Last spring, The Nation launched its biweekly student movement dispatch. As part of the StudentNation blog, each dispatch hosts first-person updates on youth organizing—from established student unions, to emerging national networks, to ad hoc campaigns that don’t yet have a name. For recent dispatches, check out January 27 and February 10. For an archive of earlier editions, see the New Year’s dispatch.
1. As Napolitano Hits Berkeley, Hundreds Mass, Eleven Occupy
On Thursday, February 13, hundreds of students came out to protest University of California President Janet Napolitano at Berkeley during her “listening and learning” tour. The action, organized by the Students of Color Solidarity Coalition, started with a rally at Sproul Plaza, followed by a campus march to receive students who walked out of a meeting with Napolitano in Sutardja Dai Hall. Meanwhile, a group of eleven students occupied the Blum Center to bring visibility to regent Richard Blum, a central figure in selecting Napolitano and pushing for the privatization of the UC system. The SCSC opposes Napolitano’s appointment as president on the grounds that she oversaw human rights violations as secretary of homeland security—she created the Secure Communities program, which has terrorized, incarcerated and deported almost 2 million migrants—and because of the undemocratic process through which the regents selected her, not to mention her lack of experience in education policy and administration. The events of February 13 have opened cross-university organizing opportunities and brought national attention to the critics of Napolitano’s appointment.
—Students of Color Solidarity Coalition
2. As Michigan Sits on Racial Justice, 1,000 Take the Library
On February 18, more than 1,000 students, faculty, staff and community members gathered in the University of Michigan’s undergraduate library for an all-night speakout to protest low under-represented minority enrollment and the poor racial climate on campus. Mobilized by the #BBUM twitter campaign and demands issued to the administration on MLK Day, the United Coalition for Racial Justice launched the speakout to push for a presidential commitment to diversity and inclusion not seen since the Michigan Mandate of the 1990s. Through eight teach-in sessions, the event sought to showcase grassroots solutions to enrollment, climate and other issues of race on campus. A surprise guest, former president James Duderstadt, pointed to the loss of leadership and commitment to diversity in the past several administrations, and the keynote speaker, historian and activist Barbara Ransby, called for students to continue to be the “conscience of this institution,” whose 4 percent black enrollment she called “utterly inexcusable.”
—United Coalition for Racial Justice
3. Greensboro Storms Out
On February 19, outraged over the latest evisceration of the academic budget, more than 500 University of North Carolina–Greensboro students, faculty and community members assembled at the center of campus to protest the blatant corporate pandering engaged in by university decision makers. As students work multiple jobs because of rising tuition costs, administrators decided to build a $91 million recreation center—further increasing the cost of attendance. Meanwhile, enrollment continues to drop as a result of the rising costs and declining quality of education. Students’ demands are simple: fund academics and clear out corporate leadership. The next day, student voices forced a board of trustees meeting into adjournment. Students from the rally have agreed to meet weekly to coordinate continuous pressure on university and state officials.
—Hannah Mendoza and Juan Miranda
4. Philly Fills the Rotunda
On February 12, students from Philadelphia filled the capitol in Harrisburg to protest the state’s prioritization of prison expansion over education. Students from Youth United for Change and the Philadelphia Student Union loaded buses alongside Decarcerate PA and other groups to Harrisburg. I was among a number of speakers who gave testimony about the school-to-prison pipeline, the need for human rights for inmates and the lies of the Department of Corrections. Over the past two years, YUC has won major changes, including the promise of no school closures in 2014 and, with the Campaign for Nonviolent Schools, a discipline matrix for the city’s student conduct code, replacing zero tolerance policies. We are currently organizing to change the MOU between the School District of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Police Department to decrease the rate of arrests in schools, and are also part of an attendance awareness media campaign in which we talk to young people about staying engaged in schools and avoiding the pipeline. Across the city, students are being arrested, stopped and searched, and treated like they are criminals in and on their way to school. What’s the point of school if you feel like you’re in jail?
5. At UIC, Students Strike With Faculty
On February 18, 1,100 faculty members at the University of Illinois–Chicago went on a two-day strike, the first in UIC’s history. After sixteen months of failed negotiations over increased wages, shared governance and increases in hiring, faculty decided to escalate. Students, campus workers and other members of the Campus Worker and Student Coalition marched in solidarity, affirming our collective vision, which includes lowering tuition and paying campus workers a living wage. A petition from United Students Against Sweatshops Local 15 garnered 2,300 signatures from supporters across the region. The cross-issue, intergenerational demonstrations of solidarity represented the deepening and expansion of a movement that is resisting the corporatization of UIC and rethinking how UIC serves the metro region.
—Martin Macias Jr.
6. At UC, the Strike Waters Tremble—Again
At the University of California, food service, maintenance, transportation and patient care workers, represented by AFSCME 3299, are gearing up for a five-day strike, their third in a year. The workers will push for a pay raise to meet the rising cost of living in California, safe staffing levels to combat the 20 percent increase in workplace injuries over the past five years, and job security in the face of massive staff reductions. In solidarity with the workers, students are organizing boycotts of dining commons and asking professors to teach off campus and focus their lectures on issues related to campus worker struggles. Throughout the UC system, we have drawn links between the fight for worker rights and the ongoing campaign to force former Secretary of Homeland Security and current UC President Janet Napolitano to resign. In addition to refusing to address the needs of campus workers, Napolitano represents the twin ideologies of privatization and militarization that have threatened the livelihoods of students and workers across the system by creating an atmosphere of fear and inaccessibility for those whom it is intended to serve.
—Student Worker Coalition at UC Berkeley
7. The Paid Labor Fix
In spring 2013, students at New York University started a petition calling on NYU’s Wasserman Career Center to remove postings for unpaid internships that violate Department of Labor guidelines. This was the first petition holding a university accountable for promoting this legally questionable labor practice. Within weeks, the petition garnered more than 1,100 signatures from students, professors and supporters, and gained the attention of Wasserman representatives. As one of the petition organizers, I met with NYU officials over the summer to negotiate changes to NYU’s internship posting policy. This semester, in a landmark move, NYU decided to implement major changes to its internship site, including the creation of a screening process that requires employers to confirm that their internship abides by DOL standards before posting to the career site. We are now working with students at other universities to start similar initiatives at their campuses.
8. The “Diversification” of American Empire
In Fall 2013, the ROTC program returned to the City University of New York’s City College, Medgar Evers College, and York College, after being kicked out in 1971. Following recent CUNY struggles against David Petraeus’s teaching appointment, the Morales/Shakur Center’s eviction and a proposed “Policy on Expressive Conduct” to stifle free speech, efforts to re-remove ROTC are intensifying. On February 19, 100 CUNY students, faculty, staff and community members gathered at a Medgar Evers town hall to hear anti-war veterans and audience participants debate pro-ROTC speakers on their predatory aim to “diversify” imperialism at the nation’s largest urban university, whose students are mostly working-class women of color. On February 24, the college’s highest governing body voted by majority to remove ROTC, an important victory against CUNY’s turn towards militarization.
—Conor Tomás Reed
On February 22 and 23, ten leaders from Connecticut Students for a DREAM, a statewide network of undocumented students, families and allies, attended United We Dream’s fifth National Congress in Phoenix. Back home in Connecticut, undocumented students are currently fighting for tuition equity. While Governor Malloy signed an in-state tuition bill in 2011, in part due to organizing by C4D, tuition costs still remain a major barrier for those who are undocumented, like me. Under Connecticut statutes, 15 percent of tuition revenue must go back to students in the form of need-based aid. Even though undocumented students pay standard tuition, they do not have access to state or federal aid, which is calculated using the FAFSA, which they cannot fill out. The state’s Board of Regents has the power to fix this by expanding the ways that need is calculated. This spring, our Afford to Dream campaign aims to make this change happen.
On the night of February 17, just days before the final Teach for America application deadline, Students United for Public Education hosted a #ResistTFA twitter chat as part of our Students Resisting Teach for America campaign. The goal was to highlight critical views and elevate the conversation around TFA. Within an hour, #ResistTFA was the #1 trending topic in America and it stayed there throughout the night. Hundreds of students, teachers, parents and TFA alumni shared opinions, experiences and articles about TFA and discussed their reasons for resisting—from TFA’s inadequate five-week training, to its connection with corporate education reform, to proposals for better models than TFA. This spring, we will be continuing our campaign on various campuses by holding teach-ins and panels.
—Students United for Public Education
11. Southern Queer Power
Concerned that the unique struggles of organizing in the South are overlooked by the majority of movement spaces, students at the University of Richmond have established a partnership between the university’s Office of Common Ground, Q-Community, Student Alliance for Sexual Diversity, Southerners On New Ground and ROSMY to offer queer youth leaders across the South a new opportunity to connect and build power. The result, the March 22 Queer Summit, will be a gathering dedicated to queer youth movement-building, skill-sharing and best-practices development, led by those under 25. Of particular focus are ways that power structures continue to trivialize our youth experiences; the Q-Summit will build power through DIY self-care workshops, caucuses among traditionally marginalized communities within our queer family, and leveraging collective voice within universities, religious denominations, academic disciplines and communities.
12. New Student Unionism
On February 7, more than thirty students from across Vermont gathered for the first ever Vermont Student Power Conference and voted to combine separate campus organizations into one unified organization, the Vermont Student Union. Devoted to a democratic system that works to advocate for both student and workers’ rights on all campuses, the VSU is fighting for transparency of administrative spending, support for a living wage and benefits for all Vermonters and more student voice in university decision making. This spring, the VSU is launching a “Meet Us Halfway” campaign, directed to state legislators who are ignoring crucial legislation that would require the state to fund fifty percent or more of the overall Vermont State College budget. They are currently supporting only 14 percent of the overall budget; the rest comes from student tuition.
13. Will Cal State Get Away With Unprecedented Fee Hikes?
At Sonoma State University, San Diego State University, Cal State–Fullerton and Cal State–Dominguez Hills, students are fighting mandatory, campus-based “Student Success Fee” hikes of up to 77 percent. This new breed of fee hikes utilizes a divide-and-hike tactic—introducing fees campus by campus, obscuring what is in reality a systemwide hike. Administrators sell the fees with promises of additional classes and faculty hires, omitting that most financial aid packages don’t cover this classification of fees and pose an extra financial burden on students. They also fail to mention that the current student forums are only one method allowed for implementing them—with the alternate being a democratic referendum vote by the student body. In light of successful, statewide student mobilizations against fee increases less than two years ago, administrators fear that students could vote them down. On February 19, students at Sonoma State successfully overturned them, with the other campuses planning coordinated actions for March.
—Student Committee to Reclaim the People’s University
14. What's Next for CSULA’s Ethnic Studies?
On February 11, after shutting it down a week earlier, students at California State University–Los Angeles took over the academic senate to prevent it from voting down Ethnic Studies as a generational education requirement. On February 25, faculty voted in students' favor. (Video: CSULA EthnicStudies)
—CSULA Ethnic Studies Coalition
15. The Anti-Napolitano Generation
On February 13, Oakland youth joined Berkeley students to protest UC President Janet Napolitano. (Video: StudentNation)
Read Next: Nathalie Baptiste on immigration and brain drain.
My new Nation column is called "Whodunit? Liberals?" (From celebrity deaths to the crisis of the middle class, it's all their fault.)
1) Maude Maggart at the Café Carlyle
I fell in (unrequited) love with Maude Maggart many years ago when she would make regular appearances at the Algonquin Hotel. That much-lamented space is no longer and now Maude has made the move uptown and eastward to the rarified confines of the Café Carlyle, where she made her debut on Tuesday night. As Maude has gotten older, she has grown more confident, more charming, more beautiful and her voice richer and more controlled. Working both in the (helpfully) pedagogical mode of Andrea Marcovicci, Maude is wonderful both at discovering previously unknown gems and giving her audience mini-lessons on their historical (and often times) emotional context. But she is also all about her wild family. She does not mention her famous sister, Fiona Apple, but she is enthralled by her grandmother, a Ziegfeld girl, who, at 65, married a “toad” thirty years her junior, her grandfather, a big-band vocalist and saxophonist, and her parents, who met during a 1970 Broadway run of Applause. (I love the way she talks about her dad.)
Tuesday night’s performance began with three songs from black and white movies about the middle period between falling in love and being in love. Many of her stories focused on the antics of her grandmother and some of the more colorful friends of her father. She closed the formal set with one of the most beautiful renditions of Over the Rainbow I’ve ever heard and then came back for some Irving Berlin to a deliriously appreciative audience. Maude will be at the Café for the rest of the week. If you’re not in the city—and rich (the cover is $70)—you can pick up her new CD Speaking of Dreams, which will be released on April 8. Her previous ones are here.
2) Bobfest 30th Anniversary Show—Rerelease on Blu-ray, DVD and CD
It sure took a while but we finally have a hi-def video version (with remastered audio) of the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration on Blu-ray, DVD and CD. The former two include forty minutes of previously unreleased material including behind-the-scenes rehearsal footage, interviews, etc.
The concert took place on October 16, 1992 at Madison Square Garden to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Bob Dylan's first Columbia Records album. It began with the worst version of Like A Rolling Stone by John Mellencamp and a woman who wouldn’t stop screaming, of all time. It had a lot of filler and crappy versions of songs designed to plug CBS artists too. But much of it was just sublime.
Among the performers were Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, Lou Reed, The Clancy Brothers, Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Stevie Wonder, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, George Harrison (then making his first US concert appearance in eighteen years) and many, many more. Just some of the highlights include:
It Ain't Me Babe - June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash
Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues - Neil Young
All Along the Watchtower - Neil Young
Love Minus Zero/No Limit - Eric Clapton
Don't Think Twice, It's All Right - Eric Clapton
You Ain't Goin Nowhere - Mary-Chapin Carpenter, Rosanne Cash and Shawn Colvin
Absolutely Sweet Marie - George Harrison
My Back Pages - Bob Dylan, Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Eric Clapton and George Harrison (which is one of the greatest bands ever assembled and an absolutely wonderful performance. It even made it onto my funeral play list.)
I don’t see how you can live without it. Info on the “Deluxe Edition” is here.
3) Johnny Winter Four-CD Box Set
Johnny Winter also played at Bobfest. People I know tell me that Winter is among the greatest guitarist they’ve ever seen and perhaps the most underrated. Sony Legacy is seeking to strengthen this argument with a new four-CD box set that collects fifty-six tracks from twenty-seven albums on a gazillion different labels as well as previously unreleased live cuts from 1970 Atlanta Pop Festival and other places.
True To The Blues: The Johnny Winter Story also includes performances, with Winter, by Michael Bloomfield, Dr. John, Willie Dixon and Walter “Shakey” Horton, Muddy Waters and his band featuring James Cotton, “Pinetop” Perkins, and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, among many others.
Journalism’s Real Hoax Problem
by Reed Richardson
On Saturday, as the Yanukovych regime in Ukraine was unraveling and opposition protestors began overrunning the presidential palace, one damning detail of the deposed president’s excess spread like wildfire across the Internet. It was a photo of his toilet, a regal-like throne covered in resplendent, jewel-like tiles and adorned with sculpted lion’s heads. Among other photos of Yanukovych’s faux Spanish galleon restaurant, vintage car collection, personal zoo, and golf course, the garish commode succinctly spoke to the oligarchic corruption fueling the opposition’s outrage. There was only one problem: the toilet retweeted around the world by thousands of people—including former New York Times editor and current Mashable executive editor Jim Roberts, actually sits inside a two-bedroom apartment in Cyprus. (If you care to see Yanukovych’s actual toilet, gold feet and all, check out #29 in this photo array.)
Halfway across the world in Venezuela, similarly violent anti-government protests are still taking place. And though Venezuela’s President Maduro threatened some independent press outlets, including CNN, over their supposed anti-government coverage and temporarily shuttered some social media sites, plenty of reports about the protest still got out. They, too, came with their share of bogus elements. As this CNN slideshow documents, several popular (and graphic) images of the Venezuela conflict widely distributed online were, in fact, lifted from other recent street protests in Bulgaria, Chile, Syria and Brazil.
Of course, major news stories have always been shadowed by exaggeration, rumor, and conspiracy. (A crazy, 9/11 Truther still thought it necessary to crash the most recent Super Bowl’s post-game press conference.) But these days, anyone with a smartphone and a social media account can be both a reporter and publisher with a potentially instantaneous global reach. Not coincidentally, almost every big breaking news event now occasions fake photos or fabricated storylines that can metastasize across the Internet long before the truth gets sorted out. That a few bad actors might exploit this new technology to exaggerate or manipulate isn’t surprising given human history. That a gullible public might unwittingly magnify their impact isn’t surprising given human nature. Together, they create a fertile ground for perpetrating hoaxes on the media, which presents an increasingly thorny dilemma for modern journalism: How to embrace an increasingly egalitarian ethos of newsgathering without undermining the press’s integrity and legitimacy in the long term?
This is particularly important since the value proposition many news organizations now cling to—having lost their monopoly on distribution—is one of trusted authority. We check the facts, we talk to the sources. Unlike some random, anonymous Twitter account where you’re liable to get the equivalent of news placebos, a worldwide news network like CNN, the thinking goes, is a reliable source precisely because of its professional adherence to standards, its infrastructure, its institutional history.
One obvious way of demonstrating your newsroom’s journalistic rigor is to not fall for hoaxes in the first place. CNN has been doing that with its user-generated iReports from Venezuela—of the 2,700 submissions it received last week, it could confirm less than five percent. And yet, CNN and others proved once again this past week that they’re also not impervious to the irresistible allure of a clickbait hoax. To be fair, it wasn’t alone, as more than thirty news outlets jumped all over a radio morning show prank that had suburban Atlantans protesting Justin Bieber’s potential move into the city. This embarrassing episode for journalism came on the heels of another successful hoax—perpetrated by ABC late night host Jimmy Kimmel—about a wolf prowling the Sochi Olympic Village dorms. That one took in esteemed news outlets like New York Magazine and The Washington Post. (To be fair, ABC News seems to have known about this stunt ahead of time and kept quiet; not exactly ethical behavior.)
It’s easy to brush off these lapses in due diligence as inevitable or inconsequential. No news organization is perfect, after all. They all get things wrong from time to time. But that lets the press off too easy. For it really does matter when the same “share first, check later” mentality that social networks get dinged for starts to seep into so-called establishment journalism. It’s indicative of a longstanding problem plaguing the professional media here in the U.S. as well as around the world: a nagging credulity.
There’s a thread that connects a blithely rebroadcasted snippet of dubious Justin Bieber news to larger transgressions, however. The Beltway media’s negligence in vetting the Bush administration’s Iraq WMDs claims might be considered the biggest and most tragic hoax of our generation. More recently, the mainstream press has taken to dutifully repeating the latest horror story trotted out about ObamaCare. Time and again, these tales have proven to be misleading at best and outright lies at worst. Much like a phony photo on Twitter that’s impossible to remove, these false narrative-reinforcing stories simply can’t be corrected with as much verve as they were originally promoted. So, when one political party embraces an alternate universe that thrives upon doctored reality, a media hidebound by objectivity becomes their helpful accomplice.
In the end, a tragic irony results. The very same naïveté and carelessness that the powerful rely upon to manipulate the press is likewise used as proof that the press isn’t deserving of broad protection to do its job. This can stratify the press and leave strong accountability journalism in the hands of an increasingly cloistered group. Case in point, the DOJ’s recently released guidelines for requesting records or surveilling the press. Its constant reference to “members of the news media” comes across as extremely establishment focused and suggests a very circumscribed approach to who the government considers worthy to be called a journalist. This is especially troubling after DNI Clapper’s recent Congressional testimony suggested “freelance journalists” could be considered “accomplices” rather than Constitutionally protected members of the fourth estate.
The responsibility to the truth should always be paramount to the press. Given the enhanced ability of anyone to find and broadcast the truth these days, however, a more open, transparent approach to how and where we get the news is necessary. But as we define out who journalists might be, we can’t define down what journalism really is, lest we find our country again falling victim to a great big hoax.
High Point, NC
Thank you for your thoughtful, well-written truth [“Ted Cruz is Trolling Congress”]. I so agree with you. And while your colleagues in the fourth estate continue to fail miserably at their jobs, at least you have taken the time to discuss Cruz' depravity and its frightening impact on American governance. He's a truly despicable human being and he knows it. Once again, thank you. I really appreciated your article.
Thank you so much for stating the truth about journalism in this day where lies are never corrected. The people don't know what's really wrong with our country, or they think they do because they watch Fox News. Wouldn't be wonderful if news show made sure it was true. If some lied like Ted he couldn't get away with and the papers too. The news would be such a treat and so much fun real reality! Thanks again.
Ted Cruz is ten-times smarter than you midgets - fact!
You are the political status quo...schiffer is the status quo...Obama is the status quo....bush is the status quo. You're all owned by elite bankers and oil corporations that really run this country.
Ted cruz is the first man to threaten the status quo and you people all feel threatened. You're exposed.
Reed replies: Dan, I agree that money can play a pernicious role in influencing politicians, which is why I feel it worth noting for the record that 10 out of the top 20 political contributors to Ted Cruz’s 2012 Senate campaign just so happened to be elite bankers and oil corporations. So, about that “threaten the status quo” bit…
Editor's note: To contact Eric Alterman, use this form.
Read Next: Stephen F. Cohen writes about media malpractice in the West's coverage of Russia and Ukraine.
“How is it you can have a team in Washington that’s named after a racial slur for Native Americans, but punish young African- American men for how they speak to each other?” This is how Nation sports editor Dave Zirin thinks boxing legend Muhammad Ali might feel about the NFL’s new proposed rule to penalize players for using the n-word on the field. On the fiftieth anniversary of the famous boxing match between Ali and Sonny Liston—an event that Sports Illustrated called the fourth-greatest sports moment of the twentieth century—Zirin spoke with Ali’s daughter Rasheda on MSNBC’s The Reid Report. The two discussed the role that athletes like Ali play as political advocates, a very germane topic after Jason Collins just became the first openly gay player to play in a major American sport.
Chris Christie’s budget address yesterday, to a joint session of the New Jersey legislature, focused on one of the Republican party’s major themes going forward into elections in 2014 and 2016: public employees are the enemy and their healthcare and pension benefits—hard-fought and hard-won accomplishments by unions and others—need to be cut to shreds. That’s the message of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who, if he gets re-elected this year and then decides to run for president in 2016, will tout his decimation of Wisconsin’s public employee unions as his chief accomplishment. For Christie, who’s also taken on the teachers and other public employees since being elected in 2009, the issue yesterday was New Jersey’s public pension system and other “entitlements.”
Much of the coverage of Christie’s speech yesterday focused on the fact that the governor was not his usual bombastic self, and indeed Christie managed to work into his speech a mention of Gandhi. The Newark Star-Ledger, in its lede, put it this way: “There was no talk of a Jersey comeback, no bold calls for tax cuts. And no raucous applause.”
But don’t be fooled. Again and again in his address, Christie returned to the idea that public-employee pensions are bankrupting the state, and again and again he urged the legislators about the need to “act decisively.” Earlier reforms, said Christie, “bought us the time to act again.” If not, well, said Christie, New Jersey may end up like Detroit! Referring to past pension changes, Christie said, “But this is not enough.” And he referred to what he called a “looming crisis.”
Some history: back in 2011, over vast, angry protests from unions, Christie and the state legislature enacted a sweeping pension law that hit teachers and public employees like a wrecking ball. It drastically raised the amount that employees had to contribute to their pensions, cut benefits for future workers and eliminated cost-of-living adjustments—and remember, most public employees aren’t eligible for Social Security, so the pension is all they’ve got. That devastating law was enacted only because what left-liberals in New Jersey call “Christiecrats”—that is, Democrats who play ball with the right-wing governor—joined Christie to support it. The bill that passed the legislature “defied raucous protests by thousands of people whose chants, vowing electoral revenge, shook the State House.” And among the chief culprits back in 2011 was Steve Sweeney, the president of the senate and a leading acolyte of South Jersey’s warlord, the political boss George Norcross, an insurance magnate. Back in 2011, Sweeney bitterly attacked the unions: “They lied to their members. When I say lied, I mean it. They lied.” This time around, under pressure from the unions, even Sweeney isn’t going along with Christie’s call to further weaken pensions—at least not yet.
That doesn’t mean that Christie isn’t preparing a dangerous new assault, if for nothing else to gain talking points with the Republican faithful and the big-dollar donors who back Christie. According to the Bergen Record, many political analysts in New Jersey “suspect that Christie might be waiting to roll out a new round of benefit cuts next year, closer to the start of the presidential primaries and, possibly, when the [Bridgegate] scandal fades without further damage to his career.” If that’s true, then Christie’s clarion call for action on pensions is merely the harbinger of a much bigger push to come. Anything you can do, Christie is telling Scott Walker, I can do better.
New Jersey’s unions aren’t laying down. Here’s a sample, thanks to the Record’s indispensable blog, The Political State.
Wendell Steinhauer, president of the New Jersey Education Association, rejected Christie’s assertion that pension costs are “exploding”:
He is doing the wrong thing by misleading New Jersey residents about the state of the pension system. Pension costs are not “exploding.” As a result of deep, painful cuts absorbed by public employees and retirees in 2011, pension costs going forward have been curtailed, and the state is finally on the road to responsible, sustainable pension funding practices.
Said Charles Wowkanech, president of New Jersey State AFL-CIO:
Public employees, unlike the state, have never skipped a payment into the pension system. And, over the past three years, they’ve paid even more to try to bring the funds back to health. At the least, they deserve a state finally willing to shoulder its share of the responsibility so we can climb out of this hole together.
And Hetty Rosenstein, director of the Communications Workers of America’s New Jersey branch, added that Christie wants voters to “hate public employees”:
We are not changing pensions. … I think it’s a diversion. … He’s throwing out red meat—[saying] “Let’s go back to the old bugaboo. Everyone should hate public employees. All of your problems are public employees and their entitlements. And don’t look at the man behind the curtain of Bridgegate, of Hurricane Sandy.” Last year, all we heard about was Hurricane Sandy, Sandy, Sandy, Sandy. This year we’re back to the public employees.
At a town meeting in North Jersey the day after his budget speech, Christie castigated Democrats for defending workers’ benefits saying, “Democrats don’t want to take the hard steps to reign in entitlement spending.” And he warned that if the legislature didn’t go along with new pension changes he wants, he’ll have to take “extreme measures.” He said:
I’m ready work with the entire Legislature to come up with ideas to fix this, but if they’re unwilling to that do that, this is a problem we’re going to own. I’m willing to take more extreme measures.
He added: “Detroit is giving us a preview of what could happen to us. It’s the trailer of what could happen to us if we don’t get on this even more now.”
Consider yourself warned.
This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.
When it comes to immigration, US policymakers have never been shy about which types of foreign workers they want living and working in the United States. In his 2013 State of the Union address, for example, President Barack Obama listed attracting “the highly skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy” as a key tenet of immigration reform.
This sentiment is widespread among policymakers. They want doctors and engineers, not dishwashers and landscapers.
But while this kind of immigration can pay dividends for a small pool of educated migrants and the companies who hire them, it produces losers as well. Like their outsourcing counterparts, some US corporations use imported workers as a way to keep wages down as well as to fill their labor demand. And what happens to the countries these educated individuals leave behind is almost never discussed.
The term “brain drain” was first coined by the British Royal Society to describe the migration of scientists and technologists from the United Kingdom to the United States and Canada in the 1950s and ’60s. Today, the term has come to explain the large-scale emigration of educated individuals from the countries of their birth. When a nation exhausts its human capital, economic development is impeded, leaving the citizens who remain in dire straits.
Despite having an entire agency—USAID—that promotes the development of human capital abroad, US immigration policies can have just the opposite effect.
Bait and Switch
The US immigration structure operates on a visa system. The government issues H-1B visas to foreign workers with specialized skills in science, technology and medicine, among many other fields, allowing them to legally reside and work in the United States. This particular visa is popular among large corporations with the resources to pay the visa fees for their foreign applicants. By spending a little extra on the hiring process for these workers, they can net higher profits by paying their immigrant employees less than their US-born counterparts. More than 80 percent of H-1B visa holders, in fact, are paid lower wages than US citizens in comparable positions.
The tech industry in particular is notorious for its abuse of H-1B visas. In 2012, after claiming that it could not fill 6,000 domestic jobs due to a lack of available visas and qualified American workers, Microsoft proposed a solution. If the US government would increase the number of visas available by 20,000, Microsoft said, the company would agree to pay $10,000 for each applicant—nearly four times the usual fee. The revenue earned would go toward funding STEM education programs in the United States.
Microsoft’s bid garnered support from the STEM Coalition, an organization made up of corporations, educational nonprofits and some labor advocates that Microsoft is a member of. The coalition signed a letter expressing support for the visa increase as Microsoft approached a group of senators to craft the bill. It was a noble solution to the alleged problem, but the final draft of the legislation turned out to be vastly different from what Microsoft had initially described. In what was billed as a “classic bait and switch,” the bill ended up calling for an increase of 300,000 available visas—some fifteen times what Microsoft had proposed—with Microsoft only paying a paltry fee of $1,825 per visa, or less than 20 percent of what the company had promised.
The tech industry is not the only sector with a shortage of workers—many parts of the United States, especially rural areas, suffer a shortage of physicians. Part of the problem is that the United States simply does not train the number of doctors it needs—annually, 50 percent of medical school applicants are rejected despite the fact that many of them have stellar GPAs. The steep cost of medical school deters other applicants from even applying. This creates an attractive vacuum for well-trained and ambitious doctors from developing countries—as of 2010, over a quarter of all US physicians were born outside the country.
What’s Left Behind
The increase of available H-1B visas allows for highly educated foreigners to pursue a more prosperous career in the United States. But what does it mean for the countries they leave behind?
In India, home to the large majority of H-1B visa recipients, many medical students opt to study abroad because of rising costs and limited capacity at their public institutions. The medical brain drain in India not only reduces the number of doctors available for care, but it also removes the people needed to push for healthcare reforms.
Considered the most privatized health system in the world, India’s public health system is made up of mainly rural health centers that lack basic infrastructure, medicines and staff. India spends only 0.9 percent of its GDP on healthcare, which promotes a large private healthcare industry that remains inaccessible to the poor. The wealthy can afford to be treated at a state-of-the-art hospital for a stomach ache, while the poor must walk long miles to receive treatment for sicknesses and sometimes discover that the medicine they need is unavailable. The shortage of doctors is staggering: there are only six doctors for every 10,000 patients. People in need of medical attention may spend days waiting in line for tests or drugs because there are simply not enough doctors and nurses available to tend to their medical needs.
India is not the only country that suffers from brain drain, and the loss of human capital does not only affect the medical industry. Zimbabwe is struggling to keep its education sector from collapsing after losing 45,000 teachers in 2010 alone. Haiti has lost more college graduates than any other country in the world. Brain drain is occurring in every region of the developing world.
Plugging the Drain
Ensuring that skilled workers have opportunities to flourish at home is ultimately a challenge for source countries, not the richer countries that absorb them when they leave. But the loss of brain power to the United States and other developed countries creates an unfortunate cycle for poorer countries: educated individuals migrate, leaving their home countries’ tax base and infrastructure in poor shape. The weakened infrastructure in turn means that more people will leave, driving the cycle onward.
In order to solve this problem, the governments of developing nations should strive to create incentives for their educated workers to stay home and use their abilities to create a better and more sustainable society. Perhaps developed countries can provide some assistance through educational partnerships or other forms of cooperation. But because freedom of movement is an inalienable human right, neither the United States nor the source countries can (or should) simply prohibit skilled workers from moving around the globe.
Meanwhile, the United States should reconsider its own prejudices about foreign workers. In their drive to welcome skilled laborers to the United States, US policymakers often overlook the value of unskilled and semiskilled migrants. The construction, agricultural and homecare industries, for example, all rely heavily on the labor of a foreign-born workforce. These are seldom the people praised by pundits as the “best and brightest,” but they’re vital to the US economy and perform valuable work for their fellow Americans.
Immigration can be a blessing for all who are touched by it. But to reap the benefits, we need an honest accounting of the costs. How can countries be expected to manage brain drain when all the plumbers have left?
Read Next: Moshe Z. Marvit on how crowdworkers became the ghosts in the digital machine.
Ray Davies, one of my musical heroes dating back to the Kinks half a century ago, always championed working-class struggles, going back to “Dead End Street.” Chrissie Hynde, frontwoman for the Pretenders, has long been in the forefront of animal rights and anti-fur protests. So it’s not exactly shocking that their daughter, Natalie Hynde, 29, was arrested last summer in a unique anti-fracking protest in England.
The 32-year-old, along with 55-year-old Simon Medhurst, had superglued themselves together around the drill site’s gate on July 31 to create a “striking and symbolic” media image, according to the BBC, to raise awareness about fracking (a technique to fracture shale rock and retrieve natural gasses within). Hynde and Medhurst both denied wrongdoing.
Despite their claims, a judge said the pair “went beyond reasonable freedom of speech.” Furthermore, district magistrate William Ashworth said that Hynde and Medhurst did beset the site “in the true meaning of the word” because they had blocked access to it. The blockade cost the drilling firm Cuadrilla £5,000 ($8,300). Hynde was given a twelve-month conditional discharge and ordered to pay costs of £400 and a £15 “victim surcharge”; Medhurst was told to pay £200 and a £20 victim surcharge.
But it could have been differently disruptive: Hynde said her original plan was to dig a tunnel at the site. Instead, she tried superglue because it was easier. “I wanted it to look peaceful, with the hands around the gate, and superglue seemed fast,” she said. “I hadn’t done it either, so I thought it would be a good thing to try.” She did not know how long the fixative would hold. “If it did [obstruct access to the site], then great,” Hynde said. “That wasn’t the intention.”
Hynde, a longtime activist, said that simply waving a placard this time wouldn’t get them anywhere. She was arrested one year ago after chaining herself to a tree in a protest against construction of a controversial new road.
Davies and Hynde never married. There are many famous offspring of rock stars and models, actors, actresses, even writers, but I can’t think of another daughter of two Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members (let me know if you do).
Here’s an excerpt from Natalie Hynde’s piece in The Guardian:
Getting arrested for taking part in direct action at Balcombe was the most liberating experience I’ve ever had. Nothing I’ve ever done in my life has made me feel so empowered and alive.
Anyone can Google the “List of the Harmed” or look at the Shalefield Stories detailing what’s happened to people in the US as a result of fracking—the nosebleeds, the cancers, the spontaneous abortions in livestock, the seizures and silicosis in the worker’s lungs. Not to mention the farming revenue lost from sick and dying cattle. When you have exhausted all other channels of democratic process—written letters, gone on marches and signed petitions—direct action seems the only way left to get your voice heard…
A lot of us want the moratorium that was lifted in 2012 to be reinstated—due to new evidence and significant Royal Society/RIE recommendations not having been followed. We’ve already had two earthquakes in Blackpool and the property market in the town has tanked as a result of the fracking. In the exploratory drilling process, the range of chemicals, including hydrochloric acid, pose a massive threat if they escape from the well. All wells leak eventually—6% of gas wells leak immediately and 50% of all gas wells leak within 15 years….
We need an outright ban on fracking—or at the very least, a moratorium.
Read Next: Chris Hayes profiles the Exxon CEO suing to keep fracking out of his backyard.
President Obama spoke with Afghan President Hamid Karzai by phone on Tuesday, for the first time since late June, and finally issued a long-rumored ultimatum: the United States will prepare plans to withdraw all 37,000 US troops from the country in the event a bilateral security agreement isn’t signed.
Karzai has resisted signing that agreement, which a leaked draft indicated would keep a non-trivial US troop presence in the country (rumored to be anywhere between 7,000 and 15,000 soldiers) through “2024 and beyond.” The troops would serve in a support capacity, but would be authorized to conduct “counter-terror” operations as needed. Ultimately, Karzai punted on signing the BSA and said it would be up to his successor, who will be elected sometime this year.
Obama’s ultimatum to sign the BSA or risk a total US troop pullout comes amidst a widening debate in Washington over the war, which is now both the longest and least-popular in US history.
Even the administration is internally divided, according to reports. The Hill asserted in January that a fight was “raging” between the White House, State Department, and Department of Defense over whether to pull all US troops from Afghanistan after 2014.
The report said that the zero-option “is being advocated by some White House officials who believe the US should be spending more money at home versus abroad.” Obama’s ultimatum yesterday might indicate those voices have won at least a partial victory.
On Capitol Hill, more and more legislators are paying attention. As we’ve been reporting, a bipartisan group of senators has introduced a bill demanding Obama consult Congress before entering a new phase of the war in Afghanistan.
The bill, which so far has eight co-sponsors, has been referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. A committee spokesman could not tell The Nation when, or if, it would be given a vote.
But some of the bill’s sponsors welcomed Tuesday’s news of the Obama-Karzai phone call. “I applaud President Obama’s decision to prepare for a complete withdrawal of all US troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and I hope he will choose this course regardless of who succeeds President Karzai in Afghanistan’s April elections,” said Senator Joe Manchin in a statement. “It is time to bring our troops home from our nation’s longest war.
Meanwhile, however, some pro-war Republicans are starting to speak up and sound familiar refrains about supposed surrender. For a long while the GOP has been loathe to discuss the war at any length—Mitt Romney barely mentioned it during the 2012 campaign—but Representative Buck McKeon, the head of the House Armed Services Committee, delivered a lengthy speech in Washington on Monday that took a stridently anti-withdrawal approach.
McKeon slammed Obama for allegedly failing to acknowledge recent victories in Afghanistan, and said that at times “the president openly campaigned against his own strategy” and “sent his political operatives out to stoke fatigue and hopelessness.”
Those are weighty charges, and McKeon came awful close to suggesting Obama is aiding the Taliban. “Counterinsurgencies have two fronts—the one out there, and the one right here,” he said. “The troops have held their line out there. The president has not held the line here.”
House Speaker John Boehner, perhaps sensing political opportunity, echoed those sentiments late Tuesday after the Obama-Karzai call and news of the zero-option ultimatum broke. “Over the last year, our commander in chief has often talked more about how we plan to leave Afghanistan than how we are going to achieve our mission,” Boehner said.
The increasing pressure from Republicans for Obama to stay is notable, though may end up being moot. If Karzai’s successor won’t sign a BSA, then the zero-option will almost surely be executed. If Afghanistan is willing to sign it, however, Washington still appears deeply divided on what to do. Meanwhile, the casualties continue to pile up. Far from Washington on Monday, an Oregon family held a quiet funeral for a 22-year-old Army specialist who died from small arms fire in Kapisa Province, Afghanistan, earlier this month.
Read Next: Bob Dreyfuss critiques the proposed cuts to the defense budget.
The difference between a sweet victory and a dubious one is often a matter of perspective. Take the housing market which, we’re told, is recovering, albeit slowly and in fits and starts. This represents a trend, an upward-heading line on a chart, and a victory of sorts for the economy. But is it really a victory for the people?
The “housing market” that’s represented by that upward-heading line still comprises millions of underwater mortgage-holders (between 6 and 16 million, depending on who you ask), many of whom are now locked into a David-versus-Goliath battle against creditors that are trying to foreclose and evict them. On this level—where “housing” becomes “houses,” where rates of foreclosure become, for victimized families, “foreclosures”—an overall victory for the market doesn’t mean a whole lot. A trend, that is, has trouble enumerating the individual data points and stories that make it up. To make this dubious victory for the housing market a sweet victory for homeowners, the Home Defenders League, using an innovative concept called Local Principal Reduction, is fighting to write happy endings to some of those stories.
Local Principal Reduction provides a local solution for underwater homeowners facing foreclosure. The CARES program (Community Action to Restore Equity and Stability), developed by Professor Bob Hockett at Cornell Law School, empowers a municipality to work with private investors to acquire the worst private-label securities (PLS) mortgages in town. These are the notorious loans (often predatory) that have been sliced and diced and securitized into investment vehicles by Wall Street, and they are not backed by the federal government via Fannie, Freddie, or Ginnie Mae. Private-label securities are owned by investment trusts, not banks, and as such are not eligible for federal assistance programs. And because the original mortgages have been cut into so many pieces, it’s difficult—and sometimes impossible—to determine who has the authority to refinance them. In other words, underwater homeowners have no one to ask for a life preserver.
But under CARES, a city acquires these underwater mortgages, with the help of San Francisco–based Mortgage Resolution Partners, a law firm with the financial and legal expertise necessary to advise the municipalities and arrange for the private capital that’s necessary to buy the loans. After acquiring the loans, the city then works to refinance these mortgages at current market value, thereby offering a financial life raft—and four walls and a roof—to homeowners facing foreclosure.
But here’s the best part: If creditors refuse to sell, then the city can use the power of eminent domain to seize the properties and refinance them anyway. This saves neighborhoods and prevents the blight and decreasing property values that naturally accompany abandoned homes and empty neighborhoods.
The city of Richmond, California, is at the forefront of the LPR campaign. Bill Falik, an adjunct professor at Berkeley Law, explains: “Richmond has tremendous legal authority to condemn underwater mortgages.… It doesn’t matter if this is a highway project. Foreclosures and underwater properties reduce property taxes and reduce neighboring homes’ value. That’s called blight, and eminent domain is the authority for cities like Richmond to correct blight.” It’s a local solution to a national problem, a sweet victory bearing real results for real people, and more than an abstract line on a graph or a hollow-sounding discussion of “recovery.”
Predictably, the plan has its opponents—namely, the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA), the industry trade group that represents the thirty or so trusts that own some 5 million PLS mortgages. SIFMA is dead-set against CARES, and it has spent millions to stop it, unleashing its entire arsenal: lawsuits, threatened lawsuits, recall campaigns, radio spots and direct mail. Because of the threatened litigation, CARES is stalled in Richmond, and the city is looking for other municipalities that it can partner with to protect itself. When fighting Wall Street, there’s strength in numbers.
More insidiously, SIFMA has also threatened to raise the price of credit and to categorically deny loans to residents of cities that opt into an LPR program. Denying credit to otherwise credit-worthy people based solely on their city of residence looks suspiciously like illegal redlining. Moreover, since many of the worst PLS mortgages are for houses in predominantly African-American and Latino communities (groups that were targeted by predatory lenders in the first place), this kind of action by SIFMA smacks of discrimination as well.
So what can you do? Kevin Whelan of the Home Defenders League gives three ways to help.
1. Visit fightingforeclosures.org and donate to (or join) the Home Defenders League campaign.
2. Start a campaign or a petition in your community to assist underwater homeowners. E-mail email@example.com for more details.
3. Contact your Representative in Congress and ask him or her to urge HUD and the FHA to comply with antidiscrimination laws that “forbid denying credit to qualified borrowers and ban discrimination based on factors like race and national origin.” Squash SIFMA’s anti-CARES threats.
Read Next: Alexis Goldstein: “Wall Street Group Aggressively Lobbied a Federal Agency to Thwart Eminent Domain Plans”
Picture it: February 2015, Glendale, Arizona. Michael Goodell, the brother of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, is in town for the Super Bowl. Michael Goodell is gay. He has also garnered media attention in recent months by encouraging the NFL to accept and be welcoming of NFL prospect Michael Sam and all players regardless of their sexuality. Michael Goodell attempts to walk into a Glendale coffee shop for a snack on the day before the big game. The owner recognizes him from the recent press coverage, denies him service and tells him to leave. Michael Goodell, used to a red carpet and not a slap in the face, refuses. The owner calls the police and has the commissioner’s brother arrested because his very presence violates the owner’s religious principles and therefore the laws of Arizona.
This would be the fate of LGBT people throughout Arizona if Governor Jan Brewer signs Senate Bill 1062 this Friday. Not content with codifying the racial profiling of immigrants, the Arizona Senate wants to bring yet another twenty-first-century variant of Jim Crow segregation to their state. Brewer has given some early indication that she would not sign the bill, but we have heard precious little from an NFL who by threatening to move the Super Bowl, could cost the state millions in revenue and even more in prestige. So far, all we have heard from the league came from their spokesman Greg Aiello who stated, “Our policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard. We are following the issue in Arizona and will continue to do so should the bill be signed into law, but will decline further comment at this time.”
This is weak sauce. Roger Goodell should be threatening to pull the Big Game out of the state unless Brewer vetoes the law, not only because it’s the right thing to do but because it would be a show of support to Arizona’s own Super Bowl host committee, which said in a written statement, “We do not support this legislation.”
If Goodell threatened to pull the game, he would be following the precedent of his predecessor Paul Tagliabue who, in 1990, moved the 1993 Super Bowl out of Arizona because of the state’s refusal to recognize Martin Luther King Day. I spoke with Wade Davis, former NFL player and executive director of the You Can Play project. He recalled that previous show of courage under the previous commissioner, saying, “Similar to 1993 when the NFL moved the Super Bowl [out of Arizona] due to the state’s failed recognition of MLK Day, I firmly believe the NFL will stand in solidarity with human rights advocates who oppose the bill and move the 2015 Super Bowl.”
The Arizona Cardinals have not commented on pulling the Super Bowl, but they did e-mail us their displeasure with the bill. The team wrote, “What so many love about football is its ability to bring people together. We do not support anything that has the potential to divide, exclude and discriminate. As a prominent and highly-visible member of this community, we strive to bring positive attention to the state. We are concerned with anything that creates a negative perception of Arizona and those of us who are fortunate to call it home.”
While we all wait for Roger Goodell to say something about this bill, news emerged this week that the NFL is considering Arizona as the future site of the Pro Bowl. In other words, while the nation recoils at Jan Brewer’s pariah state, Roger Goodell—blinders firmly in place—lumbers forward, doing business with a place that should be seen as radioactive.
It is time for the commissioner to act even if it hurts the men who pay his obscene $44 million salary. Here we have a league that is trying to project itself as welcoming to players who want to be open and honest about their sexuality. They cannot do that and hold the Super Bowl or the Pro Bowl in a state that proudly projects itself as a bastion of intolerance. They cannot put NFL employees, players and family members in a situation where they would be unsafe. Roger Goodell has said all the right things in recent weeks about the league being an open and inclusive environment. He needs to be told that words, when not matched with deeds, are very cheap. For $44 million a year, one would think he could afford to do better.
Read Next: Dave Zirin interviews Wade Davis on Michael Sam and homophobia in the NFL.
Chokwe Lumumba maintained a civil rights commitment that was rooted in the moment when his mother showed her 8-year-old son the Jet magazine photograph of a beaten Emmett Till in his open casket. The commitment was nurtured on the streets of Detroit, where Lumumba and his mother collected money to support the Southern Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the civil rights struggles of the early 1960s.
Half a century later, he would be the transformational mayor of a major Southern city, Jackson, Mississippi. But just as his tenure was taking shape, Lumumba died unexpectedly Tuesday at age 66.
The mayor’s death ended an epic journey that challenged conventions, upset the status quo and proved the potential of electoral politics to initiate radical change—even in a conservative Southern state.
As a young man, inspired by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s struggle to address “infectious discrimination, racism and apartheid,” and shocked into a deeper activism by King’s assassination, Lumumba changed his name from Edwin Taliaferro—taking his new first name from an African tribe that had resisted slavery and his new last name from the Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba.
Chokwe Lumumba became a human rights lawyer “defending political prisoners.” His clients would eventually include former Black Panthers and rapper Tupac Shakur. His remarkable list of legal accomplishments included his key role in the 2010 decision of Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour to suspend the sentences of Jamie and Gladys Scott, Mississippi sisters who were released after serving sixteen years of consecutive life sentences for an $11 robbery—a punishment that came to be understood as a glaring example of the extreme over-sentencing of African-Americans.
When he was not in court, Lumumba was agitating, as a civil rights and anti-apartheid activist, as a leading figure in the Republic of New Afrika, and as a co-founder of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement.
That’s not the usual résumé for the mayor of a major Southern city.
But Chokwe Lumumba had no intention of becoming a usual mayor when he launched his bid last year for Jackson’s top job. After a campaign in which the city councilman was outspent 4-1 and attacked as a militant, Lumumba defeated an incumbent mayor and a business-backed contender in the Democratic primary and then won more than 85 percent of the vote in the June 2013 general election.
He took office not merely with the intent of managing Jackson but with the goal of transforming it. “People should take a note of Jackson, because we have suffered some of the worst kinds of abuses in history, but we’re about to make some advances and some strides in the development of human rights and the protection of human rights that I think have not been seen in other parts of the country,” he told Democracy Now! just days after his election.
For Lumumba, that meant building unprecedented coalitions that crossed lines of race, class, gender, ideology and politics. “Our revolution is for the better idea it’s not just for the change in colors.” he told the Jackson Free Press.
Lumumba wanted Jackson to create a “solidarity economy,” with an emphasis on developing cooperatives and establishing models for local development and worker ownership.
“We have to make sure that economically we’re free, and part of that is the whole idea of economic democracy,” said the mayor, who explained in an interview shortly after his election:
We have to deal with more cooperative thinking and more involvement of people in the control of businesses, as opposed to just the big money changers, or the big CEOs and the big multinational corporations, the big capitalist corporations which generally control here in Mississippi. They are a reality.
And so it’s not that we’re going to throw them out of Mississippi. I don’t think that’s going to happen, but I do believe that we can develop ways of working to have Blacks and other—indeed, not just Blacks but other poor people, or people who are less endowed with great wealth—to participate in the economy on an equal basis.
Lumumba was building the coalitions, and gaining a striking level of support for his vision, when he died unxpectedly Tuesday from heart failure.
Lumumba had run for the mayoralty as “a Fannie Lou Hamer Democrat” and promised to renew the small-“d” democracy vision of Hamer’s Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. True to his campaign slogan, “The People Must Decide,” he sought to organize new social and economic networks (with a special emphasis on developing cooperatives) in Mississippi’s capital city, and boldly asked citizens to vote to raise their own taxes in order to repair the city’s crumbling infrastructure. While most politicians avoid association with tax hikes, Lumumba campaigned across the city of 175,000—announcing that “we can fix the problem”—and on January 14, 2014, the mayor won a 9-1 vote of confidence.
Celebrating that victory, Lumumba declared, “I want to just say that it’s been a resounding victory here, and there’s only one way to go—that’s up. We’re going to do exactly what we said. We said at the very beginning that we were going to take infrastructure and revitalize infrastructure and transition infrastructure into economy.”
The mayor’s enthusiasm extended to his efforts to convince Mississippi’s conservative legislature to support aid to Jackson. He created a sense that just about anything was possible in a city that embraced his activist agenda on human rights and economic justice issues.
“I have known Mayor Lumumba since 1974,” said Congressman Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi. “One of the reasons I was so public about my support for the mayor, was that I believed once people got to know the real Chokwe Lumumba they would find him to be an extremely bright, caring and humble individual. His election as mayor and very short term in office demonstrated exactly that.”
Lumumba’s death, from heart failure, came as a shock. And a shocking loss for a city that had elected him just months earlier. Crowds gathered at Jackson’s city hall to mourn that loss. “Words cannot do justice to the emotions we all feel right now. Our great captain has fallen. Our hearts are broken,” said Hinds County (Jackson) Democratic Party chair Jacqueline Amos. “The legacy of Chokwe Lumumba must not be buried with the man.”
Amos is so very right.
Cities are the places where radical reformers can still break the political mold and make real change, where the politics of concession and compromise can be replaced with the politics of people power and renewal. Chokwe Lumumba proved that, and the best way to honor his accomplishment is to elect more mayors who are as determined as he was to be transformative leaders.
Read Next: Jarrett Murphy on New York City’s progressive city council rule changes