor movement is rebuilding. And these five strategies and tactics may hold the key to doing so:

  • Build labor-community unity with a broad vision for social & economic justice (like Fight for $15)
  • Embrace racial justice
  • Organize the unorganized
  • Fight for immigrant rights
  • Link organizing power and political power

By embracing these principles and expanding the scope of its vision – both of the working class itself and the social transformation it seeks to build – the labor movement can recapture momentum and power.

Recent campaigns are a testament to this fact. The Justice for Janitors campaign, for example, successfully reorganized the industry through pathbreaking organizing strategies and tactics. Likewise, the hotel workers campaign embraced nonviolence and use of direct action/civil disobedience, pioneering creative organizing tactics resulting in the reorganizing of the hotel industry across LA.

Even beyond the workplace, recent events show that the labor movement can also exert major strength in the political sphere, provided that it adopts the right strategies and visions. The LA Federation of Labor, for example, recently developed a major political mobilization campaign that successfully flipped the political alignment in LA and California based on a union organizing framework. This battle was won precisely because the Federation tapped rank-and-file union members to engage in political process, offering lost-time wages paid for by the union to members who were doing political organizing.

Likewise, the Biden-Harris presidential victory was won by an alliance of labor and communities of color. The context is important: Trump had won (by thin margins) former union strongholds like Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania (which have been the target of robust anti-union attacks and legislation). But in 2020, they flipped back — in part, due to massive union infusion of organizing, which also played out in Arizona and Georgia. Hundreds of full-time canvassers were sent by their unions to do door-to-door mobilization even during the pandemic, which decisively helped flip Arizona and secured the victories of Senators Warnock and Ossoff in Georgia.

Labor organizers and unions must take note of these trends and these case studies as we continue working to build the power of the labor movement. If we can do so, labor’s future looks bright.

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

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Commentary: On Solidarity with AAPI Communities

| Wenda Tai |

I’ve spent the last 3 days reaching out to my AAPI friends and family, responding to other non-AAPI friends, doom-scrolling through the news coverage and experiencing a traumatic cycle of emotions – sadness, grief, anger, anxiety and more ANGER.

There were some rays of hope and comfort from AAPI representatives and groups speaking up and educating the public about a history of violence and exclusion deliberately buried and distorted. What has been most upsetting for me is the deafening silence from friends and colleagues and many people in the progressive movement. Some have expressed solidarity, issuing statements and committing to
actions. We need more. Now is the time for a true united front against white supremacy and misogyny, against colonization and divide-and-conquer manipulations by the state. We need respected civil rights groups to speak up, not just the AAJC and the ADL. [Note: since this was written, many groups have put out clear and powerful solidarity messages: Poor People’s Campaign, M4BL, Racial Equity Anchor Collaborative, and the NAACP, among others.]

I heartily support Marion’s suggestions. And I applaud the observations about the racist undertone in Biden’s foreign policy toward China.

For me, the Atlanta murders hit very close to home. Not sure many of you know that I spent my teen years in Atlanta as a new immigrant. My memories of high school bullying, micro-aggressions, invisibility, and invalidation just came flooding back. Yet I am encouraged that this is now out in the open and people (Asians and non-Asians
alike) are confronting this. No more hiding because we’re forced to feel white- adjacent and presumed to have the same level of white privilege (“model minority” myth). No more hiding because we feel we don’t “count” as POC. No more hiding because we still have to deal with inter- and intra-Asian colorism and racism within each of the Asian American communities.
 
“Let’s take this opportunity to build solidarity across communities of color and ensure that AAPI voices are listened to. That we count, and are COUNTED, literally! How many official reports and research papers actually disaggregate AAPI data and statistics to get to the underlying issues and needs, instead of getting lumped together and ignored/dismissed?”

This is what I told my former boss, the director of the largest LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS advocacy organization in the Pacific Northwest yesterday and helped him edit a statement. Next, I’m going to work with the largest Community Land Trust in this area to do the same in my capacity as a board member. I hope all of us in the family do the same with the platforms we have and the organizations we work with.
 
Thank you to those who are already on it. Thank you for the thoughtful support and resource sharing. Some of us are starting to keep a tally of who’s done what – not in a negative way – as a document of AAPI movement building to take charge of our lives and futures, avenge the suffering of our ancestors and earn the respect of
future generations, to paraphrase the preamble to the M4BL Reparations Now Toolkit.

One step in many towards healing and restorative justice.

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Commentary: On the Narratives Around the Atlanta Massacre

| Marion Yuen |

It hurts. We are all grieving.

The most important protection is solidarity by comrades, those who say they are our friends and colleagues.

The most important help at this time is for as many people on as many platforms as possible to insist that the message of the police and the murderer not be normalized.  

We need as many public messages of solidarity as possible and sincere acknowledgment of our talents, contributions & needs as real human individuals and as particular communities.

If there is anything we learned from the Greensboro Massacre, the first 1-2 weeks are critical. In 1979, once the “shootout-by-2 sides” message became established as the “normal” media theme and umbrella, we were forced to fight out of it, often defensively.

I’ve been calling on political allies, elected officials and those who want our votes-talents-help-contribution. This is the time to speak out and BE in solidarity.

Comrades, every bit helps.

As I write this message, the Brooklyn Borough President (who is running for Mayor) just announced a solidarity and support rally on Sunday. 

Our people have been busy organizing.

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Commentary: On the Atlanta Massacre

| Sally Alvarez |

I want to acknowledge and mourn the horrific violence that happened in Atlanta on Wednesday. Now is also the time to check in with our AAPI family members and let them know we are listening for them. We hear and see you.

The more we learn about this attack, the clearer it becomes that it was an attack cooked in a horrific stew of racism, misogyny and toxic, deranged, religious fundamentalism driven even further aboveground by the racist rhetoric coming out around the pandemic. It reveals a lot about our culture and politics that Americans would rather not face, and it’s only the latest attack in a long and ugly history.

One of the most compelling and transformative elements of our CWP history was its broad reach across racial and national divisions. Many of us have had deep and meaningful relationship with so many people across those divisions that we never would have had without our common journey. This is an example of targeted violence that reverberates with the hatred and racism that also fueled November 3rd.

We must also seek our other ways we can contribute to a response or offer comfort to those in our family who are feeling this the most painfully and deeply.

Below is a powerful video by John Kim at the Advancement Project. I encourage you to view and circulate the clip as we build solidarity with AAPI communities and allies against white supremacy.

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Public Banks Revolution

| Madeline Chang |

The movement for Public Banks is growing. California has passed a law clearing the way for cities to form their own banks. 25 of 50 states have proposed legislation in support of publicly-owned banks, New York, Oregon, New Mexico and Washington among them. The Bank of North Dakota was, for 100 years, the only state public bank, started in the aftermath of a populist uprising of farmers and small businessmen in 1919. California just legalized public banking with the Public Banking Act, which will allow city and county governments to create or sponsor public banks.

Below are remarks made as part of the New York Town Hall on Public Banking.  

There are successful models of the government using public money for the public good in our history. One of them is the Reconstruction Finance Corp, or the RFC. This was a lending agency that President Roosevelt used to fund the New Deal and World War 2. It issued bonds and loaned or invested over $40 billion.  

What’s important about this is that instead of taking out high interest loans from private banks to pay private corporations (to build roads, for example), which is what we tend to do today, the RFC cut out the middlemen. It was the Government that created the money to loan and invest in highways, bridges, and Post Offices at this time and it was the Government that put people back to work — about 3 million unemployed men and women. And the net profit to the government was over $690 million. So we have this precedent where the government became the biggest investor in the economy. Economic power was essentially relocated from Wall Street to Washington DC.

Today, we need reconstruction again, just like during the Depression of the 1930s.  

We need to rebuild the economy, but we can do even better than that by correcting past injustice. Black & brown communities have been hit the hardest by COVID-19, on top of all the inequality and disinvestment that private banks have made worse for decades. Public banks can help reverse the racial wealth gap by lending to Black & brown families, providing capital historically available mostly to white families. The RFC example shows that we don’t need to raise taxes.  We don’t need austerity measures, like cuts to public education or transportation.  

Another successful model is Postal Banking, which we actually had from 1911 to 1967. We have two Postal Banking bills now pending in Congress. The great thing about Postal Banking is that the infrastructure is already there. There’s an existing network of 30,000 Post Offices.  

So Postal Banking is a perfect opportunity to serve the 25% of households that are unbanked or under-banked because people can’t afford to keep a balance or because there are no banks located in their communities. These households spend about $40,000 over a lifetime just on checking and savings account fees and pay up to 400% on payday loans.

For further reading go to the Public Banking Institute website and Ellen Brown’s many books such as Banking on the People, Democratizing Money in the Digital Age and The Web of Debt.

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Economic Justice

On the White Working Class

| James Bernard |

I think that there is a profound lack of compassion for poor and working class white people in this country.  I believe that there is white privilege and that the original sin of this country was slavery, something that is baked into our collective DNA.  I believe that the key to personal salvation is to admit and address our sins.  I think the idea might apply here.  Refusal to deal with our original sin is why I see why Black people have an adverse reaction to the very sight of white skin.  (If you accuse me of being disingenuous for avoiding the first person plural here, I would have no defense.)

I don’t get why the white elite, liberal or conservative, would have such a lack of compassion in the aggregate.  That’s kind of unforgivable because race does not separate the elite from those in need who are poor, struggling, and white.

However, as I joke with my friend Patricia, a former Bleecker Street singer who has fallen on hard times due to physical disability and near-homelessness, her white skin didn’t really deliver for her.  I don’t believe it has delivered for 95% of white people in this country.  But still, as a whole I believe that white people who do not have their fair share of this country’s bounty are sold a bill of goods that their whiteness is valuable, and they cling to it because they have little else but a soothing vague sense of superiority.  

And I get why.

When you live under a form of capitalist culture — capitalism is not bad in theory, but the practice here has not given us the results the vast majority of us should experience — that tells you that there is something wrong with you, a major failing, if you can’t afford luxury — much less keep a job or feed your family — it is a moral failing on your part, anything that makes you feel good about what you inherently are is going to be very attractive, even if it is, in my view, flawed, to say the least.

Most people, rich, poor, Black, white, brown, yellow, male, female, are human.  I guess that’s a circular statement.  What comes from being human is a tendency not to understand why we do things and a lack of desire to figure it out.  So I personally forgive.  

In the extreme, however, the need for this feeling produces the Proud Boys.  I would hope that federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies will see groups like the Proud Boys as the kind of threat that the Black Panthers and the like were not really threats (the Black Panthers did not carry loaded weapons and if they had, they didn’t use them to kill, injure or menace anyone).  Personally, I believe that white supremacist groups are a threat to our country, they are treasonous, and they should be dealt with as such.  

Unlike many on my side of the table, I do not believe the Electoral College is automatically evil.  If we went to a straight popular vote system and Democrats could win every election on the coasts and major urban areas, they would not be forced to campaign in every state or think about the country as a whole, even if only for expediency.  That would not be good for the country.  However, I feel strongly that the Senate is unfair and undemocratic in nature, but the Senate is not the point of my little exercise here.  Maybe the Electoral College could use some reform.  I haven’t thought that through, and the Electoral College is not the point of this little exercise.

Both parties need to get serious about jobs for working class people, especially in the middle of the country.  We should have opportunities for people to earn a living that will provide enough for working class families to thrive, not just survive.  I believe that the Republican Establishment is fine with people hoarding wealth.  I think that the Democratic Establishment is too.  Both parties focus on job growth in the aggregate, rather than quality of jobs and where the jobs are being created.

I have a serious rock and roll fantasy and often imagine myself on stage when I listen to music.  I have a serious large scale social change fantasy.  In it, I spend a lot of time traveling to places decimated by trade policies, diminished unions, and just plain neglect from the powers that be. In it, I am able to explain to people that there is a plan for job growth and simply not job growth in the aggregate.  I want to be able to look individual heads of families in the eye and tell them, in effect, “I understand that your livelihood is being taken away from you due to larger forces that you cannot control.  It is not your fault.  But here is another job in a more needed industry.  If you will lose your job on Friday, here is where you will go on Monday for a job that will fill you with joy for what you are able to do for your families and for which you will be trained.  You will not miss a paycheck.”

When I allow myself my little fantasies of being onstage playing loud and offensive music that makes ears bleed, I am not the perfect performer.  However, I believe that this message is a perfect message among many perfect messages that can be conceived, codified, and made real.  Of course, the execution is the key issue, but I think we need to be on the same page first about concrete goals.