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UNFAIR HARVARD When Harvard employees rallied for a $10.25-an-hour minimum wage in early May, backers packed the Yard. Credit the

Progressive Student Labor Movement

About the Author

John Nichols
John Nichols
John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated...

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The Democratic Senate candidate's prairie populism has made him competitive in this red state.

Hillary Clinton may not be a populist, but she is a savvy politician.

's

Living Wage Campaign

with a fine job of publicizing the rally. But there's no denying that the appearance of actors

Ben Affleck

and

Matt Damon

helped draw a crowd. These were not your usual celebrities flying in to lend their star power to the cause, however. Affleck's father was a janitor, and his stepmother was a cleaning woman, at Harvard, so he had some personal authority when he called for making "this school a place where you don't have to avert your eyes in shame when you encounter a janitor in the hallway." Damon, who played the genius janitor (at MIT) in Good Will Hunting, spoke as a former Harvard student: "This is the richest university in the world, and the fact that the people who keep the machine running--who feed the students, look out for their safety and clean their bathrooms and hallways--are not given a living wage is demeaning to us all." City Councilwoman

Marjorie Decker

, who played on the same Cambridge Little League team as Affleck and went to high school with Damon, asked the actors to join the rally. "It wasn't a hard sell," Decker says. "They know Cambridge, and they know there's something wrong when, in a boom economy, Harvard won't pay employees enough to live above poverty level." Historian

Howard Zinn

, who worked with Damon and Affleck on an ill-fated Fox TV drama [see David Corn, "Fox Nixes Zinn Flick, May 22], also spoke, calling on the university to "teach compassion and caring" by example. Among dozens of Harvard profs endorsing the cause are

Henry Louis Gates Jr.

,

Juliet Schor

and

Cornel West

.

PRAIRIE POPULISM State Attorney General

Heidi Heitkamp

may be a native of one of the smallest towns in America--Mantador, North Dakota, population 77. And her roots--she's the daughter of a construction worker and a school cook--are surely humbler than those of her foe in the North Dakota governor's race, a Republican banking heir. But she won three statewide races before turning 40 and is now in a position to be the state's first woman governor. True to the progressive populist principles of her political forebears--she's the nominee of a unique, progressive hybrid of the old radical farmers'

Non-Partisan League

and the Democrats--Heitkamp backs a statewide living-wage law, condemns federal farm policies that favor agribusiness over family farmers and joins US Senators

Byron Dorgan

and

Kent Conrad

in criticizing trade deals that put the interests of corporations ahead of workers and farmers.... The state Democratic ticket includes three women and a Native American, causing the Fargo Forum to complain about "gender police" and a "politically correct slate." Democratic-NPL State Representative

Merle Boucher

, referring to the GOP nominees for governor and lieutenant governor, retorted that the GOP's only bow to diversity was to nominate "a millionaire from Fargo and a millionaire from Minot."

VOX TURNS UP THE VOLUME Raw, raucous and radical, the Pacific Northwest's

Sleater-Kinney

band makes music that rips sexism, misogyny and the war on abortion rights. "The number-one must-have is that we are safe," sang the trio's

Corin Tucker

at a Seattle club where the group debuted songs from its new CD, All Hands on the Bad One. Last summer Sleater-Kinney headlined a Seattle benefit that raised $5,000 for

Planned Parenthood

; at the band's May show, activists from

VOX

, Planned Parenthood's youth-mobilization arm, passed out condoms and signed up dozens of recruits. "We asked if we could have a table at the Seattle show," said

Tracey Denlinger

, a Seattle VOX organizer. "They said they wanted us on their whole tour." Explained VOX's

Heidi Melz

, "The 18-30 generation we're working with is the post-Roe generation. They use Planned Parenthood clinics; they love Planned Parenthood. But they aren't necessarily aware that the services they rely on are under constant threat. We tell them they can't take these rights for granted, and we teach them how to be political advocates." VOX helped Planned Parenthood affiliates hire campus organizers in Wisconsin and Washington, where the group is also recruiting young professionals. This summer VOX will register voters at concerts featuring rockers, rappers and others on the Vans Warped Tour.

ADDING IT UP IN AMARILLO

Lani Guinier

and others have long argued that one of the best ways to increase minority representation is with cumulative voting. For her views Guinier was labeled "quota queen" by the Wall Street Journal and persona non grata by Clinton. But the voting alternative is working in Amarillo, Texas. After two decades in which minority candidates in Amarillo--where blacks and Hispanics are roughly 30 percent of the population--lost every race they ran in for the local school board, the

League of United Latin American Citizens

sued, with support from the local

NAACP

. The settlement created a cumulative voting system that allotted each voter four votes, which could be given to one candidate or spread among several. Amarillo voters made history May 6, electing

James Allen

, an African-American, and

Rita Sandoval

, a Latina. "It's clear that the cumulative voting system works," says LULAC's

Nancy Bosquez

.

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