Resolution adopted at the DSA Convention. 2021
BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED, that as a critical part of DSA’s anti-racist struggle, as a moral imperative as socialists, and as crux of our political organizing, we should embark on a mass campaign for voting rights;
#4: Mass Campaign for Voting Rights
Authors: Ashley P. (East Bay), Sue M. (New Orleans), Kristian H. (North Texas), Sam L. (New York City)
WHEREAS the integrity of the vote is an essential aspect of mass political participation and a necessary precondition to form a mass workers’ party in the US,
WHEREAS a democratic state poses a major threat to the political domination of capital;
WHEREAS democratic states have been a historic demand and hard-fought victory of working class movements across the globe;
When Eric Vega died last month, he left a legacy of activism that affected everyone who came in contact with him. [In this video from CSU-Sacramento, Eric Vega provides insight into the breadth of his cultural, political, and social interests and in the trajectory of his moving from the nationalist of part of the Chicano Left movement to DSA,and beyond. ]
See more here.
By Peter Dreier
King called himself a democratic socialist. He believed that America needed a "radical redistribution of economic and political power."
In a 1961 speech to the Negro American Labor Council, King proclaimed, "Call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all God's children."
By Max B. Sawicky
(This essay may also be found on the website of The Washington Socialist. I have made a few limited revisions, since any text can be improved upon.)
The controversy stirred up by Rep. Jamaal Bowman’s vote to fund Israel’s “Iron Dome” missile defense system and his meeting with the repulsive Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett raises questions about the posture of the US Left towards Palestinian liberation, Zionism and anti-Semitism.
It should go without saying that in the US, anti-Semitism on the Right is vastly more vicious and dangerous to Jews than its pale reflection on the Left. Right-wing anti-Semitism is simple, easy to spot and does not require much explication. The Left counterpart is less obvious. Nevertheless, leftish expressions in this direction are a threat to the American Left’s political progress, just as they were to Jeremy Corbyn’s movement in the UK.
Statement adopted by vote of the North Star membership. Jan.1,2022.
The Political Moment
Successful coups d’état can follow failed ones. On the one-year anniversary of the January 6th assault on the Congress, we in the U.S. face the threat of an authoritarian movement seizing state power, dismantling our democratic institutions, and launching repressive attacks on progressive organizations. Republican-controlled state governments are expanding voter suppression, gerrymandering, and administrative control of elections. Over 60 percent of Republican voters believe President Biden’s election to be fraudulent. Among them is a hard core of heavily-armed fanatics who believe violence is necessary to purify the nation.
The authoritarian threat is global. Donald Trump’s collaborators include Narendra Modi in India, Victor Orban in Hungary, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Vladimir Putin in Russia, and Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines. Describing such demagogues as populist obscures their neo-fascist nature and their support from corporate interests. Theirs is a budding alliance that strengthens corporate interests’ ability to perpetuate climate-destroying fossil fuel consumption and accumulate wealth from wage theft, tax evasion, and financial deregulation. Their drive for profit runs roughshod over workers’ rights and concentrates growing economic power in fewer hands. Their neglect of the common good precluded effective responses to Covid-19 and enabled an anti-vax movement, leading to catastrophic loss of life.
We in North Star would like to emphasize the gravity of this threat, but we also recognize the historical precedents for an effective movement against it. People of color are already playing a leading role in resistance to neo-fascism in the United States. Growing voices across the political spectrum support the fight for universal, fundamental human needs and human rights. White people are increasingly aware of the importance of white supremacy in corroding U.S. democracy.
The 2020 Senate and 2021 local election results in Georgia were an excellent example of how multi-racial unity with active participation from left and progressive forces can increase grassroots activism and produce victories.
The labor movement has fortified its power through advocacy for the $15 minimum wage. Upsurges have come from gig workers, teachers, and fast food workers. Challenges mount against such exploitative mass employers as Amazon, Walmart, and Starbucks. Workers are voting with their feet against low wages and unacceptable working conditions, refusing unrewarding jobs. Undocumented young people brought to the U.S. as children – the “Dreamers” – have become symbols of the contributions immigrants make to this country. Abuses visited upon new immigrants and asylum seekers have revolted public opinion.
Working Together in Defense of Democracy
DSA and the broader Left must join forces to confront the international rise of authoritarianism. Together we should work to build a center-left coalition in defense of democracy. DSA must jettison a growing tendency towards a “go it alone” approach that devalues coalition work and glosses over the importance – indeed, the necessity – of a center-left coalition to defend democracy from neo-fascism.
The immediate task is mobilizing to prevent the Republican Party from retaking Congress in this year’s midterm elections and strengthening its hold on state and local governments. We cannot accept the conventional wisdom predicting inevitable Democratic Party defeat. A Republican takeover would shut down investigations of the January 6th attack on the Capitol and set the stage for the House of Representatives choosing the next president. To prevent a Republican takeover, efforts should focus on winnable races.
With over 90,000 dues-paying members and significant organizing staff, DSA should help to build a "Mississippi Summer"-style mobilization, actively seeking joint leadership with organizations focused on racism, labor, climate change, immigration, reproductive rights and other leading priorities. Not incidentally, a Left that takes a leading role in defending democracy against authoritarianism will win supporters from a variety of political communities.
Our focus on democracy and anti-fascism should include the full range of issues important to the working class. Our support for basic needs such as health care, the Fight for 15, free college, and the like answers the question, “Democracy, for what?” In this way, the campaign simultaneously meets the political moment and sets a progressive agenda for the future.
The best messages to employ in the current crisis are elaborated in the "race/class alliance" approach proposed by Ian Haney Lopez in the book Merge Left:Fusing Race and Class, Winning Elections, and Saving America, and by Heather McGhee in The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together. Lopez and McGhee show that undecided and even right-leaning voters will respond to appeals framed around the concept that we are each better off when we are all better off. The objectives are to overcome color-blind economism and condescending, do-gooder attitudes toward people of color, and to expose the economic roots of the ruling class’s divide and conquer strategy of pitting white workers against people of color.
One method for delivering these messages is called "deep canvassing." It emphasizes shared humanity, where canvassers express genuine curiosity about the lives of others and the reasoning behind their political views. Thousands of activists are being trained in this method. It has been used successfully in community issues, labor, and electoral campaigns.
DSA’s initial task is to forge working relationships with like-minded organizations on the Left. Such an alliance will then be well-situated to reach out to broader political strata.
DSA has both strengths and weaknesses in meeting this political moment. Given its growth over the past five years, it has the most potential of all groups on the Left. It has more active members and has realized political victories, especially in electoral politics. The youth, energy, technical, and organizing capabilities of our members are impressive. Most who have joined in the past five years are confident and optimistic.
At the same time, DSA suffers from self-imposed constraints. In particular, unity against authoritarianism requires working with those who hold some views that we do not accept. Unity on the Left in the first instance means rejection of sectarianism, especially identification of centrist forces as a political enemy equivalent to Trump’s movement.
A failure to recognize the authoritarian threat was reflected in our unwillingness to acknowledge the need to vote for Biden-Harris in 2020. It has resurfaced in hostility towards Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman with regard to Israel and Palestine, or worse, in calls to expel Bowman from DSA. To limit DSA support to avowed democratic socialist candidates forces impossible choices on DSA members working in community coalitions on behalf of progressive candidates for elective office. It is particularly inimical to the development of the broad coalition that we need.
Many members seem to endorse a “go-it-alone” strategy that envisions DSA at the center of a working-class, socialist upsurge in the foreseeable future. The reality is that only a minority of working people is ready to identify as socialist. By its support for a broad array of progressive issues, DSA can show that socialism is relevant to people’s lives. Recitation of dogma will not bring working people to socialism.
Political breakthroughs, such as the election of five avowed democratic socialists to the U.S. Congress, are viewed by some members with suspicion, if not hostility. Attacks from our ranks on members of Congress who are the public face of democratic socialism are utterly counter-productive.
DSA has attracted radicals who are so disgusted by both political parties that they fail to understand that our growth and current strength are due primarily to our coalition efforts in electoral politics, especially our role in the Bernie Sanders campaigns, AOC’s victory, and the expansion of ‘the Squad’ and the Progressive Caucus in Congress. DSA’s membership grew in large part out of broad opposition to President Trump’s egregious behavior and policies. A “go it alone” approach devalues coalition work and glosses over the importance – indeed, the necessity – of a center-left coalition to defend democracy from neo-fascism.
Another factor holding DSA back from coping with the crisis is an unawareness of the key role white supremacy is playing now in the U.S. Despite the unprecedented barrage of attacks being launched against people of color, DSA itself is still a mostly white organization. Our shortcomings are two-fold.
First, there is a failure to appreciate the internalized bias prevalent among white intellectuals. We may think our politics purges us of everyday prejudices. It does not.
Second, DSA is plagued by economist reductionism that downplays the devastating impact of racist ideology on the working class. This is a basic reason why DSA is not viewed as a home by thousands of activists in BIPOC organizations who are otherwise supporters of democratic socialism. DSA alienates by its arrogant adherence to a race-neutral, purportedly class focus, not granting the centrality of white supremacy.
In addition, DSA purports to be a socialist feminist organization, but in this respect its practice is wanting. Our internal culture and organizing abound with such patriarchal attitudes as arrogance, competitiveness, and interpersonal venom. Toxic behavior is socially condoned, as are white supremacy and classism. All interfere with our ability to organize. To embody our values and be true to our “big tent” identity, DSA must foster the “soft” qualities of tolerance and dialogue, qualities essential to the project of building a broad, anti-authoritarian coalition.
In summary, we argue that DSA lacks a viable strategic perspective on how to build power: a Gramscian understanding of the political terrain on which we struggle, with an analysis and long-term strategy for how to best situate ourselves on that terrain, choosing battles that we have the best chance of winning and avoiding those that lead to almost certain political defeat. We also need to see our internal political and democratic cultures as works in progress, with much room for improvement.
North Star’s Role
North Star has assets it can bring to bear on the challenges DSA and the Left face. Among us are veteran organizers located throughout the country with contacts in the progressive, civil rights, labor, feminist, and environmental movements.
Given the above, North Star understands its role in DSA as:
North Star’s next steps include:
We must not fail to take this opportunity to act in defense of democracy. It is a pivotal point in the struggle for human needs, human rights, and global sustainability, without which there can be no democratic socialism.
Approved by the North Star Caucus Steering Committee 12/26/2021
By Michael A. Dover, Paul Garver, Andrés E. Jimenez, Paul W. Rowe, and John Zuraw
Some international peace and solidarity activists focus more on peace and some focus more on solidarity. We should agree to disagree on matters of priority of focus and favored tactics and strategies. We should welcome all anti-occupation forces and peace activists to peace and/or solidarity movements focused on the Middle East.
Dear North Star Comrades –
Duane Campbell and Leo Casey have launched North Star on an excellent journey with their "What is to be done" statement. On October 14, I sent in an edited version of Leo’s paper and people found my comments a welcome addition. Since the best place to process this is the NS Blog, I am submitting my suggestions again in a stand-alone format. They are meant to answer Duane’s questions and supplement Leo’s original.
The Steering Committee of the North Star Caucus makes the following statement on the campaign to expel Jamaal Bowman from DSA and the political strategy and efforts behind these efforts.
This article appears in the November/December 2021 issue of The American
by Robert Kuttner
Not only is liberalism too weak to resist the predations of metastatic capitalism; so is social democracy.
By Michael A. Dover
The recent public calls for the expulsion of Congressman Jamaal Bowman from DSA raise serious issues for DSA. I have written the Congressman to applaud his courage in speaking from conviction and for using his position in Congress to establishing relationship with Israelis and Palestinians both in the Middle East and in the United States.
What role should North Star DSA play in DSA? What objectives should we be pursuing? In discussing this question, the Steering Committee came to the view that it would be best, at this point in our history, to have a robust discussion of what that role and those objectives should be amongst everyone in our group. We thought that it was important to have a perspective that was broadly understood amongst us, which could only be achieved by involving more of us in the conversation, and we thought that with the many decades of experience that our group has, the conversation would be far richer by including more voices.
Leo Casey responds to critics of our positions on the DSA Discussion Board.
I think that Comrades Ryan Mosgrove's and Jason Schulman's responses here are substantive, albeit politically mistaken in my view. I take a pass on comments that are little more than name calling and political posturing, but I feel that it if there is going to be constructive political debate and dialogue on this site, each of us should engage substantive comments with which we differ, as much as we are able to do so.
To Those Who Criticize the Jamaal Bowman Vote
Jamaal Bowman beat Elliot Engel in a primary to win his seat. Engel was an unquestioning supporter of whatever the government of Israel did, along the lines of AIPAC. He never found a reason to criticize anything Israel under Netanyahu did.
DSA North Star
The Caucus for Socialism and Democracy
We oppose and reject the statement of the National Political Committee of DSA criticizing our comrades and leaders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman, for their votes in the U.S. Congress on the ‘Iron Dome’ legislation. The statement betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of how to make real political change, and of the role of legislative work by elected representatives in that process. It puts forward moral purity tests of the sort employed by fervent religious sects, not democratic political organizations, and substitutes dogma and absolutist rhetoric for a serious consideration of political strategy in the service of democratic socialist principles.
National Political Committee of DSA:
The National Political Committee of DSA condemns in the strongest possible terms the inhumane treatment of the 12,000+ asylum seekers currently stuck under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas. These migrants have been forced to wait in a makeshift camp after crossing the Rio Grande for their petitions to be processed with little food, water, medicine, or shelter from the elements. They’ve also endured anti-Black violence at the hands of Customs and Border Protection, with reported shouts of “Go Back to Mexico” despite many of the migrants originating from Haiti, further adding to the erasure of Black immigrants in the discussion around immigration.
Don’t Start Another Cold WarBy Bernie SandersJune 17, 2021
The unprecedented global challenges that the United States faces today—climate change, pandemics, nuclear proliferation, massive economic inequality, terrorism, corruption, authoritarianism—are shared global challenges. They cannot be solved by any one country acting alone. They require increased international cooperation—including with China, the most populous country on earth.
It is distressing and dangerous, therefore, that a fast-growing consensus is emerging in Washington that views the U.S.-Chinese relationship as a zero-sum economic and military struggle. The prevalence of this view will create a political environment in which the cooperation that the world desperately needs will be increasingly difficult to achieve.
It is quite remarkable how quickly conventional wisdom on this issue has changed. Just over two decades ago, in September 2000, corporate America and the leadership of both political parties strongly supported granting China “permanent normal trade relations” status, or PNTR. At that time, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the corporate media, and virtually every establishment foreign policy pundit in Washington insisted that PNTR was necessary to keep U.S. companies competitive by giving them access to China’s growing market, and that the liberalization of China’s economy would be accompanied by the liberalization of China’s government with regard to democracy and human rights.
This position was seen as obviously and unassailably correct. Granting PNTR, the economist Nicholas Lardy of the centrist Brookings Institution argued in the spring of 2000, would “provide an important boost to China’s leadership, that is taking significant economic and political risks in order to meet the demands of the international community for substantial additional economic reforms.” The denial of PNTR, on the other hand, “would mean that U.S. companies would not benefit from the most important commitments China has made to become a member” of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Writing around the same time, the political scientist Norman Ornstein of the conservative American Enterprise Institute put it more bluntly. “American trade with China is a good thing, for America and for the expansion of freedom in China,” he asserted. “That seems, or should seem, obvious.”
Well, it wasn’t obvious to me, which is why I helped lead the opposition to that disastrous trade agreement. What I knew then, and what many working people knew, was that allowing American companies to move to China and hire workers there at starvation wages would spur a race to the bottom, resulting in the loss of good-paying union jobs in the United States and lower wages for American workers. And that’s exactly what happened. In the roughly two decades that followed, around two million American jobs were lost, more than 40,000 factories shut down, and American workers experienced wage stagnation—even while corporations made billions and executives were richly rewarded. In 2016, Donald Trump won the presidential election in part by campaigning against U.S. trade policies, tapping into the real economic struggles of many voters with his phony and divisive populism.
Meanwhile, needless to say, freedom, democracy, and human rights in China have not expanded. They have been severely curtailed as China has moved in a more authoritarian direction, and China has become increasingly aggressive on the global stage. The pendulum of conventional wisdom in Washington has now swung from being far too optimistic about the opportunities presented by unfettered trade with China to being far too hawkish about the threats posed by the richer, stronger, more authoritarian China that has been one result of that increased trade.
In February 2020, the Brookings analyst Bruce Jones wrote that “China’s rise—to the position of the world’s second-largest economy, its largest energy consumer, and its number two defense spender—has unsettled global affairs” and that mobilizing “to confront the new realities of great power rivalry is the challenge for American statecraft in the period ahead.” A few months ago, my conservative colleague Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, compared the threat from China to the one posed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War: “Once again, America confronts a powerful totalitarian adversary that seeks to dominate Eurasia and remake the world order,” he argued. And just as Washington reorganized the U.S. national security architecture after World War II to prepare for conflict with Moscow, Cotton wrote, “today, America’s long-term economic, industrial, and technological efforts need to be updated to reflect the growing threat posed by Communist China.” And just last month, Kurt Campbell, the U.S. National Security Council’s top Asia policy official, said that “the period that was broadly described as engagement [with China] has come to an end” and that going forward, “the dominant paradigm is going to be competition.”
DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE
Twenty years ago, the American economic and political establishment was wrong about China. Today, the consensus view has changed, but it is once again wrong. Now, instead of extolling the virtues of free trade and openness toward China, the establishment beats the drums for a new Cold War, casting China as an existential threat to the United States. We are already hearing politicians and representatives of the military-industrial complex using this as the latest pretext for larger and larger defense budgets.
I believe it is important to challenge this new consensus—just as it was important to challenge the old one. The Chinese government is surely guilty of many policies and practices that I oppose and that all Americans should oppose: the theft of technology, the suppression of workers’ rights and the press, the repression taking place in Tibet and Hong Kong, Beijing’s threatening behavior toward Taiwan, and the Chinese government’s atrocious policies toward the Uyghur people. The United States should also be concerned about China’s aggressive global ambitions. The United States should continue to press these issues in bilateral talks with the Chinese government and in multilateral institutions such as the UN Human Rights Council. That approach would be far more credible and effective if the United States upholds a consistent position on human rights toward its own allies and partners.
Americans must resist the temptation to try to forge national unity through hostility and fear.
Organizing our foreign policy around a zero-sum global confrontation with China, however, will fail to produce better Chinese behavior and be politically dangerous and strategically counterproductive. The rush to confront China has a very recent precedent: the global “war on terror.” In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the American political establishment quickly concluded that antiterrorism had to become the overriding focus of U.S. foreign policy. Almost two decades and $6 trillion later, it’s become clear that national unity was exploited to launch a series of endless wars that proved enormously costly in human, economic, and strategic terms and that gave rise to xenophobia and bigotry in U.S. politics—the brunt of it borne by American Muslim and Arab communities. It is no surprise that today, in a climate of relentless fearmongering about China, the country is experiencing an increase in anti-Asian hate crimes. Right now, the United States is more divided than it has been in recent history. But the experience of the last two decades should have shown us that Americans must resist the temptation to try to forge national unity through hostility and fear.
A BETTER WAY FORWARD
The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has rightly recognized the rise of authoritarianism as a major threat to democracy. The primary conflict between democracy and authoritarianism, however, is taking place not between countries but within them—including in the United States. And if democracy is going to win out, it will do so not on a traditional battlefield but by demonstrating that democracy can actually deliver a better quality of life for people than authoritarianism can. That is why we must revitalize American democracy, restoring people’s faith in government by addressing the long-neglected needs of working families. We must create millions of good-paying jobs rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure and combating climate change. We must address the crises we face in health care, housing, education, criminal justice, immigration, and so many other areas. We must do this not only because it will make us more competitive with China or any other country but because it will better serve the needs of the American people.
Although the primary concern of the U.S. government is the security and prosperity of the American people, we should also recognize that in our deeply interconnected world, our security and prosperity are connected to people everywhere. To that end, it is in our interest to work with other wealthy nations to raise living standards around the world and diminish the grotesque economic inequality that authoritarian forces everywhere exploit to build their own political power and undermine democracy.
The Biden administration has pushed for a global minimum corporate tax. This is a good step toward ending the race to the bottom. But we must think even bigger: a global minimum wage, which would strengthen the rights of workers around the world, providing millions more with the chance for a decent, dignified life and diminishing the ability of multinational corporations to exploit the world’s neediest populations. To help poor countries raise their living standards as they integrate into the global economy, the United States and other rich countries should significantly increase their investments in sustainable development.
For the American people to thrive, others around the world need to believe that the United States is their ally and that their successes are our successes. Biden is doing exactly the right thing by providing $4 billion in support for the global vaccine initiative known as COVAX, by sharing 500 million vaccine doses with the world, and by backing a WTO intellectual property waiver that would enable poorer countries to produce vaccines themselves. China deserves acknowledgment for the steps it has taken to provide vaccines, but the United States can do even more. When people around the world see the American flag, it should be attached to packages of lifesaving aid, not drones and bombs.
Creating true security and prosperity for working people in the United States and China alike demands building a more equitable global system that prioritizes human needs over corporate greed and militarism. In the United States, handing billions more in taxpayer dollars to corporations and the Pentagon while inflaming bigotry will not serve these goals.
Americans must not be naive about China’s repression, disregard for human rights, and global ambitions. I strongly believe that the American people have an interest in strengthening global norms that respect the rights and dignity of all people—in the United States, in China, and around the world. I fear, however, that the growing bipartisan push for a confrontation with China will set back those goals and risks empowering authoritarian, ultranationalistic forces in both countries. It will also deflect attention from the shared common interests the two countries have in combating truly existential threats such as climate change, pandemics, and the destruction that a nuclear war would bring.
Developing a mutually beneficial relationship with China will not be easy. But we can do better than a new Cold War.
Senator Bernie Sanders
by Jesse Jackson
Sept 14, 2021 - Record fires in Oregon and California. Floods in Houston and New York. Deadly winter storms in Texas. Droughts across much of the west.
Flash floods in England and Germany. Blinding dust storms in China. One-hundred-year cyclones devastate Fiji and Indonesia. Deadly droughts across subSaharan Africa. Wildfires in Greece and Italy.
by Harold Meyerson
The great American socialist Michael Harrington used to say that if you wanted to solve the problem of low incomes, you should try providing money. If anyone doubted the soundness of this recommendation, those doubts should be dispelled by a look at the Census Bureau’s data on poverty rates last year, which the bureau released earlier today.
Not a Nation of Immigrants.
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz is a historian, activist, and author of An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States (Beacon Press, 2015). This article is adapted from the introduction of her latest book, Not A Nation of Immigrants (Beacon Press, 2021).
On George Washington’s birthday, 2018, the Donald Trump administration’s director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, L. Francis Cissna, changed the agency’s official mission statement, dropping the language of “a nation of immigrants” to describe the United States. The previous mission statement had said the agency “secures America’s promise as a nation of immigrants by providing accurate and useful information to our customers, granting immigration and citizenship benefits, promoting an awareness and understanding of citizenship, and ensuring the integrity of our immigration system.”1 The revised mission statement reads: “U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services administers the nation’s lawful immigration system, safeguarding its integrity and promise by efficiently and fairly adjudicating requests for immigration benefits while protecting Americans, securing the homeland, and honoring our values.”2
The Trump administration’s official negation of the United States as a nation of immigrants was unlikely to change the liberal rhetoric. During Joe Biden’s 2020 bid for the presidency, the campaign issued a statement on his immigration plan, titled “The Biden Plan for Securing Our Values as a Nation of Immigrants,” asserting that “unless your ancestors were native to these shores, or forcibly enslaved and brought here as part of our original sin as a nation, most Americans can trace their family history back to a choice—a choice to leave behind everything that was familiar in search of new opportunities and a new life.”3 Unlike the previous “nation of immigrants” statement, the Biden campaign did acknowledge prior and continuing Native presence, as well as specifying that enslaved Africans were not immigrants. However, the new rhetoric continues to mask the settler-colonial violence that established and maintained the United States and turns immigrants into settlers.
Read the important essay. From Monthly Review.
by Kurt Stand
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka died suddenly last month at age 72. At this moment of transition — marked by the election of Liz Shuler, the first woman to serve as the head of the AFL-CIO — it is important to keep in mind how Trumka’s legacy can inform efforts underway to continue labor’s revival. Below are some reflections on the connection he made to building worker’s political strength while fighting for democratic rights that is relevant to work of DSA.
by David Anderson
In 2020, the three major TV networks, CBS, ABC, and NBC, devoted only five minutes to Afghanistan, according to the Tyndall Report. Major news organizations have pretty much ignored the war in Afghanistan.
Making Immigration Matter
AUGUST 25, 2021 BY REVIEW BY VIRAL MISTRY
Immigration Matters: Movements, Visions, and Strategies for a Progressive Future
Ruth Milkman, Deepak Bhargava, and Penny Lewis, eds.
The New Press, 2021, 336pp., $18.98 paperback.
Posted on the Democratic Left blog.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”
Emma Lazarus’s famous words, inscribed on the Statue of Liberty and at one time taught to every U.S. schoolchild, present one picture of this country. The reality, as many immigration activists and leftists are increasingly aware, is far from those hopeful words. The year before Lazarus’s poem was penned, the Chinese Exclusion Act became law—the first direct ethnic immigration restriction law of any major industrial country. The decades that followed saw an increase in nativist sentiment that ultimately led to a series of immigration restriction laws in the 1910s and early 1920s, capped off with quotas that essentially halted non-Western European immigration to the United States.
The 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act replaced those laws with a new liberal vision that tried to recast the United States as a “nation of immigrants.” But the new policies, though more progressive than their predecessors, set the stage for the modern immigration detention state by refusing to directly challenge the nativist sentiment from which they emerged. As immigration from Global South nations increased, a bipartisan anti-immigrant consensus took hold, with new border policing and criminalization statutes coming down in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s. Decades of expanded border patrols, partial border fences, and new bureaucratic structures like the formation of the Department of Homeland Security gave Donald Trump all the tools he needed to build a political coalition primarily centered around anti-immigrant hostility and xenophobia. But the end of the Trump administration and the rise of the new Biden administration pose a difficult question for the broad coalition that opposed Trump and his open racist and nativist rhetoric: what do we actually do about immigration policy in the United States?
At its core, Immigration Matters struggles with this question. A collection of essays by progressive figures, it attempts to survey a broad range of perspectives for activists and policy makers. It starts by surveying the long, painful history of oppression inherent in our immigration laws. Alongside that history of state violence and repression, however, is an equal and opposite history of resistance and struggle for freedom driven by and for immigrants. From labor organizing to electoral involvement to targeted campaigns against complicit corporations, the book documents the diverse tactics people have taken to protect and empower immigrants. From there, various essays chart visions for the future. What strategies and tactics can we use to protect immigrants? What should be the nature of our immigration system? What would it look like to dismantle organizations such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)? What concessions can we win in the here and now, and what should be our approach moving forward? And how do we break the xenophobic electoral coalition that has united rural white folk with the corporate ruling class through their combined distrust and hatred for immigration from the Global South?
Review by Paul Buhl.
The historical moment for 1960s radicals’ self-reflection may have arrived early a while ago, even before 1980 for the especially large egos, but has arrived in force mostly in the last few years. We are now evidently beginning a smallish rush on the market, smallish in part because many of the books are self-published, smallish in another part because these are not the celebrity-status famous people or even the purported Beautiful People. A certain modesty is a great source of their attractions.
by Leo Casey
What needs to be negotiated for U.S. K-12 schools to be reopened safely?
Quite a bit.
That statement may seem counterintuitive. We are now witnessing a potential unraveling of the hard-won progress in beating back the COVID-19 pandemic — and it is largely because of the failure of many of our fellow citizens to be vaccinated. Our patience is exhausted. Understandably, there is growing sentiment to simply mandate vaccines. For the frustrated, mandates — in schools and elsewhere — seem like an obvious step that would address the current crisis and put us back on track to controlling the pandemic. What is left to negotiate?
Yet the challenges are more complex. Yes, mass vaccination — over 90 percent of the population, such as countries like Iceland are well on their way to achieving — is an indispensable front in winning the fight against the COVID pandemic. Mandates can play an important role in getting to mass vaccination, and so they can and should be employed, particularly in healthcare, public safety, public education, mass transportation and other critical services. But it will require more than mandates to get us where we need to be with mass vaccination, and the mass vaccination that is now within our reach will not, by itself, be sufficient for schools to reopen safely this fall.
Let’s start with why mass vaccination is a positive, but not sufficient, condition for the safe reopening of schools. In fact, educators are already vaccinated at very close to the rates we need for the general population: both the AFT and the National Education Association calculate that somewhere in the vicinity of 90 percent of their K-12 educator members are vaccinated. This achievement comes in part because of the prodigious work of teacher unions to get their members vaccinated. A vaccination mandate for educators could improve that rate, and so is worth doing, but we need to be clear that it will be improvement largely at the margins: the numbers of unvaccinated educators are relatively small, and they include people who have genuine medical reasons and sincere religious beliefs for not being vaccinated and people who will leave teaching rather than be vaccinated. (Part of what must be negotiated is the procedures for identifying authentic medical and religious exemptions.)
More importantly, the most critical challenge of a safe reopening of schools is not the status of educators, with their high rates of vaccination, but that of students. In pre-K through 7th grade, none of the students will be vaccinated this fall, and in the higher grades, we have yet to reach a 50 percent vaccination threshold. So, vaccination will provide essential protection to the adult educator in the classroom, but that protection will be missing for the 15 to 30 students in the class who are unvaccinated. While as a rule the severity of the COVID disease declines with age, the ability to transmit the virus does not. If students communicate the virus to each other in the classroom — and here we must take into account the much greater transmissibility of the now dominant Delta variant — they will become vectors for the spread of the COVID virus to their families and to the community at large. And that would be very bad news for containing the pandemic.
Schools may be able to require vaccinations for students down the road, much as we currently require vaccinations for measles and mumps, but that is just not within our reach now — and the danger of a resurgence of the pandemic is now. So, the safe reopening of schools will depend not just on the vaccination of educators, but on employing mitigation strategies that reduce and abate the potential for transmission among students — the use of masks, physical distancing, appropriate ventilation, and regular and full cleaning of classrooms. The critical battle in the safe reopening of schools is around employing these mitigation strategies, especially universal masking. We must be able to turn back the efforts of elected officials like Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, who is doing everything in his power to try to undermine universal masking in Florida’s schools, even as his state leads the nation in the resurgence of the pandemic with its highest daily number of new COVID cases — including cases among children — since the start of the pandemic. (It is telling that the reflexively anti-union commentators who were quick to attack teacher unions for saying that negotiations over these matters are necessary, like New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait, have managed to overlook DeSantis’ attacks on mask mandates.)
The experience of teachers and their unions throughout the last year and a half is that left to their own predilections, too many school districts and local and state governments will not employ these mitigation strategies in the comprehensive ways that are required. The strategies can be costly (retrofitting poorly maintained school buildings with appropriate ventilation) and logistically difficult (finding space for smaller classes that allow for physical distancing). Even the easiest of these strategies to implement — universal masking — can become a subject of contention in an era where science and public health have been under attack by public figures like DeSantis. Moreover, the challenges to implementing these mitigation strategies are greater in schools that serve working-class and poor communities and communities of color, as their buildings are often aged and in poor repair and their class sizes are larger. Taking on the necessary work of mitigation strategies in schools is not for the faint-hearted.
Add to this on-the-ground reality a likely scenario for how vaccine mandates would roll out. There will certainly be legal challenges, and it is probable that courts will hold the mandates in abeyance while the issue is adjudicated. It is by no means certain that this Supreme Court would rule in favor of mandates, despite clear precedents for them. As a consequence, vaccine mandates will not be immediate fixes, but — assuming the Supreme Court does not strike them down — more medium- and long-range tools in the pandemic. It is essential that other means of achieving mass vaccination — education campaigns, incentive programs and requirements of weekly and even twice weekly COVID testing of the unvaccinated working in critical services such as education — not be abandoned in the name of pursuing mandates, but instead intensified.
In sum, vaccination mandates are not a “magic bullet” in the fight against COVID but one of many tools that need to be employed. We need all the tools we can muster in this battle, so mandates should be supported, but we also need to be clear about all that is needed to safely reopen schools and contain the pandemic. The common good of achieving both of these objectives is best met when teachers and their unions have a voice in the pandemic-related policies and practices of their schools, and when local school districts are required to negotiate these matters with them.
Leo Casey is the former director of the Albert Shanker Institute and is currently assistant to the president of the AFT.
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