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Posts Tagged ‘social justice’

The Decade That Put Capitalism On Trial

Tuesday, January 7th, 2020

Image result for astra taylorI can’t say I’m convinced this decade has really just ended, especially since it didn’t start Jan. 1, 2010. As far as I can tell, it actually began in 2007, with Wall Street’s historic financial crisis.

That calamity has defined the last 13 odd years—call them the long teens—and transformed American politics by showing the center, indeed, could not hold. In the immediate aftermath of the mortgage debacle, the Tea Party rose to prominence, foreshadowing the racist, rightwing populism that continues to gain ground at home with Trump and around the world. But over time, the U.S. Left learned its own lessons: that capitalism can fail and that the government can spend huge sums of money to intervene in the economy. These revelations, in turn, have shaped the emerging generation’s sense of what is possible, spurring a democratic socialist revival and opening space for teenage environmentalist Greta Thunberg to credibly insist in 2019, “If we can save the banks we can save the world.” United behind the proposal for an economically and ecologically transformative Green New Deal, young people understand it isn’t some pie-in-the-sky fantasy but a pragmatic and urgent necessity.

Greta’s comments echo the now famous refrain, which I first heard on Sep. 17, 2011 when a few hundred of us gathered at Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan for Occupy Wall Street: “The banks got bailed out; We got sold out.” As a result of the financial crash, around 7.8 million U.S. homes were foreclosed. Black households lost half their collective wealth. Back then I didn’t have a home or savings to lose, yet my personal finances were in meltdown nonetheless. Around the same time Lehman Brothers collapsed, I got a call telling me my student loans were in default. I remember trying to grasp the logic: “I don’t have money, so you are increasingly my principal by 19%?” My balance ballooned, as did my monthly payments, which meant I was even more broke than before.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, as I became more deeply involved in Occupy, I found myself gravitating to work focused on the problem of debt. It made sense, since most people drawn to the encampments were in the red as a result of being forced to debt-finance basic goods such as housing, healthcare and education, often with disastrous results.

Soon enough, I was collaborating with people I met through the movement and devising new creative ways to organize to transform indebtedness into a source of power and leverage. We co-founded the Debt Collective, a union for debtors, and in 2015 we launched the country’s first student debt strike, eventually winning over $1 billion in loan relief and crucial changes to federal law. Early on our position was mocked by mainstream media, but through organizing and public education we have shifted public opinion, helping lay the groundwork for the decommodification of higher education. We never would have predicted that in 2020 two leading presidential candidates would make our twin demands of mass student debt cancellation and free public college central planks of their campaigns.

Occupy marked a decisive break with the aughts, a difficult decade for social movements. In the wake of 9/11, New York City protests were often massively overpoliced, making demonstrating a grim and dispiriting affair, with the protesters who did show up to an action typically quarantined in “free speech pens” or arrested after being trapped by the awful orange netting cops would use to catch demonstrators like fish. Fortunately, most of the young people who had answered the call to “Occupy Wall Street” were new to activism—their sense of possibility hadn’t been constrained by the previous decade’s crackdown on dissent. Emboldened by recent uprisings including the Arab Spring, the Spanish and Greek indignados, and the occupation of Wisconsin’s state capitol, the people gathered in Zuccotti Park were determined to hold their ground for the night, and they succeeded.

This has been one of the astonishing motifs of this decade: wave after wave of new people engaging in social movements for the first time, be it Occupy, Dream Defenders, Black Lives Matter, #NoDAPL, the Women’s Marches, #MeToo, Indivisible, Democratic Socialists of America, Sunrise Movement, the Schools Strikes for Climate, and more. Since 2016, there has also been a remarkable insurgency of bold, unabashedly leftwing candidates for public office, many inspired by Sen. Bernie Sanders’ progressivism. If you had told me in 2010 that socialists would be winning office from Houston, Texas, to Fulton, Georgia, and serving as judges, city councilors and Congresswomen, I never would have believed you.

If this decade has been anything, it has been a decade of crisis: the financial crisis, the post-Trump political crisis and the climate crisis. I spent much of this period writing a book and making a film about democracy and one thing I learned is that the word for crisis, like the word democracy, comes from the ancient Greek, krisis. It means the turning point in an illness—death or recovery, two stark alternatives. It’s fitting, then, that two divergent possibilities lay ahead: on one side, the path to a more egalitarian society, underpinned by a wholesale transformation of our economic and energy systems; on the other, a nostalgic, ethno-nationalist rightwing backlash combining plutocracy with other forms of minority rule. No one knows what the next decade will bring, but given the high stakes we have no choice but to pick a side and try to be part of the cure.

This article was originally published at InTheseTimes on January 3, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Astra Taylor is the director of the film What Is Democracy? and the author of Democracy May Not Exist, but We’ll Miss It When It’s Gone.

Executive Council Creates Labor Commission on Racial and Economic Justice

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

Image: Mike Hall“America’s legacy of racism and racial injustice has been and continues to be a fundamental obstacle to workers’ efforts to act together to build better lives for all of us,” says the AFL-CIO Executive Council in a statement announcing the creation of a Labor Commission on Racial and Economic Justice.

The statement, released today at the council’s winter meeting in Atlanta, acknowledges “an ugly history of racism in our own movement” and adds:

“Yet at the same time the labor movement has a proud history of standing for racial and economic justice. When we have embraced our better selves we have always emerged stronger in every sense. And whenever we have succumbed to the temptation to see some working people as better than others, we have always ended up weaker.”

Pointing to today’s dramatically increasing economic inequality, decreasing union density and growing instability for the majority of Americans, the council says, “The need for all workers to strengthen common interests in achieving economic justice is clear.”

“At the same time our different experiences organized around race, gender identity, ethnicity, disability and sexual orientation often challenge and complicate this shared experience. If we are to succeed as a movement, the full range of working peoples’ voices must be heard in the internal processes of our movement. To be able to stand together we have to understand where all of us are coming from.”

The council points to the unemployment rate for African Americans—10.3%, more than twice as high as that for whites—the criminal justice system and educational inequities that are large parts of a “world divided in many ways by color lines.”

“At the same time working people share a common experience of falling wages and rising economic insecurity. To build a different, better economy we need power that can only come from unity and unity has to begin with having all our voices be heard, on all sides of those color lines. We have to start by acknowledging our own shortcomings and honestly addressing issues that are faced by the communities in which our members live—both the problems and the solutions. We have to find a way to see with each other’s eyes and address the facts and realities.”

The Labor Commission on Racial and Economic Justice will:

  • Facilitate a broad conversation with local labor leaders around racial and economic disparities and institutional biases, and identify ways to become more inclusive as the new entrants to the labor force diversify;
  • Engage in six to eight labor discussions around the country, with local labor leaders, constituency groups and young workers addressing racial and economic issues impacting the labor movement and offering recommendations for change; and
  • Attempt to create a safe, structured and constructive opportunity for local union leaders to discuss issues pertaining to the persistence of racial injustice today in the workforce and in their communities, and to ensure that the voices of all working people in the labor movement are heard.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on February 25, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log.  He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.

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