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Joe Biden Quoted Ella Baker In His Acceptance Speech -- Who Was She?


Joe Biden opened his acceptance speech Thursday night by quoting someone whom most of the audience -- indeed, most American -- have never heard of.

"Ella Baker, a giant of the civil rights movement, left us with this wisdom: Give people light and they will find a way," Biden said. "Give people light. Those are words for our time."

He might have also drawn on another Baker quote from 1964: "Until the killing of black men, black mothers' sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother's sons, we who believe in freedom cannot rest."

Baker's words continue to resonate today, as we witness the resurgence of a new civil rights movement, sparked by the police killings of young black men, but rooted in the underlying grievances of racial injustice around jobs, housing, schools, and the criminal justice system. The four-day Democratic convention shined a spotlight on Black Lives Matter and on Donald Trump's efforts to repress the nationwide upsurge of protest in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, in Minneapolis in June.

As these protests persist, activists can learn much from Baker. Working behind the scenes, she helped transform the Southern sit-in protests into a powerful movement for racial justice, led by young people with lots of anger and determination, but little political experience. Baker also has much to offer Democrats hoping to regain the White House, Congress, and important local offices like mayor and District Attorney in November, because she understood the importance of combining nonviolent protest, grassroots organizing, and electoral politics, including voter registration and turnout.

Baker was a mentor to several generations of activists. One of them was John Lewis, the beloved Georgia Congressman who died last month. Lewis first encountered Baker in 1958 at a workshop at the Highlander Folk School, an inter-racial training center for activists in rural Tennessee. Lewis, a student at Fisk University in Nashville, was 18. Baker, then 54, was a veteran organizer. As Lewis described her in his autobiography Walking With the Wind, "Baker had become a legend of sorts during the previous twenty or so years for her knack of relating to young people." After hearing Baker speak, and participating in training sessions with other young idealists, "I left Highlander on fire," Lewis recalled.

Lewis returned to Nashville and joined forces with other students to develop plans to desegregate the stores in downtown Nashville by engaging in sit-ins, a form of civil disobedience. Baker, along with James Lawson, conducted workshops to prepare them to respond nonviolently upon being harassed, spat upon, beaten, and arrested by white thugs and police, and held in jail, where they were also beaten. She did the same thing for students in cities throughout the South, particularly those at historically black colleges.

The first sit-in occurred in Greensboro, N.C. late in the afternoon of Feb. 1, 1960, when four young black men—Ezell Blair Jr., David Richmond, Franklin McCain, and Joseph McNeil, all students at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College —visited the local Woolworth's store. They purchased school supplies and toothpaste, and then they sat down at the store's lunch counter and ordered coffee. "I'm sorry," said the waitress. "We don't serve Negroes here."

The students refused to give up their seats until the store closed. The local media reported the sit-in on television and in the newspapers. The four students returned the next day with more students. By Feb. 5, about 300 students had joined the protest, generating more media attention and inspiring students at other colleges.

The Nashville students began their lunch counter protests on Feb. 13. By the end of March, sit-ins had spread to 55 cities in 13 states. Many students, mostly black but also white, were arrested for trespassing, disorderly conduct, or disturbing the peace.

Baker understood that the sit-in movement would eventually fizzle out unless the young activists came together to forge a common vision and organization. She persuaded Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to co-sign a letter inviting the sit-in participants to a meeting over Easter weekend, April 16 to 18, at her alma mater, Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C., to discuss how to capitalize on the growing momentum. Baker expected 100 participants to attend, but more than 300 activists showed up.

In her closing speech, "More Than a Hamburger," Baker pushed the students to dream of how their sit-ins could develop into larger efforts to challenge racism in "every aspect of life." As Lewis recounted, Baker "praised our success so far but warned that our work had just begun. Integrating lunch counters in stores already patronized mostly by blacks was one thing. Breaking down barriers in areas as racially and culturally entrenched as voting rights, education, and the workplace was going to be much tougher than what we had faced so far."

The fruit of the meeting was the founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which would expand the sit-in campaign, but also use other tactics, including freedom rides and voter registration drives, to dismantle segregation. SNCC reinvigorated the civil rights movement. The 20-year old Lewis was elected SNCC's first chairman.

Baker had spent decades traveling throughout the South for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Long before there were Rolodexes, email, and Facebook, she was famous for her vast social network. She gently encouraged the young activists to build a movement from these isolated local protests.

Many of the young civil rights activists called her "Fundi," a Swahili title for a master technician who oversees apprentices, to acknowledge Baker's role as their mentor. She eschewed a visible role, concentrating on patiently training the next generation of social change leaders.

Born in 1903, Baker grew up in rural North Carolina. As a girl, Baker listened to her grandmother tell stories about slave revolts. Her mother, a deeply religious former teacher, tutored Ella at home and coached her in public speaking. As a child, Ella was part of a supportive and tightly knit black community, where friends, relatives, and neighbors helped each other out. Her grandfather mortgaged the family farm to help feed families in need. For high school, Baker's parents sent her to the boarding school affiliated with Shaw University. She remained at Shaw for college, edited the student newspaper, and graduated as class valedictorian in 1927.

She moved to Harlem, hoping to get a graduate degree in sociology., Financial hardship forced her to set aside her dream, but she got another kind of education by attending lectures and community meetings and devouring books and periodicals in local public libraries. Despite her college education, her race and gender limited her job prospects. While waiting on tables and working in a factory, she began to write articles for the American West Indian News. In 1932 she found a job as an editorial assistant and office manager for the Negro National News.

Harlem was a hotbed of radical activism, and Baker soon got involved with local groups working on behalf of tenants and consumers. In 1931, she became national director of the Young Negroes' Cooperative League, which sponsored cooperative buying clubs and grocery stores designed to reduce prices and bring people together for collective action. In her next job, funded by the New Deal's Works Progress Administration, she organized consumer cooperatives among housing project residents. In 1935, she wrote an exposé of the exploitation of black domestic servants for the NAACP journal Crisis.

Baker started working for the NAACP in 1938 and three years later became its assistant field secretary. For five years, she traveled throughout the South, recruiting new members, working with local leaders to strengthen their chapters, and helping them organize campaigns against lynching, for equal pay for black teachers, and for job training. Rosa Parks, an active NAACP member in Montgomery, Alabama, attended one of Baker's leadership-training workshops.

At the time, the NAACP's leadership was dominated by middle-class black businessmen, male professionals, and ministers, but most of its grassroots activists were working-class women and men. Baker's experiences convinced her that "strong people don't need strong leaders." She worked to cultivate what she called "group leadership" in contrast to leadership by charismatic figures or the professional class.

Soon after the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott began, Baker, Bayard Rustin, and Stanley Levinson (a close adviser to King) used their connections with northern liberals and unions to establish In Friendship, which raised funds for the boycott campaign. They talked with King about establishing a new organization to build similar campaigns throughout the South. This was the genesis of the SCLC, which catapulted King from local to national leadership. Rustin convinced Baker to run the new organization.

Baker bristled at the sexism and outsize egos of the ministers who dominated SCLC and treated her as if she were the hired help. She was on the brink of resigning when the student sit-in movement began in early 1960.

As Baker guided SNCC's young activists, she reminded them of her belief in radical democracy: "People did not really need to be led; they needed to be given the skills, information, and opportunity to lead themselves."

In 1964, Baker went to Mississippi to participate in SNCC's Freedom Summer project that brought over a thousand college student volunteers to the state to register black voters and help lead "freedom schools." That summer, hundreds of volunteers were arrested; racist thugs bombed 67 churches, homes, and stores. Three of the volunteers—black Mississippian James Chaney and white radicals Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner—were murdered by segregationist vigilantes.

The murders drew national media attention. When Baker was asked her reaction, she said: "The unfortunate thing is that it took this…to make the rest of the country turn its eyes on the fact that there were other (black) bodies lying in the swamps of Mississippi. Until the killing of a black mother's son becomes as important as the killing of a white mother's son, we who believe in freedom cannot rest."

The summer campaign culminated in a mock election organized by SNCC. Blacks elected an integrated slate of 68 members, under the banner of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), to challenge the official all-white delegation at the Democratic Party's national convention in Atlantic City in August. Baker helped enlist support from liberal delegates from around the country, but President Lyndon Johnson, fearful of alienating southern white voters, rejected the MFDP's plan. Instead, he offered MFDP two seats in the state delegation. Led by sharecropper Fannie Lou Hamer and Bob Moses (another Baker protégé), the MFDP rejected the compromise. But the controversy pressured the party to change its rules for subsequent conventions to require more women and minority delegates. And despite its frustrations with the Democratic Party, SNCC and its Freedom Summer project – along with the march from Selma to Montgomery the following March -- played a key role in pushing LBJ and Congress to pass the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Baker continued her political activism—working on school desegregation efforts with the Southern Conference Educational Fund, supporting independence struggles in Puerto Rico and in Africa, and allying herself with the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and other women's rights groups—until her death on her 83rd birthday, Dec. 13, 1986.

Baker would surely be impressed by the current wave of protest against racial injustice. She would also urge the activists to make sure they transform their outrage into an ongoing movement that can survive beyond the immediate reaction to the epidemic of police abuses. That means building strong organizations that can identify and train young leaders, mobilize people around both short-term demands (such as videotaping police activities and ending local stop-and-frisk practices), and conduct campaigns for longer-term policy changes (such as repealing Stand Your Ground laws, sentencing reform, felon disenfranchisement, voter suppression, and living wages) at the national, state, and local levels.

On Thursday night, Biden enlisted Baker's words to inspire Americans to take the country back from the forces of reaction and racism. As Baker understood, the first step is to elect good people to office who support progressive causes, but the equally important next step is to build and sustain a powerful movement for social justice that can hold both your allies and your adversaries accountable.

Peter Dreier is professor of politics at Occidental College. His books include The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame, We Own the Future: Democratic Socialism, American Style, and the forthcoming Baseball Rebels: The Reformers and Radicals Who Shook Up the Game and Changed America.

‘Smart’ Trump Speaks With Vocabulary Of Fifth-Grader (At Best)

Many Americans complain that Donald Trump has a tiny vocabulary. But he disproved his critics Wednesday during an impromptu press conference on the South Lawn of the White House.

In the past, Trump has repeatedly reminded people about his keen intellect by insisting “I’m smart.” Wednesday, he dug deep into his massive personal word bank and uttered a five-word sentence, “I’m a very intelligent person.”

Not only is that sentence three words longer than “I’m smart,” it is also three words longer than the phrase “f**king moron,” which is what his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson allegedly called him not long ago.

Wednesday’s boast came in response to a reporter who asked Trump if he should be more civil.

“Well I think the press makes me more uncivil than I am,” the president said, and then quickly switched the topic from his manners to his mind.

“You know, people don’t understand, I went to an Ivy League college. I was a nice student. I did very well. I’m a very intelligent person.”

Even long before he started running for president, Trump repeatedly claimed that he’s both well-educated and brainy. Each time, it isn’t clear if he’s trying to convince his interviewers or himself.

In a 2004 interview with CNN, Trump said, “I went to the Wharton School of Finance. I got very good marks. I was a good student. It’s the best business school in the world, as far as I’m concerned.”

In 2011, in an interview with ABC, Trump said, “Let me tell you, I’m a really smart guy. I was a really good student at the best school in the country,” referring once again to Wharton, the University of Pennsylvania’s business school, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1968.

“I went to the Wharton School of Finance,” he said during a speech in Phoenix in July 2015, a month after announcing he was running for president. “I’m, like, a really smart person.”

The next month, in an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Trump described  Wharton as “probably the hardest there is to get into.” He added, “Some of the great business minds in the world have gone to Wharton.” He also observed: “Look, if I were a liberal Democrat, people would say I’m the super genius of all time. The super genius of all time.”

During a CNN-sponsored Republican town hall in Columbia, South Carolina, in February 2016, Trump reminded the audience that he had gone to Wharton and repeated the same boast: “Look, I went to the best school, I was a good student and all of this stuff. I mean, I’m a smart person.”

Even after winning the White House, Trump couldn’t help reminding people about his mental muscles. He did it a few days after his inauguration during a visit to CIA headquarters. Trump’s handlers staged the event so he could demonstrate his full support for the agency (despite having spent much of his campaign bashing the nation’s intelligence community) and to divert media attention away from the 750,000 Americans who had come to Washington, D.C., that day to protest Trump’s presidency. But Trump’s scripted remarks turned into an impulsive rambling rant that included attacks on the media and his insistence that as many as 1.5 million people attended his inauguration (despite photos revealing no more than 250,000).

Many Americans complain that Donald Trump has a tiny vocabulary. But he disproved his critics Wednesday during an impromptu press conference on the South Lawn of the White House.

In the past, Trump has repeatedly reminded people about his keen intellect by insisting “I’m smart.” Wednesday, he dug deep into his massive personal word bank and uttered a five-word sentence, “I’m a very intelligent person.”

Not only is that sentence three words longer than “I’m smart,” it is also three words longer than the phrase “f**king moron,” which is what his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson allegedly called him not long ago.

Wednesday’s boast came in response to a reporter who asked Trump if he should be more civil.

“Well I think the press makes me more uncivil than I am,” the president said, and then quickly switched the topic from his manners to his mind.

“You know, people don’t understand, I went to an Ivy League college. I was a nice student. I did very well. I’m a very intelligent person.”

Even long before he started running for president, Trump repeatedly claimed that he’s both well-educated and brainy. Each time, it isn’t clear if he’s trying to convince his interviewers or himself.

In a 2004 interview with CNN, Trump said, “I went to the Wharton School of Finance. I got very good marks. I was a good student. It’s the best business school in the world, as far as I’m concerned.”

In 2011, in an interview with ABC, Trump said, “Let me tell you, I’m a really smart guy. I was a really good student at the best school in the country,” referring once again to Wharton, the University of Pennsylvania’s business school, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1968.

“I went to the Wharton School of Finance,” he said during a speech in Phoenix in July 2015, a month after announcing he was running for president. “I’m, like, a really smart person.”

The next month, in an interview on Meet the Press, Trump described Wharton as “probably the hardest there is to get into.” He added, “Some of the great business minds in the world have gone to Wharton.” He also observed: “Look, if I were a liberal Democrat, people would say I’m the super genius of all time. The super genius of all time.”

During a CNN-sponsored Republican town hall in Columbia, South Carolina, in February 2016, Trump reminded the audience that he had gone to Wharton and repeated the same boast: “Look, I went to the best school, I was a good student and all of this stuff. I mean, I’m a smart person.”

Even after winning the White House, Trump couldn’t help reminding people about his mental muscles. He did it a few days after his inauguration during a visit to CIA headquarters. Trump’s handlers staged the event so he could demonstrate his full support for the agency (despite having spent much of his campaign bashing the nation’s intelligence community) and to divert media attention away from the 750,000 Americans who had come to Washington, D.C., that day to protest Trump’s presidency. But Trump’s scripted remarks turned into an impulsive rambling rant that included attacks on the media and his insistence that as many as 1.5 million people attended his inauguration (despite photos revealing no more than 250,000).

Peter Dreier is professor of politics and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. His most recent book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Nation Books).

I Don’t Care Who Killed JFK

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Next week, as Americans celebrate the 100th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s birth (May 29, 1917), much of the public conversation will be about his death. The controversy over who killed JFK in 1963 has now raged for over half a century. It is a diversion and a waste of time.

It is more important to learn from the successes and mistakes of Kennedy’s presidency, to reflect on the changes that have occurred since his death, and to restore the hope for a better society and a peaceful world that JFK—despite his many contradictions—inspired.

But the question of who killed Kennedy will never be resolved. Assassination buffs, for whom the JFK murder is a cult-like obsession, are locked into their views. Proponents of different theories argue and make claims, but they don’t really debate. They look at many of the same facts and come to very different conclusions.

Whether you believe the Warren Commission that Lee Harvey Oswald was a lone gunman acting on his own, or one of the many conspiracy theories that Oswald was part of a plot hatched by the CIA, the mafia or both, or some other speculation, the nation will never reach a consensus on the tragic killing of the young president.

But more importantly, it really doesn’t matter.

I refuse to waste my time wading into the muck of the JFK assassination controversies. It is not that I lack curiosity about American history. But nothing that I uncover would surprise me or alter my view of my country. I already know that the Central Intelligence Agency was involved in the overthrow of governments and the murder of political leaders in Iran, Guatemala, Vietnam and elsewhere. It is well established that the CIA bungled several efforts to kill and overthrow Cuba’s Fidel Castro. I don’t need more evidence to know that some politicians and government agencies collaborated with organized crime. We currently have a president who had close ties to the mob during his days as a New York real estate developer.

Nothing I could learn from the Warren Commission, Oliver Stone’s film “JFK,” or the hundreds of books about the assassination, would change how I think about the current problems facing the United States or what to do about them.

Kennedy was hated by the nation’s right-wingers, including the Ku Klux Klan, the John Birch Society, some extremists within the military (such as General Edwin Walker) and anti-Catholics among Protestant fundamentalists.  Back then, the Republican Party still had a liberal wing — like Senators Jacob Javits (New York), Charles Percy (Illinois), George Aiken (Vermont), Margaret Chase Smith (Maine), Clifford Case (New Jersey), Mark Hatfield (Oregon), Lowell Weicker, and John Chafee (Rhode Island) – which made it possible for Democrats and Republicans to find common ground. The right-wing businessmen who later became the money behind Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign in 1964 were still just a faction within the GOP. Today, in contrast, the religious right, the National Rifle Association, and the Tea Party — fueled by funders like the Koch Brothers and Robert and Rebekah Mercer, political operatives like Jim DeMint, Grover Norquist, and Steve Bannon, and the right-wing echo chamber dominated by Fox News and Rush Limbaugh — has taken control of the Republican Party.

President Kennedy was torn between his Democratic Party’s segregationist wing and its liberal, pro-labor and civil rights wing. He was an ardent Cold Warrior, timid on civil rights and had few legislative triumphs as either a senator or as president. Because he was young, charismatic and murdered before he could even complete his first term in office, most Americans overestimate JFK’s achievements during his thousand days in the White House.  He is well-known for creating the Peace Corps and resisting his top military advisors who wanted to go to war with Russia over the Cuban missile crisis.  Even so, he rarely gets credit for some of his most important accomplishments, including creating a commission on women that helped jump-start the feminist movement and initiating an effort to limit the nuclear arms race. Three days before he was assassinated, he told aides that he wanted to do something about poverty. Lyndon Johnson took up JFK’s mantle and declared a national war on poverty.

Since Kennedy was assassinated, the nation’s economy has become increasingly dominated by a relatively small number of giant global corporations who have too much political influence. Some of the nation’s corporate leaders are Republicans and some are Democrats but (with a few exceptions) they share a common outlook about business and government. They want lower taxes, fewer regulations and weaker unions. They seek to maximize profits and control, but they are not a conspiracy. Since Kennedy’s time, the super-rich have expanded the tools they use to influence politics. In the past half century, the role of private wealth, corporate-backed think tanks and business-supported lobby groups in American politics has skyrocketed.

Regardless of who killed Kennedy, it won’t change my view that we need much tougher campaign finance reform to rid the country of its legal bribery system that gives corporate America too much power.

No matter who pulled the trigger in Dallas that November day in 1963, it won’t revise my thinking that we need tougher regulations on big business to protect consumers, the environment and workers from irresponsible business abuses, we need to tighten regulations on Wall Street so they can’t repeat the damage they caused with their risky, reckless and often illegal practices, and we need to battle the National Rifle Association and win stronger gun control laws.

We’ll never know whether JFK would have expanded or ended American involvement in Vietnam, but we do know that the president who replaces Donald Trump – either through his resignation, impeachment, or defeat in 2020 – must reduce our country’s military presence around the world, cut the defense budget and redirect tax dollars to strengthen our education system, our crumbling infrastructure and our shortage of affordable housing.

Whether Oswald acted on his own or was part of an organized plot, it won’t have any bearing on my view that the next president’s Supreme Court appointments should be individuals who will overturn Citizens United, reverse the current court’s pro-big business agenda, protect women’s right to reproductive health and abortion and restore the Voting Rights Act.

Whether or not JFK was a great president, he did inspire a generation with his call to use their talents to improve our society and our world. The idealism that he helped unleash resulted in a revolution in values and institutional change, including civil rights, the environment, women’s rights, gay and lesbian rights, consumer protections, workplace safety, and limits on American militarism. No matter who killed Kennedy, that is his most important legacy.

Peter Dreier is professor of politics and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. His most recent book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Nation Books).

This article was made possible by the readers and supporters of AlterNet.

United: Perez And Ellison Move Democrats Toward A Progressive Future

I was hoping that Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) would win the Democratic National Committee chairmanship because of his experience as an organizer, but former Labor Secretary Tom Perez — who won a narrow victory at the DNC’s Atlanta meeting today — is also a great choice. He’s progressive, pro-worker, an accomplished advocate for civil rights and social justice, and the first Latino in that job. He immediately asked Ellison to serve as deputy chair — a smart move to bring the party together.

Importantly, the delegates at the Atlanta meeting also elected union organizer and immigrant rights activist Maria Elena Durazo — who supported Ellison for the top post — as DNC vice chair. The daughter of migrant farm workers, as head of UNITE HERE’s LA local and then leader of the 800,000-member LA County Federation of Labor, Durazo helped elect progressives throughout the state and helped transform the California Democratic Party into a voice for the disenfranchised, including immigrants.

We now have a Latino and an African American at the top of the DNC, a moderate Democratic minority leader in the Senate (Chuck Schumer) being pushed to the left by the grassroots resistance movement, a democratic socialist (Bernie Sanders) with a large and energized base within the party, and a charismatic and principled progressive woman (Elizabeth Warren) as the strongest voice within the party and the most likely candidate for president in 2020. These are all positive signs.

The battle between Ellison and Perez was often portrayed as a struggle between the party’s “progressive” and the “establishment” wings. That’s a mischaracterization. Both Ellison and Perez are long-time progressives. Perez is hardly a corporate Democrat or a tool of the party’s Wall Street wing. His entire career has been devoted to fighting for civil rights, workers’ rights, and social justice.

Perez is certainly the most progressive DNC chair since Oklahoma Senator Fred Harris occupied that post in 1970. Since then, the position has been held primarily by corporate fundraisers and moderate-to-liberal politicians, including Larry O’Brien, Jean Westwood, Robert S. Strauss, Ken Curtis, John C. White, Charles Manatt, Paul Kirk, Ron Brown, David Wilhelm, Chris Dodd, Donald Fowler, Roy Romer, Steven Grossman, Ed Rendell, Joe Andrew, Terry McAuliffe, Howard Dean, Tim Kaine, and the recently deposed Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

It would be a huge mistake for my fellow Ellison supporters to diss Perez and threaten to leave the Democratic Party. No doubt a handful of Ellison supporters will feel the need to go on the warpath. I hope the media don’t manufacture a phony party crisis by giving a megaphone to the small number of Ellison supporters who think that Perez’s victory is a defeat for progressives. It isn’t.

After he lost the primary fight, Bernie endorsed Hillary. Some of Bernie’s followers attacked him for doing so as a sell-out. A few drifted over to embrace Green Party candidate Jill Stein. But the media exaggerated the extent of the desertion. In fact, about 95% of Bernie supporters voted for Hillary. We need that kind of unity now.

As my friend Gerry McDonough, a long-time progressive activist in Massachusetts, observed: “We’re in a war against fascists. There’s no time for infighting.”

Ellison echoed those sentiments. “If you came here supporting me, wearing a Keith t-shirt, or any t-shirt, I’m asking you to give everything you’ve got to support Chairman Perez,” he said after the vote. “You love this country, you love all the people in it, you care about each and every one of them, urban, rural, suburban, all cultures, all faiths, everybody, and they are in need of your help. And if we waste even a moment going at it over who supported who, we are not going to be standing up for those people. We don’t have the luxury, folks, to walk out of this room divided.”

The task ahead — which Perez supports — is to rebuild the Democratic Party as an organizing party that can take advantage of the growing grassroots resistance movement that has emerged since Trump’s inauguration. That means raising money to hire organizers and put them in states and Congressional districts where liberal and progressive Democrats can win governors’ seats, state legislative races, and the House and Senate races. It means working in collaboration with unions, community organizing groups, environmental and LGBT groups, the Dreamers and other immigrant rights activists, Black Lives Matters, Planned Parenthood, Indivisible and other groups that are already mobilizing on the ground.

The anti-Trump resistance movement is way ahead of the party. The five million strong Women’s March, the battles at airports against Trump’s travel ban, the recent wave of town hall meetings all over the country where angry voters (many of them politically involved for the first time) confronted Republican members of Congress, and the 7,000 local groups galvanized by the Indivisible website all happened without Democratic Party involvement. But we need the party to help expand the protest movement and channel that energy into an electoral movement to put progressive and liberal Democrats in office.

Let’s get behind the Perez/Ellison team, strengthen the progressive movement, and defeat the pro-Trump Republicans in 2018 and 2020.

Peter Dreier is professor of politics and chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. His most recent book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Nation Books). This essay is reprinted from the Huffington Post.

Steve Mnuchin: Evictor, Forecloser, And Our New Treasury Secretary

Reprinted with permission from The American Prospect.

Throughout his presidential campaign, Donald Trump criticized Wall Street bankers for their excessive political influence and attacked hedge-fund managers for getting away with “murder” under the current tax code. “The hedge-fund guys didn’t build this country,” Trump said on Face the Nation. “These are guys that shift paper around and they get lucky.”

Now, however, Trump has tapped Steve Mnuchin, a 53-year-old Wall Street hedge-fund and banking mogul—and, since May, his campaign-finance chair—to be the nation’s secretary of the Treasury.

Trump’s earlier rhetoric aside, it’s actually a good match. Both Trump and Mnuchin earned their first fortunes the old fashion way: They inherited them. Trump took over his father Fred’s real-estate empire and expanded it through questionable business practices. Mnuchin, also the scion of a wealthy and well-connected family, graduated from Yale in 1985, started his career as a trainee at Salomon Brothers and soon wound up working at Goldman Sachs, where his father Robert had been a general partner.

Both Trump and Mnuchin have run businesses accused of widespread racial discrimination and other predatory practices. They both represent the excessive wealth and greed of the billionaire developer and banker class. And both men have hedged their political bets, donating big bucks to Democrats as well as Republicans.

While Mnuchin ran OneWest Bank, based in Pasadena, California, the lender engaged in a variety of predatory practices that government bank regulators scrutinized and trial judges condemned. As Treasury secretary, Mnuchin would no doubt be one of the Trump administration’s key advisors in trying to dismantle the 2010 Dodd-Frank law strengthening regulations on the financial industry, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which in its short life has already protected hundreds of thousands of consumers from bank abuse.

Mnuchin jumped on the Trump train when many Wall Street executives were wary of the New York developer, not only because of his faux anti-Wall Street rhetoric but also because of his cavalier comments about renegotiating the America’s debt with other nations, which revealed Trump’s erratic understanding of global trade and diplomacy.

When he began his campaign, Trump pledged to self-fund his presidential bid. After the Republican primaries, Trump backed off that promise. Instead, he tapped Mnuchin as his finance chair to draw on his Wall Street contacts to raise money from fellow financiers. At the time, Mnuchin pledged to raise $1 billion for Republicans and the Trump campaign, but he never came close to raising that amount.

Mnuchin will be the third former Goldman Sachs executive to serve as Treasury secretary in recent years, following Robert Rubin the Clinton administration and Henry Paulson in the Bush administration. Mnuchin will be joined in Trump’s inner circle by another Goldman Sachs alum, Steve Bannon, the former Breitbart News chief and Trump campaign chair whom Trump named as his chief strategist and senior counselor.

Mnuchin worked for 17 years at Goldman Sachs, where he eventually became an executive vice president. At Goldman, Mnuchin saw how the bank could profit from the 1980s savings-and-loan crisis by buying up cheap assets, repackaging them, and selling them off. According to The Wall Street Journal, he left in 2002 at the age of 39 “with a reported $46 million stake in the bank.” He was recruited by his Yale roommate, Eddie Lampert, to join ESL, a hedge fund, as vice chairman.

A few months later, he jumped to SFM Capital Management as its CEO. Within a few months he changed jobs again, leaving SFM to co-found Dune Capital with his former Goldman colleagues Daniel Neidich and Chip Seelig. Mnuchin is now CEO of Dune Capital Management, a hedge fund has had business dealings with Trump. Dune Capital was part of a group of lenders for the construction of the Trump International Hotel & Tower in Chicago. In 2008, Trump filed suit against Dune and the other lenders on his then unfinished Chicago skyscraper, “plunging the project into legal turmoil,” The Wall Street Journal reported.

The 2008 financial crisis inspired Mnuchin to return to banking. According to Bloomberg News, Mnuchin was watching TV in his New York office when he saw a story of customers lined up outside a branch of California’ s IndyMac bank, trying to pull their money out. “This bank is going to end up failing, and we need to figure out how to buy it,” Mnuchin told a colleague. “I’ve seen this game before,” he said, recalling how bankers had enriched themselves after the S&L crisis.

In 2009, after the bank collapsed, Mnuchin assembled a group of investors (including computer capitalist Michael Dell, financier George Soros, private equity investor Christopher Flowers, and hedge-fund titan John Paulson) to buy IndyMac Bank from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) as part of a sweetheart deal. They renamed it OneWest Bank and kept its headquarters in Pasadena.

The FDIC had taken over IndyMac—one of the largest banks to collapse during the Wall Street-induced mortgage meltdown—in July 2008. It had specialized in high-risk variable-rate mortgages and loans that didn’t require much documentation, including the income and credit history of borrowers.

The Mnuchin group paid FDIC $1.6 billion for the bank, far less than the value of IndyMac’s assets. The FDIC was so desperate to unload IndyMac that Mnuchin and his colleagues were able to obtain, as part of the purchase deal, a so-called “shared loss” agreement from the FDIC, which reimbursed these billionaires for much of their costs for foreclosing on people unlucky enough to have mortgages from IndyMac.

Within a year, the group that The Los Angeles Times called a “billionaires’ club of private financiers” had paid themselves dividends of $1.57 billion. In other words, the FDIC took much of the risk by subsidizing the bank’s troubled assets, while Mnuchin and his colleagues pocketed the profits.

Under Mnuchin’s leadership, OneWest engaged in a laundry list of predatory practices, including robo-signing and peddling reverse mortgages to senior citizens. In a July 2009 deposition, a OneWest vice president admitted that bank employees robo-signed 6,000 foreclosure-related documents per week. She admitted to not reading the documents before signing them, not knowing how the records were generated, and not signing in the presence of a notary. OneWest also engaged in “dual tracking,” the process in which a mortgage lender processes a homeowner’s request for a home loan modification while simultaneously putting the homeowner through the foreclosure process. In September 2013, a San Luis Obispo County couple won a seven-figure settlement and title to their two houses from OneWest when a judge determined the bank had engaged in dual tracking.

As part of its arrangement with the FDIC, Mnuchin’s group agreed to participate in a mortgage-modification program to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. Instead, OneWest engaged in aggressive foreclosure practices. According to a survey of homeowner counselors conducted by the California Reinvestment Coalition (CRC), a watchdog group, OneWest was one of the worst offenders in terms of failing to offer loan modifications to consumers facing foreclosure. By 2011, the Office of Thrift Supervision, a federal bank regulator, had accused OneWest of engaging in “unsafe or unsound practices” in its handling of foreclosures and its serving of residential mortgages on behalf of other lenders.

The CRC—a nonprofit organization that pushes banks to reinvest in low income communities and communities of color—determined from Freedom of Information Act requests that the FDIC had already paid out over $1 billion to reimburse OneWest for the cost of over 35,000 foreclosures in California and an unknown number in other states. CRC also estimated that the FDIC will eventually pay out another $1.4 billion for the costs associated with even more foreclosures in the future.

OneWest opened its doors with 33 branches and roughly $16 billion in assets. Mnuchin engineered its growth by purchasing two other failed institutions—First Federal Bank of California and La Jolla Bank—getting the FDIC to agree again to additional “loss share” arrangements so that the owners had little to lose. After these purchases, OneWest had 73 retail branches and $26 billion in assets. It also serviced billions of dollars of mortgage loans on the behalf of third parties, such as Fannie Mae. In multiple surveys of California housing counselors, OneWest was ranked among the worst mortgage servicers in the state.

Mnuchin and his OneWest colleagues were happy to enrich themselves at the government’s expense, but when it came to their customers, they displayed little mercy or compassion. In 2009, according to The New York Post, a judge called OneWest’s behavior “harsh, repugnant, shocking and repulsive” when it tried to foreclose on a New York family. The judge branded the bank’s conduct as “inequitable, unconscionable, vexatious, and opprobrious.”

Also in 2009, OneWest had the locks changed on the home of a Minneapolis woman in the middle of a blizzard, even after the company sent her a letter stating, “You expressed concern that at the end of the redemption period … you and your mother will be evicted from the property. … Rest assured, that will not take place due to the rescission of the foreclosure sale.”

The bank made a tidy profit on each foreclosure. “On bad loans, OneWest, which bought many of the loans at 70 percent of par value, gets the cash from a foreclosure,” according to The Los Angeles Business Journal, “and is also reimbursed [by the FDIC] up to 95 percent of the difference between the original loan value and the foreclosure sale amount.”

OneWest’s foreclosures were located disproportionately in communities of color. A CRC and Urban Strategies Council analysis of One West’s 35,877 foreclosures in California, from April 2009 to April 2015, found that 68 percent occurred in ZIP codes where the non-white population was 50 percent or greater.

But foreclosures are where OneWest’s interest in those neighborhoods appears to end. Only two of OneWest’s 73 branches are located in low-income areas. It makes few small business loans to businesses with annual revenues under $1 million—the kind of operations common in low-income and minority areas.

CRC executive director Paulina Gonzalez called OneWest Bank “a leader in foreclosing on seniors,” many of whom have reverse mortgages—loans that provide cash payments to help homeowners realize value from the equity in their homes, and become payable when the borrower dies or moves—insured by the Federal Housing Administration. Using another Freedom of Information Act request, CRC determined that OneWest’s reverse mortgage servicing subsidiary, Financial Freedom, was responsible for 39 percent of the foreclosures on FHA-insured reverse mortgages since April 2009.

CRC estimates that Financial Freedom only services 17 percent of the reverse mortgage market. In other words, Financial Freedom is foreclosing on reverse mortgages at about twice the rate that one would expect, given their share of the market.

Inevitably, these rapacious practices became the target of protest and public opposition.

In 2011, OneWest tried to evict Rose Gudiel, a 35-year-old government employee, from her one-story house in La Puente, a working-class suburb of Los Angeles. Guidel, her father (a warehouse worker) and her brother cared for her disabled mother in the small house they purchased in 2005.

They made steady mortgage payments until 2009, when one of her brothers died unexpectedly and the family lost his income. The family was two weeks late on the next mortgage payment. The Gudiels then spent over a year attempting unsuccessfully to get the bank to modify the loan—even though their income had long since recovered after another brother moved in with them. Then the bank started foreclosure proceedings.

“I was the first person in my family to graduate from college, and I worked hard so that I can own a home,” said Gudiel at the time. “And now Steve Mnuchin and OneWest are taking my dream away.”

But Gudiel said she would refuse to leave if the Los Angeles County Sheriff tried to evict them. She was joined by her neighbors, friends, and supporters from the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (a community organizing group) and the Service Employees International Union.

“[The bank] kept saying we can’t do anything. Your case is closed,” said Gudiel. “Our stand was, ‘No, we’re not leaving. This is our home. We worked hard for it and we’re just not going to leave.’”

In August 2011, Gudiel and her allies organized a sit-in at OneWest’s Pasadena headquarters. In October, in the midst of the Occupy Wall Street movement, Gudiel and over 200 supporters marched up the winding, hilly roads of Bel Air to the front gate of Mnuchin’s $27 million mansion, where they carried signs, blew whistles, and chanted in English and Spanish, demanding that Mnuchin and OneWest end the eviction proceedings and let Gudiel and family buy back their home. The protests garnered widespread media attention and forced OneWest to relent. OneWest and Fannie Mae authorized a loan modification that allowed the family to stay in their home.

In July 2014, Mnuchin arranged to sell OneWest to the CIT Group for $3.4-billion—more than double what he and his fellow investors paid for the bank five years earlier. CIT Group, a holding company that owned a Salt Lake City-based online bank, wanted to buy OneWest for its low-cost deposits and its network of Southern California retail branches. The consolidated bank now has assets of about $60 billion, ranking it among the nation’s 40 largest banks.

The CRC led an unsuccessful campaign to thwart the merger unless the combined bank pledged to expand its investments in low-income and minority neighborhoods. Over 21,000 people signed petitions against the merger, and over 100 organizations joined the effort to stop it. This groundswell of opposition forced the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency to hold a rare public hearing in February 2015.

At the hearing, the CRC pointed out that, like OneWest, CIT Group is no stranger to corporate welfare. It pocketed $2.3 billion from U.S. taxpayers through a Troubled Assets Relief Program bailout that the bank never paid back because it went bankrupt in 2009. Amazingly, CIT Group told its shareholders that it intends to use the bankruptcy to reduce its federal tax bill, thus cheating the taxpayers twice.

Despite OneWest’s and CIT Group’s troubling track records, the Federal Reserve approved the merger, while the OCC granted a “conditional approval,” and required that the merged bank improve its draft plan to invest in underserved neighborhoods, as required by the federal Community Reinvestment Act. Nearly two years after the merger was first announced, however, “California communities are still waiting to hear about CIT Group’s reinvestment plan,” said CRC executive director Paulina Gonzalez.

“There’s nearly $5 billion in corporate welfare between these two huge banks,” Gonzalez said. “This merger is the poster child for enriching the 1 percent on the backs of the rest of us.”

Under the terms of the acquisition, CIT agreed to pay Mnuchin $4.5 million a year for three years as the merged bank’s vice-chairman. Because he relinquished that post in March 31 of this year, Mnuchin was given a $10.9 million severance package, according to The Wall Street Journal.

In CIT Group’s most recent annual report, the bank disclosed that it had received multiple subpoenas in 2015 from the Office of Inspector General at the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) related to the servicing of reverse mortgages by Financial Freedom.

After Trump appointed Mnuchin as his campaign-finance chair, CRC’s Gonzalez said that “HUD should release more information about its investigation of OneWest’s subsidiary.”

Mnuchin has dabbled in Hollywood, producing American SniperMad Max: Fury Road, and Suicide Squad, but his sojourn into the entertainment world was also marked by controversy. Last year, Mnuchin resigned as co-chair of Relativity Media shortly before the Hollywood studio filed for bankruptcy. In a story in Variety, some creditors accused Mnuchin of having a conflict of interest because Relativity Media—which had received financing from OneWest Bank while he served as the bank’s chairman—repaid $50 million of those loans right before it went bankrupt.

Like Trump, Mnuchin has showered politicians in both parties with donations, though in recent cycles most of his money went to Republicans. Mnuchin has also spread some of the wealth he earned from his government-subsidized banking fortune to a wide variety of charities. Before their 2014 divorce, Mnuchin and his wife Heather were stalwarts in the high-society world of philanthropy in both New York and Los Angeles, attending and hosting star-studded balls and parties to support their favorite causes.

CRC’s Gonzalez noted the contradictions in Mnuchin’s two roles as philanthropist and as bank executive: “There is a sad irony in the image of Steve Mnuchin as a philanthropist, compared to the reality of Mnuchin as the leader of a bank responsible for foreclosing on tens of thousands of American families and senior citizens,” she said. “Steve Mnuchin was greatly enriched by OneWest Bank and now CIT Group, but those banks did little to serve the needs of ordinary families and working-class communities.”

IMAGE: Steven Mnuchin, Treasury secretary-designate, arrives at Trump Tower in New York, November 29, 2016.   REUTERS/Mike Segar

Peter Dreier teaches politics and chairs the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. His latest book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Nation Books, 2012).