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(Editor’s Note: Yesterday Peter Dreier compared this year’s breakout film, The Help, to an earlier but more accurate Hollywood portrayal of the civil rights movement. Today Vivian Rothstein, a veteran of the Mississippi Freedom Summer, weighs in with comparisons of her own.)
From watching the recent box-office hit, The Help, you’d think the women’s liberation movement had triumphed by 1963, when the film is set. In the story, white women appear to be the primary enforcers of racial segregation; it would also seem that white and black women, working without any organizational support, can profoundly change social conditions — and that white women make the top decisions in literary publishing houses. None of which was true back when I went South to work in the 1965 Mississippi Freedom Summer project.
Men are nearly invisible in the film – so is the Jim Crow power structure that allowed Southern white men to perpetuate unequal school districts,
My dog sitter, Lezle Stein, is on fire. Let me be more precise. Lezle is a dog trainer, a shelter volunteer, animal advocate and a small business owner. She’s one of many who have been dealt a blow by this so-called recovery. When I drop off my whippet in the morning, we often check in. Lately, it’s been gloomy. There’s not been a class in weeks for Lezle to teach. She’s digging into her retirement savings. She’s looking for work to supplement her business income.
Suddenly, a week or two ago, she got a new lease on life. She had discovered Occupy L.A.. Her Facebook page lit up. She was watching movies about the labor movement. “I’m going to invite you to a meeting,” she warned one evening when I called to make arrangements for a dog drop-off.
So I went down to L.A. City Hall last Thursday to see what it was all about.
David Shoemaker, writing as The Masked Man on the sports site Grantland, describes a recent storyline on the professional wrestling TV show Raw, in which wrestlers and other employees walked off the job. The Masked Man sets off the fictional labor uprising against the actual – and unsurprisingly colorful – history of labor grievances in professional wrestling.
In one instance, wrestler and future Minnesota governor Jesse “The Body” Ventura attempted to organize a union, though he got little traction among fellow wrestlers. It was later revealed that Hulk Hogan had ratted him out to Vince McMahon. Ventura later won a significant lawsuit against his employers.
More recently, the Masked Man writes, “In 2008, three wrestlers — Raven, Chris Kanyon, and Mike Sanders — sued WWE for ‘cheating them out of health care and other benefits’ and insisted that the ‘independent contractor’ designation was a sham since WWE had ‘virtually complete dominion and control over its wrestlers.’”
The sham “independent contractor” designation is a serious issue for workers in more than a few industries.
(Editor’s Note: The Help, a Hollywood film set in the Deep South during the civil rights struggle, recently scored box office gold. It seemed a rare moment in which social activism was successfully married to commerce. But was historical accuracy sacrificed for popularity – especially to reach white audiences? Two veteran political activists discuss The Help and put it in context. Today Peter Dreier compares this movie with the lesser known The Long Walk Home. Tomorrow: Vivian Rothstein, who participated in the Mississippi Freedom Summer, offers another view of The Help.)
Film director Tate Taylor scored a late-summer box office smash with his adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s novel, The Help. A surprise hit with movie critics, too, The Help is set during the racial battles of 1963. It focuses on the efforts of African American maids to maintain their dignity despite the routine discrimination and vicious slights they confront while living in segregated Jackson,
As Occupy Wall Street approaches its one-month anniversary, protest zones have been spontaneously set up from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. Familiar bylines in America’s newspapers and on its blogs have, accordingly, been trying to explain the events.
1. The New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg tries, in this week’s Talk of the Town opener (“A Walk in the Park”), not to sound too much taken in by the spirit of the protest, while at the same time acknowledging the charm of its spontaneity: “They’re making it up on the fly. They don’t really know where it will take them, and they like it that way. Occupy Wall Street is a political project, but it is equally a cri de coeur, an exercise in constructive group dynamics, a release from isolation, resignation, and futility. The process, not the platform, is the point. Anyway, [it] is not the Brookings Institution.”
At this very moment, Los Angeles has no professional football team and hasn’t since the Raiders and Rams both left in 1995. No club in the NFL has publicly acknowledged that it would consider moving here, although there’s always talk. Yet the Anschutz Entertainment Group has an ambitious project vying to be the home of a future Los Angeles football team, one that the city itself should push to have a stake in.
Rumors of an L.A. move have ballooned over the past year. Specifically, the San Diego Chargers have emerged as the most likely NFL team to move here, where they played their first season in 1960. They currently have a year-to-year lease at Qualcomm Stadium, which flooded last December. Their new stadium would be AEG’s yet-to-be-built Farmers Field in downtown, a large, open venue with a sleek design and a retractable roof. The economics are big, too. It is projected to hire between 20,000 and 30,000 people,
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,