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BATTLE OF THE NOOBS

Fascist Rally Photo by Luke ONeil.jpg

Photo by Luke O’Neil

‘Boston Free Speech’ protesters and counter demonstrators both lose the day

May 17, 2017

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

Last week’s right-wing Boston Free Speech protest at the Parkman Bandstand on Boston Common did not require a response from the left wing. Let’s get that out of the way up front. The small rally and march of — to be generous — maybe a couple hundred people throughout the course of the day was not newsworthy. Because its political message was incoherent.

By way of proof, check out this rally speech from an older activist I’ll call Scooby Doo:

There’s a reason why these people think the way they do. They are being indoctrinated. They have been indoctrinated since they were very young. Since they were in elementary school that whites are the evil people, that here are the evil white boogeyman. That the white man has his boot on the neck of every minority out there. And that they somehow have to right the wrongs of their ancestors. This is nonsense, people. This is bullshit what they’re trying to do. As if they’re trying to destroy western civilization. And to do that they’re going after whites.

Then compare that to this talk from a younger activist I’ll call Scrappy Doo:

But the shot that was heard was our voices, people. Today we come together united. [Unintelligible] all races, all nationalities, all genders, we don’t discriminate. Contrary to what the left says, if you’re a liberal, you love the constitution, you belong here with we the people. People, this is just the beginning of this movement.

And compare both to these remarks from another younger activist I’ll call Dooby Doo:

This isn’t a Massachusetts thing, this isn’t a white thing, this isn’t a black thing, this is an American thing. And it’s not wrong to say make America great again. It doesn’t mean racist things. Make America great again means let freedom ring. And not it be silenced. We have our veterans to thank for that. So let’s support our veterans to support our rights to freedom of speech, our Second Amendment, and the cops. To all you police, we’re with you.

To review, the speakers platform was shared by an older unreconstructed racist who thinks a decent history education is some kind of communist plot, a younger very accepting guy who thinks the broad left doesn’t like the Constitution, and another younger guy who thinks Trump’s campaign slogan was meant for everyone Black and white — while sending unconditional love to all cops everywhere. Including, by default, racist killer cops. No one was exactly what I’d call “on message.” Because the rally’s message was all over the road … and even the demands its organizers listed in their press release were gonzo: “First, encourage public institutions to reaffirm their commitment to the First Amendment or face cuts to their federal funding; second, label ‘Antifa’ a domestic terrorist organization due to the violence at previous Free Speech events; and third, end the culture of fear surrounding political correctness.”

 
                       Photo by Luke O’Neil

So, like a hundred small left-wing actions that have been staged at the same location in recent decades — with the same intent of “reaching the public” while suffering from a serious lack of political focus — there was literally no danger at all of rally organizers reaching anyone they weren’t already reaching. Let alone recruiting significant numbers of new people to any hard right organization. Both because it was poorly attended for a regional event and because it was confusing. Like, really confusing. Since the language [e.g. “Kekistan”] and symbols [e.g. the “Kekistan” flag] used by many attendees and speakers are meaningless to anyone who doesn’t spend a large part of their life in online forums shaking their virtual fists of aimless rage at the hated sky.

All in all, if you held a political rally on an island in the middle of a frozen lake in the deepest wilds of the Canadian tundra, you’d likely have more effect on the public discourse than this event would have had.

And how could it be otherwise? The action was run by a mismatched coalition of older right-wing extremists and a larger number of younger hacker types. The main thing that seemed to bring attendees — who were mostly white (with exceptions like three members of a conservative Black family) and male — together was disdain for sectors of the American left that believe it’s important to try to shut down right wingers’ ability to exercise their First Amendment right to free speech. Hence the name of the event.

This was an action, therefore, run in no small part by amateurs. By “noobs” in the parlance of dank corners of the internet — like the 4chan and 8chan imageboard websites where many of the rally organizers found each other. Newbies. People with very little experience in politics, in this case.

That’s great, right? No harm, no foul. A group of people smaller than you’ll find in the average chain restaurant at lunchtime, yelling to each other with megaphones for a couple of hours. Then “taking to the streets” to yell at random passersby. Then calling it a day.

Well, that’s how it would have gone … until some younger inexperienced left-wing activists decided that the event was a manifestation of some kind of new mass fascist organization on our doorstep. And went off on the very “black bloc” trip that pissed off a lot of the hackers enough to have a “free speech” rally in the first place. Given that, as readers may recall, Bay Area black bloc types recently played a role in forcing the cancellation of talks by conservatives Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter at the University of California, Berkeley. That is, in the absence of forethought, they thought that hiding their faces from the majority of the population who are their natural allies against the confused array of outright reactionary and merely unschooled ideas on offer at the rally was somehow a good plan.

And so it came to pass that an even smaller group of mostly younger people politicized and organized in a different set of internet forums donned a motley assortment of heavy clothing (black being the most prominent color), masks, and in some cases helmets, and stood on Flagstaff Hill looking down on the right wingers around the bandstand from some distance away. Ready to fight if necessary. They were joined by a slightly larger coterie of area left-wing activists — also mostly younger people, but with more political experience overall — who had taken a nonviolence pledge before attending. The Boston police formed a cordon between the right- and left-wing groups. And a shouting war started between the two sides capped by another conservative I’ll call Scooby Dum crossing the skirmish line and belting a left winger after shoving a Pepsi at the person (in an apparently ironic reference to the Kendall Jenner commercial scandal). Both antagonist and victim were arrested. The BPD version of equal justice, one supposes.

 
                        Photo by Luke O’Neil

This tyro armageddon provided red meat for the press that would otherwise have ignored the event, and resulted in coverage that would not have happened if the counter demonstrators had left well enough alone.

Now it’s true the organizers of the right-wing action fell on each other shortly afterwards in a torrent of mutual social media recriminations involving the absurd neologism “cuck.”

But the critical lesson of the whole sorry affair should not be lost on erstwhile “anti-fascists” on the fringes of the American left: There are indeed times when it’s important to stand up against the right wing in militant and very public ways … but you never want to hold response actions to dysfunctional right-wing events that will result in their learning to become more effective organizers. You don’t want to help them evolve. You don’t want to act like an overdose of old antibiotics on a mutating strain of TB. You need to be smart and LET THEM FAIL. So badly that they’re forced to scurry back under their disconnected individual rocks to lick their wounds and perhaps even rethink their more extreme political positions.

In this situation, the correct thing to do was let the right wingers have their wonky little rally and then faction fight themselves into oblivion over its failure. Instead, the ill-conceived counterdemo got that rally far more attention than it deserved, and taught the fringe right that it’s really easy to bait the more jumped-up sectors of the left to play the part of “bad freedom haters” in their latter-day Old Glory-waving passion play. Helping them organize more disaffected young people … and possibly turning them from a sideshow of a sideshow into a serious threat in the process. Not good.

Here’s hoping that the younger left activists who participated in the counter demonstration now decide to turn their energies toward better educating themselves politically and then focus on reaching out to engage society at large with organizing campaigns to challenge the root causes of racism and racist white reaction. And that the more established left-wing organizations that inexplicably decided to join them on the Common revert to their usual activities along those lines. Helping build the majoritarian movement for democracy that America desperately needs, rather than comporting themselves in ways that could end up bringing ruin down on the heads of the left at large. At the hands of a right wing that will always be better at violence in this period than macho posturing fringe leftists looking for a shortcut to their ill-considered version of “revolution.”

Note: This column was written based on my analysis of news coverage and social media posts about the Boston Free Speech rally from the perspective of a longtime political activist who has run large numbers of left-wing protests. I did not attend the event.

 

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director and senior editor of DigBoston.

Copyright 2017 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

Check out the Apparent Horizon Podcast on:

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PROGRESSIVE CONFUSION

Clinton campaign image

Only multiparty democracy will ensure that left policies are enacted in Mass

May 10, 2017

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

There is a persistent myth that Massachusetts is a left-wing state. The basis of this demonstrably false conceit is that the Commonwealth has had a Democratic majority in its legislature for as long as anyone can remember. In that context, a recent State House News Service article, “Mass Progressives See Something Missing on Beacon Hill,” makes sense. It examines the political travails of the left-leaning Democratic Party pressure group Progressive Massachusetts, and questions why a progressive grassroots organization in such an ostensibly progressive state can’t get its bills passed with any regularity.

A state that just 50 years ago could build public housing, significantly expand public transportation, and build public colleges, today can’t pass any forward-thinking social program of any significance. Unless you think cutting taxesslashing public spending, and throwing public money at giant corporations like General Electric is a social program. Yet all along, the state has been run by politicians calling themselves progressive Democrat.

The answer to this quandary lies in the fact that the meaning of key terms in politics is  always shifting, as thought leaders modify them to suit the times. So, “progressive” has  had a variety of definitions over the last three centuries — all of which center around the  idea of modernity. From early “laissez-faire” free market capitalist modernity in the 1700s  and 1800s, to socialist modernity from the mid-1800s to the present, to the capitalist  social reformer modernity of the Progressive Era in the US between the Civil War and  WWI, to welfare state social democratic capitalist modernity from the 1930s to the 1970s,  followed by a full-circle return to free market ideology with neoliberal capitalist modernity  since that time. And its meaning continues to be contested to this day.

Key terms sidebarEspecially since a main feature of neoliberalism has been its ability to seduce once social democratic formations like the Democratic Party and produce so-called “Third Way” political leaders like Bill and Hillary Clinton — who have proved themselves more than willing to do tremendous damage to their core working and middle class constituencies. Via right-wing economic policies barely obscured by an ever-shrinking layer of critical social welfare programs, and a somewhat thicker layer of policies extending human rights guarantees to LGBT folks and other oppressed minorities.

So, in a sense, virtually all the legislators in the Mass State House today can call themselves progressive with a straight face. And many do, including lots of neoliberal Clintonite Democrats who play the role of Republicans in Bay State politics — the actual  Republican Party being quite weak here. Which leaves left-leaning Democrats like the  organizers of Progressive Massachusetts, heirs to the social democratic tradition of  reform-minded Keynesian welfare state policies as they are, in a bit of a pickle.

Because the main version of progressivism in American politics — electoral politics anyway — remains the neoliberal one. The Hillary Clinton wing of the Democrats, which just drove the party off a political cliff, and will continue to speed its descent to earth as long as its corporate paymasters wish them to do so. That wing, backed by multinational corporations, took power from the earlier generations of union-backed social democrats within the Democratic Party by the 1990s. It will not give power up without a major political struggle, and therein lies the heart of the problem facing groups like Progressive  Massachusetts.

In countries with more democratic electoral systems, this would be less of a problem than it is in the US. Or in Mass. We would have a multiparty democracy. The Republicans would be a smaller (but still powerful) right-wing capitalist party with smaller ascendent hard right parties on its flanks. The Democrats would be a smaller (but still powerful) center-right capitalist party. Progressive Massachusetts would be part of a center-left social democratic capitalist party. Socialists like me would have at least one significant left-wing party. And there would be smaller hard-left parties on its flanks.

Both the Democrats and Republicans would have to form coalition governments at the national and state levels. And it would be possible for smaller parties to drive their policies through in exchange for joining such ever-shifting coalitions. Messy perhaps, but far more democratic than our two party American system — where both “big tent” parties are dominated by corporations and the rich.

In that situation, a center-left party built around a group like Progressive Massachusetts could actually get its bills passed and have more influence in state politics. And a democratic socialist party of the type I’d like to see formed would join it in fighting for all of the good reforms it would back: single payer health care, free higher public education, etc. Then seek to influence the center-left party to back its policies … like a state bank and municipal control of utilities, for example.

The term “progressive” might devolve back to its original meaning: “believers in human progress, in modernity.” And be used more sparingly as a yardstick of societal advancement rather than a marker of a particular political camp.

Until then, many people — being creatures of habit we all are — will continue to use “progressive” to refer to the broad left. Or the even more misused term “liberal.” Various kinds of capitalists will continue to refer to themselves as “conservative,” “libertarian,” and, yes, progressive, and liberal. Massachusetts politics will remain to the right on economic matters and to the left on social ones — until new mass movements rise to shatter the status quo.

And we’ll muddle through somehow until then.

 

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director and senior editor of DigBoston.

Copyright 2017 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

Check out the Apparent Horizon Podcast on:

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CHECK OUT THE 2017 AGENDA FOR PROGRESSIVE MASS

WHEN SLOGANS REPLACE BIRTHRIGHTS

19.17-AH-TOP

How corporate ed reform threatens democracy

April 25, 2017

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

Over the last couple of decades, it has become fashionable for Americans to attack our public education system. Behind these attacks is that most un-American of attitudes: elitism. This is problematic for a number of reasons — the main one being that America remains a democracy. Not a perfect democracy where citizens get to vote on pretty much every decision at every level, but a system of government where citizens can at least have some political impact when they stand up for themselves in the voting booth and in daily life.

In a democracy, the education of all children capable of being educated is a vital necessity. Because, as a political system, it can only continue if its history, practices, and values are taught to young citizens by older citizens on an ongoing basis. Further, living in a democracy requires the experience of being directly socialized into its norms.

A public school therefore is both the training ground of our democratic society … and its mirror. Virtually every kind of young person in any given community is there. From every background represented in that locale. Kids from every race, sex, class, ethnicity, gender, ability, immigration status, and belief system. Understanding that we’re still a very segregated nation, and that all too many neighborhoods, towns, and cities remain relative monocultures.

Regardless, this generally diverse student body has to learn how to get along and work together toward common goals. Just like they will to one degree or another in their adult lives. This, more than any of the sadly diminishing number of civics classes on offer in today’s public schools, teaches students how to be active citizens in a democracy.

Or at least that was the ideal when public education became the standard a century back.

But that ideal has been replaced by a pernicious new mantra: Public schools don’t work. Our government can’t afford to educate every child. And we shouldn’t try. Political front groups bankrolled by corporations — ultimately seeking to privatize public schools and convert them into a profitable industry — are convincing average Americans to help destroy their own birthright to a good public education on little more evidence than such cynical slogans.

They are leading the charge to steal public funds from public education — more than $450 million this fiscal year alone in the Commonwealth, according to the Mass Teachers Association — and give them to charter schools that do not have a mandate to educate every child in their communities. Only the better students who have parents with the time and money to participate in mandatory charter school family activities.

Public schools are getting stripped of their best and brightest in this fashion. Sending their performance into decline in many instances and strengthening the argument that charter schools are inherently superior to the publics. Something that study after study shows is not the case.
 Students in those charter schools do not sit in class with other students from every conceivable background. They sit with a limited selection of classmates.

And they are taught, whether their teachers intend it or not, to be elitists. Not just that they are smarter than other students — which can happen in any school — but that they are better than other students.

The same thing has happened for generations in private schools, too. But Americans do have the democratic right to organize private schools if they want to — as long as they are prepared to fund those schools without significant government support. And private schools have not attempted to tear down the public school system the way charter schools and the corporate titans behind them have been doing. Nor are they as damaging to our society as the often wildly anti-social and anti-democratic homeschooling movement has been. A topic for another day.

So, parents, remember that your decision about where to send your kids to school has very serious consequences for the future of our democracy.

And students, it’s true that no school is perfect, and that all schools suck at least some of the time. But where would you rather be? In a school that truly reflects your community and the best American values of equality, justice, and opportunity for all? Or in a school that only believes that “elite” students deserve a good education, and to hell with everyone else?

It’s your decision. As long as we remain a democratic nation.

This column was originally written for the Beyond Boston regional news digest show — co-produced by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and several area public access television stations.

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director and senior editor of DigBoston.

Copyright 2017 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

Check out the Apparent Horizon Podcast on:

iTunesGoogle Play MusicBlubrryStitcherTuneIn, and YouTube

 
 

A CONFERENCE ON SOCIALISM

 

Sherri Mitchell

Sherri Mitchell

 

Questioning capitalism? Learn more about an increasingly popular alternative.

April 19, 2017

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

Last year, a Harvard University survey concluded that a majority of young Americans between 18 and 29 years old rejected capitalism, and fully one-third now support socialism as an alternative. Despite this interesting development, very few Americans of any age have a clear idea of what socialism is. To help remedy that situation locally, the Boston Socialist Unity Project (BSUP) is holding its second annual public conference this weekend at MIT. I caught up with Suren Moodliar, one of the BSUP organizers, to ask him why people should consider attending to learn more about a political economic system based on the idea that workers should democratically control their government, their workplaces, and the fruits of their labor.

What is the Boston Socialist Unity Project?

It is a collaborative that focuses on education to foster a greater sense of community among Boston area socialists and organizations in hopes of developing better communication, stronger campaigns, and a broader vision of a future without capitalism.

Socialism has been making a comeback in recent years, and is considered a fresh set of ideas worth considering by many young people. Why do you think that is?

To be sure there is a certain newness. But it is a powerful and deeply popular idea that has resurfaced in the United States and globally in response to the bomb dropping, climate altering, and livelihood destroying economic system championed by Donald Trump and his fellow race warriors. If activists “name our pains,” socialist activists must also name that which we must gain. When Bernie Sanders had to distinguish himself from his bomb dropping, climate altering, and livelihood-destroying Democratic Party rivals, he turned to the socialist idea. In doing so, he was echoing a movement that elected mayors and congresspeople from Kansas to Massachusetts in a previous gilded age, and that had deep roots in the South as defenders of Black freedom. Young people, union workers, and people of color have historically been the most receptive to socialist ideas given their experience of a system that fails to address their most basic needs as individuals, that also fails them as communities, and serves only a rapidly diminishing minority of humanity.

What is the goal of the 2017 BSUP conference in the context of a socialist resurgence?

This year’s conference takes place in a historical context that is unprecedented in modern times — never before have the dominant parties and the presidency shared such low legitimacy while their ruling ideas hang on by force of habit and power rather than merit. For the Boston Socialist Unity Project, the challenge is to engage that majority of Americans who are searching for answers; our second annual conference promises to be a second installment paying down a huge debt to the future. Specifically, the conference showcases important ideas and strategic choices that the left has to consider.

Who are the keynote speakers this year?

On Friday, we have turned to Barbara Madeloni of the Mass Teachers Association, a union that successfully defended public education in Massachusetts against corporate privatizers last year, and to Eugene Puryear, organizer of this coming August’s “Millions for Prisoners” march in Washington.

On Saturday, we take the climate crisis head on with Sherri Mitchell, an indigenous activist and lawyer from Maine, and Fred Magdoff, a soil scientist from Vermont. Together, they address both the original sin of the American state and the global challenge of environmental catastrophe.

Matching the dysfunctional economic system is a political one that rewards its boy-president every time he lobs a bomb on a defenseless country. Helping the conference understand these dynamics is the legendary socialist writer and activist Vijay Prashad. He will lead a workshop and a plenary session on imperialism.

There are several small socialist organizations in Boston … plus many self-identified socialists — myself included — who aren’t in an organization. How can people interested in socialism figure out where to plug in?

Each conversation provides entry points for interested individuals to engage with socialist ideas and formations. More intimate discussions will also take place in workshops that address grassroots organizing on campuses, for housing and health, in the media, and on music and revolution.

I should add that socialists have notoriously diverse political strategies; so, our Saturday lunchtime plenary deals with that issue directly. Political projects of various stripes will present their strategies for social change — working inside of the dominant parties, against the same, or outside the entire system, or some combination thereof. This may also surface important areas of convergence and cooperation.

The Boston Socialist Unity Project 2nd Annual Conference will be held on Fri., April 21 and Sat., April 22, 2017 at MIT Room 34–101, 50 Vassar St. in Cambridge. For full info and to register, check out the BSUP website: bostonsocialistunity.org. $10 donation requested.

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director and senior editor of DigBoston.

Copyright 2017 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

Check out the Apparent Horizon Podcast on:

iTunesGoogle Play MusicBlubrryStitcherTuneIn, and YouTube

 
 

ACTION CALL: SAVE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION WITH INVEST NOW MASS

Photo of giant Charlie - Chris Faraone

Photo of giant Charlie by Chris Faraone

  

March 21, 2017

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

Over the long four months since the election of President Donald Trump, this column has focused more on national politics than usual — with special attention to the promising wave of broadly progressive grassroots activism that has resulted. However, it’s important that our newly restive populace also keep related developments on the state political scene on their radar. So, here’s the first installment of an occasional “Action Call” series to review hot-button issues in Bay State politics, and to point readers toward forward-thinking advocacy groups they can join to take action in the public interest.

This time out, a look at the public transportation crisis. We may have just dodged a bullet with Gov. Charlie Baker backing off a plan to cut weekend commuter rail service for a year to ostensibly save $10 million while making upgrades to the rail lines — which would doubtless have been disastrous for the regional economy. But the MBTA — and 15 regional transit authorities across the Bay State — have been in serious trouble for some time. Though not for the reasons most news media focus on.

The origin of the present dilemma goes back to 2000, when the state eliminated the T’s “backward funding” system where any costs it could not cover with fares and other income were simply paid by state government, and replaced it with a “forward funding” system where the T received an annual outlay at the start of each fiscal year based on a fixed percentage of the state sales tax. Later, the budgets of the other regional transit authorities were “reformed” along similar lines.

Making the deal worse for populous eastern Massachusetts, debt that should be part of the state budget was loaded onto the T in “exchange” for getting the cut of sales tax revenue. Then those revenues failed to meet projected targets, leading to more debt. All of which caused the rising fares, worsening service, and diminishing investment in physical plant and rolling stock that riders have been made to suffer through — even as T ridership grew 15 percent between 2004 and 2014.

The solution to this problem is to return to funding the T and the regional transit authorities as the public services they are, and to stop pretending that they’re businesses — or that eliminating good union transit jobs and slashing desperately needed services with various privatization schemes will do anything more than line the pockets of favored consultants and contractors. Such a move will require tax increases on corporations and the rich that they will fight tooth and nail to stop. And that’s why large numbers of people will have to take to the streets to make it possible.

Readers interested in taking action to defend and expand public transportation statewide should check out the big new labor-community activist coalition, Invest Now Mass. Its member organizations range from T workers unions to public transit advocacy groups to civic associations. According to Invest Now lead organizer John Doherty, the coalition plans to pursue organizing in five areas: investment, equity, economic development, climate, and transparency. Plug in at its website: investnowma.org. Anyone interested in having an Invest Now organizer give a public talk in their city or town can click the “Host a Speaker” link in the “Take Action” section of the website or contact Doherty directly at 617–592–2230.

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director and senior editor of DigBoston.

Copyright 2017 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

Check out the Apparent Horizon Podcast on:

iTunes, Google Play Music, Blubrry, Stitcher, TuneIn, and YouTube

 
 

THE LONG GAME: SANCTUARY CITIES FIGHT POINTS TO NEED FOR GLOBAL LABOR PROTECTIONS

Original flag image by Adbusters. Or Betsy Ross, depending on who you ask

March 7, 2017

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

Immigration enforcement is the responsibility of the federal government. Yet Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and related federal agencies often rely on local police to help round up undocumented immigrants for deportation. That problematic lies at the heart of the rising sanctuary cities movement. Local governments in opposition to increasingly inhumane federal immigration policy under the Trump administration are passing resolutions ordering police forces under their control to refuse to aid federal agencies seeking to detain and deport undocumented immigrants.

Immigrant advocates hope that creating large numbers of such sanctuary cities—plus sanctuary campuses and sanctuary religious institutions—will stop or at least slow the latest wave of deportations until the US finally develops a more fair and rational immigration policy.

That’s not going to happen without popular support. And all too many Americans have not been provided with the information that will allow them to make an informed decision on the matter.

Citizens who back slowing or stopping immigration do so because they believe immigrants “steal jobs” from Americans, don’t pay taxes, and/or increase crime. Positions that are not borne out by major research studies. But if they looked more closely at what has actually happened on the immigration front since the early 1990s, there’s every possibility that they would join a groundswell of support for progressive immigration policy… and for something else besides: support for strong labor legislation at the national and international levels.

So it’s imperative that nativist Americans begin to understand the structural crisis that led to the current situation. The biggest precipitating factor was a so-called “trade” treaty signed in 1993 by President Bill Clinton called the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). It went into effect in 1994.

According to labor journalist David Bacon, NAFTA was the result of a major lobbying effort by American multinational corporations with support from CEOs in Canada and Mexico. It was sold to Congress as a remedy to the supposed dilemma of migration from Mexico (and points south) to the US. The argument was that by eliminating “barriers to trade” like tariffs and taxes on major corporations, profits would rise, the economic boats of all three countries would be lifted, more good jobs would be produced, and immigration would slow to a trickle. Because there would be no reason for anyone to leave home.
As often happens in politics, this turned out to be a pack of lies. Removing the so-called trade barriers meant that US multinationals were able to flood the Mexican market with cheap goods and services. Goods and services that Mexicans had once produced for themselves either in Mexican-owned companies or in a robust public sector that included a strong nationalized oil industry.

The Mexican economy went into immediate freefall—throwing over one million people out of work. Then the American multinationals were able to move more manufacturing operations to Mexico than ever before—where they were free of pesky labor unions and tax burdens—resulting in the loss of over 682,000 good American jobs by 2010 according to the Economic Policy Institute. Corporations that kept major factories and farms in the US were free to take advantage of a seemingly endless flood of undocumented immigrant workers who are rarely able to organize into labor unions—since one call to the feds ensures the deportation of any “troublemakers.” Canada was also badly hurt by NAFTA. Billionaire CEOs got even richer, and extended their political power significantly in all three countries.

And here’s the irony: It is precisely those Americans who lost their jobs to NAFTA and other neoliberal schemes like it who voted for Donald Trump in significant enough numbers in key states to ensure his victory.

That’s why any successful movement for immigration justice must be linked directly to the most far-sighted sectors of the labor movement in the US and abroad. The key to ending the fight over immigration is to enshrine strong labor rights worldwide; so that major corporations will no longer be able to pit workers in the US against workers in other countries in what’s been aptly called a “race to the bottom.” Spread that message widely enough, and the nativist movement will evaporate—aside from a small core of outright racists. Because if workers can make a decent living wherever they live, then immigration will cease to be an issue anywhere. And when people do migrate to the future US once a fair immigration regime is finally in place, it will be much easier to do so legally and permanently.

Which is the kind of world we all want, yes? One in which the rights of human beings to make a decent living and to move about the planet freely are respected more than the rights of corporations to maximize their profits.

This column was originally written for the Beyond Boston regional news digest showco-produced by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and several area public access television stations.

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director and senior editor of DigBoston.

Copyright 2017 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

Check out the Apparent Horizon Podcast on:

iTunes, Google Play Music, Blubrry, Stitcher, TuneIn, and YouTube

GENERAL STRIKE: IS THE TRUMP VICTORY SPARKING THE RETURN OF LABOR’S MOST POWERFUL TACTIC?

NYC (1970)

February 22, 2017

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

You know we live in interesting times when general strikes get discussed matter-of-factly in an American big city newspaper. A subject which would have only been raised in a publication like the Boston Globe in recent decades to attack it.

But to give the Globe’s Shirley Leung—an occasional target of my ire—credit where it’s due, she did just that in her recent column about three calls for general strikes against the policies of the Trump administration. One fairly small, hastily organized “Day Without Immigrants” strike last Thursday, and two upcoming one-day strike calls: “A Day Without a Woman” on March 8 (International Women’s Day), and a second “Day Without Immigrants” on May 1 (May Day, the international workers’ holiday) that are likely to be much larger affairs.

It’s fairly obvious why Leung is suddenly interested in the strongest tactic in labor’s arsenal. She’s a bit of a feminist and was supportive of Hillary Clinton, and like many people fitting that description is now considering political action that would have been unthinkable for her only three months agone. That’s fine. She gets some things wrong, but interviews some experts that know their stuff, and does her audience a service by discussing the concept of a general strike at all.

To review, a strike occurs when working people withhold their labor for any reason. A general strike occurs when massive numbers of workers from more than one industrial sector withhold their labor in a city, state, region, or nation. The difference is that a strike is typically called to demand redress in a single workplace or industry. A general strike is called to cause serious economic disruption aimed at bringing corporations and the government to their knees on a single issue, a group of issues, or even to overthrow the current political economic system itself. US strikes are usually called by labor unions, general strikes by coalitions of labor unions and left-wing political groups.

The problem for organizers considering the tactic is that general strikes are basically illegal. At least for labor unions. Leung briefly mentions that the Oakland General Strike of 1946 was the “last” general strike. But she didn’t say why. Turns out that the main reason there have been no “official” general strikes since then is because the Oakland action was part of the massive five-million worker national strike wave of 1945-46—in total, the largest sustained protest of any kind in American history.  The strike wave won some victories. Then triggered a political backlash by a coalition of major corporations and right-wing legislators, leading directly to the passage of the anti-labor federal Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. The law specified a number of political economic tactics unions were henceforth banned from using, including: jurisdictional strikes, wildcat strikes, solidarity or political strikes, secondary boycotts, secondary and mass picketing. Long story short, those types of strikes, boycotts, and pickets translate to a general strike. Not that the many general strikes prior to 1947 were treated as legal either, but after 1947 there was little ambiguity as to their legality.

Does that mean that the American labor movement just rolled over? No. It took decades for corporations and their political allies to crush it down to the diminished state it languishes in today—when only 10.7 percent of the US workforce is unionized (down from a high of almost 35 percent in 1954). And does that mean that there have been no actions like a general strike since 1946? Again, no. There have been subsequent general strikes if you include the major wildcat strikes of the 1970s and accept that the 2006 immigrant boycott (that Leung does mention) was essentially a general strike in some cities.

Wildcats are strikes organized by union workers against their employers … and two forces that often collude with bosses: the government and their own union leadership. The most recent major wave of wildcat strikes occurred in the 1970s. Some of them were large enough in some locales to be considered general strikes—especially where strikers drew support from other unions. Particularly the 1970 National US Postal Workers Wildcat Strike (200,000 workers in 15 states), the 1970 Teamsters Wildcat Strike (500,000 workers, mostly east of the Mississippi River), and the 1974 Wildcat Miners Strike (26,000 workers in West Virginia and Virginia). Some of the wildcats dragged on for weeks. For comparison, the Oakland General Strike involved 100,000 workers over a couple of days (although it wasn’t called as a traditional strike, and had elements of a wildcat).

As for the 2006 May Day immigrant action, “The Great American Boycott,” its title in Spanish was “El Gran Paro Estadounidense”—meaning “The Great American Strike.” In practice, as it involved multi-industry boycotts and strike actions, the 2006 mass walkout for immigrant rights can be viewed as a general strike. Over 1.5 million people participated. But since they were mostly immigrants, many American citizens, Leung included, don’t think of it as a strike at all. Certainly it wasn’t as strong as the 1945-46 strike wave, or the 1970s wildcat strikes. But in immigrant cities like LA and Chicago it definitely had significant political and economic impact. If it had gone on longer than a few days, many citizens would likely have felt those effects nationwide.

So the question is: Will the upcoming one-day strike calls have as powerful a political economic effect as a classic general strike? Probably not. In that case, will they be as powerful as a major wildcat strike? Not just yet. How about the 2006 Great American Boycott by immigrants? Will they be that big? That’s probably the sweet spot. The recent Women’s Marches were able to pull an estimated minimum of 3.3 million people out on a weekend when many participants weren’t working. Do a third of those numbers on a workday, and you’ve reached the lower estimate for the 2006 immigrant strike.

Frankly, both the March 8 and May 1 strike calls could be big. Both are aimed at constituencies that have demonstrated ability to turn out in large numbers. And neither call is led by labor unions that can’t easily call general strikes; so there is an opening to do so. But they will only be powerful to the extent that they threaten the established political order. And there the differences between the two events become clear. The March 8 Day Without a Woman strike is being called by some of the same forces that organized the Women’s Marches in January. Forces that, as I’ve previously written, are directly connected to the neoliberal Clintonite wing of the Democratic Party. Folks who just lost an election because they refused to put working people’s needs over corporate profits.

But the May 1 Day Without Immigrants strike call is being organized by Movimiento Cosecha—a fast-growing coalition of militant young left-wing immigrant organizers. They are potentially limited by their focus on immigrant communities. However, they were recently screwed by the Democratic Party and the Obama administration—which both failed to respond to their demand that all 11 million undocumented immigrants be granted legal status before Trump came into office. So they are less likely to heed the siren call of Democratic leaders to tone down their protests when they become inconvenient for the Dems’ corporate backers, and therefore far more likely to actually build their May Day effort into something approaching a general strike than the March 8 organizers are.

Their call to action makes that intent quite clear:

One day is just the beginning of a season of strikes and boycotts. We know that each time we strike for a day, we will build power. And the more days we strike, the stronger we will feel. The more desperate those in power become. The more the elite will want business to return to normal. They will be forced to figure out a way to give us permanent protection. And in the process, we will win the dignity and respect that we deserve and demand.

Ultimately, debates over whether major work stoppages are “real” general strikes aren’t the point. What matters is “boots on the ground,” and the ability of organizers to translate their numbers into political and economic gains. Any coalition that can pull millions out of work and into the streets against the Trump administration will write a new chapter in both American political and labor history. Which could be just the game changer our incipient movements for democracy need. But if there turns out to be more than one such coalition, so much the better.

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director and senior editor of DigBoston.

Copyright 2017 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

Check out the Apparent Horizon Podcast on:

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HOW TO FIND A DECENT PROGRESSIVE ACTIVIST GROUP

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Photo by Chris Faraone

February 6, 2017

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

So you went to one of the recent big anti-Trump actions, and you want to become a progressive activist. Not just vote every year or two. Great. But there are dozens of major left activist organizations and hundreds of minor ones working on a host of issues at all levels. Which one to join?

Politics is a minefield. No two ways about it. And the group (or groups) you choose to work with will determine both the course of your life going forward and, in some sense, the fate of the nation. How do you even begin to decide?

I recommend starting with a gut check. What issues are most important to you? Do you want to take on a big fight like getting Trump and his rogue’s gallery of white nationalists out of power? A smaller fight, like expanding public transportation in your region? Or a huge fight, like saving humanity from global warming?

Once you’ve thought deeply about where your political interests lie, search for organizations that are taking on the issues you care most about. Look hard. Do deep web dives. Ask everyone you trust that shares your values. Then ask yourself a series of questions like the following:

1) Is the group run democratically? Far too many activist organizations—especially on the national level—are not. If all edicts in the group seem to come from top officials, and none of the important decisions are made by the members, you’re probably barking up the wrong political tree.

2) Is the group led by elites? Look at the staff, elected officials (if any), and board. Do you see lots of rich people and CEOs? Lots of Ivy League connections? Lots of big (and therefore corporate) foundations? And you’re a progressive and want to rein in corporate power? Find another group.

3) Is the group’s membership and (more importantly) leadership diverse? Do you see people who look like you and a broad array of your friends in the organization? If not, you may want to look elsewhere.

4) Is the group’s agenda transparent or opaque? What does the organization stand for? Is it developing its own positions democratically, or does it seem to be taking marching orders from some unseen higher level? Always look for a clear statement of its politics, values, and action plan—and an indication of who calls the shots in the group. Such information should be front and center in outreach materials, websites, and social media presences. If it’s not, keeping moving.

5) Is the group connected to the Democratic Party? You’ll need to think very carefully about this question, because it determines where you’ll come down in the debate on the future of the American left. Do you want to be connected to the populist left wing of the party? The neoliberal corporate wing of the party (that got the country into the mess we’re in)? Do you want to break with the party and form a better left party? Or join the extra-parliamentary left that doesn’t believe in electoral politics at all? Definitely study before you leap.

6) Is the group purely reactive? Does it engage its members in political discussion and debate, determine a strategy, take action, analyze the action, course correct, and move on to achieve meaningful political change. Or does it follow various dog whistles from powerful societal institutions and various media without really developing its own analysis, and encourage members to endlessly engage in aimless street protest. Eschew, if the latter.

7) Is the group a cult? A loaded question, yes. But one worth thinking about. Political cults do exist. If any organization you approach starts putting super heavy pressure on you to join them, to spend all your available waking hours working for them for free, and to disassociate from your friends and family … run.

Otherwise, if you don’t see a group you like, start your own! In general, keep your head about you and use your common sense. Avoid well-off wannabe revolutionaries, radical chic hipsters, and faux radicals who encourage your mouth to write checks to cops, intelligence agencies, and the military that your ass can’t cash, and you’ll be fine. Have fun fighting the power. And let’s be careful out there.

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director and senior editor of DigBoston.

Copyright 2017 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

Check out the Apparent Horizon Podcast on:
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A QUESTION OF STRATEGY: WILL WOMEN’S MARCH LEADERS HELP BUILD A DEMOCRACY MOVEMENT OR JUST PUT THE DEMS BACK IN POWER?

Photo by Scott Murry

January 24, 2017

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

The Boston Women’s March for America was a tremendous success by any metric. Likely the largest political demonstration in the city’s history, its estimated 175,000 attendees made it big enough to dwarf even many national demonstrations of the last many years. Which shows two important things. First, there are a great many Massachusetts residents ready to fight to bring down the Trump administration. Second, the state’s population is strongly in favor of women’s rights—and a number of other positions mentioned in the event’s mission statement, including: racial justice, economic justice, human rights, climate justice, and religious freedom. So, credit where credit is due, march organizers did a wonderful job of reading the political moment, and turning out the broad left against a clear and present threat to democracy … in the form of a triumphalist hard right wing of the Republican Party.

However, the local march and hundreds of related actions across the US last weekend—up to and including the main Washington, DC march—all had an inherent political flaw that’s going to be hard to overcome. That is, their organizers appear to have no follow-up plan beyond mobilizing voters to get the Democrats back in power.

This is because the progressive nonprofits and labor unions behind the marches themselves have no high-level strategy beyond that same goal. Which is why many of them could not even support Bernie Sanders, their party’s credible left alternative in last year’s election. And why the Dems are not much better than the Repubs on a host of key issues—and in some cases, as with the Trans Pacific Partnership that President Trump just shot down as a first order of business, they are worse. Because the organizations that comprise the progressive wing of the Democrats, and provide most of its grassroots muscle, continue to refuse to challenge the still-dominant pro-corporate Clintonite wing of the party for control of its platform.

Given that problematic background, it’s easy to understand why the marches were essentially transformed into giant launchpads for the candidacies of key Democratic politicians for the 2018 and 2020 elections. In Boston, for example, the main speaker was Sen. Elizabeth Warren—a clear contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, having stood down in the recent election and consolidated her power base. Other rising Democratic politicians like Mass Attorney General Maura Healey, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, and Boston City Councilor and City Council President Michelle Wu also mounted the podium—and none could ask for a better campaign kickoff for their next races. Whatever those races may be.

But electing more Democrats to office is not going to solve the problems this nation is facing. Especially if the party continues to be led elitist technocrats who fake left, but break right on all the issues that matter to its populist wing.

An otherwise decent progressive like Warren will keep pulling her punches on effective policy prescriptions like single-payer national healthcare, and continue to defend Obamacare when she herself has written in favor of single-payer as the “most obvious solution” to our health crisis. Because she doesn’t have the support of party leadership to take on corporate power.

A union-backed mayor like Walsh will continue to base his economic policies on the simple conceit of attracting as many major corporations to Boston as possible—as he did by supporting the GE Boston Deal—in the likely vain hope that doing so will somehow result in more decent jobs for his working and middle-class constituents. Instead of creating public jobs programs and building large amounts of public housing like big city Democratic pols from the 1930s to the 1960s. Pushed by an ascendant and militant labor movement for much of that period. Because, again, he doesn’t have the support of party leadership for such policies. And because today’s union and nonprofit leaders have been unwilling to push Democrats to back the democratic socialist policies that many of them privately believe in.

So that’s the strategic quandary that progressive Democrats of the type who just pulled off huge and successful mass mobilizations find themselves in. They know perfectly well that a society run by and for the rich is incompatible with the fairness and justice they seek. They know that we cannot solve all the dire problems facing America by handing the reins of power to the CEOs—as both major parties have been doing for decades—and hoping for the best. And they know that the best organizing isn’t top-down, but is instead horizontal and, well, democratic.

Yet even when they pull millions into a great event like the marches against President Trump, they remain afraid to let the grassroots they just inspired to action run the political movement they hope to build. And as long as that cycle continues, the Democratic Party might indeed return to power by 2020. But all the marches in the world won’t bring true democracy to the United States.

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director.

Copyright 2017 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

Check out the Apparent Horizon Podcast on:
iTunes, Google Play Music, BlubrryStitcher, TuneIn, and YouTube


HARD DRUG TRUTHS: END MANDATORY MINIMUM DRUG SENTENCES

January 10, 2017

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

The opioid crisis is dire enough without adding insult to injury. With almost 12,000 deaths from overdoses in Massachusetts since the year 2000—increasing sharply in recent years with fentanyl-laced heroin hitting the streets—the human cost to users, their families, and our communities is already tremendous. But thanks to mandatory minimum sentencing for drug-related criminal offenses that cost is far higher than it needs to be.

A bit of history is in order. Decades back, sentencing decisions for such offenses were generally made by individual judges—who could then lower or remove jail time, or order an alternative sentence to a drug treatment facility, for non-violent offenders convicted of simple possession and the like.  

The passage of the Controlled Substances Penalties Amendments Act by Congress in 1984—followed by a number of related laws on the federal and state level—took that power away from the courts and set mandatory minimum sentences that could not be modified by judges. Prisons around the country began to fill with drug offenders. And many nonviolent offenders ended up doing more time than violent offenders like members of major drug cartels.

Worse still, racism was baked into the new system, with drugs like the crack form of cocaine sold in poorer communities of color drawing far longer sentences than drugs like the powder cocaine sold in wealthier white communities. The arrest rate for people of color has remained consistently higher as well. According to the state Sentencing Commission, Massachusetts imprisons Black defendants eight times more than white defendants. Latino defendants are sent up almost five times more.

Then, in 1996, OxyContin—a synthetic opiate pain medication—came on the market in 80 mg pill form. It was developed by a small Connecticut pharmaceutical company called Purdue Pharma—an early pioneer … not in synthesizing oxycodone, the active ingredient in OxyContin which had originally been developed in Germany in 1916, but in something more insidious: the direct marketing of drugs to doctors. According to Pacific Standard, Purdue doubled its sales staff in the first four years of the OxyContin rollout. That staff developed a database that identified doctors who prescribed pain medication more heavily than others. They focused their sales effort on those doctors—encouraging them to overprescribe the medication for a wide variety of conditions. In 2000, the company released a 160 mg pill specifically aimed at users that had developed tolerance to opioids—which became the wildly popular street drug we know today. Crushed and sniffed by tens of thousands of users in the Bay State alone. And so, by 2010, OxyContin accounted for over one-third of American painkiller sales.

Most of you know the rest of the story. The legions of newly addicted Oxy users eventually ran out of prescriptions, and turned to whatever they could get to replace it—inevitably leading many of them to heroin. A sane government would’ve stepped in early on in this process, shut a company like Purdue down, and significantly expanded public funding for solid treatment and recovery facilities for the drug’s many casualties. But that’s not what happened. Instead, Purdue was making over $3 billion a year on OxyContin by 2010, and had a lock on legal sales of the drug until its patent expired in 2013. Even as public funding for treatment got cut.

Meanwhile, street sales of Oxy and the resulting spike in heroin sales led to a whole new wave of nonviolent offenders sent to prison for years with mandatory minimum sentences.

Unfortunately, action to reform such strict sentencing laws has been slow to come at the federal level and here in the Commonwealth. With a new session of the state legislature just beginning, there are no new reform bills to recommend. But it’s reasonable to expect the main reform bill of the last session, An Act to Repeal Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Laws for Drug Offenses, will be reintroduced this time around. The bill would repeal all mandatory minimums for drug offenses and let courts impose sentences that fit the crimes.

It’s ironic that, according to WBUR, “several other states, including conservative states, have overhauled their sentencing laws” while ostensibly progressive Massachusetts lags behind. But thanks to the work of grassroots organizations like Jobs Not Jails and the Mass Organization for Addiction Recovery, high level officials like Mass Senate President Stanley Rosenberg and Chief Justice Ralph Gants of the Mass Supreme Judicial Court have recently gone on record in support of mandatory minimum reform.

That’s great, but without voters across Mass putting pressure on state legislators it could still be years before the needed reform passes. So, the best thing that readers can do to help stop this devastating outgrowth of the already tragic opioid crisis is to watch for the new mandatory minimum reform bill and join advocates to demand that your state reps and senators do the right thing and pass it.

This column was originally written for the Beyond Boston regional news digest showco-produced by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and several area public access television stations.

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director.

Copyright 2017 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

Check out the Apparent Horizon Podcast on:

iTunes, Google Play Music, Stitcher, TuneIn, and YouTube