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How To Build A Sustainable Trump Resistance

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Resistance is breaking out all over: the women’s marches, the immigration airport protests and Sally Yates, the State Department mass dissents,and  the battle for the Supreme Court with much more to come.

But where are we going?  Are we simply calling for a return to the pre-Trump status quo of runaway inequality, the largest prison population in the world, inadequate and costly health care, unjust immigration policies, and accelerating climate change? Or do we have a new vision for America? If so, what is it and how do we fight for it?

Resist Trump is a protest by spontaneous combustion trigged by tweets and Facebook posts. Too often, however, such uprisings lack staying power. Occupy Wall Street grew to 900 encampments around the world and changed the conversation in America from austerity to inequality. But it evaporated within six months. The spirited Arab Spring in Egypt took down the government, but paved the way for the highly organized Muslim Brotherhood and then a military dictatorship. We should know by now that without organizational infrastructure such wondrous uprisings are fragile at best. They require leadership, dues paying members, legislative agendas, and ways for participants to engage in decision making. Such constructions require very hard work that social media can assist but not replace.

Where’s the glue?

Some hope that the Democratic Party will provide the infrastructure for an alternative vision and movement.  Not likely. Too many party leaders are still deeply committed to Wall Street. Too many Democratic officials refuse to interfere with corporations that shift jobs abroad simply to secure lower paid labor and weaker environmental regulations. And, far too party leaders have an eye towards securing lucrative positions among America’s financial elites.

Could labor unions form the organizational core? In the 1930s the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) played this role by organizing unskilled workers and pushing for an aggressive worker agenda that helped to secure Social Security, a minimum wage, the 40-hour work week, and much more. But today labor is torn. The Building Trades are applauding Trump for restarting the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines. Manufacturing unions are taking a wait and see attitude given Trump’s interventions to stop the off-shoring of jobs, his withdrawal from the anti-worker trade agreement (TPP), and his upcoming plans for massive infrastructure investments. Meanwhile, the public and service sector unions, who after going all in for Hillary against Bernie, have yet to  respond vociferously to Trump.

Can the remnants of the Sanders campaign fill this vacuum?  The jury is out.  U.S. presidential campaigns tend to unravel unless the candidate decides to run again.  Campaign operatives go back to their day jobs or school. Our Revolution, the political extension of the Sanders campaign, has possibilities but so far it has not attracted a mass following.  But all those young Bernie supporters are still interested in the broad social democratic agenda he so effectively popularized. How do they express their support?

A new formation?

There are many significant institutions with dues-paying members that could play a vital role. For starters there are the unions that supported Sanders, including the National Nurses United, the Communications Workers of America, the Amalgamated Transit Union, and American Postal Workers Unions. With a combined membership in the millions, they have enough funds and troops to launch a new national organization.

Ideally, they could be joined by the more progressive service sector unions like the Service Employees International Union as well as church, community and environmental organizations that represent millions of immigrants, lower income residents and environmentalists. Together they could form a new national political organization that we all could join.

The goal would be to popularize a Sanders-like agenda, organize protests to resist Trump while also building an alternative agenda for the next round of elections.

Another key goal would be to bring back the working class Trump voters who previously voted for Obama and Sanders. There are millions of them. Unions that represent workers in manufacturing have found that up to 50 percent of their members who voted, voted for Trump, largely because of Clinton’s record on anti-worker trade deals like NAFTA and TPP. The goal of any new formation should be to recruit those working class Sanders’ supporters.

An Impossible Dream?

Of course, it’s a long shot. After all, the unions involved do not have a stellar history of working together. The community groups also have their own issue silos and funding imperatives that lead them to travel down separate paths. Environmentalists and manufacturing unions are likely to clash over jobs. Also, the questions of race, class, and identity politics are certain to create tensions within any progressive formation.

But Trump could do wonders to help us overcome these difficulties. While we were in our silos, squabbling amongst ourselves, the hard right took control of the country — not just ideologically, but over the real levers of power. Since 2009, when Obama took office, the Democrats have lost 919 state legislative seats. The Republicans now control 68% of all state legislative chambers and have control of state chambers and the governorship in 24 states while the Democrats have such tri-partite control in only 6 states.

We can’t blame this on Comey or Putin, or Stein or Bernie. No, we also have to look in the mirror and face up to the fact that as a progressive movement, we’ve been losing overall even as we’ve made some significant gains on human rights for the LBGT communities. The rise of the hard right to some degree is the result of our lack-luster movement building efforts over the past three decades — our failure to get out of our silos and link together. Our current organization models and theories are failing against the challenges from the hard right.

The American Populist Movement

We could learn a great deal about organizing from the American Populist movement of the late 19th century. That movement, the first to challenge the power of Wall Street, called for the public ownership of railroads, public banks, a progressive income tax, and grain/livestock cooperatives. The Populists put 6,000 educators into the field to spread the word and build local chapters mostly among black and white small farmers in the Midwest and South. Although they were eventually defeated, the Populists set the agenda for American progressivism, the New Deal and even the Sanders campaign. (For chapter and verse see The Populist Moment by Lawrence Goodwyn).

Before we can make sense of such organizational structures, however, we need an attitude adjustment. We need to broaden our identities to see ourselves as movement builders — as activists who strive to put all the pieces together no matter which silo we may inhabit. I may be a climate change activist but I also need to be a movement builder who is challenging the power of Wall Street. I may be fighting for criminal justice reform but I also need to be a movement builder uniting with others for Medicare for All and a $15 per hour minimum wage. It’s all one fight. We are tied together by runaway inequality — a system designed to enrich the few at the expense of the many.

Will resist turn  into something more?

Due to Trump’s divisive politics, the protests will continue. At some point, one would hope that those involved will begin building real structures to sustain these efforts and initiate more. Sooner or later, we should go beyond resistance and advocate a vision for the future — a common agenda that includes a Robin Hood Tax on Wall Street, free higher education, Medicare for All, an end to outsourcing, fair trade, and a guaranteed job at a living wage for all those willing and able.

Perhaps a little more time spent with the craziness of Trump will wake us up from our organizational stupor.

Les Leopold, the director of the Labor Institute, is currently working with unions and community organizations to build the educational infrastructure for a new anti-Wall Street movement.

IMAGE: Protesters hold signs in opposition to U.S. President Donald Trump’s ban on immigration and travel outside Terminal 4 at JFK airport in Queens, New York City, New York, U.S. January 29, 2017.  REUTERS/Joe Penney

Why We Could Be On The Verge Of A Constitutional Apocalypse

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

As Donald Trump vilifies the press, the courts, immigrants, Muslims, Democrats, protesters, and anyone who disagrees with him, it isn’t hard to imagine a modern-day Mussolini—or worse. But an even greater threat lies in Republicans’ march toward full control of state government. If they get there, they will have the frightening power to amend the Constitution into their own authoritarian image — or Ayn Rand’s.

Republicans now control 32 state legislatures and 33 governorships. They have majorities in both state legislative chambers as well as the governorships in 25 states. The Democrats have total control in only six states and legislative control in two more.

If Republicans achieve veto-proof control in 38 states, they can do something that has never been done before—hold a constitutional convention, and then ratify new amendments that are put forth. To date, all amendments have been initiated from Congress where two-thirds of both houses are required. In either case, 38 states would be needed to ratify the amendments. The Republicans are well on their way.

We know what they are likely to do: end collective bargaining, outlaw abortion, forbid progressive income, estate and Wall Street taxes; prohibit class action law suits, privatize Social Security, guarantee “free choice” in all school systems, and so on. They would do what they’ve always wanted to do: outlaw the New Deal and its social democratic programs. And if they get crazy enough, they could end separation of church and state and undo other portions of the Bill of Rights.

A paranoid fantasy? Just say “President Trump.”

Ask the corporate Democrats who have turned losing into an art form. Since 2008, they have lost 917 state legislative seats. Explanations range from Koch brothers funding to gerrymandering to voter suppression to the rise of the Tea Party. All partially true.

The Democrats also shoulder a good deal of the blame. Ever since Bill Clinton triangulated into NAFTA and away from working people, the Democratic Party’s embrace of financial and corporate elites has become the norm.

Hillary Clinton took $225,000 per speech from Goldman Sachs not because she was corrupt, but because this is simply the way the political game is played. You raise money from rich people, and then you back away from attacking their prerogatives while still trying to placate your liberal/worker base.

But as economist Jamie Galbraith put it, ultimately it is not possible for the Democrats to be both the party of the predators and the prey.

The amazing acts of resistance popping up all over prove that the progressive spark is alive and well. Even seniors at the Progressive Forum in Deerfield Beach, Florida, are planning to put their bodies on the line to stop ICE raids.

While raising hell all over the country, we also should re-examine how our strategies and structures may have contributed to the rise of the right. After all, this electoral coup happened on our watch.

Here’s our working hypothesis for how progressives contributed to the rise of the right: We have failed to come out of our issue silos to build a national movement that directly confronts runaway inequality.

For more than a generation, progressive organizations have shied away from big-picture organizing around economic inequality. Instead we’ve constructed a dizzying array of issue silos: environment, LGBQ, labor, immigration, women, people of color, criminal justice, and so on. We are fractured into thousands of discrete issues, enabled by philanthropic foundations that are similarly siloed.

Few of our groups focused on the way Wall Street and corporate elites strip-mined the economy. Very few of us mobilized around the great crash. Few of us noticed as the CEO/worker income gap jumped from 45 to 1 in 1970 to an incredible 844 to 1 by 2015. We collectively missed how this growing economic inequality was causing and exacerbating nearly all of our silo issues. We didn’t connect the dots.

Most importantly, we failed to grasp how runaway inequality was alienating millions of working people who saw their incomes decline, their communities whither and their young unable to find decent jobs.

While the Tea Party and the right had a clear message—big government is bad—progressives had little to say collectively about runaway inequality.

Enter Occupy Wall Street

By the summer of 2010, the progressive failure was painfully obvious. After Wall Street had robbed us blind and crashed the economy, and a Democratic president was about to enter a “grand bargain” with the Republicans to promote austerity. Think about this: While Wall Street got bailed out in full, Obama and the Democrats were about to cut Social Security. Amazing.

Then out of nowhere came Occupy Wall Street. (Out of nowhere is correct because the actions did not originate from any of our progressive silos.) In six months there were 900 encampments around the world. “We are the 99%” shifted the debate from austerity to inequality.

Unfortunately, Occupy believed in spontaneous political combustion and shunned any and all organizational structures and agendas. Social media, consensus decision-making, horizontal anti-organizing, and anti-leadership were to carry the day. In six months, they were gone.

Meanwhile the traditional progressive groups watched it rise and fall from the outside. We were spectators as we continued to press forward in our issue silos.

Enter Bernie Sanders

We got a second chance. Bernie Sanders, an independent socialist with a clear social democratic agenda, decided to challenge Hillary Clinton, the presumptive nominee. At first, few of us took him seriously. After all, he’d been around for 40 years, saying the same things but never gaining any traction outside of Vermont.

But like Occupy, he and his message hit a nerve, especially among the young and among disaffected working people who were fed up with the corporate Democrats.

In a flash, Sanders did the impossible. He beat Hillary in several primaries. He drew much larger crowds. He even raised more money from small donors than the Clinton machine could raise from the rich. Progressive unions like the Communications Workers of America and National Nurses United went all in. For a few months the dream looked possible.

But too many other large unions and liberal issue groups committed early to Clinton, thinking she would win easily. That would allow them to gain more access for their issues and for themselves. Didn’t happen.

Trump toppled the Clinton machine in the Rust Belt. Some say he did so with a toxic combination of racism, sexism and xenophobia and that certainly was the case for a good portion of his vote. Others are certain that Comey and Putin made the difference.

But in the Rust Belt, Trump won because he picked up millions who previously had voted for Obama and Sanders. It is highly likely that runaway inequality, and the trade deals that exacerbated it, defeated Clinton in the Democratic strongholds of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. In Michigan alone, Hillary received 500,000 fewer votes than Obama.

What now?

We need to turn the marvelous anti-Trump resistance into a common national movement that binds us together and directly confronts runaway inequality. We need to come out of our silos because nearly every issue we work on is connected by growing inequality.

Such a movement requires the following:

1. A common analysis and agenda: As we’ve written elsewhere, resisting Trump is not enough. We need a proactive agenda about what we want that goes beyond halting the Trump lunacy.

The Sanders campaign offered a bold social democratic agenda to young people in particular. Progressive should be able to build broad support around a Robin Hood Tax on Wall Street, free higher education, criminal justice reform, humane immigration policies, Medicare for All, fair trade, real action on climate change, and a guaranteed job at a living wage for all those willing and able.

2. A common national organization: A big problem. We have no equivalent to the Tea Party. We have no grand alliance that links unions, community, groups, churches, and our issue silos. There are excellent websites like Indivisible that are successfully encouraging widespread resistance on the congressional level. But they consider themselves to be purely defensive against Trump.

There are hundreds of demonstrations popping up all over but no organizational glue to hold them together. There’s Our Revolution, an outgrowth of the Sanders campaign that is still getting its sea legs. But to date we have no common center of gravity that is moving us forward organizationally.

Ideally we should all be able to become dues-paying members of a national progressive alliance. We should be able to go from Paterson to Pensacola to Pomona and walk into similar meetings dedicated to fighting for our common agenda to reverse runaway inequality. Perhaps the hundreds of town hall meetings will head that way? It’s too early to tell.

3. An education infrastructure: The Populist movement of the late 19th century waged a fierce battle against Wall Street. It wanted public ownership of banks and railroads. It wanted livestock and grain cooperatives. It wanted a progressive income tax on the rich and public banks. The organization grew by fielding 6,000 educators to explain to small farmers, black and white, how the system was rigged against them and what they could do about it.

We need about 30,000 educators to hold similar discussions with our neighbors about runaway inequality, how it binds us together and what we can do about. (If you’re interested in getting involved, see here.)

4. A new identity: Our toughest challenge. For 40 years we’ve been conditioned to the idea that runaway inequality is an immutable fact of life—the inevitable result of automation, technology, and competitive globalization. Along the way, neoliberal (free market) values shaped our awareness.

  • We accepted the idea that going to college meant massive debts for ourselves and our families
  • That there was nothing abnormal about having the largest prison population in the entire world
  • That it was part of the game to pay high deductibles, co-pays and premiums for health insurance
  • That it was OK for the super-rich to hide their money offshore
  • That there was nothing to be done about chronic youth unemployment, both rural and urban, other than to try harder to pull themselves up
  • That it was perfectly natural for factories to pick up and flee to low-wage areas with no environmental enforcement
  • And that somehow private sector jobs, by definition, were more valuable to society than public ones

These mental constraints have got to go. We got here as the result of deliberative policy choices, not by acts of God. We need to reclaim a basic truth: the economy should work for its people, not the other way around.

Most importantly, we have to relearn the art of movement building that starts in our own minds—we have to believe it is both necessary and possible, and that each and every one of us can contribute to it.

We desperately need a new identity—that of movement builder.

Is this so difficult to imagine?

Les Leopold, the director of the Labor Institute, is currently working with unions and community organizations to build the educational infrastructure for a new anti-Wall Street movement.

IMAGE: Protesters shout outside the Republican National Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington May 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Why Can’t Our Economy Promote Equality And Shared Prosperity?

Instead of griping about the greedheads of Wall Street and the rip-off financial system they’ve hung around our necks — why don’t we “Take On Wall Street”?

You don’t have to be in “Who’s Who” to know what’s what. For example, if tiny groups of Wall Street bankers, billionaires and their political puppets are allowed to write the rules that govern our economy and elections, guess what? Only bankers, billionaires and puppets will profit from those rules.

That’s exactly why our Land of Opportunity has become today’s Land of Inequality. Corporate elites have bought their way into the policy-making backrooms of Washington, where they’ve rigged the rules to let them feast freely on our jobs, devour our country’s wealth and impoverish the middle class.

“Take On Wall Street” is both the name and the feisty attitude of a nationwide campaign that a coalition of grassroots groups has launched to do just that: Take on Wall Street. The coalition, spearheaded by the Communication Workers of America, points out that there is nothing natural or sacred about today’s money-grabbing financial complex. Far from sacrosanct, the system of finance that now rules over us has been designed by and for Wall Street speculators, money managers, and big bank flim flammers. So — big surprise — rather than serving our common good, the system is corrupt, routinely serving their uncommon greed at everyone else’s expense.

There’s good news, however, for a growing grassroots coalition of churches, unions, civil rights groups, citizen activists and many others are organizing and mobilizing us to crash through those closed doors, write our own rules and reverse America’s plunge into plutocracy. The “Take On” campaign has the guts and gumption to say enough! Instead of continuing to accept Wall Street’s plutocratic perversion of our democracy, We The People can rewrite their rules and reorder their structures so the system serves us.

For starters, the campaign has laid out a five-point people’s reform agenda and are now taking it to the countryside to rally the voices, anger, and grassroots power of workers, consumers, communities of color, Main Street, the poor, people of faith… and just plain folks. The coalition is holding information and training sessions to spread the word, forge local coalitions, and learn how we can get right in the face of power to create a fair finance system that works for all. The coalition’s structural reforms include:

—Getting the corrupting cash of corporations and the superrich out of our politics by repealing Citizens United and providing a public system for financing America’s elections.

—Stopping “too big to fail” banks from subsidizing their high-risk speculative gambling with the deposits of us ordinary customers — make them choose to be a consumer bank or a casino, but not both.

—Institute a tiny “Robin Hood Tax” on Wall Street speculators to discourage their computerized gaming of the system, while also generating hundreds of billions of tax dollars to invest in America’s real economy.

—Restore low-cost, convenient “postal banking” in our Post Offices to serve millions of Americans who’re now at the mercy of predatory payday lenders and check-cashing chains.

There’s an old truism about negotiating that says: “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” The “Take On Wall Street” campaign intends to put you and me — the People — at the table for a change.

To find out more about Jim Hightower, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

Photo: Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., August 25, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Who Are Our Rescuers? Us!

The time has come. Six years after the Supreme Court’s malignant Citizens United ruling, nearly every American plainly sees how our nation’s historic, political ethic of citizen equality — “one person one vote” — has been buried in a roaring avalanche of corrupt, corporate money and voter suppression. Moreover, nearly nine years after Wall Street thieves wrecked our economy, the great majority also plainly sees that the court’s turbo-charge of money politics has produced economic policies that richly reward the plutocratic robbers and coldly abandon the robbed.

There’s no need to convince the American people that they’ve been stiffed. As they reveal in poll after poll, they know it, for they’re experiencing it personally, and they’re furious at the business-as-usual establishment that has done it to them. A major, non-partisan survey taken last September by Public Policy Polling found:

–80 percent of Republicans and 82 percent of Democrats “strongly agree” that special interest money has too much influence in political campaigns. Only 4 percent in either party disagreed.

–85 percent of GOP primary voters and 86 percent of Democrats agree that elections would be less corrupt if candidates focused on small donations from ordinary people, rather than on big money from special interests.

–62 percent of Republicans and 72 percent of Democrats agree that America needs public funding of elections. Similarly, a New York Times/CBS poll last summer found that across the entire political spectrum.

–85 percent of Americans think that officeholders “promote polices that directly help” the special interests that funded their campaigns;

–85 percent say that the present system of financing political campaigns must either be “fundamentally” changed (39 percent) or “completely rebuilt” (46 percent).

–77 percent say the unlimited amount of money that wealthy interests can now give to candidates should be … well, limited.

This powerful anti-Big Money sentiment is also part of what has fueled establishment-stunning Bernie and Donnie presidential runs, and it’s why we democracy rebels should shift now from complaining about the plutocratic corruption of our country to stopping it. The people are ready, and this hyper-political year is the time to move, for the presidential and congressional elections will focus public attention on the political system for months to come, and corporate and political cash will be on full display (from the Koch Brothers’ Billionaire Money Bash to the garish corporate sponsorship of both parties’ national conventions).

While all of the establishment forces (and too many of our progressive leaders) have dourly told us commoners that we must resign ourselves to the new Citizens United order of court-sanctioned rule-by-money, the people themselves have not accepted that. But where could they turn for help since the leadership of both political parties either enthusiastically welcomed government of, by, and for the 1-percenters (the GOP) or — with a wink and a nod — agreed to go along with it in exchange for getting their own share of big money donations (the Democrats)? For six years, the broad public has been yearning for someone, something, some moment, to arise and rescue the founding ideals of 1776.

Well, here it is! And who are our rescuers? Us! This April, the Democracy Awakening and Democracy Spring are bring together a diverse coalition of labor, business, environmentalists, public interest advocates, media and issue-specific constituencies, along with you, me and thousands of mavericks gathering in Philadelphia, Washington and around the country to fire a new democratic “shot heard ’round the world.” This will signal to the millions of members of the coalitions that we are not helpless in the face of an American plutocracy. And we can go on the offensive to inspire many millions more to shuck the idea that the majority is powerless and to step up with a renewed sense of our own possibilities.

The moment is ripe to rally a People’s rebellion, intervene in this year’s elections with a clear change agenda, and make this moment the turning point for implementing those changes. Just getting such a myriad of diverse reform forces to join hands in such an effort is an auspicious sign that maybe — just maybe — we can bind our forces into an effective populist movement for the long haul, rebuilding America’s democratic promise for the greater good of all.

Given the opportunity, don’t we have to go for it? To join the rebellion and get more information on the upcoming actions in April check out www.DemocracyAwakening.org and www.DemocracySpring.org.

To find out more about Jim Hightower, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

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