Truthout Stories Fri, 29 Jul 2016 10:06:05 -0400 en-gb Revealed: AARP Is Funding ALEC

AARP, the non-profit seniors organization that exists to promote the financial security, pensions and healthcare of those over 50, is secretly funding the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization whose bills have acted against the interests of ordinary Americans, including retirees and their families.

The Center for Media and Democracy has learned that AARP has recently joined ALEC, and that it is a named sponsor of the ALEC annual meeting taking place in Indianapolis, Indiana from July 27-29, 2016.

AARP isn't exactly hiding its new financial relationship with ALEC, at least to ALEC legislators. Its logo appears in the conference brochure (see here) and attendees at the conference were each provided with an AARP branded portable USB power pack as they registered for the event.

ALEC exists to help its corporate funders advance their lobbying agenda through pushing bills that ALEC peddles as national "model" legislation. As CMD has documented in numerous ways, ALEC is a pay-to-play operation.

Since CMD launched ALECexposed in 2011, more than 100 corporations have quit the group, with many echoing Eric Schmidt of Google who told NPR as his company quit ALEC: "I think the consensus within the company was that that was some sort of mistake and so we're trying to not do that in the future."

Here are just five (of the many) ways ALEC has acted against the interests of retirees and AARP members:

1) For more than a decade ALEC peddled a proposal to privatize key tax revenue for Social Security, which would undermine this crucial insurance program.

When it comes to social security, ALEC has cried wolf about the financial soundness of social security, proclaiming as recently as June 2016 that "leadership to reduce the debt must take place soon to prevent Social Security's insolvency in fewer than 20 years."

Such hyperbole is typical of ALEC, which fails to acknowledge that such "insolvency" could easily be fixed by lifting the Social Security Payroll tax earnings cap, currently set at $118,500.

ALEC's go-to solution to future potential shortfalls has been to privatize a portion of the tax revenue that would otherwise fund Social Security Insurance by putting it into private accounts.

In its "Resolution Urging Congress To Modernize the Social Security System With Personal Retirement Accounts (PRA's)," which corporate lobbyists voted on with legislators on its task force in secret in May 2000, ALEC claimed that "Social Security tax revenues alone will be insufficient to pay current benefits as early as the year 2015."

Yet as of 2016, despite these prognostications, social security remains healthy, solvent and wildly popular with the American public. It's no wonder that ALEC quietly has sought to distance itself from this long-standing "model" resolution by removing it from its website.

However, ALEC has done nothing to get that deeply flawed Resolution which was embraced by ALEC legislators revoked in state legislators. And ALEC has done nothing to educate its legislators that its privatization scheme for removing revenue streams from the Social Security trust fund was and remains a terrible idea.

Such privatization schemes have been promoted by ALEC's billionaire funders, the Koch Brothers. Charles Koch began attacking Social Security way back in the 1970s through his Cato Institute and David Koch ran on that policy in 1980. Koch-backed groups like ALEC have sought to privatize Social Security in a variety of ways.

ALEC has spread propaganda about Social Security to thousands of state legislators over several years, including through its proposal to take significant tax revenue out of the Social Security system as a guise to saving it, which would actually collapse the program.

But AARP is now funding ALEC.

2) ALEC has pushed bills that limit retirement security for public workers by attacking defined benefit pension plans in favor of riskier retirement options. 

Particularly, ALEC's "Defined Contribution Pension Reform Act" would push more workers away from negotiated retirement benefits to 401(k) plans that pose greater risks to pensioners' income security and can include more private fees to manage. Meanwhile, ALEC has assailed socially responsible investing efforts.

ALEC has used straw man arguments like claiming that the bankruptcy of Detroit was primarily caused by public pension insolvency and "should serve as a lesson" for lawmakers about pension agreements.

But as documented by DEMOS and others, "Detroit's bankruptcy was caused by a decrease in tax revenue due to a population decline and long-term unemployment, not an increase in the obligations to fund pensions."

As with its history of peddling of myths about Social Security along with its laughably inaccurate economic state "report cards," ALEC routinely uses bad math to shill for the agenda of its bankrollers, like the extremist billionaire Koch Brothers, an approach predicated on the organization's obedience to its pledge to never raise taxes, particularly on wealthy individuals and corporations (who not coincidentally fund ALEC).

3) ALEC has sought to amend the Constitution to pass a "Balanced Budget Amendment," which would destroy our economy and result in drastic cuts to discretionary government programs that help people's lives.

ALEC has dedicated significant resources to passing a Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA), peddling amendments, handbooks, and more to "educate" ALEC legislators.

As noted by CMD, the passage of such an amendment would constitute a massive threat to fiscal stability. Economists like Dean Baker warn that a balanced budget amendment would radically alter Social Security and Medicare, and would fundamentally limit the federal government's ability to respond to economic challenges and opportunities.

4)  ALEC bills would undermine Medicare and it continues to attack the Affordable Care Act, despite its protections for millions of Americans including Americans with pre-existing conditions, like AARP members who are not yet retirement age.

As noted by the healthcare industry whistleblower and CMD Fellow Wendell Potter in 2011, "ALEC has been at work for more than a decade on what amounts to a comprehensive wish list for insurers: from turning over the Medicare and Medicaid programs to them – assuring them a vast new stream of revenue – to letting insurers continue marketing substandard yet highly profitable policies while giving them protection from litigation."

5)  ALEC seeks to restrict limits on drug price gouging and aids its big donor, Big Pharma, in other ways.

Time and again, ALEC has supported model policies that benefit the bottom lines of pharmaceutical companies, like the organization's "Drug Liability Act," which would exempt drug makers from any punitive damages liability for the potential harms caused by their products if those products were previously approved by the Federal Food and Drug Administration.

Similarly, ALEC has opposed efforts to give Americans access to more affordable medications from Canada.

ALEC has even supported limits on non-pecuniary damages when a corporation is liable, meaning that someone who is retired and cannot show lost income can receive lesser damages for pain and suffering. ALEC's bill on this was applied by ALEC legislators in Wisconsin to lawsuits against nursing homes to limit their payouts to victims of nursing home neglect or mistreatment who prove that the skilled nursing industry's practices harmed them or their beloved parents or grandparents.

These are just a few of the many ways ALEC legislation hurts Americans, in addition to its legacy of making it harder for Americans to vote and thwarting efforts to address climate changes that are harming our planet and our families and future.

News Fri, 29 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Both Parties Are Playing the Mexico Card

Surprisingly, Mexico has taken center stage in this year's U.S. presidential elections.

While it has been cast mainly as the villain, the unexpected spotlight has sent politicians and activists on both sides of the border seeking to get their message out. If they've learned anything from the Trump playbook in the past months, it's that negative attention is still free publicity.

The July 22 visit of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to Washington played up Mexico's role in U.S. electoral politics. Since Republican candidate Donald Trump first launched his peculiar brand of invective against Mexico and Mexican migrants, he and his party have been mining an unexpectedly rich vein of anti-Mexican racism and xenophobia in U.S. society. Meanwhile, Democrats and Latino rights organizations have been thrown into defensive mode.

Mexico as an election-year wedge issue was the unspoken theme of Obama and Peña Nieto's last meeting. In the joint press conference, The Donald was the elephant in the White House. Obama began with a direct reference to he-who-shall-not-be-named: "Let me start off by saying something that bears repeating, especially given some of the heated rhetoric that we sometimes hear: The United States values tremendously our enduring partnership with Mexico and our extraordinary ties of family and friendship with the Mexican people."

The meeting sought to remind the U.S. public that it's impossible to cut ties with Mexico -- whether by building a wall, deporting some 11 million mostly Mexican immigrants, or canceling trade agreements, all of which Trump has proposed.

It also sought to woo the Latino vote, which could make the difference in this year's elections -- a fact that both Obama and Hillary Clinton are well aware of.

For Peña Nieto, the visit offered an opportunity to score some foreign policy points just as he's he tanking domestically. The Mexican president's approval ratings have hit an all-time low at 29 percent. His government's involvement and cover-up in the case of the 43 disappeared students from Ayotzinapa, the restructuring of the education system that led to widespread protests from teachers and parents, the police killing of nine of those protesters, and the peso's freefall have left his presidency battered with two more years to go.

Peña Nieto first saw Trump's virulent anti-Mexicanism as a way to unite the country around something that wasn't opposition to his presidency. Now, with the Republican candidate looking like a possible winner, he backed off earlier criticisms (saying his comparison of Trump's tone to Mussolini and Hitler was taken out of context) and repeatedly stated his willingness to work with whomever the U.S. public elects.

Of course, he has no choice. As the presidents pointed out, $1.5 billion in trade and investment cross the border every day. The two countries need each other, but Mexico's dependency on the U.S. is particularly notorious.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is the main reason. Like leap year, NAFTA pops up every four years -- when U.S. presidential candidates scramble to disassociate themselves from it.

NAFTA is especially toxic in critical blue-collar states, and there's no getting around the fact that the agreement has been a disaster for U.S. workers. Although Trump portrays it as Mexico "winning," it also hurt Mexicans, sending migration rates soaring in the early 1990s as small farmers were displaced en masse. Obama sunk Hillary Clinton's boat in 2008 in part based on the Clintons' support of NAFTA. As president, though, he turned around and promoted an expanded versión -- the regional Trans-Pacific partnership, or TPP. Now the TPP may be on the ropes, as both Trump and Clinton have stated they oppose it. Trump has gone further, openly calling for renegotiation or cancellation of NAFTA.

At the press conference, the presidents walked a fine line between defending the trade relationship and avoiding providing fodder for the Trump fire. When Peña Nieto praised twenty years of NAFTA and plugged the Trans-Pacific Partnership as a continuation of that policy, Obama jumped in, stating, "We've learned from our experience in NAFTA what's worked and what hasn't." He assured listeners that "a number of the provisions inside of the Trans-Pacific Partnership address some previous criticisms of NAFTA."

Their united front on the issue became another opportunity to take a shot at the Trump platform: "Global integration is a fact," Obama stated. "We're not going to be able to build a wall around that."

The presidents also made common cause on immigration, again with an anti-Trump subtext. Obama reiterated his commitment to comprehensive immigration reform, rebutting the Trump image of an unprecedented immigrant "invasion" by pointing out that rates of undocumented immigration were much higher during the Reagan and Bush administrations. For his part, Peña Nieto thanked the Obama administration for supporting the "35 million people of Mexican origin living in the U.S." -- a figure that highlights the Latino vote and changing demographics, but strikes fear in the hearts of Trump supporters.

One more point completed the Obama-Peña appeal to U.S. voters -- a pledge to fight the heroin epidemic, which is a major campaign issue in some regions. "I applaud President Peña Nieto's commitment to combating organized crime and for developing a new plan to curb poppy cultivation and heroin production," Obama noted. They announced the creation of a high-level task force focused on heroin production and trafficking.

In the end, the mutual back-patting may not have done much to advance either president's goals or stop the Trump momentum. Mexican Americans are not necessarily big Peña Nieto fans, and the nod of support to measures like the TPP and oil privatization could create distance rather than rapport with post-NAFTA economic migrants. The omission of human rights on the bilateral agenda alienates young Mexican Americans protesting Mexican government repression, and neither president seems to recognize growing skepticism around the joint drug war, which has dramatically increased violence in Mexico and driven hundreds to seek asylum in the United States.

The point is that that binational relationship is complicated. But when politics gets this polarized -- and ominously visceral -- real solutions vanish. The reality of the relationship today is neither the glowing scenario of the presidential summits or the doomsday scenario of the Trump camp. There's a lot that needs to be fixed in U.S.-Mexico relations. But building border walls, spewing hate speech, and destroying migrant families won't fix it.

Donald Trump is now leading in the polls. A Trump presidency would have grave repercussions for U.S. foreign policy throughout the world. But nowhere will it be more damaging than in the country that would be physically cut off by the new Imperial Walled Nation of the United States of America: Mexico.

News Fri, 29 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Yo, Texas: Protecting Transgender Rights Is Not Dangerous, but Discrimination Is

Washington and 12 other states have filed an amicus brief opposing a Texas-led lawsuit against the federal directive on transgender rights to bathroom access, calling it discriminatory and based on unfounded safety concerns.

Safety concerns are unfounded, says a 13-state amicus brief against the Texas challenge to bathroom access.Safety concerns are unfounded, says a 13-state amicus brief against the Texas challenge to bathroom access. (Photo: hermitsmoores / Flickr)

A dozen states and the District of Columbia have a message for Texas: The sky does not fall when policy makers seek protections for transgender people.

In an amicus brief filed with a federal court in Texas on Wednesday, the attorneys general of 12 states and the District of Columbia, led by Attorney General Bob Ferguson of Washington, came out swinging against a Texas-led lawsuit challenging the Obama administration's May 2016 guidance directing public schools to protect the civil rights of transgender students, including their right to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their gender.

Texas and 10 other states filed a lawsuit against the guidance soon after, claiming that school districts that choose not to comply with the guidance could lose federal funding under Title IX, the federal statute that protects against gender discrimination in public schools. The Education and Justice Departments have released guidance saying that Title IX protects against discrimination based on both biological sex and gender identity, a move that opponents say circumvents Congress.

The states, which include Oklahoma, Louisiana, Wisconsin and several others with socially conservative administrations, have asked a federal court in Wichita Falls, Texas to issue an injunction against the Obama administration that would block the federal government from issuing guidelines that prohibit employers and school districts from discriminating against transgender people, particularly when it comes to using the bathroom.

Washington and the other states filing the amicus brief in opposition to the request for an injunction have all instituted explicit protections for transgender people or modified anti-discrimination laws to include "gender identity." They argue that their experience shows that Texas and its allies have no grounds to continue policies that allow discrimination against people on the basis of gender identity.

"We are clear that our experience [has been] a positive one, and I think the court can benefit from our perspective," Ferguson told reporters on Wednesday. In a statement, he called the Texas lawsuit "just another example of the discrimination that transgender individuals experience" and denounced it as an attempt to "hide behind unfounded safety concerns."

The plaintiffs argue that an injunction is needed because school districts will either lose Title IX funding or be forced to spend a considerable amount of money remodeling bathrooms to accommodate transgender students. Moreover, the plaintiffs, which include rural school districts in Texas and Arizona, also reference concerns over "safety" and "sex crimes" in school bathrooms, perpetuating hateful myths about transgender people -- particularly transgender women -- that have been debunked many times over.

However, the states opposed to the injunction point out that schools are not actually required to build "single user" restrooms to accommodate transgender students and quell the concerns of parents. The experience of school districts in more progressive states shows such measures are unnecessary. Public schools in Los Angeles, for example, report that they have had "no issues, problems or lawsuits" since instituting a 2004 policy that allows transgender students to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender.

Nearly 20 states offer protections for transgender people in one way or another, and none of the states have experienced an increase in sexual violence since instituting the policies -- some as far back as 25 years ago, according to the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women, an organization that represents shelters and crisis centers in 43 states.

"We've protected gay and transgender people from discrimination in Washington for 10 years, with no increase in public safety incidents as a result," said former Snohomish County Sherriff John Lovick, who is quoted in the amicus brief opposing the injunction request.

Ferguson and his allies argue that Texas does not face "irreparable injury" if its schools comply with the federal guidance, rather it's the transgender individuals -- who already face high rates of violence -- who are likely to be harmed by continued discrimination in schools, which causes "stigma, isolation and exclusion."

The plaintiffs have no real data to back up their claims, which are more likely based in "negative attitudes, misunderstandings or misplaced fear about transgender people," says Ferguson.

The federal court in Wichita Falls has a history of siding with Texas in its challenges against federal policies and some observers expect that the case will eventually end up in the US Supreme Court.

The states that joined Washington in filing the brief supporting transgender rights are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont and the District of Columbia.

Plaintiffs supporting Texas' case are Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Maine, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Utah and Georgia.

Arkansas, Kansas, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota and Wyoming filed a similar lawsuit challenging the Obama administration's transgender guidance earlier this month.

News Fri, 29 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Economic Update: Economic Crisis, Fascism and History

This episode discusses inequality in India's, the poverty in Philidelphia behind the DNC's front, new union initiatives, Starbuck's profiteering and the gutting of the federal estate tax. We also interview Adam Hochschild on the economic crisis, fascism and Spain's civil war.

To see more stories like this, visit Economic Update: Your Weekly Dose of Revolutionary Economics

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News Fri, 29 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Trump Gets His Talking Points From White Supremacist Twitter Accounts

2016.7.28.DT.Trump.mainDonald Trump in Reno, Nevada, January 10, 2016. (Photo: Darron Birgenheier / Flickr)Donald Trump's call on Russia to hack and release Hillary Clinton's deleted emails was one of the stranger moments in what's been one of the stranger campaigns in US history.

It was a sign that Trump is either stupid or trying to join the Ronald Reagan/Richard Nixon club of Republicans who have betrayed their country to get elected president.

But as bizarre as it was, Trump's "Russian request" wasn't the most interesting part of his press conference yesterday in Tampa, Florida -- that came when he accused Vladimir Putin of calling President Obama "the N-Word."

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.

He said, "Putin has said things over the last year that are really bad things, okay? He mentioned the N-word one time. I was shocked to hear him mention the N-word. You know what the N-word is, right? He mentioned it. I was shocked."

So, there is almost zero chance that what Trump said happened actually happened.

As Robert Mackey points out in The Intercept, it's never been reported in any reputable news outlet anywhere the world, and since Trump himself admits that he's never met Putin, there's no chance the Russian President said it to him in private.

So if Trump didn't hear Putin calling President Obama the N-word himself, and didn't read about him saying it in a newspaper, where did he get the idea that it happened (assuming, of course, that he's not just making this all up for show)?

Well, as Robert Mackey goes on to explain in his Intercept piece, right-wing racists on Twitter have been daydreaming for years about the idea that Putin calls President Obama the N-word.

For example, one Twitter user who goes by the name "Craig-infidel" and calls himself an "Arch-conservative" tweeted back in July, 2013, "I'll bet you a dollar to a donut that Putin uses the "N" word when talking about Obama!"

Another Twitter user named Jasper Mallis sent out a similar tweet in 2014, quoting the hard-right website Free Republic as saying, "'I bet that Putin and his advisers use the N word constantly when discussing how to deal with Obama.'"

In other words, unless Trump simply pulled this line out of his backside, he got it from reading Twitter -- and believing everything he reads!

This actually isn't the first time Trump has drawn inspiration from neo-Nazis and racists on Twitter.

Just a few weeks ago, he sent out and then quickly deleted a tweet with an image of Hillary Clinton in front of a background of dollar bills and what appeared to be a Star of David. later traced that image to a neo-Nazi message board.

A few months before that, Trump retweeted a graphic that claimed that 81 percent of murdered white people are killed by Black people. The person who originally tweeted that graphic was a neo-Nazi whose Twitter account featured a Swastika avatar and openly praised Hitler.

Obviously, Twitter can be a confusing place. Everyone tweets irresponsible things now and then.

But with Trump, these mistakes aren't really mistakes -- they're a feature, not a bug, of his candidacy.

This is scientific fact. One recent study by the social media analytics company Little Bird found that over the course of just one week in January, "62 percent of the people Trump retweeted also followed white supremacist accounts."

In other words, neo-Nazis really like Donald Trump, and he likes them back.

This is unsettling enough already, but what's really scary is that if yesterday's N-word comments are any indication, the relationship between Trump and his neo-Nazi Twitter followers could be more than just one of mutual flattery.

It now looks like Trump could actually believe what those neo-Nazis think.

This is absolutely terrifying.

Here we have a candidate for the most powerful political office in the world openly flirting with the darkest fringes of the far-right.

And even if Trump doesn't believe what these people think, he's bringing their ideas out in the open by tweeting memes and giving them shout-outs in press conferences.

He's not making America great again; he's making US white supremacy acceptable again.

Trump is a racist and a crypto-fascist, and the many of the people who actually are paying attention to his policies and still support him are even worse.

Opinion Thu, 28 Jul 2016 17:13:59 -0400
Rep. Keith Ellison: DNC Sanders Protestors Are "Actually Helping Us"

Bernie supporters raise their signs at the Democratic National Convention, July 25, 2016. In a week when Democrats focused on the national election, progressives emphasized the need for local organizing.Bernie supporters raise their signs at the Democratic National Convention, July 25, 2016. In a week when Democrats focused on the national election, progressives emphasized the need for local organizing. (Photo: Myles Bess / Youth Radio)

There is a growing recognition on the left that an election is only one of many avenues for change-making. The organizing work taking place at the community-level -- wholly outside the DNC hall -- has the greater power to push a progressive agenda.

Bernie supporters raise their signs at the Democratic National Convention, July 25, 2016. In a week when Democrats focused on the national election, progressives emphasized the need for local organizing.Bernie supporters raise their signs at the Democratic National Convention, July 25, 2016. In a week when Democrats focused on the national election, progressives emphasized the need for local organizing. (Photo: Myles Bess / Youth Radio)

Democrats in Philadelphia have spent this week reckoning with powerful divisions within their party, most visibly from Bernie Sanders delegates attempting to push the party to the left. The big question of the week is: what will the movement inspired by Sanders look like now that Hillary Clinton has secured the nomination?

On Tuesday, a small group of elected officials from around the country gathered at the Ethical Humanist Society of Philadelphia. The meeting was hosted by four leadership organizations, including Local Progress, a coalition of local officials organized around pushing progressive legislation at the local level. The theme of the morning was Local Progress' organizing principle: Regardless of what goes on at the federal level, municipalities have tremendous power to make meaningful change.

"All politics really is local," Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison told the group. "When people think about politics, they generally don't think about Washington, D.C. They think about downtown." That's important for local elected officials, he argued, because they have an opportunity to harness the energy of grassroots community organizers and use it for leverage to create meaningful legislative change.

The Bernie protesters making their presence known this week, Ellison argued, should not be seen as a problem by members of the Democratic Party. "They're actually helping us," he argued. "The change that they are demanding and giving energy to, you can give voice to."

During a week where every ounce of political energy is focused on the presidential election, Local Progress posits that the work done on school boards and city councils can both counter regressive federal policy and also influence it from the left. "We were founded on the belief that, when action and policy move at the local level, it can change the politics," Sarah Johnson, co-director of Local Progress, told Truthout. "It changes the national environment, what's acceptable to talk about."

At the same time, the Sanders campaign and its aftermath show the impact that a national campaign can have on state and local legislatures. Christian Bowe, a member of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), says that in his home state of New Jersey, the battle for raising the minimum wage for fast food workers has been undeniably influenced by Sanders' campaign. "That's legislation that, if Bernie was not running, wouldn't have gone through either of the state legislatures," Bowe says. He also credits Fight for 15's victory in New York. "Once New York passed it, that put a lot of pressure on Democrats in New Jersey."

For DSA, says Bowe, the end of the Sanders campaign is a critical moment for organizing. "[Sanders] is definitely not a 'cult of personality' thing. We're backing any kind of labor struggle really strongly."

Mindy Isser, an organizer born and raised in Philadelphia, also spoke about the importance of labor organizing in the wake of the Democratic primary. "To build off the Sanders campaign, to build off the movement that we've been seeing everywhere, we need our unions to be more left-wing and we need rank-and-file members to be politicized," says Isser. She works on campaigns around public education and housing, and while she thinks that a progressive councilmember like Philadelphia's Helen Gym is a positive development for the city's politics, it's not nearly enough. She speaks of the importance of not only running more left-leaning candidates, but also "moving powerful people more left" after they take office.

Maintaining that pressure from the left after a candidate is elected can be the bigger challenge -- the Local Progress meeting was making apparent. The type of mutually beneficial relationship between community groups and elected officials described by Local Progress was at play in the elections of both New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, whose campaigns capitalized on widespread sentiment against Stop and Frisk. The opposition to Stop and Frisk had been cultivated for years by community groups organizing against racist policing. But in the moments before Mark-Viverito addressed the crowd, those same groups took to Twitter to criticize her. Mark-Viverito recently derailed the Right to Know Act -- a police reform measure that would require police to identify themselves during stops -- by making what The New York Times called a "backroom deal" with the NYPD. Tweets tagging Local Progress and #DemsinPhilly implored Mark-Viverito to pass the bill.

"It's good to be skeptical of local elected officials," says Joe Dinkin, the national communications director for the Working Families Party. "That's the only way we can hold them accountable."

This week has seen a lot of cynicism and frustration with the electoral process, especially for people to the left of the Democratic party. But, says Dinkin, organizing around elections still matters, "for people who believe that democracy can be about making policies that actually improve people's lives and address inequities, and that government can be a tool for good... we have to use all the democratic tools at our disposal to push them in the right direction."

The election of a figure like de Blasio at the local level, and the success of Sanders at a national level, gives visibility to the progressive base in this country.

"Maybe the most important thing the Sanders campaign accomplished was proving that there is actually a huge constituency in America for a much bolder policy agenda than we often get to hear in mainstream politics," says Dinkin.

Meanwhile, Ellison pointed out, it's important to remember that -- even though election years tend to cast all politics as electoral politics -- elections are one of many avenues for change-making.

"Holding elected office is not the only way to make justice," Representative Ellison reminded the crowd at Local Progress. "Martin Luther King, Jr. never held office. My man Van Jones never held public office. It's not the only way to make change. But we know that it's a way to make change." As progressives move forward from the DNC, it's a good reminder that, often, the work taking place wholly outside of the convention hall has the greatest power to make change on the ground.

News Fri, 29 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Lessons in Activism: Middle School Students Advocate for Syrian Refugees

Nassim Zerriffi's activism campaign class introduces middle-schoolers to the complexities of history, the realities of ISIS and why Syrians are fleeing their country. An effective activism curriculum doesn't deny these types of realities. Rather, it helps students find ways to defy reality with actions and in the process, learn that even the smallest acts matter.

2016.7.28.Drake.MainManhattan Country School students hold a banner in front of the White House. (Photo: Ian Weill)

The following article could only be published thanks to support from our readers. To fund more stories like it, make a donation to Truthout by clicking here!

On the last day before spring break at Manhattan Country School, a progressive school in New York City, the 7th and 8th graders were busy at work with their activism campaign, "Build Bridges, Not Borders." In one classroom, a group of students gathered near the phone, waiting for their turn to call Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office to encourage the resettlement of Syrian refugees in New York. In another room, students practiced their talking points and arguments in anticipation of their lobbying trip to Washington, DC, where they would ask congressional representatives to oppose bills that would block the refugee resettlement process and sign a resolution that would condemn hateful rhetoric against Muslims in the United States.

Groups of students rotated through the various classrooms until they arrived at a mock refugee screening process. Here, teachers pretended to be interrogators and security agents as they took the students through the nine steps asylum seekers have to go through before they even enter the United States, and explaining that there are more steps after that and that it takes an average of 18-24 months to complete the process. The idea was to refute the common argument that a "terrorist" or ISIS member may come into the country disguised as a Syrian refugee, and to help the students understand what refugees who are escaping war and violence have to go through as they attempt to resettle.

This is not a standard curriculum course, but it is part of what 7th and 8th graders learn in a school committed to activism and social justice.

Each year, the 7th and 8th graders at this sliding-scale tuition school in New York City, where I teach Spanish, vote on a topic for their class to take on with activism. This year, a group of 38 students decided to tackle Islamophobia and raise money to go to Washington, DC, to participate in the National Day of Action led by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and lobby to let more Syrian refugees into the United States. The students searched for answers to questions, such as: What is Islamophobia? What is Islam? Is ISIS representative of Islam? How did Muslim scholars and scientists contribute to the European Renaissance? What is the experience of a Syrian person who is trying to resettle in the United States? How can we speak out against hate speech and anti-Muslim bigotry? This inquiry was a central part of the education of these 13- and 14-year-olds as they created and carried out their activism campaign.

Teaching About Reality Without Giving Up Hope 

Teaching activism to middle school students matters. Years before high school and college, when the need to belong is at its strongest -- young teens want to be part of something that can help them feel more powerful -- that pull toward "belonging" is a source of untapped potential. "This could be done through a clique, a sports team, a rock band, or a school's activism program," Nassim Zerriffi, a 7th and 8th grade teacher at Manhattan Country School, told me in an email.

Knowing that we don't live in isolation and that separation is fundamental to oppression, Zerriffi tells his students that "activism is the only logical response to a thorough understanding of history." Teaching activism allows for positive risk-taking and group identity, conveys empathy and a sense of agency and uses ideas as instruments to solve social problems by acting on the world.

"I do encounter many skeptics." Zerriffi says. "Sometimes people initially look scornfully at children doing activism. That itself should be a sign that there's something there."

For the campaign around Syrian refugees, students learned about the complexities of history, the realities of ISIS and why Syrians are fleeing their country. An effective activism curriculum doesn't deny these types of realities. Rather, it helps students find ways to defy reality with actions and in the process, learn that even the smallest acts matter. Students learned that the US announced plans to resettle at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next fiscal year, but that this isn't enough. After the Paris attacks last November, the House of Representatives immediately passed a bill that could severely limit the acceptance of people fleeing from Syria and Iraq. Students discussed the consequences of that legislation in activism class as they depicted and critiqued the SAFE Act bill. "We'd like the representative to oppose the SAFE Act, which lengthens the process for refugees to apply for asylum. We'd also like you to oppose the Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act (HR 4731), which gives the government the power to defund certain refugee resettlement agencies," wrote Carolina, 13, in one of the talking points she prepared for the class's lobbying trip to D.C. "We'd also like people in Congress to speak out against Islamophobia and bigotry against Muslims and refugees ... they already have a tough life fleeing terrorism and oppressive government," said Vidar, who is 14 years old.

2016.7.28.DrakeLobby Day in DCA group of 7th and 8th grade students sitting in a round table in Washington, DC, making their case for Syrian refugees. (Photo: Ian Weill)

The students' activism class also examined some of the myths around refugees. For example, some politicians insist ISIS agents could sneak in with refugees, implicitly linking ISIS with the Syrian refugee crisis. Before Donald Trump clinched the Republican presidential nomination, both he and Marco Rubio agreed that the US should turn away Syrian refugees for now, and both bandied about the possibility of closing mosques in the wake of the Paris attacks -- being more explicit about connecting Islamophobia to those fleeing Syria. As these current events developed, the 7th and 8th graders learned that the process to enter the United States is anything but easy. They were taken through a refugee screening and background check simulation by teachers who wanted to help them understand the refugee experience. During an assembly, a group of students in the activism committee shared what they learned with 5th and 6th graders, and also took them through the simulated screening process to help explain how improbable it would be for a "terrorist" to filter through that process.

The Muslim faith of millions of Syrian refugees has become a flashpoint in the US, where anti-Islamic sentiment is on the rise. To learn more about Islam, students explored Islamic art and culture through museum trips and hands-on activities. The school also invited guest speakers from the Arab American Association of New Yorkto talk about how Islamophobia affects their lives and communities, such as having NYPD spying on them. Mirna Haidar and Aber Kawas, two organizers from the association, shared their personal stories with the students about seeing negative Muslim stereotypes in the media and experiencing surveillance as part of normal life.

To raise funds for this trip, the students filmed a short video expressing why the US should let in more refugees, how Islamophobia prevents that and what current US residents can do to help. Although the activism campaign was able to reach a broad audience and raise enough money to cover trip expenses, students also had to learn to defend their case with those who opposed their cause. The groups who met with representatives from more conservative states had to explain to them how some of their fears and reasoning were grounded in flawed beliefs. "It is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to convince those who have illogical fears to accept more refugees," wrote Giacomo, 14, in his activism class reflections. "The best we can do is convince those in favor of saving lives to say so publically and change the broken narrative we have of these innocent people."

Before the students' trip to DC, New York City lawyers who belong to the AILA explained to the class the basics of immigration law, and gave talking point ideas to students, who had to write their own arguments supporting Syrian refugee resettlement and against Islamophobia as part of their homework assignments. "I was able to develop my public speaking skills as well as my ability to persuade," wrote Giacomo, who was straightforward when arguing with a Missouri representative staff member, saying "it makes no logical sense for a terrorist to come into the US through the refugee system."

"The AILA lawyers called me 'bad ass' afterwards," Giacomo added in his reflections.

2016.7.28.Drake.Karahmma Lawyer and KidsIn Washington, DC, 7th and 8th graders meet with KARAMAH: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights. (Photo: Ian Weill)

Once in DC, students also met with Aisha Rahman, executive director of KARAMAH and head of the organization's Family Law Division, who gave the group a brief overview of the organization's work and engaged the students in a case study. She concluded by offering suggestions on how to counter some of the big misconceptions about Muslims, specifically Muslim women, circulating in the media. "At Karamah, I learned that children are forced to go to court without a lawyer, and that nine [out of] every 10 [undocumented] children get deported," wrote Jessica, 13, in her reflections. "The case study showed me how hard it is for an undocumented person to get a visa and taught me to think about the problems undocumented people face."

Assuming Responsibility for Younger Generations

Philosopher Hannah Arendt, who describes education as "the task of renewing a common world," argued that "education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it." Teaching activism is central to this task. "If other people were to take one thing from our trip to D.C., it would be the difference between being activists and learning about activism," wrote Jack, 13, in his reflection. "Our day of lobbying was one of the first times I felt that I was having a positive impact on the world, which felt much better than brainstorming how I can convince Congress to help more Syrian refugees. If you want to make a change, do it; don't just think about it."

"Kids want to, and need to, take risks," said Zerriffi. "Talking to strangers on the street, public speaking, meeting elected officials and others in fancy offices with leather chairs, marching down the street chanting at the top of their lungs." In his teaching experience, Zerriffi says, "Just about every time, some kid is like, 'We get to do this? We're allowed to yell on the street like this?' It's exciting and feels disobedient and it's their right."

Ultimately, the experience of pushing for tangible change -- loudly -- makes a much deeper and more lasting impression than a textbook, Zerriffi added. "This is what democracy feels like, and it's a powerful thing for a group of young people to yell."

Getting the younger students in the school on board was also a learning process. After the DC trip, once they had grasped the issues as deeply as possible, 7th graders made their own lesson plans and were invited as guest speakers to teach activism to younger students.

"Does anyone know what Islamophobia is?" asked Osiris, 13, introducing the lesson to a class of 5th graders who gave him their complete attention. Two other students passed around a cartoon image with the text "Muslim Shooter = 1.3 billion people held accountable,"to show how some people are more prone to be categorized as "terrorists."

Anika, who is 11, raised her hand to say, "It's showing that all Muslims are held accountable for the actions of one person."

Interpreting another image -- of a white shooter classified as a Lone Wolf with emotional issues -- Gabi, 11, said: "For the white people, it shows them like they have emotional issues or were trying to do the right thing if they shot someone, but are not as 'bad' as a Black or Muslim person."

The 4th graders participated in several sessions on the foundations of Islam and the influence of Islamic culture on American music, taught by the activism coordinator. They also had 7th graders show profiles of Syrian refugees featured on the Humans of New York website. "It felt empowering to teach kids about it. Because you are passing it out to the next generation," said Osiris.

"I want you to imagine for a second every single child in the New York City school system, all 1.1 million or so," Zerriffi said. "Imagine them all walking out of school and refusing to go back until an agreed-upon set of demands are met. Think about how much potential political power there is in youth!"

Envisioning a scenario where hope is grounded in acts of defiance helps us see that no issue is truly hopeless.

News Thu, 28 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Michael Eric Dyson vs. Eddie Glaude on Race, Hillary Clinton and the Legacy of Obama's Presidency

On Wednesday night, President Obama addressed the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia and implored the nation to vote for Hillary Clinton. As Obama seeks to pass the torch to his secretary of state, we host a debate on Hillary Clinton, her rival Donald Trump and President Obama's legacy between Princeton University professor Eddie Glaude and Georgetown University professor Michael Eric Dyson. Glaude's most recent book is Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul, and he recently wrote an article for Time magazine headlined "My Democratic Problem with Voting for Hillary Clinton." Dyson is the author of The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America and wrote a cover article for the New Republic titled, "Yes She Can: Why Hillary Clinton Will Do More for Black People Than Obama."


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, our two weeks of two-hour specials daily, "Breaking with Convention: War, Peace and the Presidency." I'm Amy Goodman. We're broadcasting this week from the Democratic National Convention here in Philadelphia. To talk more about the convention, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and President Obama's legacy, we're joined by two guests.

Eddie Glaude is chair of the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University. His most recent book is Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul. He recently wrote an article for Time magazine headlined "My Democratic Problem with Voting for Hillary Clinton."

Also with us, Michael Eric Dyson, a Georgetown University professor, author of many books, including The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America. Last November, he wrote a cover article for the New Republic titled "Yes She Can: Why Hillary Clinton Will Do More for Black People Than Obama."

Professors Michael Eric Dyson and Eddie Glaude, thanks so much for joining us.

EDDIE GLAUDE: Thanks for having us.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Thanks for having us.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let's start with you, Professor Dyson, on this issue of why Hillary Clinton, you say, will do more for African Americans than President Obama.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Well, I was making that argument in the context of a host of things, the least -- not the least of which is that President Obama, for a variety of reasons, has been hamstrung, has been disinclined to deal with race, has been hesitant and procrastinating about engaging race. And I think that Hillary Clinton, for many of those reasons, will be more forthcoming. She's spoken, I think, very intelligently about implicit bias. She has asked white people to hold themselves accountable vis-à-vis white privilege. She's been talking about systemic racism, as well as individual acts of bigotry and violence. So, I think, in the aggregate, when we look at the degree to which she is capable, because of that very white privilege, to speak about race, in a way that Obama, even if he chose to be more forthcoming, would be categorized and put in a black box, in a certain way, that she has both the drive, the intelligence, the ability and the privilege to speak about it in a way that he is perhaps not only disinclined to do so, but maybe restricted, in his own mind.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Eddie Glaude?

EDDIE GLAUDE: Well, you know, I understand the claim around the limits or the constraints faced -- Obama faced, but I think the claims around Hillary Clinton are basically aspirational, because there's no real -- there are no real -- there's no real evidence in her immediate past of any kind of genuine and deep concern about the material conditions of black life. And so, in other words, what I'm suggesting is that part of what -- the problem is that we can't infer from anything that she's done that when she gets in office, that she's going to change and address the circumstances of black folk in any substantive way, or the most vulnerable in any substantive way, because at the end of the day, I think, Hillary Clinton is a corporate Democrat, that she is committed to a neoliberal economic philosophy.

AMY GOODMAN: What does "neoliberal philosophy" mean?

EDDIE GLAUDE: Well, a neoliberal economic philosophy involves a kind of understanding that the notion of the public good is kind of undermined by a basic market logic that turns us all into entrepreneurs, where competition and rivalry define who we are, where the state's principal function -- right? -- is to secure the efficient functioning of the economy and the defense, and creating the market conditions whereby you and I can pursue our own self-interest. And part of what that does, if we only read it as an economic philosophy and not understand it as a kind of political rationale producing particular kinds of subjects, who are selfish, who are self-interested, who are always in competition with one another, then we lose sight of how neoliberalism attacks the political imagination. So the interesting question that I ask of Hillary Clinton is that, will she fundamentally change the circumstances that are at the heart of the problem facing this country? In fact, I think she's illustrative of the problem confronting the country.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Well, I mean, that's interesting.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Dyson?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: I mean, obviously, I agree with your analysis of neoliberalism. But in terms of dissecting the constitutive elements that make up what neoliberal vision is, we'd have to -- given what you were talking about in terms of self-interest and competition, we'd have to say Bernie Sanders exhibits, in a profound way, some of the same elements, if that becomes the litmus test.

EDDIE GLAUDE: No, we're all in it, though.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Right? So, if we're all in it, that means then the distinction makes no difference, because, ultimately, if you're talking about affecting material conditions of black people, I think that not only does she vote 93 percent of the same way that Bernie Sanders voted, say, as one, if you will, lodestar for what a progressive politics might look like, it's not simply about inference. It's about the fact that she's spent her time working with Marian Wright Edelman. It's about the way in which, as a first lady, she championed causes that black people could not only be concerned about, but were involved with. It's not only the fact that, as a senator and then as a secretary of state, her awareness of what ethnicity and race and, of course, gender, those differences, might make at least provide the platform for her to articulate that vision. And more especially, in the aftermath of racial crisis in America, she has responded in a way to mobilize the public understanding of those interests.

So, for me, if material interests are the predicate for us determining the legitimacy or efficacy of a particular policy, yeah, it's aspirational, but I want that aspiration to be about taking black life seriously. I want that aspiration to be about what we can do to transform the fundamental condition of our people. And I know, given the fact that Cory Booker has a prominent blurb on your book that's supporting you --

EDDIE GLAUDE: Oh, but we disagree.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Right, I know you disagree, but I'm saying you disagree with him, but you're still in league with him in terms of your analysis of what happens, even though -- and I'm a fan of Cory Booker, but the devastating analysis of the consequences of neoliberalism in Newark.

EDDIE GLAUDE: Absolutely, absolutely.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: So, I'm saying, so all of us are going to be associated with people who are not perfect --

EDDIE GLAUDE: Nobody -- but let's be --

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: -- but we've got to figure out a way to transform the context.

EDDIE GLAUDE: But let's be very clear. Nobody's trying to occupy --

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Glaude.

EDDIE GLAUDE: Nobody's trying to occupy a pure, pristine space. We all have dirty hands.


EDDIE GLAUDE: But let's be honest, right? In terms of -- we can all do -- people have been talking about her work with Marian Wright Edelman. You know, we know about the brother Peter, left the Clinton White House for a reason, right? What did he leave it for? He left because --

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Right. Her husband. Her husband.

EDDIE GLAUDE: Not only her -- no, see, this is what we want to -- we want to attribute CHIP to her -- right? -- when we know Senator Edward Kennedy was leading that charge.


EDDIE GLAUDE: She had to convince the White House in order to support CHIP, right? But we know what welfare reform did. What did it do? It moved all these folk off the rolls, right?


EDDIE GLAUDE: As poverty increased. And it increased extreme, deep, extreme, deep poverty, right?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: But I have no -- I agree with you.

EDDIE GLAUDE: I know. I know you do. So, part of that, we need to understand, right? What do we talk -- how do we talk about her response to those babies, those children -- right? -- who were leaving the violence, who were fleeing the violence of Honduras and Central America? We've got to send them back.


EDDIE GLAUDE: Right? How do we respond to an economic philosophy -- right? -- that holds Wall Street in high regard and Main Street in particular sorts of ways -- right? -- as secondary, in certain sorts of ways? So, part of what I'm suggesting here -- right? -- is not that I'm trying to defend Bernie Sanders.


EDDIE GLAUDE: As you say, that's just one bloom --


EDDIE GLAUDE: -- of the blossom of democratic awakening taking place in this country.


EDDIE GLAUDE: What I'm saying is, we need to understand who Hillary Clinton is, just as we need to understand who Barack Obama is.


EDDIE GLAUDE: And part of -- and what I take it to be is that part of what these folks are, they're representatives of the corporate wing of the Democratic Party. These folk --


EDDIE GLAUDE: -- it's been on their watch.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Let me say this --

EDDIE GLAUDE: Crime bill, the welfare bill, dismantling Glass-Steagall -- it's been on their watch.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: You ain't no doubt -- ain't no doubt about that. But here's the bottom line, and here's the context.

EDDIE GLAUDE: All right.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: As they say in basketball, you've got to deal with what the defense gives you. We are talking about Donald Trump. We're talking about Hillary Clinton in the context. Let's bring it back to reality. We're talking about within the --

EDDIE GLAUDE: We haven't been in reality, though, Mike?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: We've been in a serious reality that is abstract in considering the philosophical consequences of particular ideologies. What I'm saying, in light of the real-life circumstances we face now, we're talking about the choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton -- and, of course, Jill Stein and the Libertarian candidate, but I'm talking about those who've got a real chance to win. And when we're talking about those who've got a real chance to win, if we're concerned about the very people you're speaking about -- you and I are going to be fine whether Donald Trump is president or whether Hillary Clinton is president, in terms of our material conditions, but the people that we claim ostensibly to represent, those whose voices we want to amplify by our visions, by our own reflections upon the conditions they confront, ain't no doubt in my mind that Hillary Clinton represents the only possibility to at least address the undeniable lethargy of a political system -- neoliberalism, in particular; more broadly, the kind of epic sweep and tide of capital and its impact on the conditions of working-class and poor black people. But I'm saying, ain't nobody got a possibility of doing none of that in a context where Donald Trump is the president. It may mobilize and galvanize grassroots movements that will articulate their resistance against him. What it will not be able to do is leverage the political authority of the state in defense of those vulnerable bodies. It's not been perfect, but it certainly represents a huge advantage over a possibility of a Donald Trump presidency.

EDDIE GLAUDE: So, let me make this point really quickly, right? So it is the case that we have to keep Donald Trump out of the White House. But it's also the case that, under current conditions, 38 percent, close to 40 percent, of children in the United States are growing up in poverty. In my home state of Mississippi, 50 percent of black children are living in poverty, right?


EDDIE GLAUDE: It is the case under these current conditions, with Barack Obama in office.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: I've documented --

EDDIE GLAUDE: It is the case that Freddie Gray's mother is still grieving, right?


EDDIE GLAUDE: Rekia Boyd's mom is still grieving.


EDDIE GLAUDE: Right? We can just -- we can call the roll.


EDDIE GLAUDE: Call the roll. So, part of what we're saying is that one of the things we have to do -- we have to do two things simultaneously. One is keep Donald Trump out of office. And two -- right? -- announce that business as usual is unacceptable.


EDDIE GLAUDE: So, what does that mean?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Are they competing?

EDDIE GLAUDE: If you're going -- so, no, no. Of course. If it's going to mean that if the --

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: It's a priority.

EDDIE GLAUDE: No, if it's going to mean -- hold on, let me make the claim.


EDDIE GLAUDE: It's going to mean that the fear of electing Donald Trump cannot be the principal motivation of how we engage politically. So, part --

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Absolutely, right now, it must be the principal motive --

EDDIE GLAUDE: No, no, no. No, no.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: No, no. Let me tell you why.

EDDIE GLAUDE: That's a very limited conception of what democratic --

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: No, no, no, because -- because your --

EDDIE GLAUDE: -- democratic action --

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: -- your ideals will be subverted, undermined, marginalized and totally put to the periphery, if Donald Trump --

EDDIE GLAUDE: You have a -- you have an anemic conception of demos, brother.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: No, no, no. I'm saying it ain't the demos, it's the demon I'm talking about. And the demon right now, in my mind, is Donald Trump. I'm saying, if we don't make that the priority of preventing the flourishing of an ethic, of a politic and of a conception of the state, much less of the global theaters within which America operates, if we don't prevent Donald Trump from ascending, so to speak, to that throne, all the legitimate stuff that you and I agree on, any analysis you make -- if you read my book on President Obama, I lay all that stuff out there. I lay out the way in which black lives have been decentered in terms of their economic and social stability. And, furthermore, when you talk about the degree to which black life matters, if that is -- do you think -- in a Donald Trump presidency, not only can we not acknowledge that black lives matter, we can't even see if black lives can exist on a particular kind of plane that represents anything like democracy. So, I'm saying that's the priority. And if that is addressed -- I don't want to reduce all of the complicated political energy in America to electoral politics, but electoral politics is a crucial wedge that can be inserted into the contemporary political scene to at least be able to make a change.

EDDIE GLAUDE: So we've already agreed on a basic claim, right? The basic claim is that we need to keep Donald Trump out of office.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: No doubt, as a priority.

EDDIE GLAUDE: No, but -- as a priority, right?


EDDIE GLAUDE: And as an additional priority, not a secondary priority --

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Right, right, right.

EDDIE GLAUDE: -- we need to announce that business as usual is unacceptable.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: I'm down with that.

EDDIE GLAUDE: But you seem to be supporting business as usual, because Hillary Clinton, no matter what they -- how they try to rebrand her over these next few days, over these -- over this last few days -- right? -- no matter how they try to brand her as a change maker, she is the poster child -- right? -- of the corporate takeover of the Democratic Party.


EDDIE GLAUDE: She's the poster child of Blue Dog Democrats, I would even say, of a certain kind of conservative tendency in the Democratic -- so, what does it mean --

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: No, I would disagree with that. But go on.

EDDIE GLAUDE: Well, I mean, of course, we can -- we can debate that. I might have overstated the case there. But what does it mean for us to be committed to a radical conception of democracy?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: I'm down with the radical conception of democracy.

EDDIE GLAUDE: No, I don't -- I don't want to -- I know, but you seem to be putting forward a kind of Niebuhrian realism here.


EDDIE GLAUDE: Reinhold Niebuhr.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: No, no, what I'm putting forth is --

EDDIE GLAUDE: But part of what -- but hold up. Let me make this point, though.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: -- an existential anxiety in the face of --

EDDIE GLAUDE: I know. But it seems to me --

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: -- creeping demagoguery that renders -- that renders our philosophical differences abstract.

EDDIE GLAUDE: It's not abstract. It's not abstract.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Because in the real world that you claim to be concerned about, what we are concerned about is how black people and poor people and people of color and people across the board who are vulnerable --

EDDIE GLAUDE: What I'm concerned --

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: -- get represented in a politics of representation in our democracy.

EDDIE GLAUDE: What I'm concerned about, Mike, is what you know as well as I do, is that political scientists have said that black folk are a captured electorate. That is to say, the Republican Party doesn't have to care about what we do, and the Democratic Party, every four, two, four, six years, come into our communities --

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: I'm with you on that.

EDDIE GLAUDE: -- and try to herd us to the polls like we're cattle chewing cud.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: I'm with you on that.

EDDIE GLAUDE: And then they have no obligation -- no obligation -- to deliver on policy.


EDDIE GLAUDE: So, she shows up -- she shows up --

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Wait a minute.

EDDIE GLAUDE: Hold up, hold up. She shows up in a church.


EDDIE GLAUDE: They come to churches.


EDDIE GLAUDE: They come into our communities. And when we talk about policy, how are you addressing the legacy of doing --

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: But I'm with you on that.

EDDIE GLAUDE: So, point on point on point on point -- so, then, if you're with me on that --


EDDIE GLAUDE: -- how is it then that a Democratic candidate can come into our community, come into this moment, where all of this suffering -- where you and I have been laid it out in both of our books -- all this suffering is engulfing our communities, when we look at the back of Barack Obama's head, what's going to be behind it are the ruins of black communities, the ruins of the most vulnerable in this country.


EDDIE GLAUDE: And then we get business as usual, rebranded --

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: But what I'm saying, look --

EDDIE GLAUDE: -- and only because we're afraid of Donald Trump and not understanding our power as the demos.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: You know what? But it's both-and, isn't it?

AMY GOODMAN: Let me let President Obama weigh in on this.


AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday night, he said no one is more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as president.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Even in the midst of crisis, she listens to people, and she keeps her cool, and she treats everybody with respect. And no matter how daunting the odds, no matter how much people try to knock her down, she never, ever quits. That is the Hillary I know. That's the Hillary I've come to admire. And that's why I can say with confidence there has never been a man or a woman -- not me, not Bill, nobody -- more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as president of the United States of America.

AMY GOODMAN: That's President Obama on Wednesday night addressing, oh, 17,000, 18,000 people who packed into the Wells Fargo convention center. Professor Dyson?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Well, first of all, the importance of that statement was to mitigate the vicious, lethal legacy of sexism that has become so normalized that we don't even pay attention to it.

But let me get back to the point we were making before the break of Obama's rhetoric. The point is that -- why is it that we reduce the complicated legacy of our freedom struggle to present moments? Howard Thurman, the great prophetic mystic, said, refuse the temptation to reduce the level -- to reduce your dreams to the level of the event, which is your immediate experience. And what I'm arguing for, Brother Eddie, is that we pull upon the very romantic, in the best sense of that word, conceptions of self-determination and the flourishing of black agency -- all those technical terms. In other words, for black people to get stuff done under impossible circumstances.

The reason I can maintain the hopefulness -- and Niebuhr, since you brought him up, talked about the difference between optimism and hope. Optimism is a shallow virtue; hope is a deep virtue. Even in the face of impossibility, I happen to believe in a religious and spiritual reality that has been manifest politically, that has motivated black people from the get-go. And what that says is, I don't care what you put before me, I don't care what's going on, I'm not going to give in to what's happening. If you're talking about it's tough now, Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy, Ella Baker were operating under conditions where black people didn't even have the franchise.


MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: If black people were able to leverage their political authority, and especially their moral compelling arguments, their narratives and their stories in defense of their vulnerable bodies, who are we now, with enormous access to the vote, to lament the impossibility of the situation? As if this choice between maintaining a conception of the flourishing of black people under impossible circumstances versus putting Donald Trump in office -- let's do both. Let's both acknowledge that Donald Trump is the most immediate priority to be prevented, and then, at the same time, as you say, speak about these other interests. But it doesn't mean it has to be either-or. Why can't we do both? Why can't we put Hillary Clinton in office, the way you have conversation with Cory Booker, the way you have engagements in an elite white institution? You ain't teaching at Howard, and neither am I.


MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: All of our hands are dirty.

EDDIE GLAUDE: Morehouse.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Right, but you ain't -- I'm saying --

EDDIE GLAUDE: I know. I got you.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: I got you. My son graduated from there. Marc Hill, what's up? Professor there. But my point is that it's not an either-or situation. And I think that what you say, I agree with. But what I don't agree is deferring the legitimacy of the priority of Donald Trump being stopped from occupying space that will bring -- if it's bad now, it's going to be -- it's a Bobby Womack ethic. If you think you're lonely now, wait until the night, until Donald Trump becomes president.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Eddie Glaude, who do you want to see as president?

EDDIE GLAUDE: With these two choices?

AMY GOODMAN: In this election.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: That's no choice for you, those three, four.

EDDIE GLAUDE: I have -- I have no interest. I have -- neither one.

AMY GOODMAN: You don't think it matters whether --

EDDIE GLAUDE: I don't want Donald Trump to be in office. I can only put it in the negative.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Well, that's good enough. That's good enough.

EDDIE GLAUDE: Right. Yeah, so I'm only going to put it in the negative.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: I'll run with that.

AMY GOODMAN: And if you don't want Donald Trump to be in office, how would you prevent that from happening?

EDDIE GLAUDE: So, part of what I've been arguing -- and I wrote a piece with Fred Harris, a political scientist at Columbia -- that we should vote strategically. And that is to say, if you're an African American or if you're a person of color or you're a progressive of conscience, who's -- where the word actually means something, right? -- in a swing state, it makes all the sense in the world to me, in a battleground state, that you vote for Hillary Clinton, because one of the objectives is to keep Donald Trump out of office. But if you're in a red state, like my mom and dad -- my mom and daddy are in Mississippi. Right? They're Democrats, but we know Mississippi is going Trump. Right? What do you do? You can actually blank out. You can leave the presidential ballot blank. You can vote for a third-party interest. Right? Because what will happen? In that moment --


EDDIE GLAUDE: -- you will actually, 2020, given the turnout of how many people vote for the presidential -- the Democratic candidate, will actually impact the number of delegates that come from that state to the convention in 2020. I'm in a blue state.


EDDIE GLAUDE: I'm talking straight, because part of what we have to do is shift the center of gravity of how African Americans engage the political process, because this is what -- 1924, James Weldon Johnson says it's almost as if the "Negro vote" -- quote -- has already been prepackaged and sealed to be delivered before they vote.


EDDIE GLAUDE: In 1956, "Why I Won't Vote," W.E.B. Du Bois writes this piece and says, "I reject the lesser of two evils."

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: We got all that.

EDDIE GLAUDE: In 1965, Malcolm X said we should treat the ballot like a bullet, and, until we get our targets set, keep our ballot in our pockets. Right? So, part of what I'm saying --

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: And all I'm saying --

EDDIE GLAUDE: Hold up, hold up, hold up, Mike. You -- no, hold up. You invoked the grandness of the tradition. I'm giving you examples --

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: But we ain't got enough time to give --

EDDIE GLAUDE: -- of what does it mean --


EDDIE GLAUDE: -- to think strategically about the vote and what does it mean to actually embrace a radical Democratic vision. If you are a centrist liberal, own that.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Right. Here's my point.

EDDIE GLAUDE: If you're not, then embrace a different kind of politic.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Michael Eric Dyson?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: But I'm saying you're not a centrist liberal, but you've got a centrist liberal on your book. You engage with him.

EDDIE GLAUDE: Oh, it's published by Crown.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Well, let me -- let me finish. Let me finish. But what I'm saying to you -- making my point even more.

EDDIE GLAUDE: I'm not trying to claim a pure space, Mike.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: But what I'm saying to you -- no, no, but if you ain't claiming a pure space, don't claim a space that sounds to most black people out there listening -- this is the problem with these Negro intellectuals. You're talking about an abstract articulation --

EDDIE GLAUDE: No, I'm not.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Let me finish -- of grand principles and possibilities. When the woman asked you -- or, as in our tradition, aksed you -- who you're going to vote for, you're stumbling and stammering and --

EDDIE GLAUDE: I didn't stumble.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Hold on. What I'm saying, you had a pregnant pause. It delivered and birthed in us a --

EDDIE GLAUDE: I'm leaving it blank.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: What I'm saying to you -- and that is not neutral. As you know more than anybody else, that's not a neutral thing. And I wish that black people were political scientists who could adjudicate competing claims about rationality, on the one hand, and demagoguery, on the other. I'm telling you, at the end of the day, the black people you're concerned about, the vulnerable people you're concerned about, can't make distinctions -- if you're in a blue state or in a red state -- they can't color-book like that.

What they have to understand is, the junta that is in the offing with Donald Trump coming into office has to be resisted. Go out and vote for Hillary Clinton, because a vote for Hillary Clinton preserves the possibility that the very dialogue that Professor Glaude and I are having, the very possibility of evoking a grand tradition of Du Bois and Malcolm X and James Weldon Johnson -- however, none of them got you the vote. Martin Luther King Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Ella Baker, those are the linchpins in the narrative of black resistance to white supremacy, social injustice and economic inequality that have delivered. I agree that we should study this in class, but on your ass, you should go out and vote for Hillary Clinton, who makes a tremendous difference.

EDDIE GLAUDE: See, no, no, no. See, now, this is the thing. You have to have a fundamental faith in everyday, ordinary people.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: I've got a people in it.

EDDIE GLAUDE: What you're -- what you're representing as abstract, it's actually condescending to them.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Not at all. I preach to them every Sunday.

EDDIE GLAUDE: I can imagine BYP -- I can imagine Black Youth Project 100 organizing in Chicago around this particular issue.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: They should. It's important.

EDDIE GLAUDE: This is what you need to do. Don't worry about who's going to -- who's going to be elected at -- selected in the Democratic primary. We're going to get this DA out of office.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Let's do both. I'm with that.

EDDIE GLAUDE: Let's do -- Dream Defenders -- no, you're trying to say that --

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Alvarez, Anita Alvarez.

EDDIE GLAUDE: What you tried to suggest is that everyday, ordinary people can't distinguish between blue and red. What we're talking about is organizing.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: No, no, no, no, I did not say that. No, no, I didn't say that.

EDDIE GLAUDE: Yes, you did suggest that, Mike.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: I said they can't distinguish the kind of abstract political principles you're talking about, in terms --

EDDIE GLAUDE: I wasn't talking about abstract principles.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Wait a minute -- in terms of if you're a red state and a blue state. I'm saying the BYP youth --

EDDIE GLAUDE: I'm saying organizing, organize, organization.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: But wait a minute. But it's not either-or. It's not either-or.

EDDIE GLAUDE: But, see, this is the thing.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: But it's not either-or.

EDDIE GLAUDE: If it's the case --

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: It's not either-or, Eddie.

EDDIE GLAUDE: If it's the case, Mike --

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Is it either-or?

EDDIE GLAUDE: Let me ask you this question.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: No, I'm asking you, is it either-or?

EDDIE GLAUDE: The strategic plan that I'm suggesting suggests that it isn't either-or.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: OK, that's all we're saying.

EDDIE GLAUDE: No, but you need to give me -- but, see, the thing is that you're out here stumping for Clinton.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: I'm out here stumping for a tradition of black liberation that happens --

EDDIE GLAUDE: Oh, no, do not --

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: Hold on. Wait a minute.

EDDIE GLAUDE: Do not link our tradition to this nonsense.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: No, wait a minute. It's not that -- I didn't have to abstractly link it to it; I am the embodiment of that. When I'm out there on the streets preaching -- I don't know about you, but I'm preaching in churches every Sunday.

EDDIE GLAUDE: Oh, am I in churches?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: I'm out there helping -- I didn't ask you that.


MICHAEL ERIC DYSON: I'm telling you what I'm doing. I'm telling you I'm in churches with black people, preaching every Sunday. I'm talking about the way in which we leverage the political, moral and spiritual authority of ordinary black people, who, when we, you and I, walk out the -- when you and I walk out this place, ordinary black people are going to look at me and see me as the embodiment of their dreams. I'm sure it happens to you, as well. They stop me and tell me, "Thank you." They congratulate me for at least having the authority, the courage. I don't take that seriously, but what I take more seriously is their identification with me as a voice piece for their aspirations and hopes.

And all I'm saying to you, sir, is that I agree with you in the full sweep of your analysis. I'm saying the everyday, ordinary black folk I know, that I'm in contact with, that I'm with at political organizations, and I'm on the front line, when I spoke yesterday for the black caucus of the Democratic National Convention, when those thousand -- 2,000 people said, "What you say represents that" -- all I'm saying to you, Eddie, is that at the end of the day we cannot afford the luxury of engaging in abstract reflections on the conditions of black people, when what's at stake is a demagogue, that you and I both resist, that you and I both think is problematic, getting into office. Once that happens, then we begin to leverage BYP. We begin to also articulate a countervailing narrative that says it ain't either-or, it's both-and. I believe in the spirit of our people to overcome and prevail against the odds.

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to break and then come back to this discussion. We are joined by Princeton professor Eddie Glaude. His article in Time magazine, "My Democratic Problem with Voting for Hillary Clinton." And Professor Michael Eric Dyson, who you were just listening to, Georgetown professor and author of The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America. He just wrote a piece in the New Republic headlined "Yes She Can: Why Hillary Clinton Will Do More for Black People Than Obama." This is Democracy Now! Stay with us.

News Thu, 28 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
"No More War": Protesters Disrupt Ex-CIA Director Leon Panetta's DNC Speech

Protests on the floor of the convention continued on Wednesday. They reached a peak when former CIA Director Leon Panetta took the stage. While Panetta was criticizing Donald Trump's appeal to the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton's emails, many delegates started chanting "No more war!" We hear Panetta's remarks and speak to a Bernie Sanders delegate who took part in the protest.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Protests on the floor of the convention continued on Wednesday. They reached a peak when former CIA Director Leon Panetta took the stage. While Panetta was criticizing Donald Trump's appeal to the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton's emails, many delegates started chanting "No more war!"

LEON PANETTA: Donald Trump asks our troops to commit war crimes; endorses torture; spurns our allies, from Europe to Asia; suggests that countries have nuclear weapons; and he praises dictators, from Saddam Hussein to Vladimir Putin.

DELEGATES: No more war! No more war! No more war! No more war! No more war!


DELEGATES: No more war! No more war! No more war! No more war!

AMY GOODMAN: Just after Leon Panetta stopped speaking, Democracy Now!'s Deena Guzder caught up with one of the delegates who took part in the protest.

ALEXIS EDELSTEIN: My name is Alexis Edelstein. I'm a delegate for California for the District 33. And I'm a Bernie delegate.

DEENA GUZDER: Who was speaking, and what happened here at the DNC right now?

ALEXIS EDELSTEIN: The former director of the CIA, Leon Panetta, was speaking. The Oregon delegation started to chant "No more war!" All the Bernie delegations, all 57 of them, states and territories, chanted "No more war!" with them. As soon as that kept going and going, the DNC shut off the lights to the Oregon delegation, almost as a way of showing that they want to silence them.

DEENA GUZDER: Why did this action happen when Panetta was speaking, in particular?

ALEXIS EDELSTEIN: The "No More War" action, plus, as you know, Leon Panetta is CIA. The CIA, you know, it's supporting foreign wars nonstop, continuously, also initiating drone wars. Hillary Clinton is a warmonger. Hillary Clinton wants to continue all the wars in the Middle East. Hillary Clinton is with Israel on the Palestinian issue. We are for a free Palestine. Hillary Clinton wants to continue all acts of foreign insurgency. And Hillary Clinton, as the secretary of state, was also responsible in supporting the coup in Honduras. Myself being from Argentina, I'm very sensitive to Latin and South American issues. I was born under a military dictatorship in Argentina that was supported by Henry Kissinger. And Hillary Clinton is a supporter of Henry Kissinger. So, that's why we're very antiwar, anti-Hillary Clinton. Half of the budget goes to the war budget, to the defense budget, and that really sacrifices what else we can invest in infrastructure, education, healthcare, all the things that this country is lacking and that -- what Bernie Sanders is fighting for.

AMY GOODMAN: That's Bernie Sanders delegate Alexis Edelstein. When we come back, we'll host a debate between professors Michael Eric Dyson and Eddie Glaude. Stay with us.

News Thu, 28 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Despite Clinton Endorsement, Bernie Lays Foundation to Carry on "Revolution"

2016.7.28.Bernie.mainBernie Sanders speaks at the Wells Fargo Center on the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 25, 2016. (Photo: Stephen Crowley / The New York Times)

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) may have officially endorsed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, after losing to the centrist in a bitterly-contested primary, but the senator is hoping to keep his "political revolution" alive.

Sanders has started a "social welfare" 501(c)(4) advocacy organization, to support progressive groups seeking to coach and vet those who want to run for office. He touted the group, called "Our Revolution," in an email sent to supporters earlier this week.

"The goal of this organization will be no different from the goal of our campaign: we must transform American politics to make our political and economic systems once again responsive to the needs of working families," Sanders said.

In turning his campaign into a 501(c)(4), Sanders would be following in the footsteps of Democrats before him. Most notably, President Obama, used his campaign apparatus to create Organizing for Action; a group that supported his agenda.

Earlier this month, Sanders said he was moved, in part, to launch Our Revolution by "Democrats' loss of about 900 state legislative seats in nearly eight years," as USA Today reported.

He told the paper the group would seek to support races ranging from school board contests to Congressional elections. Sanders also said that candidates needn't be Democrats, as long as they're progressive.

"If you have some strong independents who would like to run, it would be my inclination to support them," he said. The senator noted that he particularly wants to involve young people and the working class.

During the primary, Sanders demonstrated that his network already has impressive fundraising prowess, as CNBC has reported. Two weeks after sending out an email touting Chris Pearson, a Vermont state senate candidate, Sanders campaign' reported that Pearson received 10,000 donations and that his campaign was fully-funded for the rest of the year.

News Thu, 28 Jul 2016 00:00:00 -0400