Daniel Coates and the Center for Community Change’s “Build” Agenda

In lieu of explaining his views in a Blue Folks post, Daniel gave me a thought-provoking paper by the Center for Community Change whose ambitious diagnosis and prescription echoes his own. Daniel works for Make the Road, a community organizing group present in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. He’s poised to implement the very things the paper calls for. The paper’s too long to post, but you can download it from Dropbox: https://www.dropbox.com/s/1av5ckepebm6rgn/Memo.CCC%20and%20CCCA%20Situation%20Analysis.February2017.pdf?dl=0

Here are the bones of the argument, which is aimed at progressive community organizing groups.

Opening salvo: “The path forward starts with an honest and sober look at the proximate and deeper causes of the crisis …including the lack of power by millions of ordinary Americans to affect the conditions in their lives and the lack of a robust, alternative vision …Fundamental shifts in strategy and behavior are required.”

Main diagnosis – thank you Pres. Obama. Here’s what we’ve got to fix:“In his farewell speech, President Barack Obama highlighted five deep threats to our democracy:

  1. Growing economic inequality,
  2. Persistent racism and racial division,
  3. A post-fact media and social media environment,
  4. Increasing social distance and balkanization of communities, and
  5. Erosion of democratic participation and civic engagement.”

To paraphrase the rest of the diagnosis: People are increasingly atomized, and institutions of civic participation are declining. The Aspen/Davos types haven’t responded, but continue their merry, elitist, technocratic ways. This creates an opening for demogogues who tweet directly to individuals. Meanwhile, the liberals keep bickering among themselves about whether it’s about race or class. Blech. Unhelpful. And even worse, some of the activists seem to think that as long as they’ve got a “righteous analysis”– this “discharges their obligations to build organizations…mobilize people into action, and develop new leaders.”

Don’t think protesting is sufficient: “Outside disruption and protest divorced from a strategy to change power relations or affect agendas is more spectacle than strategy, more about therapy than winning.”

Now, start towards solutions: “There is no more urgent task than reinventing the modes of organization for the 21st century that can engage large numbers of people democratically, put people in relationship with each other across lines of difference, and link them together for sustained action, rather than one-time or “point-and-click” mobilizations. Without the development of a more robust civic infrastructure, every other strategy is likely to fail.

This means investing in local and state organizations to recruit new people, engage on issues, move people into elections and to experiment at the local and national levels relentlessly and rigorously with new modes of civic engagement that can build lasting mass organization….There is no substitute for going door to door, person to person, and inviting people into being part of democracy.”

There are unifying issues out there: “We can unify issues such as the economy, environment, education and racial justice that mobilize our base while commanding majority support….There is significant evidence that, notwithstanding the election results, there are popular majorities to be mobilized on most of the social justice agenda.” [Women’s march and anti-Muslim-ban protests show this.]

Focus on two key short run issues (paraphrase): Protect the safety net and work on immigration. These are both core social justice issues and they help build “progressive constituencies and organizations”.

But you gotta do it the right way: “These battles can and must … be a path for recruiting millions of new people, breaking through issue and constituency siloes, and telling powerful new stories that shift the dominant narratives.”

Mobilize around the safety net: “Experiment with the recruitment of new people who are not currently part of organizations by developing trusted social network and organizational channels to inform and mobilize recipients of social safety net programs. The scale and scope of our potential here is enormous: there are more than 70 million people who receive Medicaid and 43 million people whose food stamps are at risk (many of whom are white).

Here’s the immigration agenda:“1) Mobilization of the immigrant [and related ethnic] communities in huge numbers… and increase the perceived political costs of carrying out mass deportation plans; 2) Document the …harm of these proposals on immigrant families and the fabric of the country, humanizing immigrants so that the broad middle of the country recoils and rejects…mass deportation and harsh enforcement; 3) The mobilization of … non-immigrant voices from diverse sectors to create a circle of protection around the most vulnerable people. … faith groups and community groups with a multi-racial and non-immigrant constituency; 4) Mobilize local elected officials, promote non-cooperation with harsh federal enforcement agencies, and build a public consensus against mass deportation.

Bottom line: “Both of these short term fights—on the social safety net and immigration—present additional opportunities to change how our sector does business. We can build deeper cross-issue alliances to break through the issue and constituency silos that plague the progressive movement.”

A few longer term ideas (but c’mon this really peters out at this stage):

  • “Strengthen and network black organizing groups, with a focus in the Midwest
  • Connect electoral work to issues and to building organizations is essential if we are to rebuild public will on issues of social justice.
  • Work in local communities—on child care, housing trust funds, creating jobs and quality labor market standards, and advancing racial equity.
  • Invest much more deeply in the kind of sophisticated leadership that we need by identifying and supporting an emerging cadre of leaders in social justice movements to develop the generalist aptitudes, rather than the craft specialization, that will be required.”

A Warm February Day in the Swamp

A comment on today’s lovely warm weather:

There is a false spring in the Washington year when a delicate mist hangs over Arlington, and softens even the harsh white glare of the Capitol; the struggle for existence seems to abate…the blood thaws in the heart and flows out into the veins, and all the hardness of heart, all the heresy and schism, all the works of the devil, yield to the force of love and to the fresh warmth of innocent, lamb-like, confiding virtue. In such a world there should be no guile… but there is a great deal of it notwithstanding. Indeed, at no other season is there so much. This is the season when the two whited sepulchers at either end of the Avenue reek with the thick atmosphere of bargain and sale. Who bids highest: Who hates with most venom? who intrigues with most skill? who has done the meanest, the darkest, and the most political work?

Henry Adams, Democracy: An American Novel, 1880, (quoted by Wallace Stegner)

Marcia Brown: In Search Of…

What I am searching for in this new world we live in, is the new charismatic leadership. It started when I was watching a rally for and about women and out came “feminist icon” Gloria Steinem, who is, I believe, over 80. And I thought, great, but where are the new feminist icons? Gloria, Faye Wattleton, Eleanor Smeal, Ann Richards – all feminist icons from 40 years ago, but who is leading now? The same can be said of all the causes – climate change, African American rights, Hispanics – anything. Am I completely out of touch and reveal my age when I think of the old leaders but can’t name any new ones? When I look at the Democrats, I don’t see anyone yet that we can rally around and think is viable for 2020. Elizabeth Warren is another old white woman and we’ve proven that doesn’t work outside of the liberal bubbles on the coasts. I fear the energy and determination we’re seeing now will leak away over the next couple of years without a champion to keep flogging the faithful and right now there just isn’t one.

I’m going to become another sustaining member of the ACLU and wait for the next disaster.


What to Say and Who to Say It to

This week I’ve struggled with how to speak in the new American order. It started when I set out to revise a policy paper on financial inclusion  I prepared for the Hillary campaign so it would be relevant for the new administration. There must be a lot of people in the same boat, trying to figure out messages and audiences for their work. I’m not talking about the Muslim ban protestors, but about the many people whose issue isn’t at the top of the headlines. It’s easy to know what to say when you are protesting on the street, but what about when you come indoors and want to get things done?

One person advised me to “Trumpify” my piece and sent me an essay (on a different topic) from a politically progressive woman who crafted her pitch to push the new administration’s buttons. Hmmm….

In a normal transition year, it would be easy to adjust my piece to a new Administration. Financial inclusion isn’t controversial. Democrats and Republicans usually support it as a small part of American foreign assistance. That support has rested on a foundation of agreement by every administration for the past 50 years about America’s active participation in the world community and about poverty alleviation as one (among several) legitimate purposes of America’s work in international development. But this administration doesn’t buy these premises.

I couldn’t find even a small patch of common ground to stand on to make the pitch. This president has said nothing to indicate that he believes the U.S. should act in the world to reduce poverty or help countries build more inclusive societies. He cries “America First!” and threatens to reduce funding for U.N. agencies and foreign assistance by 40 percent, also possibly doing away with USAID and OPIC.

The only way I can think of to pitch financial inclusion to this administration is to appeal to its desire to control the financing of terrorism. Even emphasizing the role of U.S. businesses, which normally appeals to Republicans, doesn’t work because Trump is anti-globalization and fights with Silicon Valley – where a lot of financial inclusion innovation comes from. And it’s a laugh even to think about arguing for my personal obsession – financial consumer protection. This week the president directed the Treasury to find ways to weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

I imagine a similar dilemma is facing many people who work in Washington on hundreds of topics that usually aren’t – and shouldn’t be – political hot potatoes. Some of them say they’ll just keep their heads down and hope for experienced sub-cabinet appointees they can work with. But look what happened when Secretary Tillerson proposed Elliott Abrams, a highly-credentialed neocon, for Undersecretary of State. Trump gave his nomination the boot.

I think I’ll put out my piece more or less as it is and without any hope of swaying the ostensible audience. Maybe it will be helpful to other folks who work in this field, possibly even some people on the Hill. It’s not a satisfactory solution. But I’ve decided that  Trumpification is unthinkable.

Organizing Explosion

Suddenly there’s an explosion of organizing, and my email inbox is being bombarded. If I did all the things the emails urge me to do, I’d have time for nothing else. Call your senator, sign this petition, donate, protest, join a phone call….And there are so many things to exclaim about: the Muslim ban, the nomination of Betsy DeVos, Trump’s lies, Steve Bannon’s existence. My head is spinning. Now that Trump is finally here and acting, there is something to punch against, not just speculation.

The organizing is coming from both established groups and new ones. I thought it would be useful to provide some lightly annotated links to a few.

Indivisible is a group of Congressional staffers who have written “A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda” based on their knowledge of how to influence Congress. It is very well done and widely recommended. If you have been involved with Results, you probably already know a lot of what Indivisible has to say. Their playbook is, they admit, heavily borrowed from the Tea Party. The website also has a list of groups by location (with names like Takoma Park Mobilization and ResistTrump20816) so people can connect with neighbors, and there’s a weekly action agenda.

MoveOn is a progressive organization (from Bernie toward the left), associated with the Working Families Party, which also has an action agenda, including “Resist Trump Tuesdays.” It has a guide to find a rally near you.

Idealists4america is a group formed by a core of Hillary4America supporters focused on international development and foreign policy. It is smaller, but well-connected and creative. For example, Idealists is working now on getting Fortune 500 CEOs to join in a letter opposing the Muslim country ban. (reachable at idealists4america@gmail.com)

The Weekly Action Checklist for Americans of Conscience was suggested by Brigit Helms. It is a list on googledocs prepared by a woman in Oregon who does the research and lays out possible actions.  A similar site, Daily Action, is run by a woman on Capital Hill named Laura Moser, which was featured in the Washington Post on Sunday. Brigit also sent a list showing where U.S. Senators stand on the Muslim ban. Very interesting.

The Women’s March has a slightly more relaxed action agenda: 10 actions/100 days.

Flippable is different from all the others, and I like it for that. Flippable keeps track of elections happening at the state and local level and draws national support for races that can make a difference. It is currently targeting a race in Delaware which is important to keep the Delaware state legislature in Democratic hands.

All of this leaves me with a question – to Resist or to Build? Indivisible advocates Resist, saying that it worked for the Tea Party and it will work for anti-Trump forces, too. I’m not completely convinced. Resist is very motivating, but a reactive Resist posture plays into the Dead Cat strategy Trump loves, (i.e., throw a dead cat on the table and no one will be able to talk about anything else). More important, I don’t want to perpetuate the polarization. It’s long run destructive.

Right now, as the executive orders are raining down, it’s clearly a time for Resist. But after things settle down, I hope many of these organizations will, like flippable, get to work on Build.

Greenpeace: RESIST

Today Greenpeace brought anti-Trump protests to the air outside my office window. Seven Greenpeace members climbed a crane at the Fannie Mae construction site across the street and unfurled a banner that read RESIST or, as seen from my side, TSISER. The stunt unfurled in slow motion as the climbers organized the ropes high up on the jib arm of the crane, let the banner balloon in the wind for a couple of hours, and then spent the afternoon gradually packing it up. Dozens of police cars, onlookers and TV reporters swarmed the sidewalk all day, and Greenpeace kept up a stream of social media, including broadcasts from the top of the crane. It was hard not to look out the window every few minutes, filled with a mixture of fear (yikes – people are dangling from ropes 10 stories up) and inspiration (a call for resistance after today’s crop of executive orders).

I’ve tended to frown on the anti-Trump protests of the “not my president” variety, especially the smashing of windows and burning of cars on inauguration day. But I find that my views on protests are changing a bit. Now that the new administration has begun to act, there are specific reasons to protest – executive orders from “easing” of the ACA, to building the wall, to suspension of the Pacific trade treaty, to opening the pipelines. How else to respond if not to publicly state your opposition and call on others to do the same? If there is any hope of bolstering members of Congress to temper these actions, it will be necessary to for many people keep sending loud, vehement objections. This is no time for subtlety.

While I still believe the most important work is to protect and build up our democracy and help the Democratic Party figure out how to win more elections, I can’t help cheering on the Greenpeace climbers. It’s like my reaction when the alt-right leader, Richard Spencer, was decked mid-sentence during an interview. I know it wasn’t right, but…how gratifying! Watching the Greenpeace protest was like that – a guilty pleasure, but it feels sooo good.

Evelyn Stark: Women’s March in NYC

I’m usually the skeptic about what a march can do… I can talk myself out of attending… Can these kind of group protests really make change? Will it just be seen as people complaining? But, not this one. I went because I needed to see that 100,000 other New Yorkers were equally willing to get out of their homes and apartments to visibly demonstrate – to do more than change their facebook profile picture.

And, it was awe-inspiring. I can’t tell you how fantastic it was when my train (an hour North of Manhattan) filled up at each stop with more and more people wearing pink pussyhats. My train has never been more crowded – and this was 8:45am on a Saturday. The Moms and Dads, kids in strollers, the 70 year olds (who all looked like one of my favorite posters – “I can’t believe we’re still marching”), college students, middle-aged folks (like me!). They had come in groups from Duchess, Putnam and Westchester, they’d come in groups across the Hudson River so they could get the train. They all felt compelled. They shared posterboard and markers, gave away pussyhats (I still didn’t score one) and were completely clueless about where the march started, how to navigate Manhattan, etc.

Then, the train approaches the station. My friend was texting from Grand Central – “this place is empty”. My stomach dropped a little, even tho my train was packed. The conductor announced “Final stop, Grand Central” and my train cheered. I teared up. The train stopped and two other trains also unloaded their cargo – hundreds and hundreds of people in pink. Pam’s next text came in “Wow – here they come”.

And, that’s what the next several hours were like – Wow, here they come. Here we come. It completely overwhelmed the organizers, it overwhelmed the cell towers, it overwhelmed the streets, it overwhelmed the entire East Side. We cheered, we yelled “This is What Democracy Looks Like” and eventually, we even marched! There were more than 400,000 people who got out of their apartments and took to the streets. And talked – to each other. With cell towers down, people couldn’t facebook or stare at their emails. Nope, we talked to each other – the couple in front of me had a big poster from an ERA rally. The woman (about 70) was the 18 year old in that march poster. The retired college president and his wife next to us talked about the civil rights marches and Vietnam protests they’d attended. The one lady who was getting text messages assured us that the march had really started and the lead marchers had hit 5th Ave.

So yes, the inspiration gained from yesterday has to move from hearts to heads. There ARE action plans – check out the Women’s March sites – 10 things to do in the next 100 (?) days. It was so clear that there is no more room for complacency. This is real. get an action plan for how you are going to get involved. I’m a terrible joiner – but I’m joining the local Democrats group. Who knows – maybe I’ll even make some new friends in my neighborhood 🙂 and make a difference!

The Value of the Women’s March

I didn’t go to the women’s march. I couldn’t see getting stuck for hours on the Metro, standing in line for port-a-potties, being confused in the crowd, and getting home cold, hungry and exhausted. I am grateful to all who did those things, and for the photos you posted. Here are my armchair reflections. Cheers, Beth

The women’s march blew me away:

  • It was peaceful and upbeat.
  • It was multigenerational – people of all ages, many mothers, daughters and grandparents together.
  • It was broad. Initially I was skeptical of the lack of focus (What exactly is the point?), but I see that its breadth allowed many disparate people to come together, from  one-issue advocates to people who just wanted to “stand with women.” It felt broad enough to take in the majority of the country (which is what it needed to do).
  • It was BIG. The figure I saw was 3 million people, counting marches in Washington, across the country and sympathy marches in other countries.

This is an assertion of power. It puts the President and Congress on notice that if they move down a far right path they will provoke major resistance. I don’t think I’ve seen massive political resistance like this since anti-Vietnam days and civil rights days before that. The social movements around civil rights and Vietnam forced change. They overwhelmed the political system and made it impossible for the President and Congress to resist.

This march signaled that there is an enormous political force trying to find its voice. In effect, it said: Dear Elected Politician: You must reckon with us. If you are with us, we will back you up, and if you are not, we will block your way. I wish the march had made this point more explicit, and I hope the organizers will follow their success with letters and meetings with members of Congress.

So, was yesterday’s massive outpouring a one-off or the start of something big? I assume most of the marchers will go back home to local interests, and as the new administration puts its policies forth day by day, there will be a return to smaller, one-issue protests, splintering yesterday’s solidarity. But maybe not. The necessary organizing to make the march work simultaneously put up scaffolding at many levels that can be reinforced and reused.

Sarah Samuels: This Too Shall Pass

On the eve of the inauguration, Sarah Samuels remembers what election night felt like.

Heartbroken. This is how I felt when the election results came flashing across the TV screen in the early hours of November 9, 2016. The inspiring words spoken by President Obama during his farewell speech have ignited something in me, and I finally feel as though I can speak openly about the election of Donald Trump as our next Commander in Chief.

Two days after his win, genuine fear set in. I could only compare these feelings to what true heartbreak feels like to the mind and the body. Questions spun around in my head: How could this happen? How did I have so much confidence that good would prevail? How did I not prepare myself for this outcome? How many times and to how many people did I say, it’s not possible look at the statistics!

All these feelings I recognized as much too similar to my last true heartbreak, when someone I loved and trusted left me feeling lost, scared and unsure of the future. I was truly scared. I was scared that I thought I knew someone and I was so very wrong. I think these feelings resonated with me so much the day after the election because my country and so many of my very own neighbors had broken my heart.

After having spent the last eight years with so much pride and respect for our president, I had to ask myself, how did we as a country digress so enormously and why I was feeling so much hate and fear?

This election sparked something in me that I will carry forward for the rest of my days. In any bad breakup we learn valuable lessons that help shape who we are, and we use those lessons to contribute to better decision making in the future. Now more than ever we need to come together and have genuine compassion for one another, respect our country, our institutions and our values that we have all worked so hard to build. We must instill these values into others and especially young people.

Although I am ashamed of our country’s decision to elect Trump as our next president, I know in my heart that we will come together as a people and hold our heads high. My challenge to every heartbroken American is to try and live with chin to the sky, smile and make eye contact with everyone knowing that even if you have different views than another, it’s okay. I ask everyone to learn the facts about a cause that they are passionate about and openly debate and challenge others who are in opposition.

When Hillary spoke the day after the election she said started off with a heartfelt apology while choking back tears. My initial reaction was, You’re sorry! No, I am sorry! I am sorry that I did not do more. I am sorry that I did not go knock on doors. I am sorry that I was lazy and just like so many others thought that we had it in the bag. This time a campaign contribution was not enough. We needed more than that, and I know that now. This is what will fuel my passion moving forward.

So back to my initial question, how you mend a broken heart? The answer is, with time. We all know the saying: “time heals all wounds.” I couple that with what my mother’s favorite, “This too shall pass.” And just as I would advise any friend after a bad breakup, I say to everyone in this country who is as heartbroken I am about Donald being our next President, this too shall pass.

I leave you with this question: What are you going to do to make sure we don’t repeat the mistake?

Jami Solli on access to justice

Jami posted this as a comment, but it’s a post in itself, so I wanted to make sure more people see it. If this strikes you, you may also want to read Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson.

The burden does indeed fall heavily on non profits to provide a social safety net in the US.

An example of this is the ever widening justice gap in the country; not only for civil issues (eg home foreclosures, family law issues, or even damage to a consumer in a product liability case), but also there are some states in the US where no court appointed (and/or qualified) criminal defense lawyers are available to the poor.

Southern states are even ‘wait listing’ poor defendants, as well as assigning (protesting) tax or real estate lawyers to defend in criminal cases. In fact, the ACLU is bringing legal action on behalf of those deprived of related civil and Constitutional rights. So, the govt. will in effect spend money to defend why it is not spending money to supply legal aid; and it will most likely lose these tax dollars.

If only the wealthy have justice to the legal system, we are a failure as a democracy.

But, where is the funding going to come from for the non profits eager to work on these issues?

Arguably, if non profits are doing the job of govt., then funding from the federal and state budgets should be allocated. But, the solitary Legal Services Corp. limps along woefully underfunded year after year.

So, it seems private foundations, like Open Society, Charles Mott and I cannot think of any others (it is an ugly duckling topic for many foundations already) are left to fund access to justice issues in the USA.

And, of course there are many many lawyers who offer pro bono legal services willingly and with dedication, but this is a drop which does not fill the ocean of demand.

And, justice in the US is expensive — my non profit, the Global Alliance for Legal Aid cannot work here for that reason. Court filing, evidence gathering, legal fees (if you cannot find voluntary labor), insurance and operations fees in the US are exponentially higher; essentially pricing justice out of the reach of the majority of Americans. I would be willing to bet that the percentage excluded from the legal system is 3 times the number excluded from financial services in the US.

If a family cannot afford to pay the heating bill or put food on the table; a legal problem is going to have to wait. And, justice delayed = ?