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As I parked the car near the Gudiel family house on Proctor Avenue, in an unincorporated part of the San Gabriel Valley, I suddenly remembered that I forgot to tell my wife that there was a possibility that I could be arrested on this day. She’s gotten used to my activism as of late, but I suppose the wise thing to do would’ve been to ask her to keep her phone close by.
It was my first sit-in of any kind, and the first thing I noticed upon entering the side entrance was a crude set of tents propped up in the front yard that friends, neighbors and union activists had put up for a round-the-clock vigil. Spot, the family dog, greeted me at the gate with a fast wagging tail.
Due to my negligence of laundry for the past week, I was a bit overdressed, and received suspicious looks from the 8 to10 people clustered at the front door.
These days people complain a lot about government. Our California state legislature continuously gets low marks for (not) getting things done. But as the October 9 deadline passed for Gov. Jerry Brown to sign or veto legislation passed by our state lawmakers, I decided to check on the state legislative analyst site to see what Sacramento actually did this year. (You can check bills here yourself.) I was amazed. Despite a less-than-perfect process for including the voices of all Californians, our legislators got a huge amount accomplished in 2011.
Now I know that a lot of people are worried that politicians make too much money, have too many perks, skate the edge of good ethics and high integrity. But I think that our state senate, headed by Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacto), and our state assembly, headed by speaker John Perez (D-L.A.), deserve some constituent love. You guys did a great job this year.
The protesters challenging the big banks and the super-rich won a dramatic victory in Los Angeles on Thursday, as I describe below. OneWest Bank, the biggest bank based in Southern California, and Fannie Mae, stopped their foreclosure and eviction against Rose Gudiel, a working class homeowner, in response to a brilliantly executed protest movement by community and union activists.
The question facing the activists is this: Is the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon a moment of protest or a movement for sustained change? Will Rose Gudiel become the Rosa Parks of a new economic justice movement?
As I write in The Nation (in the October 24 issue, now on-line), “If the Occupy Wall Street activists join forces with the unions and community groups, they could catalyze a massive nationwide movement to resist foreclosures and block evictions. They could also put pressure on local and state lawmakers to pass tougher legislation.
For years, NRDC, working with allies in labor, have disproved the myth that environmental protection and good jobs can’t co-exist. We are not alone in this: NRDC, Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation and Union of Concerned Scientists are members of the BlueGreen Alliance, which also includes the Steelworkers, United Auto Workers, SEIU and other national and international unions representing tens of thousands of members.
NRDC has focused particularly on promoting the new clean energy economy which brings with it good-paying, local jobs in the manufacturing, construction and service sectors. We have seen this in California where the clean energy sector is growing faster than any other sector, accounting for over 90,000 in Los Angeles area alone. This is apparently news to the Los Angeles Times. In a misguided editorial on the recent Ninth Circuit ruling in the Port of Los Angeles clean trucks case,
Oh, the 1960s!
Back then I was one of those middle-class married women who never dreamed of a career. Then came Betty Friedan and The Feminine Mystique. And so in my early 40s, I enrolled in the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Social Work master’s degree program.
On the very first day of class my professor wrote on the blackboard, “Social workers believe in ambivalence.” I was home. I had always been uncomfortable with unalterable truths — generalized philosophies and rules and theories that were supposed to apply across time, place and circumstances.
Now that, 50 years later, there is so much attention being paid to aging (and it’s me the experts are referring to in their speculations), I’ve become weary of all the guarantees being offered for a healthy, long — and I do mean long — happy life.
Ten members of the Irvine 11 were sentenced last week to community service, fines and probation for disrupting a speech by the Israeli ambassador on the campus of UC Irvine. It’s not as important to me whether or not these Muslim activists were within their rights under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as that they were ready to take the risk that civil disobedience implies for their strongly held beliefs.
As a veteran of the 1960s civil rights movement, I know how breaking a law in pursuit of a higher justice can be a life-changing experience. When I was 18 I joined 400 others protesting discriminatory hiring practices at a San Francisco auto dealership by going limp in the car showrooms.
The status quo does not change without pressure from below. And in the U.S. often that pressure has taken the form of several hundred people “putting their bodies on the line” —
Despite my Texas upbringing, I, like many people, viewed Rick Perry’s galloping onto the national scene with equal parts horror (he is scary) and “Here we go again.” This guy genuinely questions climate change, genuinely questions evolution, executes human beings with historic vigor and believes government should be virtually dismantled – regardless of the impacts on the poor, the aged or anybody else — except when it helps the corporations he favors.
That said, there is one striking aberration in his human indifference agenda: Like his predecessor, George W. Bush, Perry acknowledges – to some degree – the contribution of immigration, legal or otherwise, to the economic health of Texas and the country. In fact – and this is killing him on the campaign trail – he has supported in-state tuition for the children of undocumented immigrants in Texas. He even said at the most recent debate in Florida that not supporting such policies meant you don’t have a heart.
On Tuesday the Occupy L.A. encampment on City Hall’s narrow north lawn along Temple St. entered its fourth day. The camp first arose on the large commons on the hall’s First St. side, but like nearly all things in the city had to give way to the filming of a movie. That film, Gangster Squad, is about racket busters in the Los Angeles of the 1940s and ’50s, an era with almost nothing in common with the present city – except its growing popular dissatisfaction with the direction of the economy.
Some of the hundred or so participants this late, gray afternoon stood on sidewalks with signs (“Restore Glass-Steagall”), while engaging passersby – some from the Conrad Murray trial up the block — or taking the salute of car drivers honking their horns. Others debated among themselves on the lawn, while some kicked back in their small nylon tents.
Ernest Melendrez, like many others who work for nonprofit organizations, is passionate about his job. The long hours, modest pay and oftentimes emotionally trying work require the deepest level of commitment. His passion for the work he does at Friends Outside, a nonprofit focused on prisoner reentry, comes from his own life experience. From the time he turned eight, Ernest found himself in and out of the juvenile and corrections systems in California and Arizona. By his final reentry into the “outside” in 2007, Ernest had made up his mind: He was ready to live. At only 35 he still had a lot of life to experience outside the walls of San Quentin and Folsom.
I sat down with Ernest last week to talk about his life both in and out of incarceration. As part of California’s prisoner re-alignment program, California’s 58 county jail systems will gradually begin housing and supervising thousands of nonviolent criminals and parole violators due to overcrowding in state prisons.
Zoos are complex places — literally. Each time I enter one, I’m filled with a nagging ambivalence between competing views and emotions. On one hand, I think about the animals forced to live in enclosed compounds far from their natural setting. But on the other hand, I’m filled with childlike awe and wonder as I watch gorillas, elephants, hippos and the many bird, amphibian, reptilian and mammalian specials that I’d never even heard of.
Zoos have made real progress in how they treat their captives. It’s no longer standard practice – as it was in the zoo of my youth – to keep the animals in small oppressive cages. Today, zoo enclosures mimic natural animal habitats. They’re bigger and have corners and caves where animals can hide from the crowds
So, I’ve come to the intellectual and emotional conclusion that zoos are good institutions that serve critically important public purposes.
In yesterday’s Los Angeles Times op-ed column, “LAANE Turns the Tables,” Jim Newton wrote about LAANE’s pro-active response to finding ourselves the targets of right-wing operatives.
This past May we learned that a major right-wing opposition research firm with ties to Karl Rove and Sarah Palin, and working for an unknown client, had set its sights on LAANE. MB Public Affairs had requested all records pertaining to LAANE from more than 70 elected officials and public agencies in the region. As Newton explained, “The inquiries were almost certainly aimed at unearthing some embarrassing tidbit that would, at best, make LAANE look bad or, at worst, cast some doubt on its tax-exempt status.”
The progressive movement has seen too many of these attacks in recent years, on individuals and organizations. Distortions and misrepresentations used in such attacks often aren’t set straight until after the damage has been done —
The front page of the L.A. Times recently had a story about some hip restaurants replacing serving staff with iPads. First of all, L.A. Times: front page above the fold? Really?
Now, let’s set aside what the latest twist in automation says about us and our social interactions with other human beings. Instead, I want to focus on the fairly obvious economic implications. With apologies to Martin Niemöller:
First, they came for the bank tellers, and I said nothing, for I was not a bank teller.
Then they came for the travel agents, and I said nothing, for I was not a travel agent.
Then they came for the supermarket cashiers, and I said nothing, for I was not a supermarket cashier.
Then they came for the food service workers,
I was recently asked to take part in a “role play” for a group of Hyatt hotel housekeepers in the basement of their union hall, in the Pico Union neighborhood of Los Angeles. Each had taken a leave of absence from work to talk with community leaders about conditions for room attendants in their hotels, and they needed a chance to practice. The women belong to UNITE HERE Local 11, and are part of a national campaign of housekeepers reaching out for community support of boycotts at several Hyatt properties.
Even though some of them knew me as an active supporter of hotel workers, first as a community volunteer and then as part of the LAANE staff, I agreed to play the director of an environmental organization with limited knowledge about the hotel industry. (This last part didn’t require much acting from me.)
Sometimes struggling to express themselves in English,
I’ve met more guys in the building trades that raise kids on their own than anywhere else in my life. That’s how I knew it was possible to do. I’m a single dad and I have primary custody of my son, Ayden. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the stability I got from working on the L.A. Live project.
Ayden is seven now. He just started second grade. Every day after school, I help him with his spelling and sentences. We do flashcards and memory games. I have him write down a daily paragraph from Kermit the Frog’s song, “It Ain’t Easy Being Green.”
I’ve been out-of-work as an ironworker for over a year — L.A. Live was the last long-term job I had. When I worked on the project, Ayden and I lived in Long Beach. I didn’t drive and took the Blue Line every day to the Staples Center When you work construction,
The American labor movement needs a jolt and Joe Burns’ new book, Reviving the Strike, delivers just the right shock treatment.
Debunking commonly held assumptions about labor’s inevitable decline and extinction, Burns, a veteran union lawyer, argues clearly and persuasively that worker power is still possible — but will require a dramatic shift in thinking and strategy.
Don’t expect standard academic or progressive bromides about “coalition-building,” “corporate campaigns,” “organizing-to-scale” or “social unionism.” In taking on some of the labor left’s sacred cows — living wage campaigns, worker centers, etc. — Burns praises and honors the commitment, brains and tenacity of activists. But these approaches, he suggests, lack the singular component necessary to transform power relations in the political economy. That, he contends, is the capacity to stop production.
Burns makes his case in a tightly-written narrative. After the union insurgencies of the 1930s, Congress and the courts imposed a system he calls “labor control,” one designed to disable unions’ principal and primary weapon: the strike.
Tom Morello went from playing guitar in the L.A. club band Lock Up to arena-stage stardom as a founder of Rage Against the Machine. The Harvard-educated Grammy winner’s many other music projects have included Audioslave and his current solo, accoustic incarnation called the Nightwatchman. He is the classic rebel in the rain, an all-seasons champion for the rights of the underdog, one who performs at protests from Madison to Wall Street.
On the eve of a new tour in support of his World Wide Rebel Songs LP, Morello spoke to the Frying Pan about his new comic book, protest and a certain president who, like Morello, has a Kenyan father and white mother.
What was the first thing that ever made you mad?
Well, growing up as the only black kid in my school was one thing, but as far as global events it was Bobby Sands’ hunger strike in Ireland.
Things are seldom what they seem. Sometimes the distance between what we think we see and what is actually there is the result of personal prejudices. Sometimes it’s influenced by a kind of factual gerrymandering created by official sources and reinforced by the media. Most vacationers, for example would choose Carnival-happy Brazil in a moment over drug war-scarred Mexico. Unless they knew that Mexico has only 11 homicides per 100,000 people while halcyon Brazil is a murder leader with 31 homicides per 100,000 – a fact that seldom appears on Rio brochures or on our own six o’clock news.
And so it is here in America, where our own perceptions of unemployment and poverty often clash with the facts. The official calculation for the number of people out of work puts it at a single-digit — nine percent — while in California it nips at the heels of 13 percent.
Across the country critics of the Obama administration’s multimillion-dollar support for Northern California’s Solyndra solar panel factory are railing against government stupidity. How is it possible, they ask, that federal and state governments could have invested hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in a company that went belly up? Why didn’t the officials take more precautions, do more research, put in place more safeguards? How could they have been so dumb and so wasteful of precious government dollars?
But really, what the conservative Obama critics are saying is that the federal government and states such as California and Wisconsin that invested millions in the company should have had more bureaucratic red tape. Yes, that most hated of terms, “red tape” is something that could have actually prevented a huge loss of government dollars in an unwise investment.
Extreme right-wing conservative Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan said it well in an article this week on Fox.com:
A few years ago the nonprofit, nonpartisan Los Angeles Economic Roundtable released a study that got too little attention. It found that union workers in the county earn 27 percent more than nonunion workers in the same jobs. These extra wages for the 800,000 union workers—17 percent of the labor force—added $7.2 billion a year in pay. As union workers spent their wages on food, clothing and other items, their additional buying power created 64,800 jobs and $11 billion in economic output. Let me repeat: $11 billion.
Clearly unions are good for the economy. But to hear business propaganda tell it, that 11 billion is the 11th Plague, because anything that moves the country away from an imaginary, 19th-century Utopia where business held all the cards, is to be avoided — like the plague.
This winner-take-all crowd should be happy because, in many ways, America today does resemble its Gilded Age of the late 1800s —