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VOTING AS A SOCIALIST IS STILL HARD (IN THE MASSACHUSETTS OF 2018)

Red Star Over Massachusetts

 

Plus an endorsement for Michael Capuano for Congress (MA 7th District)

 

August 28, 2018

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

 

It’s never easy being a socialist in the United States. And at no time is it more difficult then come election season. Because neither of the two major parties—hard-right ravings to the contrary taken as given—is socialist. Both Republicans and Democrats are capitalist. There have been many attempts to form major left-wing anti-capitalist parties over the last couple hundred years. Some, like two I’ve participated in—the Green Party US and the Labor Party—have been national efforts. The former is still struggling on gamely, though Mass affiliate Green-Rainbow Party currently does not have official party status—having failed to win 3 percent of the vote for any state or national candidate in the last election or to enroll 1 percent of registered voters. The latter petered out over a decade back. There have also been state-level efforts like the Peace and Freedom Party in California—which, for one reason or another, haven’t spread to other states.

 

The received political wisdom is that the major parties have set up so many structural roadblocks over their many decades in power that it’s impossible for any of the smaller so-called third parties to achieve major party status. And from my experience that received wisdom has been correct. So far.

 

Where does that leave a socialist like me? Well, I have a few options. None of them ideal… unless we manage to change our political system to allow for small parties to more easily become big ones. I could go back to the Greens. I could join one of the tiny socialist parties that runs candidates from time to time like Socialist Alternative. I could join the somewhat larger Democratic Socialists of America—which is not a party but a pressure group that throws its weight behind the most left-wing candidates it can find or field, mainly in the Democratic Party. I could help try to revive an effort for a “fusion” ballot in Massachusetts with the Working Families Party (of New York and several other states). Such a move would create a formation that would be allowed to support larger parties’ candidates (i.e., the Democrats for all intents and purposes) without sacrificing independence. But allowing that would require a change in Bay State law… and a 2006 attempt to make the necessary change failed. I could help start a new left-wing party in the Boston area, and try to win some municipal races before moving on to state and national contests. Or I can join the majority of Massachusetts voters and be an independent. Registering as “unenrolled” in our state’s parlance. Currently the simplest and easiest option. And a reasonable one for a journalist like myself since I remain independent of all political parties.

 

So like many other left-wingers, I’ve bitten the proverbial bullet and have been unenrolled for most of my adult life. But it’s a dissatisfying place to situate myself politically. Because functionally it means that I’m voting for whoever comes closest to my beliefs on a case-by-case basis. Not usually for a slate. As minor parties like the Greens rarely have the wherewithal to run candidates for multiple offices in one voting district. Just individual candidates. And should those candidates win, they are basically on their own. Meaning any political gains they make typically won’t outlast their terms of office.

 

Being unenrolled also means that I’m almost never voting for a candidate I fully support. Unless a maverick left-wing candidate happens to run for one office or other in my area—usually in a nonpartisan local race—I’m nearly always forced to compromise. And, sure, voting always involves compromises. Even for dyed-in-the-wool Democrats and Republicans. Yet casting such votes usually requires that I make a big compromise. A fundamental one, as the candidates on offer all share the major flaw of backing a political economic system—capitalism—that I don’t believe in. Even though I’m forced to participate in that system by nature of being born in a capitalist country in this time and place.

 

At this juncture, some readers will naturally ask, “Well, why vote at all?” After all, I’ve got more than a little bit of a libertarian streak in the sense that I’m a big fan of liberty. And many left libertarian traditions—notably anarcho-syndicalism—push for direct democracy at the local level in place of representative democracy at every level. I’ve always had a soft spot for such views. But I have never found them practical for a nation-state of over 300 million souls amid a planetary population of over seven billion and rising.

 

Ultimately, as messed up as capitalist democracy is, I refuse to take my franchise for granted. For much of human history, people like me didn’t get any say at all in how they were governed. Even the US restricted voting to white males with property at its inception. Only after generations of grassroots political struggle did we get universal suffrage for everyone 18 or older. So as long as we remain an even nominally representative democracy, I’m going to keep voting.

 

Great, but how do I go about picking candidates to support? Not easily, and I simply don’t vote in races where none of the candidates are good by my lights. Still, taking next week’s primary as an example, let me shed some light on my internal decision-making process. For sake of space, I’ll think aloud about only the hottest current local political fight—the 7th District Congressional race between incumbent Michael Capuano and challenger Ayanna Pressley—in the manner I normally do when preparing to vote as an independent socialist. Mainly by considering the candidates’ political positives and negatives from my perspective.

 

Capuano’s positive policy points include backing Medicare for All for many years and consistently anti-war foreign policy stands. Strikes against him include taking campaign contributions from the real estate and biotech lobbies. Pressley’s positive points include taking decent positions on issues like housing and immigration—including recent support for abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Strikes against her include more hawkish foreign policy views. And a long Intercept piece on the race paints her as the chosen candidate of corporate Democratic leadership. Someone who fakes left, but will likely break right when it matters. A big negative in my book.

 

For me, Capuano is one of the last old line social democrats in Congress. Meaning he’s about as left-wing as he can be without leaving the Dems. He’s also been in office a long time and holds key committee positions that would be lost with the election of a first-term opponent. He’s brought a lot of money to his district that benefits the working class, and he’s taken a lot of stands he didn’t have to take in defense of that class.

 

Pressley has done much less as a politician thus far. According to Politico, her “biggest projects have ranged from supporting pregnant teens and revamping sex education in schools to expanding liquor licenses in minority neighborhoods.” Admittedly while holding a seat in a political body, the Boston City Council, that has very little power. So not an entirely fair comparison, but food for thought nonetheless. However, given Capuano’s predictable and significant lead in the polls and in funding, I can’t shake the feeling that Pressley’s really doing groundwork for her next big race more than expecting to win this one.

 

For these reasons and many more besides, I have to back Michael Capuano in the Democratic primary for the 7th District Congressional seat.

 

But all that said—and there’s much more to say—in backing Capuano, I’m still backing a capitalist. This is not a guy who is pushing for workers to own the means of production. This is a guy who has consciously decided that the best path is to shave the rough edges off of capitalism to make it less harmful to workers. While allowing billionaires to control the commanding heights of our political economic system. He may not like it. But he’s decided that’s the best that can be done under the current circumstances.

 

I respect that decision, even if I disagree with it. Yet whatever I think about individual candidates, I always have to come back to the same problem: What can I do to help ensure that there is a mass socialist (and anti-racist and feminist and environmental and anti-war, etc., etc.) party that can field candidates with the experience and funding to win enough electoral races to change the face of politics in Massachusetts and the United States for the better?

 

And my answer? For the moment, I’m writing for a growing audience about the kind of political changes I’d like to see, and looking for opportunities to help build the kind of political party that could bring those changes to fruition. There are seeds of what I’m searching for in Democratic Socialists of America and Socialist Alternative and many other existing socialist and anarchist and green formations besides. But none of them presently fits the bill for me. All I can say is that I’ll know the party I’m looking for when I see it. And jump on board as soon as that happens. But for now, I’ll just muddle through at election time in the fashion I’ve described above. As best I can.

 

Readers interested in engaging in discussion and debate on this and related matters in various public forums can contact me at execeditor@digboston.com.

HERALD READERS RESPOND TO ANTIFA COVERAGE

Antifascist Action symbol circa 1932. designed by Association of Revolutionary Visual Artists members Max Keilson and Max Gebhard.
Antifascist Action (Germany) symbol circa 1932. Designed by Association of Revolutionary Visual Artists members Max Keilson and Max Gebhard.

 

August 21, 2018

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

Spoiler alert: anti-nazis are somehow nazis

 

On Saturday, a few hundred left-wing activists showed up to protest a tiny ultra-right wing protest held on City Hall Plaza around the anniversary of last year’s tiny ultra-right wing protest on Boston Common. That earlier action being completely dwarfed by the tens of thousands of people that turned out in opposition to the racist and fascist views of its organizers. This year, many counterprotestors hailed from Black Lives Matter, Stand Against Hate-Boston, and the Boston Democratic Socialists of America. And their mobilization was just as successful as the previous one in putting the wannabe master race to flight (to the suitably distant summit of Breed’s Hill where they briefly screamed at the stone monument patriotically named for an adjacent hill… dogged by some of their antagonists).

 

There are certainly times when people need to stand up against the ultra right. This demo was one of them. So the counterprotestors are to be commended. Although I still stand by my column of last year in which I explained why I’d like to see left activists focus more on positive political organizing than reactive street actions.

 

To my point, however, I have long made a habit of reading comments on online articles. From which I often glean a good deal of useful information. And I naturally expect a certain amount of gonzo earthiness from the often anonymous wags who weigh in on issues of the day. But whenever anti-fascist activists are in the news, I note that the insanity ratchets up by an order of magnitude. And responses to such coverage contain more than the usual share of genuinely disturbing views. Nowhere is this more true in the local press than in the comment sections of Boston Herald articles.

 

So I thought it would be… um… let’s call it educational to choose the best of the worst online comments made on the Herald’s quite reasonable piece on the weekend’s protest and counterprotest, and dissect them in the public interest. The authors’ names—real or otherwise—have been changed to initials so as not to further embarrass the clueless.

 

“PC”
Clowns? No..Patriots standing against Leftist Anti-Free Speech… Anti-Constitution… Anti-Life… Anti-Freedom… Anti-Constitutional Republic Useful Idiot Communists.. look at the Soviet Flags in the Photos…..who act like Racist Brown Shirt Nazis crushing free speech… attacking those who disagree with them violently… That is what the Nazi SA (Brown Shirts) did in the 1930s Germany…as they call the oposition Nazis…

 

So, the ultra-right wingers who are happy to exercise their free speech rights against freedom are for freedom? And the left-wingers who exercise their free speech rights to protest people against freedom are anti-freedom? And left-wingers’ willingness to physically defend communities under threat from the ultra-right makes them the violent ones? As opposed to the ultra-right networks that are the only one of the two sides racking up death counts in the US in recent memory? And the left-wingers are the nazis?! Okely dokely…

 

“MF”

Boston: once young Patriots met under a huge pine tree – to plot a course of Freedom from the tyranny of an English King – and his Parliament,…Saturday young fools with no concept of God, History, or world events think they marched to squash and shut down “Hate Speech”… They are Soros’s expendable cannon fodder, acting EXACTLY like Hitler’s Sturmabteilung!

 

First, the Liberty Tree that this post is definitely referencing was an elm. Second… what?!


“RC”
Until we redefine the terms ‘racism’ and ‘sexism’, white people will not have free speech in this country. This is obvious from multiple news articles.

 

Well, it’s obvious from multiple online ravings anyway.

 

“BD”

Awful reporting. Conveniently left out the part where free speech activists averted violence by marching to Bunker Hill Monument where we held a very successsful rally, opposed only by a tiny handful of screechy Black Lives Matter activists.

 

This is apparently a post from one of the ultra-right protest organizers referencing the out-of-the-way location that said protestors scurried off to after being heavily outnumbered by counterprotestors at their original rally site. And trying to make lemonade out of the lemons of abject failure. Pobrecito

 

“SM”

Haha so CLEVER Alexi! Poor thing, you’re one of those that paid to be brainwashed by a “professor-former screw the man 60’s hippie” weren’t you? Trumps free speech group. Haha.

That’s liberalism/socialism today. Just like Kristallnacht In Germany circa the1930’s , scream and yell and intimidate those who don’t agree with you. Same as the Nazis, like I said. Look at that red headed idiot all worked up in the photo. Here’s what the hippy professors and mommy never told you; you CAN lose in life. You did in 2016, will this year and so will the former Boston Herald, which is now a pop up ad space barely readable online and the Globe’s “Fredo Corleone”

 

An attack on the Herald reporter. And on college education in general. Conflates liberalism (which in both its original meaning, and in today’s parlance, generally indicates support for capitalism) with socialism (which indicates support for workers owning the means of production). Compares counterprotestors to nazis (sense a theme?). Concludes with amusing shot at the Herald. C+ for effort.

 

“FC”
The antifa aholes use the same tactics as the pre-war German socialists did. Their brilliant propaganda minister felt they had to “control the streets”. This kind of violence was new then, and effective. Devious manipulation got a certain demented leader in power, but it’s not going to work now. We’ve seen this crappy movie before. Also, next Free Speech Rally, I’m gonna be there.

 

Assuming this poster means pre-WWII here. He seems to think that the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) had a propaganda minister who wanted to control the streets during the two brief periods when it led the Weimar Republic. Sounds a lot more like a certain nazi propaganda chief of the same period—who only became Reich Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda in 1933. Which might explain why he’s blaming “socialists” for the rise of the nazis. Perhaps he means “national socialists.” Whatever. Anyhow, while it is true that SPD members controlled a fighting group catchily dubbed the Black, Red, Gold Banner of the Reich with as many as three million members by the 1930s to combat the Nazi Party’s SA on their right (with two million members by 1933) and the Communist Party’s Red Front Fighters’ League on their left (with 130,000 members at the time of their banning in 1929), neither they nor the communists actually mobilized their troops against the ascension of the nazis to power. Therefore, don’t think we’re watching the same “crappy movie” at all. Also doubt the poster will be at the next sad little “rally” for herp and also derp.

 

“DO”
Wonder how much money Soros spent funding these miscreants

 

None. Arch-capitalist George Soros doesn’t typically give money to anti-capitalists, and doesn’t fund every smallish American rally to the left of Trump in either this or alternate dimensions.


“LA”
You forgot “Pravda”, the fake news in this country engages in this Nazi style “reporting” daily.
And they are proud of it. Both sides are allowed by our Constitution to have their say in the public square, one side does so peacefully, the other side wearing masks and weiding weapons taunts them and attacks them. All the violence at these rallies is innitiated by one side and the fake media villifies the peaceful protestors. It’s all “Alice in Wonderland” stuff. Engals would be so proud of them.

 

This poster starts by comparing the American press of today with the Soviet Union’s main state propaganda organ. Not entirely false equivalence considering the frequently submissive behavior of the top echelons of that press—especially the New York Times and the Washington Post—in the service of the billionaires that effectively control the US government. But not true of all journalists or of independent news outlets like this one. The rest of the post infers that the left-wing counterprotestors are the violent side and that local news media is being unfair to the ultra-right wing protestors in not reporting that imaginary. We’re certainly through the looking glass with this one; so the Alice in Wonderland reference is unintentionally apt. Not sure who this “Engals” person is, though. But I’d like to buy them a vowel.

 

“AS”
The lack of press coverage of the Communists is really horrifying. That a regime that murdered many more people in support of an evil ideology than the Nazis did is openly supported on the streets of Boston, and is treated by the press and the left as the good guys, is outrageous & scary.

 

This poster is rehashing the roundly refuted figures promulgated by the anti-communist lead author of The Black Book of Communism a couple decades back. A person so desperate to make the total number of deaths supposedly caused by communism between 1917 and the book’s publication in 1997 reach 100 million people—and outnumber the death toll from capitalism (and, not coincidentally, nazism) in the same period—that he made a bunch of highly questionable editorial decisions. Like including the estimated death tolls of famines in communist nations in his total, but ignoring the much larger estimated death tolls of famines in capitalist nations—notably India, as famed left scholar Noam Chomsky subsequently pointed out using economist Amartya Sen’s numbers as that nation dropped its socialist pretensions. Communist governments certainly killed many innocent people during the period in question, but the thrust of this comment seems to be that nazism isn’t so bad after all. Right? Yikes.

 

TEMPORARY RADICALS? DISAFFECTED DEMS NEED TO STAY IN THE STREETS AFTER THE GOP MENACE IS BEATEN BACK

ah-protest-pic-best

November 27, 2016

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

There is little agreement on the broad American left. But the ascension of Donald Trump to the top of the political heap caused a virtual panic from the most conservative corporate Democrats to the hardest core anarchists and communists. Which resulted in a sudden, and probably brief, unity of purpose across the various factions. Then, quickly converting their excess emotional energy into useful activity as is typical in times of crisis, hundreds of thousands of people poured into the streets in the days after the election to protest the very idea that a controversial billionaire businessman and reality TV personality is now president of the United States. Including many Democrats who have never attended a protest in their lives.

This a welcome development. Many important social movements perennially suffer from a lack of grassroots participation. So the sudden entry of huge numbers of infuriated mainstream Dems to oppositional politics is positive on the balance.

If, that is, these new entrants remain willing to take direct action in defense of democracy and fight for a host of necessary reforms—from serious attempts to curb global warming to winning real national healthcare to putting racist police under community control.

As long as the new Republican administration remains somewhere within the bounds of traditional American politics, and doesn’t attempt to crush protest outright, then there is a lot of room for the full panoply of transformative social movements to maneuver.

Assuming Trump is unable to solve the central contradiction of his campaign—making big promises to both fellow CEOs and working Americans alike—there is a strong chance that the Republicans will lose control of one or both Congressional houses in two years, and the presidency in four.

Aside from conservatives gaining as many as three seats on the Supreme Court in that period, much of any damage that Trump may do can then be undone. It’s likely that the Democrats will be back in power by 2021.

The problem being, which Democrats? Will it be a newly-emboldened grassroots-led social democratic party? Or will it be the same neoliberal center-right party that was just resoundingly defeated after failing to heed the populist feedback it was receiving from significant parts of its base?

I hope that the former possibility wins out. At the moment, however, it’s far more probable that the currently discredited Democratic leadership will use its power and connections to simply reassert its authority, raise a ton more money, and work to win back Congressional majorities and the Oval Office without changing its political line a jot.

Which leaves a question for all the angry Democrats currently in the streets for social justice: Are you just fighting to get corrupt and elitist Democratic Party leaders back in command in DC? Or are you all willing to go further and fight for the establishment of genuine left-wing political alternatives in both electoral politics and in daily life?

If the recent past is any guide, many of you will stop fighting for racial justice, women’s liberation, LGBT rights, a living wage, public jobs programs, national healthcare, clean energy infrastructure, etc., the moment the Democrats win back the presidency. You’ll figure “great, everything is back to normal.”

But the politics of most leading Democrats—activist progressives like Elizabeth Warren excepted—is one that results in never-ending war, insufficient action on global warming, expanding corporate globalization, gradual privatization of successful public programs, widening poverty, and continuing the so-called Drug War, the prison-industrial complex, and racist policing.

So real social change will not occur unless grassroots Dems stay in the streets and fight their own leadership for primacy—until we can build a more fair, just, and humane society.

That strategy will necessitate either taking over the Democratic Party and forcing it left, or starting a major new left party. In addition to winning myriad (and quite necessary) issue-specific campaigns.

If all that can be accomplished, America and the planet have a chance. If not? If the Republicans hold power for many years? Or the corporate Democrats come back to power and continue allowing Wall Street to drive national policy?

Then we’re going to be in a very bad place very fast.

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

Copyright 2016 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

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DEMOCRATIZE AMERICA: THE FIGHT TO SAVE THE NATION AND THE PLANET DOESN’T STOP ON ELECTION DAY

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November 8, 2016

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

This is not a dream. For your whole life, you’ve seen images on screens showing brutal political struggles in faraway places like Ukraine and Yemen. And in the rare moments you’ve paid attention to the suffering you’ve seen, you’ve asked yourself, “How could things get so bad that people started shooting at fellow citizens?” Now you’re worried such madness will happen here.

Fortunately, things have not devolved to that point in American politics since that little dustup we call the Civil War. Yes, this has been the ugliest presidential race in recent memory. Yes, it has gone outside the pale of what has been considered acceptable political behavior in the last few decades. But there is nothing even approaching a violent mass uprising on the horizon of American politics. There have barely been any physical altercations at all in the race that finishes today — and the few that erupted didn’t get far beyond the level of shoving matches. So it’s important to keep things in perspective.

However, the danger of political instability has not passed. It has only just begun — regardless of which candidate wins. Because our already tenuous democratic traditions are under threat, and humanity is on the precipice of extinction. The first problem is intimately tied to the second. So it’s critical we get our political house in order if we’re going to be able to grapple with the linked crises that face us. And that means everyone who believes in democracy is going to have to get involved in the following three key battles in the coming years — no matter who is in the Oval Office in January.

Democratize America. Contrary to the official narrative, the US has never really been a democracy. It’s fair to say that we’ve made great progress toward democratization across the arc of our short history. But this nation has always been an oligarchy with elements of a democracy. We can and must do better than that if we’re going to leave a safer and healthier world for our grandchildren than we have now. For starters, we need to reverse Citizens United to help lessen the influence of money on politics, institute proportional representation and instant runoff voting where possible, and look seriously at moving to a multiparty parliamentary system — allowing us to have a politics that more closely represents the will of the full spectrum of the electorate. Such reforms will go a long way toward normalizing civic discourse. Which will in turn help end the threat of American politics getting any uglier anytime soon. Because when people feel like there’s a place for them in the political system, they’re a lot less likely to follow demagogues, join militias, and commence shooting up fellow citizens. To get involved in the movement for a more democratic America, Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Our Revolution organization looks like the best jumping off point — given its solid position on stopping Citizens United with a constitutional amendment.

Ban nuclear weapons. There are still 15,000 of those deadly devices in the world, and the US has about half of them. Studies suggest that only 50–100 “small” Hiroshima sized weapons would have to be detonated to trigger a nuclear winter which would wipe out a good chunk of humanity through starvation. Far more are likely to be used in a shooting war between the US and Russia or China. Yet the US has maintained its policy of allowing a “first strike” with nuclear weapons, and has been pressuring both fellow nuclear superpowers in hot spots like Syria, Romania, Ukraine, the Baltics, and the South China Sea for a variety of bad geopolitical reasons. With smaller nukes available, it will be tempting for the next administration to use one in any military crisis that might result from such brinksmanship. Once a single weapon is used, automated retaliation protocols on all sides will virtually ensure that more will be used. No matter who wins the presidential contest. So the movement to eliminate American nuclear weapons, and win a global nuclear weapons ban is one that everyone needs to join at speed. Check out the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons to get involved.

Stop global warming. Neither presidential candidate is prepared to do what is necessary to end the terminal crisis presented by the human-caused warming of the planet. And if we don’t make a near total conversion from an energy system based on burning coal, gas, and oil to one based on (genuinely) clean energy by 2030, scientists are saying that we have no hope of holding warming to an average increase of no more than 2 degrees Celsius worldwide. Another four years of federal status quo will make that transition even less likely to happen in time. Dooming us — at minimum — to the inundation of coastal cities like Boston due to rising sea levels, mass starvation as our growing lands turn to desert and our oceans acidify, and general havoc created by ever-worsening storms and ever-warmer weather. The 350.org movement remains the best organized US-based campaign devoted to minimizing this crisis. So drop them a line right away.

Otherwise, stay active. Stay woke. Another world is possible.

 

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

Copyright 2016 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

UMASS CAMBRIDGE: MAKING HARVARD UNIVERSITY PUBLIC WILL SOLVE ITS WORKERS’ PROBLEMS—AND THE COMMONWEALTH’S HIGHER ED CRISIS

umass-cambridge

October 24, 2016

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

Three weeks into their strike, Harvard University dining hall workers are in a difficult position. Their union’s demands for better wages, benefits, and working conditions are falling on deaf ears in the Harvard administration. They cannot continue picketing indefinitely on $200 weekly strike pay—which itself won’t last for long … and the bosses know it.

That same administration talks about the situation as if the workers are already overpaid since they make wages higher than the industry standard. Even though college food service workers generally get low pay with few benefits by convention. It tries to make the Harvard dining hall workers union, UNITE HERE Local 26, look greedy by asking for more, when all the workers want is a living wage to be able to survive the increasingly insane costs of living in Greater Boston. And a health care package that doesn’t raise their out-of-pocket costs. Which other Harvard unions have already agreed to, sadly.

This despite the fact that Harvard has an unbelievably massive $35 billion endowment. The largest amount held by any institution of higher learning in the world. Larger than the annual budgets of many nations. The school’s endowment page makes it clear that its administration knows that making any pitch for sympathy on labor costs is ludicrous on its face (although that’s precisely what they do when they attack the dining hall workers’ extremely moderate demands as somehow unaffordable). In a section of that page entitled “Why can’t Harvard use more of its endowment in order to cover additional expenses or reduce tuition costs?” the following logic is offered:

Endowment gifts are intended by their donors to benefit both current and future generations of students and scholars. As a result, Harvard is obligated to preserve the purchasing power of these gifts by spending only a small fraction of their value each year. Spending significantly more than that over time, for whatever reason, would privilege the present over the future in a manner inconsistent with an endowment’s fundamental purpose of maintaining intergenerational equity.

A statement worthy of a CEO or banker. Or neoliberal ideologue. Basically saying, We can’t spend more money from the endowment because we don’t want to touch our principal and lower our profits. Funny attitude for a supposed nonprofit. One that’s unfortunately being emulated at colleges around the country as the privatization of higher education continues apace.

Since Harvard is unwilling to spend down its endowment by even a tiny percentage to ensure all its employees receive truly fair wages and benefits, it’s all the more imperative that dining hall workers continue to press their demands. And that more people support them.

Because not only is Harvard screwing its own food service staff while amassing wealth beyond the dreams of avarice, it is also doing grievous damage to the Massachusetts public higher education system. Which raises the stakes considerably. And links the problems of one group of working people to the fortunes of the working families of an entire state. For whom shaking the edifice of Harvard’s endowment must become a central political concern.

Image via Boston's Local 26

Image via Boston’s Local 26

Understanding Harvard’s finances is the key to apprehending why the university’s very existence is problematic in a democracy—and a clear and present danger to the state public higher education system. And to answering the central question: Why is an institution of higher learning allowed to run like a multinational corporation? Socking away funds that it possesses mainly because it educates the children of the one percent—scions of powerful families who steal money from the rest of us in myriad ways and then donate part of that money back to the supposedly nonprofit school in exchange for income tax breaks. A school not required to pay taxes on its vast income by dint of that nonprofit status. Which then also takes huge amounts of public funds despite being a private school.

It’s also worth asking why Harvard is not a public college. Why is it not UMass Cambridge? Harvard was, after all, originally part of Massachusetts state (and colonial) government. Yet over the centuries it was able to reorganize itself as a private nonprofit school, and essentially write the rules it plays by.

But for a “private” school it’s certainly awash in public money. A brief review of how Harvard enthusiastically drains government coffers that it refuses to replenish should make it painfully obvious that it is indeed a public university. And therefore in dire need of democratic reform to better align its mission with the needs of the Mass public higher ed system.

First, all the funds in the Harvard endowment, and all the money it makes from financial investments, is not taxed. Neither is all the property Harvard owns—on which it famously expends small “Payments in Lieu of Taxes” (PiLoTs) instead of much higher property taxes. According to Slate, a report by Nexus Research and Policy Center—a right-wing pro-corporate think tank that I would normally avoid citing—does some sloppy math that nevertheless helps us think more clearly about the magnitude of the problem with giving private schools nonprofit status. The report says that, in 2014, Harvard made the equivalent of $48,000 in tax savings from federal, state, and local governments for each of its students. Many of whom can definitely afford to pay full freight on their education. While predominantly working and middle class Massachusetts public college students are educated in woefully underfunded state institutions. The Nexus report indicates that UMass Amherst—the Commonwealth’s flagship university— made only the equivalent of $9,900 in tax savings for each of its students. While undergraduate tuition and fees amounted to $13,258, and average room and board costs were $10,957, for a total cost of $24,485 that year. Even before thousands in book costs and other fees are considered.

Second, although it may not be obvious to outsiders, many Harvard students use public grants and loans to get through school. According to its website, the annual disbursement from the Harvard endowment covered 35 percent of the university’s $4.5 billion operating budget in 2015—including much of the cost of tuition and fees for undergraduate students who need it. And the Harvard administration makes clear that “Even with endowment support, Harvard must fund nearly two-thirds of its operating expenses … from other sources, such as federal and non-federal research grants, student tuition and fees, and gifts from alumni, parents, and friends.” But a good chunk of the aforementioned tuition and fees is covered with public money.

It’s true that Harvard pays all expenses for the 20 percent of current undergrads who come from families that make less than $65,000 a year. One cheer for that given the provenance of Harvard’s money. However, undergrads whose families make between $65,000 and $150,000 a year are expected to contribute up to 10 percent of the total cost of their education annually. And undergrads whose families make more than $150,000 a year pay concomitantly higher percentages of their education costs. Students whose families can’t cover those costs, and don’t receive enough scholarships, grants, or stipends from private sources can apply for federal and state financial aid like any other college student(though foreign undergrads generally don’t qualify for such aid).

Graduate students lean more heavily on public support. Harvard financial aid is similar to other universities in its expectation that its grad students—especially the cash cow master’s degree students—will apply for federal and state financial aid for any expenses they can’t pay out of pocket. Its PhD students get a supposedly free ride, as elsewhere, but the stipends the school pays for their labor as teaching and research assistants clearly aren’t much better than anywhere else given that they are now trying to emulate their peers at public universities by organizing a labor union. Certainly not enough to live on for many students. So public grants and loans are used to fill gaps in funding.

Harvard made its estimated federal grant and loan totals available online for the 2011-2012 academic year. Its students received $10,257,035 in federal grants, $8,371,891 in Perkins Loans, and $135,249,758 in federal direct loans. A tidy sum to be sure.

Third, and perhaps most damningly, Harvard gets a ton of direct federal appropriations every year. To cite just one significant example, in 2014, Harvard had about 20,000 students and received $572,918,000 in federal research and development money according to the National Science Foundation. About $28,646 per student, although it’s obviously not distributed that way. Critics may respond “no harm, no foul” since Harvard gets lots of public R&D money because they do lots of R&D. But that gets things backwards. Harvard does lots of R&D because it has long gotten lots of public R&D money—which should be used to fund public universities to do the work instead. With more public oversight in the public interest.

That same year, the UMass system had almost 74,000 students and received $362,157,000 in research and development money from the federal government. However, the Massachusetts public higher education system also includes nine state universities and 15 community colleges. Both additional groups of colleges receiving only negligible federal research and development funds as teaching colleges rather than research colleges. So the government money UMass gets for R&D covers all of the 194,371 students in the combined public higher education system in the Bay State in the period in question. Amounting to a mere $1,863 per student. Or about $4,894 per student looking at just the UMass system.

Harvard also gets other money from various branches of American government at every level—overtly or covertly, directly or indirectly. But for anyone who believes in public higher education as a vital democratic institution, every penny of government funding that goes to an elite institution like Harvard is money that should be going to the cash-starved public university system. And Harvard is only one of over a dozen supposedly “private” universities with major endowments in Massachusetts who take public money. Others include: Amherst College, Boston College, Boston University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northeastern University, Smith College, Tufts University, Wellesley College, and Williams College. Plus dozens of smaller privates and erstwhile “for-profits” that suck up even more public funds. [Ironically, as part of a decades-long trend of public universities emulating the privates, UMass itself has an endowment of over $700 million. Much of which should be released to reverse faculty and staff cuts at schools like UMass Boston, and the remainder could be kept in a reasonable “rainy day” fund.]

Such hoarding must be stopped. More to the point, the private university system has to be dismantled if the dream of free higher education for all is to be guaranteed. An attainable dream other countries with far less wealth than ours have been able to manage for decades. One which could be achieved by simply taxing the rich and corporations fairly on the state and federal level to pay for such social goods. An even taller order than the policies under discussion here.

For now, if you really want to help the Harvard dining hall workers and much of the population of Massachusetts in the bargain, help start political movements to demand structural reform of the state university system—and ultimately the national higher ed system in its entirety.

As an interim measure, such movements can push our state government to seize the endowments of so-called private colleges like Harvard and absorb all of their campuses into the public higher education system. Which will end the Commonwealth’s higher ed crisis by flooding the system with once-hoarded money. Guaranteeing a decent college education to more Mass residents while eliminating bastions of privilege and power in our midst. And naturally, a well-funded public higher ed system would have the means to pay its workforce properly and a tradition of “wall-to-wall” unionization that would leave no campus workers unprotected. Solving the problems of the Harvard dining hall strikers, and all other previously low-paid workers at every campus in the Commonwealth.

The parting shot? In 2015, the entire Massachusetts budget for public higher education was $1,462,827,301. Well below the $1.6 billion disbursement from the Harvard endowment for operating expenses that same year.

Meanwhile, the 2017 Mass higher ed budget is only $1,157,298,156. With worse cuts on the horizon.

UMass Cambridge anyone?

TUES., OCT. 25, 2016 UPDATE: Early this morning, the Harvard Crimson reported that a tentative agreement has been reached by the striking dining hall workers and the Harvard administration. The full membership of the UNITE HERE Local 26 dining hall workers unit is slated to vote on the agreement tomorrow (Wed., Oct. 26, 2016), and could be back to work as early as Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016.

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

Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

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FIGHT WHERE YOU STAND: ORGANIZING FOR DEMOCRACY ON THE JOB CAN SPARK A MOVEMENT FOR DEMOCRACY NATIONWIDE

IWW Demonstration. New York (1914)

IWW Demonstration. New York (1914)

October 13, 2016

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

In a month featuring a couple of significant labor actions in the Boston area—the Harvard University dining hall workers strike for better pay and benefits, and the Boston Carmen’s Union’s recent civil disobedience action against privatization at the MBTA—it’s worth reflecting on the difference between unionized workers and other workers in the US. Which can be summarized as follows: Union workers fight.

One can criticize them for not fighting hard or effectively enough, and I certainly do from time to time, but when push comes to shove union workers will push back. Collectively. Putting them in a stronger position than the rest of working people in this era. Nearly 90 percent of whom have no representation on the job. Tens of millions of workers who are unprotected “employees at will” that can basically be fired at any time for any reason other than open discrimination. And chances are, you’re one of them.

Yet the reaction by many ununionized workers to their unionized fellows can be puzzling. Egged on by conservative ideologues, the common refrain on social media and in bar rooms from coast to coast is that union workers are “greedy” for wanting more than their bosses give them. Even as billionaires control ever more vast sums year by year. And deploy that wealth to influence politics to make themselves richer by the day.

This leaves union critics caught in a rather obvious contradiction. On the one hand, under capitalism we’re all supposed to applaud people who get rich for constantly demanding more, more, and still more. For themselves alone.

But when union workers demand more as a group, that’s somehow bad. Resulting in the spectacle of anti-union working people arguing that fellow working people in unions need to start acceding to less. Advancing the ludicrous claim that there’s not enough money and stuff to go around in our tremendously wealthy society for anyone but the rich.

Conservative critics—some working people among them—actually think it’s better for such union workers to disband their unions and be satisfied with whatever their bosses feel like giving them. Or, as they typically put it, to accept what “the market” will bear. To join ununionized workers in the war of all against all. Racing each other to the bottom of the economic pyramid, until a new feudalism grips humanity. Where “the multitude,” as Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt put it, are dominated completely by “the one percent” named so accurately by the Occupy movement.

To prevent such a dystopia from ever coming to pass, it’s time for ununionized, and therefore unorganized, workers to draw a proverbial line in the sand at every workplace in America—including right here in Boston.

In place of the culture of fear that reigns at most every job—the fear of being fired for promulgating even the slightest appeal for justice—there must be a culture of democratic resistance. Workers must start organizing together wherever they are to demand more. More money, better benefits, better working conditions. And critically, more control over their workplaces.

This organizing can involve joining traditional unions where possible, but that is not a necessary precondition to starting to fight back. It can begin as simply as holding meetings after work, discussing problems with the way things are going day-to-day, looking into how workers in similar situations have dealt with their problems on the job, and deciding how to fight for redress.

Some will say that such conflict is old-fashioned and counterproductive, and that it’s far better to work together with owners and bosses to come to some kind of accord on the job. From a position of permanent weakness. Leaving power in the hands of the monied elites. In your workplace and in the larger political realm. I would counter by quoting the preamble to the constitution of the storied democratic union of the turn of the 20th Century, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), “The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.”

As the horrendous presidential race approaches its climax, it’s important to keep this in mind. If you’re wondering why both major party candidates are terrible, and why neither of them are standing up for the interests of working people—for your interests—the old language of radical democracy, plainly expressed by the IWW preamble, provides the beginnings of an answer. The rest of that answer—at your job and in world that surrounds it—is up to you. And all of us in the multitude.

HORIZON LOGO TRIMMED

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

Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

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GO BIG OR GO HOME: TOWARDS A MASS CLIMATE JUSTICE MOVEMENT

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Image by Kent Buckley

December 16, 2015

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

On Saturday, one important global process ended and another began. The process that ended manifested in the form of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference. The process that began—or more correctly, accelerated—manifested in cities all over the world. Here in Boston, it took the form of Jobs, Justice and Climate—a rally and march to “defend New England’s future.”

Over 2,000 people attended the action last Saturday. A fine turnout by current standards, and the largest regional climate justice rally in recent memory. The organizers—representing a coalition of nearly 150 labor, social justice and environmental organizations —are to be commended. As are their 600,000-plus colleagues across the globe. Including the Paris climate activists who have been harassed and detained by the French security state in the aftermath of the tragic November 13 attacks by supporters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. As if people exercising their democratic rights to take to the street to stop capitalism from destroying the planet have anything in common with people who slaughtered dozens to push Western states into precisely that sort of undemocratic reaction.

The UN-brokered climate justice process launched at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro ended in failure. The so-called Paris Agreement that 195 participating countries negotiated this month at best still leaves the door open to the possibility of a real climate pact in the future, and at worst is just an empty PR move by powerful nations and multinational corporations intent on continuing their carbon-burning business as usual at any cost. Built, as it is, on non-binding voluntary commitments without real enforcement mechanisms.

If there is ever to be a real pact to stop global warming, it will only come about if the grassroots democratic process—which started years before the 1992 Earth Summit—makes it happen. That process must take center stage now, and should only finish when its activists come home “with their shields or on them”—to paraphrase an old saying attributed to ancient Spartan women by Plutarch.

That is a tall order to be sure.

Here in New England, in addition to the work by a growing number of climate justice organizations and institutions that goes on day-to-day—collecting solid climate research, conducting popular education, training new activists, reaching out through the media, pressuring climate criminals and lobbying the government at all levels—there must be a constant and ever-larger series of public political actions to demand the swift transition to a carbon-free economy before it’s too late.

It’s important to keep the scale of the task in mind. There were over 14,000,000 people in New England in 2010. There are more now. There will be more still every year until at least mid-century—assuming food supplies remain stable, which we cannot assume as the impact of global warming worsens. A significant percentage of those people need to be mobilized and kept mobilized for years if there is to be a climate justice movement strong enough to overcome the vast panoply of money and political power arrayed against it. Those growing numbers must then be deployed to push through binding local, state, and regional climate agreements that pave the way for binding national and global climate agreements.  

So, a rally of 2,000 is great. But let’s put that in perspective. One can see 2,000 people at the average high school football game. Or at a large religious service. Or at a large nightclub. It’s just not a very large gathering by the standards of our era. Even if each of those 2,000 people directly influenced 10 people to become (or remain) activists—no mean feat—that’s only 20,000 people. Not an unreasonable figure considering the many organizations endorsing the Boston rally. But not enough to fill Fenway Park either. Let alone Gillette Stadium.

It’s true that those 2,000 rally attendees influenced many more through the press coverage they got for the rally. And that 20,000 people can influence many many more with available digital media. But spreading ideas does not automatically impel people to act with the necessary speed, frequency and force to forestall the climate disaster that even now—in this hottest year on record—is starting to take hold as science predicted.

Political organizing is tough work … until it isn’t. Until a movement that dwarfs anything ever seen in human history rises and sweeps through the entire population. Getting to the point where organizing isn’t tough is very difficult indeed. And it’s impossible to predict the arrival of such a mass movement. It will either happen or it won’t. There’s no telling when. Making it all the more important that today’s environmental activists think really really big going forward.

New England is only one small region of the United States with less than 5 percent of its population. And the US has less than 5 percent of the world’s population. But much of its political and economic power. Therefore, the work that climate activists do in this region and nation today is potentially more effective than work their counterparts do outside such centers of power. That is cause for hope. And it should encourage activists in Boston and around our region to redouble their efforts towards a future where New England—and the world—will no longer have to be defended against global warming. Because global warming will have been stopped by human action. As it was started by human action.

Maybe then humanity will be able to survive to the next stage of our evolution … a global civilization built on principles of democracy, equality, social justice, peace, and ecology. Ad astra per aspera. Through hardship to the stars.

It is that vision that has kept me politically active since the 1980s. Perhaps it will inspire some of you, too. If fellow climate justice activists would like to talk in more depth about the issues I’m raising here, I can be reached—as ever—at jason@binjonline.org.

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director. He is a longtime climate justice activist.

Copyright 2015 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

GROUNDED MONKEYS: MILLIONAIRES UNLIKELY TO FLEE COMMONWEALTH IF RAISE UP MASS WINS TAX ON 1 PERCENT

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Image by Kent Buckley

December 8, 2015

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

Boston Business Journal’s Craig Douglas made an interesting criticism of Raise Up Massachusetts last week (“Excited about the proposed millionaires tax? Cut off your nose while you’re at it,” Dec. 4). For those who missed it, RUM is a progressive labor-community coalition that just collected over 155,000 signatures to field a constitutional amendment referendum in 2018 that will create an additional 4 percent income tax for residents who make more than $1 million a year.

RUM initially estimated that the new tax would generate $1.3 billion to $1.4 billion of new revenue a year if enacted in 2019. Then the state Department of Revenue recently did their own analysis, and projected that the additional revenue will be significantly higher—$1.6 billion to $2.2 billion a year.

This led BBJ’s Douglas to call foul on both the RUM numbers and the DoR numbers. The problem? BBJanalysis shows that projections by amendment advocates and the DoR aren’t taking into account that the number of Mass millionaires fell in 2013 and 2014—leading him to point out that the amount of tax money the amendment will raise could be far lower than expected.

Certainly food for thought. And if Douglas had stopped there he would probably have landed on solid ground. But then he overplayed his hand, arguing that if the amendment passes we can “expect more millionaires—and their earnings—to flee the state like a bunch of flying monkeys.”

That’s just a truism. The kind of spectre that anti-tax jihadis are fond of raising whenever there’s the slightest danger of tax equity in America. And Douglas offered no citation to back up the claim.

Turns out the Commonwealth’s very own UMass Amherst Political Economy Research Institute did a study called “Raising Revenue from High-Income Households: Should States Continue to Place the Lowest Tax Rates on Those with the Highest Incomes?” in 2012 that states “… the research reviewed in this study suggests that modest tax increases on affluent households are unlikely to make substantial changes in their work effort or entrepreneurship or make them any more likely to leave the state.”

Also, Douglas seems to have forgotten his own article from Oct. 22, “The BBJ Wealth Report: The towns and cities with the most millionaires,” in which he stated that the falling numbers of millionaires in the state were the result of rich people accelerating “income-related activities in 2011 and 2012 in anticipation of the pending rate hikes on high-income earners” and “deferred asset sales and related income-triggering events to avoid the higher rates, hoping instead for a more-favorable tax climate following the 2016 national elections.”

In other words, they played games to make sure that they could report as little income as possible after 2012. Nowhere did he say they left the state, however. Or even that they really lost money.

And that’s basically what I would expect rich people to do if the amendment passes. They’ll play games that allow them to report as little income as possible. Some will drop off the millionaire rolls for a time. But the state will gain a good chunk of desperately needed extra income we’re not getting from any of the various neoliberal shell games that legislators have been playing to avoid taxing the rich. The flying monkeys, meanwhile, will remain safely in their roosts.

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

Copyright 2015 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

REMEMBRANCE AND PROTEST: THANKSGIVING THEN & NOW

Brookfield1

November 23, 2015

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

The following passage is excerpted from a piece I wrote in 2005. It recounts the story of King Philip’s War—which was fought across southern New England 340 years ago, and started not far from where I attended a Thanksgiving dinner that year at my cousin’s place in North Attleborough. Read it. Think about it. Discuss it with friends and family. And, if you can make it, join the United American Indians of New England and allies for a day of remembrance and protest at the 46th National Day of Mourning on November 26 at noon at Coles Hill in Plymouth. Get all the information, and a more accurate version of the history of  “Thanksgiving” at the UAINE website.

In 1675, a Wampanoag sachem named Metacomet (or King Philip to the English) launched—somewhat reluctantly—a war against English colonists in what is now Massachusetts that came closer than any other war launched by America’s native peoples to ending European domination in at least one corner of the “New World.” It was the last colonial war in which the two sides had relatively equal numbers, and used basically equivalent technology.

Had not disease already decimated the native population of the area decades before, the English never could have won.

The grievances of the faction of the Wampanoags that began the war—and the other nations that joined them including the Narragansetts, Pocumtucks, and Nipmucks—were fairly straightforward. The English unceasingly attempted by foul means and fair to convert the native nations to Christianity. And they continually overstepped the bounds of various treaties and contracts with native peoples in taking land that wasn’t theirs for their own exclusive use.

Two years later, roughly 800 colonists and 6000 Native Americans were dead. Dozens of towns and settlements on both sides were wholly or substantially destroyed. Atrocities were committed by all parties to the conflict—though the English outdid their opposition in that respect, unsurprisingly.

Most of the fighting took place in what are now Plymouth and Bristol Counties in southeastern Massachusetts, in much of Rhode Island, and in the Connecticut River Valley in both western Massachusetts and Connecticut—but it raged throughout modern day New England, and smouldered on for over 100 years with no official end date marked. No treaty, broken or otherwise, was ever signed by either side.

A number of Native American nations were for all intents and purposes destroyed—at least as political entities. The rest were assimilated or marginalized.

The war forever cast Native Americans into the role of “savages”—a subhuman status fit only for subjugation or extermination. For 300 years after the war, most American historians gave short shrift to native justifications for the conflict, and exulted in the glory of a holy war won against the forces of darkness.

After you absorb that Native American history, I recommend you delve into some local Black history that activists at Harvard Law School have unearthed. It seems the school was founded with money from a vile family of slavers by the name of Royall. Making matters worse, Harvard Law then adopted the Royall family coat of arms as its crest. The protesters are calling for the decolonization of their campus, the symbols, the curriculum and the history of Harvard Law School. Readers can find out more by following #RoyallMustFall on Twitter and Facebook.

And a big shout out to the #ConcernedStudents2015 student activists at Brandeis University occupying their administration building for racial justice on their campus as we go to press. Stay strong!

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

Copyright 2015 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.

LEFT BEHIND: THE PARIS ATTACKS AND THE NEED TO FUND A MASS INDEPENDENT AMERICAN NEWS MEDIA

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Image by Kent Buckley

November 17, 2015

BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS

Shortly after the Paris attacks on Friday, I flipped on the TV and saw that Fox 25 was feeding Fox News live during its normal evening entertainment slot. I was not surprised to find that News Corp HQ was taking full advantage of Americans’ understandable outrage about the tragic slaughter of more than 100 innocent people to foment hysteria against immigrants, refugees, Muslims and any other convenient target in the service of a raft of hard-right policy agendas. From calls to shut all European and American borders against people fleeing the horrific Syrian civil war, to demands that government increase surveillance and expand military and police budgets.

All par for the course. Fox will be Fox after all.

But that’s not what bugged me in this case. What bugged me was that the rest of the major American news media was not much better than Fox in its early reportage of the Paris crisis, and that we do not have a mass independent news media representing the positions of the broad left (and much of the populace) in this country: democracy, equality, peace, human rights, and social justice.

There are many interesting “humane and sane” independent news projects around the US—like theBoston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism that I’m helping organize. They’re just not large enough to reach masses of people during periods when global politics is fast-moving and when—as with this latest crisis—reactionary demagogues are given days of constant exposure to rehearse their racist colonialist Islamophobic fantasies unchallenged to audiences of millions on Fox and allied outlets. Which means that News Corp succeeds in pulling public discourse far to the right in the absence of major outlets willing to confront them when it matters most. The comedian journalists of The Daily Show excepted.

The politics of major American news organizations—conservative protestations to the contrary—now generally run from right to center. With editorial lines that are beholden to the rich and powerful. There are a few large outlets like the Boston Globe that lean left in select political economic and cultural debates, but they are slow to challenge powerful government officials and corporate leaders in dangerous moments like this (and the run-up to various recent imperial wars, the railroading of numerous anti-democratic “trade” treaties like NAFTA since the early 1990s, the defeat of several landmark global warming treaties in the same period, etc., etc.).

In many other countries, however, the media spectrum is much broader. There are mass news media of the left, right, and center. The left press is fairly large, influential, and far more likely to be critical of elite responses to political crises like the Daesh (ISIS) orchestrated killings in Paris. And to inspire their audiences to act politically to prevent such crises from being used by the hard right as an excuse to clamp down on civil liberties or rush headlong into armed hostilities. Especially, as with the Syrian civil war, when a multinational conflict and related refugee crisis is already ongoing.

This independent progressive news media has often been funded by donations from trade unions, non-governmental organizations, protest movements and—significantly—by subscribers who are sometimes organized into consumer co-operatives. Employees may also hold a stake in such publications through employee co-operatives. Examples of this kind of progressive mass independent news outlet include Die Tageszeitung in Germany and WOZ Die Wochenzeitung in Switzerland. There are others like Dagbladet Information in Denmark that have more traditional ownership arrangements.

But there has been nothing like these major news publications of the left in the US since the weeklyAppeal to Reason folded in 1922 and the NYC daily PM folded in 1948. Even the smaller city-based alternative weeklies that were founded in the 1960s and 1970s—like the Boston Phoenix—have been in rolling collapse for some time.

Working on BINJ, and having run the left-wing metro news weekly Open Media Boston for seven years before that, I have no doubt that there is more than enough talent in cities like Boston to build the kind of professional mass progressive news operations that this country desperately needs if we are going to remain a democracy in the coming decades.

The question is: Will the remaining progressive institutions with deep enough pockets to bankroll such major news operations step forward while there’s still time? The labor unions, the major nonprofit community organizations, the progressive businesses, religious denominations, foundations and wealthy donors. And will you—the audience that agrees we need such a left news media complex—step forward and donate to projects like BINJ, and to consortia of such projects?

I hope so. At BINJ, we’d like to work with any institution or organization that is forward-thinking enough to see the need for a mass progressive news media. And that is willing to put their money where their aspirations are. Email me at jason@binjonline.org to start that conversation today.

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

Copyright 2015 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.