National People’s Action members recognize that to reverse the economic and political conditions that are crushing American families, we need a long-term strategy. We believe that if we let the challenging circumstances of now lower our expectations of what’s possible, we’ve already lost. Instead, we have decided to completely reimagine what is possible.
That is why 500 NPA members worked for a year to develop the Long-Term Agenda to the New Economy. Family farmers and public housing residents, employed workers and those seeking work, new immigrants and those whose families have been here for generations worked together identifying the structural reforms necessary to change the balance of power to favor people and democracy over corporate interests. Our members provided direction to the process from start to finish, building an agenda that is truly representative of people.
We started by dissecting the agenda of the corporate elites that produced what we call the 1% economy. The economic and political reality of today is not accidental. Corporate CEOs, think tanks, and political operatives created the 1% economy. Their strategy was to expand the focus of corporate America from simply amassing profit to aggregating power. They organized individual companies and families into a corporate infrastructure, working to build power to advance their agenda. Over the course of decades, they have gained control of our political process, government, and media and used them to shape an economy that serves their interests at the expense of the American people.
With that in mind, we built our own agenda. Imagine a new economic ethos in America. Imagine it creates an economy in which the prosperity and well-being of all people is accounted for in our national bottom line. One that lifts everybody up, and is defined by a robust commitment to dismantling the structural barriers that lock poor and working-class people, people of color, and women out of economic opportunity. Envision a society where global sustainability is a defining economic priority. Imagine that the best-case scenario isn’t simply hoping to share in the prosperity of corporate elites.
That is the world that the members of National People’s Action are fighting to create.
In creating the agenda, we learned a key lesson. When invited to think 30 and 40 years into the future, people are able to step out of the morass of our current political environment, and our sense of what’s possible becomes much more expansive. We are not only able to think bigger; we crave it. Those of us struggling every day in the 1% economy want and need to think beyond the limits of our current reality.
Still, it wouldn’t be enough to think big if it didn’t pass a credibility test. We found that reimagining what’s possible feels real and credible only when accompanied with a clear analysis of how structural reforms—reforms that take power away from the 1% and move power to everyday people—can lead to larger transformation. When we see how a series of steps create a tipping point and a new balance of power, we can envision how we create the level of change that our communities and the planet require. Considering the level of skepticism and cynicism that our current politics breeds, we can’t overstate the power of hope coupled with credibility.
NPA members are now organizing around this agenda. Across the country, we are building long-term structural reform agendas at the state level and launching national campaigns to advance structural reforms that move us toward our long-term vision. There’s one key ingredient missing for this to work. And that’s you. We hope you’ll join us.
George Goehl and Bree Carlson wrote this article for How to Eat Like Our Lives Depend On It, the Winter 2014 issue of YES! Magazine. George is executive director of NPA. Bree is director of NPA’s Structural Racism Program. To read the Long Term Agenda to the New Economy and to join NPA, go to npa-us.org.
Read Sarah's column here: 10 Hopeful Things That Happened in 2013 To Get You Excited About What's to Come
From Democracy Now!
We look back on some of the many signs of hope that emerged on issues ranging from economic equality to LGBT rights to climate justice. With all the bad news that came this year, there were many encouraging displays of a shifting public consciousness and a willingness by ordinary people to mobilize for change. We are joined by Sarah van Gelder, co-founder and editor-in-chief of YES! Magazine, whose latest article is "10 Hopeful Things That Happened in 2013 to Get You Inspired for What’s to Come."
AMY GOODMAN: As 2013 winds down, we’ve compiled a list of the top 20 most viewed interviews this year on our website. Visit democracynow.org and look for a new blog post where you can watch those video highlights.
Well, yes, today is the last day of 2013. Tomorrow, on New Year’s Day, we’ll spend an hour looking back at the year that was. Tens of thousands were killed as Syria descended into one of the worst humanitarian crises in decades. A trove of leaked documents by Edward Snowden revealed a massive U.S.-run surveillance apparatus that spans the entire globe. Countries once again failed to reach a sweeping agreement on climate change as extreme weather caused havoc, including a typhoon that killed over 6,000 people in the Philippines.
But today we’re going to focus on some of the signs of hope that emerged in 2013, on issues from economic equality to LGBT rights to climate justice. With all the bad news that came in 2013, there were many encouraging signs of a shifting public consciousness and a willingness by ordinary people to mobilize for change.
Sarah van Gelder is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of YES! Magazine. She has just written a year-in-review article called "10 Hopeful Things That Happened in 2013 to Get You Inspired for What’s to Come."
Sarah van Gelder, welcome to Democracy Now! So, what should we be inspired by?
SARAH VAN GELDER: Well, I think we should be inspired by the fact that there are so many people in the United States and all over the world who are working for change, many of which are actually being successful.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about number one in your article, seeing a surprising new leadership on the climate issue.
SARAH VAN GELDER: Well, I think, ever since Copenhagen, the strategy of the big environmental groups and Democrats in Congress, which was to get some kind of cap and trade, to get some kind of global agreement, I think that has basically come to a standstill. So now the attention and the initiative and the leadership is shifting to the grassroots. There are students who are working on the divestment campaign. They’re succeeding in getting colleges and universities to divest from fossil fuel companies. There’s indigenous folks all over the world, and particularly we saw an uprising in 2012, 2013, of Idle No More. There are state and local governments—
AMY GOODMAN: Actually, Sarah, we want to go to Idle No More. This month, Foreign Policy magazine named the four founders of Idle No More—Jessica Gordon, Sylvia McAdam, Sheelah McLean and Nina Wilson—among its list of the 100 leading global thinkers of 2013. They were commended for demanding that Canada not leave its First Nations behind. One of the movement’s most high-profile supporters is Chief Theresa Spence, who went on a weeks-long hunger strike in a teepee just outside Ottawa’s Parliament at the end of 2012. She warned she would starve herself until she gets a meeting with Prime Minister Harper to discuss respect for historical treaties.
CHIEF THERESA SPENCE: We’re living in the Third World. And this shouldn’t be happening in this country, you know? They’re getting rich by our land. Everybody is using our traditional land except us. And all these mining companies and other forestries and other things that’s been happening in our community, there’s no benefits for us. It’s all going to the government.
AMY GOODMAN: Sarah van Gelder, you interviewed the four women who founded Idle No More in the piece you wrote, "Why Canada’s Indigenous Uprising is About All of Us." Talk about their work and what’s happened this year since Chief Spence’s hunger strike.
SARAH VAN GELDER: Well, what’s extraordinary is that Prime Minister Harper thought he could sort of push through this major new fossil fuel extraction enterprise across Canada, just rolling over all the First Nations people and everyone else who has concerns about the air and water quality through his legislation, C-45. And he found out that he actually couldn’t do that quite that way. And one of the reasons he couldn’t is because, again, across Canada, First Nations groups formed local versions of Idle No More.
Idle No More is very much of a grassroots effort. These women were not major indigenous leaders. They were not people who were on the front page. They were people who were active in their own communities, but they came together and said, "We cannot acquiesce to this sort of pillage of our lands anymore, and we will be idle no more." And that inspired people across Canada, and then in the United States and elsewhere around the world. They did flash mob round dances, where they would basically do an occupation of intersections and public spaces. They had the fast that you mentioned. There have been blockades in places where there are efforts to get fracking going. There’s one going on right now in New Brunswick.
So, I think what we’re seeing is that a lot of the initiative now on the climate question is coming down to each local area. We have some of this going on in the Pacific Northwest, as well, where extreme oil and extreme energy is causing all sorts of local damage. I mean, the train wreck in North Dakota is an example of this going on right now also. People are standing up for their rights to have a clean environment where they are, but they’re also aware that this is very much linked to the climate crisis globally.
AMY GOODMAN: Sarah van Gelder, we’re speaking to you in Seattle. In your wrap-up of the hopeful things that happened in 2013, you write about the beginning of an education uprising. We covered parts of these developments in May, when teachers, students and parents in Seattle won their campaign to reject standardized tests in reading and math. Their protest began in January when teachers at Garfield High began a boycott of the test, saying it was wasteful and being used unfairly to assess their performance. I spoke with Jesse Hagopian, a high school history teacher and union rep at Garfield High School, just after their victory.
JESSE HAGOPIAN: We were celebrating the fact that our students will no longer have to sit in front of the dull glow of a computer screen, looking at questions that they were never prepared for because the test was not aligned to the state-mandated curriculum. And we were celebrating because our English-language learners will no longer have to be humiliated by a test that is linguistically and culturally inappropriate for them. Our special ed students will no longer have to take a test where their IEPs, or individual education plans, will no—are not respected.
And, you know, we were celebrating, I think, too, because Washington state ranks number one in the nation in high-stakes testing. And we spend over $100 million a year on these tests. And Garfield High School teachers and teachers around Seattle who have joined the boycott of the MAP test have said that we would rather spend that $100 million on reading coaches and on tutoring programs, things that can actually help elevate our students and get them where we know they need to be.
AMY GOODMAN: Jesse Hagopian, high school history teacher and union representative at Garfield High School. Sarah?
SARAH VAN GELDER: Yeah, we’re actually—our next issue of YES! Magazine is going to be on education, and we’re going to be telling that story from Garfield High School in some depth, partly because it’s an exciting example of something that happened in 2013, but also because we think this is going to be spreading. What we’ve seen around the country is austerity, which cuts back on the budgets of schools, including ones that are really struggling; the whole Race to the Top, which is a successor to No Child Left Behind, which is basically using high-stakes testing to punish schools that are struggling with—especially with students that are coming right out of poverty; the sort of punitive attitude towards teachers or students who are having a hard time—instead of supporting them in succeeding, we’re seeing this kind of punitive approach. And what we’re doing in this next issue of YES! is looking at how—what it will take to actually get these schools to succeed and what it will take to get this movement to spread, so that instead of punishing our schools, we’re supporting them and we’re preparing students for the kind of a world that they’re going to be inheriting, not the kind of world that will just slot them into low-wage jobs.
AMY GOODMAN: The LGBT movement won a historic victory in June when the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and paved the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California. In a five-to-four decision, the court ruled the 1996 DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, signed by President Clinton, was unconstitutional. This means that legally married same-sex couples entitled to claim the same 1,100 federal benefits as heterosexual couples. The lead plaintiff in the case, 84-year-old Edith Windsor, hailed the ruling.
EDITH WINDSOR: I’m honored and humbled and overjoyed to be here today to represent not only the thousands of Americans whose lives—whose lives have been adversely impacted by the Defense of Marriage Act, but those whose hopes and dreams have been constricted by the same discriminatory law. Children born today will grow up in a world without DOMA, and those same children who happen to be gay will be free to love and get married as Thea and I did, but with the same federal benefits, protections and dignity as everyone else.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Edie Windsor. Democracy Now! also spoke about the Supreme Court’s ruling that paved the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California. We interviewed Stuart Gaffney and John Lewis, who were two of the plaintiffs in the California marriage cases that established the freedom to marry before Prop 8 went into effect. This is Stuart Gaffney.
STUART GAFFNEY: You know, this is a sweet moment. Those of us married in 2008, before the passage of Proposition 8—and there are 18,000 couples just like us—we’re all celebrating our five-year anniversaries right now. And what an anniversary gift we have just received from the U.S. Supreme Court to know that now we’re not just the class of 2008, this sort of footnote in the history of marriage equality in this country, but instead we’re the beginning of an era that now continues of the freedom to marry in California, thanks to this decision yesterday. It’s really a happy day not just for the rights of all fair-minded Americans, but also for our friends who have been waiting for as long as five years to finally be able to legally say, "I do." You showed us the joy from the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court, and I can tell you that in San Francisco City Hall, the joy was that much or even greater as we looked around and saw our friends begin to plan their wedding day.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Stuart Gaffney, and he was sitting next to John Lewis, his partner. Sarah van Gelder, the significance of this?
SARAH VAN GELDER: Well, I think we’ve really hit a tipping point on this issue, Amy. I think, you know, it used to be that a slight majority were opposed to same-sex marriages; now it’s turned, and a slight majority of Americans favor it. We now have about a third of the population of the United States living in states where marriage is allowed. The federal government now, after they refused to defend DOMA at the Supreme Court—and, of course, now that it’s been overturned—the federal government is now making benefits available to same-sex couples. So I think we’ve really hit a turning point. Even the state of Utah, of course, now allows gay marriage.
AMY GOODMAN: And then let’s turn to healthcare. In our coverage of "Obamacare" this year, we also covered how it’s fed interest into single-payer healthcare. In October, I spoke with Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, the primary care physician and co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program, which has worked with the group Healthcare-NOW! to continue their push for single-payer both at the state level and at the national level.
DR. STEFFIE WOOLHANDLER: Single-payer is also known as expanded and improved Medicare for all, also known as nonprofit national health insurance. It means you would get a card the day you’re born, and you’d keep it your entire life. It would entitle you to medical care, all needed medical care, without co-payments, without deductibles. And because it’s such a simple system, like Social Security, there would be very low administrative expenses. We would save about $400 billion, which would allow us to afford the system. I mean, I just want to remind you that when Medicare was rolled out in 1966, it was rolled out in six months using index cards. So if you have a simple system, you do not have to have all this expense and all this complexity and work.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, "index cards"?
DR. STEFFIE WOOLHANDLER: They didn’t have computers back in 1966, OK? So they expanded—went from zero to over 20 million people enrolled in Medicare in a period of six months. And because it was a simple system, based on the Social Security records, it was a tax-based system, you didn’t have hundreds of people programming the state of Oregon, thousands of different plans, tons of different co-payments, deductibles and restrictions—one single-payer plan, which is what we need for all Americans to give the Americans really the choice they want, which is not the choice between insurance company A or insurance company B. They want the choice of any doctor or hospital, like you get with traditional Medicare.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, primary care physician, co-founder of Physicians for a National Health Program. Sarah van Gelder, you’re editor-in-chief of YES! Magazine, wrote this piece, "10 Hopeful Things That Happened in 2013." How do you get from "Obamacare" to single-payer? So many people feel that what happened this year was so—well, somewhat catastrophic on many different levels.
SARAH VAN GELDER: Well, I’m not sure if we will right away, but I can tell you that in the state of Vermont they’re working on that, and that’s how Canada got single-payer healthcare. It started in one province, in the province of Saskatchewan, and it was such a success that all the other provinces wanted it. And even though the party that had put it into place in Saskatchewan only won an election long enough to put it into place and then were voted out of office, the conservatives and the other parties were never able to take it apart, because it’s been so successful. So, in the state of Vermont, they’re working on a single-payer healthcare system statewide right now. Whether or not they can pull it off, as just one state and a fairly small state, has yet to be seen, but they believe, just as the doctor was speaking of, that there’s so much savings to be gained by a far more efficient system of single-payer, without all the profits and all the bureaucracy that go along with having all these competing for-profit insurance companies. They believe they can get a better system, even just at one state.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Sarah van Gelder, we only have a few seconds, but it’s
hard to put Syria on the list of something hopeful that happened, but you managed to.
SARAH VAN GELDER: Well, I did, because I believe—back in the summer, I think many of us believed that we were going to war in Syria, and it was going to become yet another quagmire like Iraq and Afghanistan. And somehow, the combination of people power, perhaps some wisdom from the Obama administration—I think it was the American people rising up and just saying, "We’ve had enough." But somehow diplomacy won out, international law won out, and instead of the U.S. getting further involved and further making things even worse for the Syrian people, we’re now working with the international community on getting rid of those chemical weapons.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Sarah van Gelder, I want to thank you very much for joining us, editor-in-chief of YES! Magazine. Her latest piece, "10 Hopeful Things That Happened in 2013 to Get You Inspired for What’s to Come." We’ll link to it at democracynow.org.
Tune in on New Year’s Day, on Wednesday, for our special year in review that looks back at 2013. You can also visit our website to see the top 20 most viewed interviews this year at democracynow.org.
What will it take to get us to a would of peace where we all have access to what we need to live a dignified life? My thought is that we will need to share and cooperate as never before, to devote ourselves to promoting the common good, and to create new social, political, and economic structures that better serve those ends.
One promising initiative in that direction is Shareable.
Given my particular interest in cross cultural activities and travel, I recommend that you read Neal Gorenflo’s post, #HackTravel: Why No One Will Buy Tourism in the Future. Start by watching this two minute video:
There was something almost apocalyptic about 2013. Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the Philippines, the strongest storm ever recorded on land. It killed more than 6,000 people and affected millions. But it was just one of the 39 weather-related disasters costing $1 billion or more in 2013.
In Australia, record high temperatures forced mapmakers to create a new color on the weather map. Massive wildfires swept through California, historic flooding took out bridges and roadways in Colorado, and tornadoes swept through the Midwest, destroying towns like Moore, Okla. Millions of people are on the move, seeking to escape the effects of climate-related disasters.
CO2 concentrations passed 400 parts per million for the first time this year, and yet governments have done little to curb emissions. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of dollars—much of it from secret sources—flow to climate-denier think tanks and advocacy groups.
Pop culture often explores a change before politicians do, and 2013 saw a rash of post-apocalyptic movies—from World War Z to Oblivion—and zombie apocalypse role-playing games.
Much happened that was hopeful this year—a new pope focused on inequality, successful minimum wage campaigns spread across the country, and the number of states allowing gay marriage doubled.
But responses to the threat of the climate crisis lead off this year’s top stories as we look at seeds sown this year that could make 2014 transformational.1. We saw surprising new leadership on the climate issue
In northeast Nebraska, Native Americans and local ranchers formed a new alliance to resist the Keystone XL pipeline. Seven thousand activists gathered in Pittsburgh to press for action on a wide range of environmental justice issues. Students across North America persuaded nine colleges and universities to divest from fossil fuel companies. Hundreds of climate activists walked out of the COP19 climate talks in Poland to hold their own climate talks.
The governors of California, Oregon, Washington, and the Canadian province of British Columbia have committed to taking action on the climate crisis. But Congress remains deadlocked and in denial, and climate scientists—when they let down their careful professional demeanor—express astonishment that world governments have failed to act on what is fast becoming a global emergency.
A new potential ally is coming from an unexpected source. Some investors are beginning to worry that fossil fuel companies may not be a good bet. Investors worry about a “carbon bubble.”
The reserves of oil, gas, and coal counted as assets by the big energy corporations would be enormously destructive to life on Earth if they were allowed to burn. Many believe that new regulation or pricing will keep a large portion of those reserves safely in the ground.
If that happens, the companies' reserves, and thus their stock, may be worth far less than believed. Savvy investors are placing their bets elsewhere: Warren Buffett, for example, is investing $1 billion in wind energy, which, along with solar energy, is looking better all the time.
In response to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s attempt to ramp up fossil fuel extraction on Native lands, Idle No More blossomed across Canada this year. First Nations people held flash mob round dances, blockaded roads, and appealed to government at all levels to protect land and water.
And it’s not just Canada. In Washington state, the Lummi Tribe is among those resisting massive new coal transport infrastructure, which would make exported coal cheap to burn in Asia.
In Nebraska, the Ponca Tribe is teaming up with local ranchers to resist construction of the Keystone tar sands pipeline. Indigenous peoples in the Amazon, the Andes, Malaysia, the Niger Delta, and elsewhere are also at the front lines of resistance to yet more dangerous fossil fuel extraction. Many are turning to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples and the new Rights of Nature movement for support.
Indigenous peoples developed ways of life that could sustain human life and the natural environment over thousands of years. The rest of the world is starting to recognize the critical importance of these perspectives, and there is growing willingness to listen to the perspectives of indigenous peoples.3. The middle and lower classes fought for economic justice
Income inequality is reaching levels not seen since the Roaring Twenties. People stuck in long-term unemployment are running out of options, and those who do find work often can’t cover basic living expenses. The issue is now getting attention from mainstream media, becoming one of the defining issues of our time, as President Obama said.
Now a movement is building to create a new economy that can work for all. Voters this year passed minimum wage laws in SeaTac, Wash., ($15 an hour) and the state of New Jersey. An overwhelming majority favors raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour. Domestic workers won the right to a minimum wage after years of organizing.
The message was also clear in the election of Bill de Blasio, a founder of the Working Families Party, as mayor of New York City. Inequality is a top plank of his platform and his public record. At the national level, Senator Elizabeth Warren’s defense of the rights of student borrowers and her proposal to strengthen Social Security (instead of weaken it, as leaders in both party are discussing) is winning widespread support. There is even talk of drafting Warren to run for president.
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At the grassroots, National People’s Action and the New Economy Institute are leading new conversations about what it takes to build an economy that works for all and can function in harmony with the environment. Thousands of people are taking part.
And a growing cooperatives movement is linking up with unions and social movements. Some are working with large “anchor” institutions, like hospitals and universities, that can provide a steady market for their products and services. Credit unions, too, are proving their value as they keep lending to local businesses and homeowners as Wall Street-owned banks pulled back.
And a new DIY sharing economy is taking off, as people do peer-to-peer car-sharing, fundraising, and skill-sharing, and bring open-source technology to new levels.5. U.S. military strikes didn't happen
The big news of the year may be the two wars the United States refused to instigate.
The United States did continue its drone strikes, and the civilian casualties are causing an international uproar, with some calling for an outright ban on drones. And military spending continues to devastate the country’s budget. (The United States spent more on the military in 2013 than China, Russia, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Saudi Arabia, India, Germany, Italy, and Brazil combined.) Few dared to call for the same fiscal discipline from the military and its many contractors as they expect from schools and services for the poor.
On the other hand, the United States stepped back from the brink of military strikes against Syria and Iran—a step in the right direction.6. Pope Francis called for care and justice for the poor ...
...and for an end to the idolatry of money and consumerism. He also criticized “ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation.”
In his "Evangelii Gaudium" he says: “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.”
This call is provoking outrage from Rush Limbaugh and Fox News commentators, but elsewhere, it’s leading to a new questioning of the moral foundation for a system that concentrates wealth and power while causing widespread poverty.7. Gays and lesbians got some respect
On June 26, the Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. Today, married gay couples are entitled to federal benefits once reserved for straight couples. The year saw a doubling of the number of states allowing gay marriages, and a third of all Americans now live in such states.
Support for gay marriage has flipped from a slight majority opposing it to a majority now supporting the rights of gay and lesbian couples to marry. As a wider range of gender identities has become acceptable, men and women, gay and straight, are freer to shed gender stereotypes without fear of bullying and humiliation.8. There were new openings for a third party
Just 26 percent of Americans believe the Democratic and Republican parties are doing “an adequate job,” according to an October Gallup poll; 60 percent say a third party is needed. Eighty-five percent disapprove of the job Congress is doing. Even cockroaches (along with zombies, hemorrhoids, and Wall Street) have a higher approval rating according to a recent poll by Public Policy Polling.
But it’s not the Tea Party that Americans are looking to as the alternative. Support for the Tea Party has fallen: In an October NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, only 21 percent of respondents had a favorable view of the party.
New space has opened for independent political work. The Working Family Party (see #3 above) is an especially interesting model.9. Alternatives to Obamacare are in the works
Democratic leadership believed that the big profits the Affordable Care Act guaranteed to private insurance companies would make the act popular with conservatives.
But the resulting system, with all its complications and expenses—and requirements—is frustrating millions. There are features that benefit ordinary people, but it compares poorly to the simpler and more cost-effective systems that exists in most of the developed world. Canadian-style single-payer health care, for example, had the support of a majority of Americans. Some jurisdictions are still looking for alternatives. Cooperative health insurance is available in some states and others are working to establish statewide single-payer healthcare.10. An education uprising began
The momentum behind the education reform agendas of Presidents Bush (No Child Left Behind) and Obama (Race to the Top) is stalling. The combination of austerity budgets, an ethic of blame directed at teachers, high-stakes testing, and private charter schools has stressed teachers and students—but it has not resulted in improved performance.
Seattle’s Garfield High School teachers, students, and parents launched an open rebellion last spring, joining a handful of others in refusing to administer required standardized tests. The movement is spreading around the country, with more rebellions expected in the spring of 2014 (stay tuned for an in-depth report in the Spring issue of YES!)
We live in interesting times, indeed. The growing climate emergency could eclipse all the other issues, and the sooner we get on it, the more we can use the transition for innovations that have other positive spin-offs.
There’s not a moment to lose.
Sarah van Gelder wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Sarah is co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of YES!
More From Sarah van Gelder
On October 28, the list of people testifying before the Philadelphia City Council’s Committee on Public Property and Public Works seemed endless: Hour after hour, witnesses from every corner of the city were agreeing that living next to a vacant lot is an awful experience.
“It’s become this area where people dump their trash; it attracts stray animals; people go in to hook up and do drugs; it’s just nasty and dangerous,” Rachel Sensenig told me, reiterating her testimony about the “huge” vacant lot next to her home in Northwest Philadelphia. “We do good stuff in our back yard, but there’s just a fence separating it. … No one wants to barbecue next to a pile of trash.”
Sensenig is an administrative pastor with Circle of Hope, a youth-oriented Christian church that is one of 46 members of the grassroots Campaign to Take Back Vacant Land. She was referring to the testimony of another attendee, who no longer holds gatherings outside of her North Philadelphia home due to the huge accumulation of dumped garbage in the vacant lot next to her house. She woke up one morning to find trash piled taller than the top of her head.
Not all of Philadelphia’s 40,000 parcels of vacant properties are creepy lots, though: There are also storefronts and boarded-up row houses in bustling commercial corridors and middle-income neighborhoods, properties that are owned by a variety of unsavory types who sit on them waiting for the value to rise higher.
Blighted properties drain public coffers, contribute nothing to the tax base, and serve as havens for crime and trash. After years of work, Sensenig and other activists hope that a bill passed this December will finally provide Philadelphians with a tool to confront this colossal problem: a land bank.
The land bank law, which was championed by Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, will create a public agency that could potentially bring many of those vacant parcels under one roof while simplifying the acquisition process for those interested in obtaining property. Philadelphia will be the largest city yet to adopt a land bank.Blight brings communities down
Vacant land policy doesn’t generate the eye-catching headlines of a homicide or the readily apparent tragedy of the ongoing underfunding and privatization of schools. But it is an important factor in the city’s efforts to recover economically from the post-industrial blues. Blighted land and crumbling buildings are millstones around the necks of the population (which has recently been growing for the first time in decades).“[Vacant parcels] tend to be in neighborhoods with particularly high concentrations of poverty, which is why the land bank is a very critical public policy initiative."
Many Philadelphians believe the land is being squandered because the city's land management system is broken. The current structures in place are inadequate to deal with the 30,000 parcels held by private owners, a majority of them tax delinquent, and the 10,000 parcels controlled by a snarled thicket of four public agencies, each with their own distinct and intricate acquisition process that can last years without conclusion. (According to the Philadelphia Land Bank Alliance, these four entities annually sell a mere 1 percent of their properties back into productive use.)
Meanwhile, a report from the consulting firm Econsult estimates that those 40,000 parcels cost the city more than $20 million a year in maintenance costs. The 17,000 parcels that are tax delinquent accrued $70 million in back taxes by 2011, with an additional $2 million added each year. Then there’s the immense drag these eyesores have on surrounding property values, which Econsult says ranges from reductions of 6.5 to 20 percent, depending on the extent of a neighborhood’s blight.
“[Vacant parcels] tend to be in neighborhoods with particularly high concentrations of poverty, which is why the land bank is a very critical public policy initiative: It’s really unjust to saddle those residents with this vast map of blight and vacancy,” says Beth McConnell, policy director of the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations. (The organization is a major booster of the land bank because they hope to use it to establish more affordable housing in the city.)
That’s why the land bank bill has absorbed so much of Councilwoman Quiñones-Sánchez's time and energy. Her district is home to the second-highest concentration of vacant land in the city, which relates to the fact that, as she puts it, “44 percent of the folks live [on] under $20,000.”
To rid her neighborhoods of some of the blight, the land bank would, potentially, do two things: Unite the 10,000 parcels of vacant, publicly held property under the auspices of the land bank, and imbue the new agency with the authority to buy private parcels and scrub them of debt.
Because so many of the privately held parcels are tax delinquent, it is currently too expensive for many potential investors to take a risk. Pre-land bank, the only thing the city could do to address this was to put the property up for a sherriff's sale, a blunt process where the only consideration is which bidder has the most money.
The land bank will be able to obtain properties, erase their debt load, and then sell it to private bidders based on whatever standards it chooses to adopt (which could potentially include an emphasis on those who have an actual plan for the lot, not speculators who will just sit on it.)
These sales would be subject to the approval of the city council and, per an amendment introduced by Council President Darrell Clarke, the Vacant Property Review Committee, which consists of representatives of numerous city agencies.
Although the internal regulations to govern the land bank have not yet been written, supporters hope a criteria for sale will include an evaluation of how it will benefit the community: The legislation requires a plan assessing community needs, setting targets for community beneficial uses, and evaluation of whether those targets are met.A step, not a panacea
Philadelphia isn’t the only city to deal with blightlords and the vacant detritus of the postwar urban crisis. And land banks aren’t a new response to these too common issues.
One of the first was established in St. Louis in the early 1970s, and in recent years they have spread across the Midwest. Alan Mallach, senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, is convinced that the policy stands a far better chance of success in Philadelphia than anywhere else it has been tried. Access to land is, of course, essential if a community is to realize its development capacity—but there has to be the population and capital to support it as well.The United Food and Commercial Workers testified about the need for public housing; Weaver’s Way Co-op about its desire for more urban farmland.
“A land bank is not a panacea. It will not create a market for land where none exists,” Mallach told the City Council committee in October. “People who expected land banks to turn around distressed Rust Belt cities like Flint have been disappointed."
But, Mallach added, Philadelphia is different: "Philadelphia has made remarkable strides in stabilizing its population and housing market over the past decade. … In many parts of the city, housing demand is strong. With the right steps, that demand can spread to areas which, up to now, have seen little progress. Demand is still fragile in many areas, but it’s there.”
The list of groups that testified at an October hearing in favor of the legislation certainly augments that notion: The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) testified about the need for public housing; Weaver’s Way Co-op about its desire for more urban farmland. Similarly adamant testimonials were heard from the Association of Real Estate Developers and the Small Business Association.Slumlords by another name?
But many of the advocates fear that the law that was eventually passed may be too compromised to achieve the desired effect. The reigning political norm dictates that any sale of city land must be introduced by the councilperson of the district in question, and then approved by the whole council. This effectively gives veto power to district council members, who could choose to not introduce the resolution for sale for a good reason, bad reason, or no reason at all. (This norm is called “councilmanic prerogative.”)
City Council President Clarke’s requirement that the Vacant Property Review Committee approve sales will enhance his power to hinder the easy transference of city-owned land from behind the scenes with little political consequence.
Some advocates fear that, under these circumstances, the land bank would knock tax-delinquent slumlords off their perch only to install city councilmembers in their stead.
“I understand that people say perfection is the enemy, but this unwritten rule of councilmanic prerogative has stalled progress for years,” said Ellen Kaplan, vice president of Committee of Seventy, a local government reform group. “It’s the opposite of what a land bank bill is supposed to do. It’s supposed to be efficient and clear, but if they have the ability to say, ‘I’m not going to introduce this resolution,’ then I’m really worried.”
There may well be reason for Kaplan to be apprehensive. The St. Louis land bank was undercut by a similar system where an alderperson basically had veto power over land deals involving publicly held parcels in their district. The Show Me Institute, a conservative Missouri think tank, found that the city’s land bank rejected 43 percent of the offers it received between 2003 and 2010 (often because it hoped to hold out for more substantial development). And in 33 percent of cases, the city countered with an ask for more money. While some of these objections may have been valid, the impression communicated by the Institute is one of land hoarding.The future of vacant land
Nevertheless, advocates believe the land bank holds great promise, despite the potential pitfalls. It still needs to be staffed and to have a strategic plan, clear regulations, and a dedicated funding stream. Activists will have to remain on their toes and put up a fight for all these things: Victory cannot be declared simply because the bill is now law.
Quiñones-Sánchez is particularly excited about a provision of the bill that would allow for long-term strategic neighborhood planning. She says she hopes to see more mixed-use development and affordable housing in her district, and to use the land bank as a means to make it easy for both nonprofits and for-profits to obtain the parcels they need to establish such visions.
“Given [Philadelphia’s] limited resources for housing, how do we plan out what the city can do and how do we engage the private market where they may be able to do a better job?” Quiñones-Sánchez asked in an interview with YES!
“If this gets implemented," she continued, "we foresee the ability over the next couple years to really plan out what different neighborhoods are able to have. We incentivize the private market to go into those areas because we are providing a more predictable development process in terms of zoning and what we want in there.”
A lot of people at the October hearing already had plans for the vacant lots and blighted buildings in their neighborhoods: urban farms, affordable housing, community gardens, and more traditional forms of development (bougie cocktail bars, condos, and the like).
The witnesses at the hearing saw the land bank as the answer to trash-strewn parcels that mar their blocks, and a way for developers, nonprofits, and community groups to purchase the lots they desire quickly and for a reasonable price.
Here’s hoping it works out that way.
Jake Blumgart wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization fusing powerful ideas and practical actions. Jake is a freelance reporter and editor based in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter at @jblumgart.
“Our employees are like family.” It’s a sentiment employers often espouse—and some readers may dismiss it as a cliché: After all, many U.S. workers—particularly lower-wage workers—face dismal conditions, especially when it comes to policies that help them care for their families.
Few American workers are able to take paid leave when they must care for a sick family member or new baby; only 12 percent of private-sector workers currently have paid family leave, and a mere 4 percent of the lowest-wage workers have access to such leave. And the United States is now the only industrialized country that does not offer paid maternity leave.
But the reality is that many employers do want to treat their employees well—they simply find adequate benefits unaffordable.
A new federal bill, introduced today by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., aims to make it easier for employers to do right by their employees.
The Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act would create a paid family and medical leave insurance program, enabling employees to take time to recover from serious illness, care for a sick loved one, or bond with a new child. The program, funded entirely by small contributions from employers and employees, provides up to 12 weeks of partially paid leave.
Here’s how it would work: Under the FAMILY Act, both workers and employers would contribute a small amount from each paycheck to the insurance fund. The cost for a full-time, year-round worker making the median annual income would be $1.68 per week, about the same as a cup of coffee.
A new Office of Paid Family and Medical Leave would administer the fund. Employee and employer contributions would fully cover benefits and administration. During leave, workers would get up to 66 percent of their monthly wages, capped at $4,000 per month in the first year. Almost all workers and employers would be covered and required to contribute.
Because it creates a pool of funds to support the program, the FAMILY Act would make the cost to employers of offering this important benefit significantly lower than if they were to provide it on their own—something that is out of reach for many small employers.
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In California, nine out of ten employers report positive or no effects of paid family leave on business operations. And 91 percent of workers in low-wage jobs who used paid leave say it helped them to better care for a new child. Given their experience, it’s not surprising that California employers are also speaking out in favor of the FAMILY Act.
Many employers across the rest of the country are also supportive. To Rob Everts, co-executive director of Massachusetts-based Equal Exchange, this bill is about seeing employees as “human beings, who have human needs.” He says the FAMILY ACT will “give companies the capacity to treat their employees right—and ultimately, to build better businesses.”
For workers, the passage of the law could mean no longer having to choose between the health of one’s family and paying the bills. Particularly for the most vulnerable workers—those in lower-wage jobs who are most likely to lack any paid leave—the FAMILY Act would be an important step toward remedying inequalities. It would address health disparities, help give children from all socioeconomic backgrounds the best start possible, and alleviate the financial and personal stress of caring for an older relative.
The owner of Bluebottle Coffee Company, James Freeman, explains: “I know I want [paid leave] for my own family … [and] … my 225 employees should have this chance to care for their families, too.”
Opponents of the bill worry that in this tough economy, requiring businesses to contribute to a family and medical leave insurance program is inappropriate. However, employers’ contributions amount to less than 0.02 percent of payroll—a small price to pay for a program that would help boost loyalty and employee retention, lowering the significant costs of turnover.
Indeed, the costs are so minimal and the benefits so compelling that, according to a recent poll from Small Business Majority, a plurality of small business owners from across the country support a program like the one proposed under FAMILY.
Paid family and medical leave is long overdue in this country. The FAMILY Act comes at a time when workers need the economic security of paid leave more than ever. And many business owners are embracing the model wholeheartedly. That’s because, by and large, employers do want to be both profitable and fair, ensuring their most valuable resources—their employees—are well cared for. Sometimes it’s a heavy lift to reconcile both goals. But if passed, the FAMILY Act will significantly reduce the barriers to doing so.
Elizabeth Ben-Ishai adapted this piece for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Liz is a policy analyst at the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP). Follow her at @Liz_Ben_Ishai.
We mourn the passing of one of the greatest and most courageous men of the past century, but the ideals that Nelson Mandela espoused and the work that he started must be continued by those of us who remain.
Lest we forget, Nelson Mandela was persecuted and opposed, not only by the Apartheid government in South Africa, but by the global power elite, generally, especially those who call themselves conservative. You may want to read this excellent article from the Think Progress website:
Here are some highlights:
1. Mandela blasted the Iraq War and American imperialism.
2. Mandela called freedom from poverty a “fundamental human right.”
3. Mandela criticized the “War on Terror” and the labeling of individuals as terrorists without due process.
4. Mandela called out racism in America.
5. Mandela embraced some of America’s biggest political enemies.
6. Mandela was a die-hard supporter of labor unions.
The article also catalogs some of the prominent America politicians and journalists who over the years denounced Mandela.
# # #
Editor's note: The author of this piece has worked as an organizer for the 10-to-1 wage ratio campaign at St. Mary's College.
On Sunday, November 24, Swiss voters rejected an initiative that would have capped executive pay at 12 times that of their companies' lowest-paid employees.
Although the initiative failed, discomfort with high executive pay remains.
Some companies in the United States have tried to address the problem with a salary cap similar to the Swiss initiative. The Ben & Jerry's ice cream company used to have a 5-to-1 salary ratio. Later it was expanded to 17-to-1, before transnational food company Unilever purchased Ben & Jerry's and made its salary structure a secret.
Tens of thousands of people have signed a petition demanding that Congress cap the salaries of corporate CEOs, which can be up to 500 times what their companies' lowest paid-employees receive.
At St. Mary's College, a small school in southern Maryland, faculty, staff, and students have launched a wage ratio proposal of their own. For them, the magic ratio is 10-to-1.By capping high-level administrative pay, the authors say, the school will eventually save money and be able to rein in tuition hikes.
While the lowest paid staff at St. Mary's make $24,500 per year, the highest paid employee, the president, makes over $300,000. Furthermore, according to faculty calculations, most employees are seeing their income lose value over time. Campaigners say if the school truly valued social responsibility, respect, and community maintenance, as it claims to do on its website, the wage structure would be different.
St. Mary's is not the only college with a living wage campaign. Others include Johns Hopkins University, Miami University, and the University of Virginia. Some campaigns, including those at Swarthmore and Harvard, have resulted in higher wages for the lowest paid workers on campus—as did the original incarnation of one at St. Mary's.
That campaign, now known as "St. Mary's Wages, the St. Mary's Way," began in 2002 when staff passed a unanimous resolution to institute a living wage on campus. By 2004, the lowest salary on campus had risen from $15,700 to $20,000. In 2006, frustrated by stalled salary negotiations and what they saw as the poor treatment of the lowest-paid workers on campus, 13 students participated in a 147-hour sit-in at the office of then-president Jane Margaret O'Brien. The occupying students included one former and four current senators from the Student Government Association.
Current students still cite the sit-in as a major turning point in staff and student negotiating power. Afterwards, management went into negotiations with the staff union and agreed to increase the salaries of the lowest-paid staff at St. Mary's to $24,500. Then the living wage campaign was quiet until fall of 2011, when, spurred by staff testimony about financial difficulties, students and a few faculty members launched the 10-to-1 initiative.
The 10-to-1 wage plan would cap the salary of the highest-paid full-time college employee at 10 times that of the lowest-paid ones, and the salaries of the remaining employees would be spread out incrementally between the two. By capping high-level administrative pay, the authors say, the school will eventually save money and be able to rein in tuition hikes.
The campaign gained momentum in 2011 when students learned that high-level administrators earned raises during a statewide wage freeze. Most college employees went without raises that year, but a loophole allowed staff deemed "essential" by the state of Maryland—including the president and members of his cabinet—to earn thousands of dollars in bonuses.
In response, students organized multiple forums, crowded into meetings of the Board of Trustees, marched across campus, and rallied in front of the president's office. Spurred in part by frustrations with the administration, faculty made moves to propel the 10-to-1 proposal through formal channels. The plan was officially launched in September 2013, along with a website detailing the campaign's history.Thinking through the implications
But wages are a touchy subject. Many economists argue that capping them will negatively affect labor markets, sending talent elsewhere. As St. Mary's College economics professor Alan Dillingham told the Baltimore Sun, "You can get a [university] president for probably $150,000, but that might not be the kind of person you want."
Even without the implementation of a wage cap, some say a similar dynamic is already playing out on campus.The school is already making moves to address some salary concerns.
"I have a computer scientist who has been … programming here for six years and he makes around $55,000," said Chris Burch, associate director of enterprise systems and web services at St. Mary's. "A fresh-out-of-college … computer science major could go to [Patuxent River Naval Air] base and make $65,000 right out of the gate, and with good ratings, will be around $81,000 in three years. I can’t pay fair wages for the type and background of work that we need."
However, Burch says he supports the proposal. "I love this idea," he says. "We have an increasing gap between rich and poor as a national issue."
On the Frequently Asked Questions page at the campaign's website, the organizers advocate developing administrators internally—that is, promoting employees who understand the institution and its goals instead of plucking workers from other institutions with promises of high pay.
"While there is some risk of higher turnover by instituting a cap," the page explains, "we should note that paying market wages is no guarantee of getting excellent (or even competent) executives."
The wage cap would not change the $300,000 salary that the president currently makes, which is well within the norm for public schools. Instead, it would increase the pay of the lowest-paid workers to $30,000 and prevent further increases to the president's salary.School of hard knocks
For some, the question of securing quality administrators is second to more immediate concerns. Student organizers say that most of the schools' lowest-paid workers live in poverty and aren't respected for their work.
"The administration treats them like they're expendable, replaceable—some have even said so explicitly," said John Mumby, a former campaign organizer. "And that's not the St. Mary's way.”
In 2011, staff submitted anonymous letters to faculty detailing their economic hardships, which were then posted to a campaign Facebook page. One worker described living "paycheck to paycheck" and said she often needed to borrow money to send her children on school field trips.
The school is already making moves to address some salary concerns. Beginning in 2013, the school instituted a temporary salary reduction for its highest-paid workers. Those making $150,000 and above saw their pay decrease by 5 percent; those making less than that retained their full salaries. Temporary reductions to salaries elsewhere on the pay scale ranged from 0.75 to 2.5 percent.
The school would need about $270,000 to pay for the 10-to-1 proposal. The money is available: enrollment numbers were lower than expected, so the school required all departments to make budget cuts for the 2013 fiscal year. According to the St. Mary's Wages website, the requested cuts left an unexpected surplus approximately equal to the $270,000 needed for the proposal.
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In order to be implemented, the plan needs to be approved by the St. Mary's Board of Trustees.
Gail Harman, the chair of the board of trustees, said that the proposal has never come before the board, so its members haven't spoken about it. Chip Jackson, vice president of business and finance, also said the proposal's authors had not reached out to him. The president's office was contacted for comment but did not return the call.
Meanwhile, the proposal's organizers say they are preparing their next steps. Staff, students, and faculty are submitting proposals to their respective governing bodies, including the Faculty Senate and the Student Government Association. If ratified there, these proposals will be brought before the Board of Trustees.
Meanwhile, the school is conducting a search for a new president. Organizers say they're hoping the new executive will be willing to accept a salary cap and push for the proposal's implementation.
Caroline Selle wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. A 2012 graduate of St. Mary's College, Caroline wrote her senior thesis on the Keystone XL pipeline. She blogs about her experiments in ethical living at www.zerowastegirl.com.
There are a great many civil society organizations doing good work in service to nature, justice, and democracy. Few, however, demonstrate the strategic sophistication of National People's Action (NPA). The NPA, which was founded in 1972, is an informal association of more than 200 grassroots organizations mostly representing working-class families. The NPA provides a place for these groups to work together to advance economic and racial justice.The NPA concludes that the rules currently in place empower the institutions of a 1% percent economy.
I highly recommend the NPA's two reports, "Long-Term Agenda to the New Economy" and "Creating a Long-Term Agenda for Change: A Case History of National People's Action." The latter is filled with lessons from their 5-year planning process, which will be relevant to other organizations committed to advancing a just, sustainable, and democratic new economy.
What most caught my attention is the clarity with which the NPA focuses on changing the rules that hold in place an economic system that assures continued global-scale environmental, social, and political failure. These are six vital lessons that caught my attention in reading these two reports.
1. Listen to and work with your base to create a shared, big-picture narrative that names the problem and its cause, envisions the desired future, and provides a strategic frame within which to identify and prioritize individual campaigns that serve as steppingstones toward that future.
The NPA narrative identifies an economic system that empowers financial markets and corporations to concentrate financial power without limit as a primary source of environmental, social, and political failure. It goes on to envision the institutions of a new economic system designed to maintain a just distribution of wealth and provide all people with the opportunity to achieve a secure and meaningful livelihood.
The analysis and vision combine to frame a strategic focus that aligns NPA's previously disparate housing, banking, workers' rights, immigrants' rights, health, and education campaigns behind a unifying objective. Within this frame, NPA members now choose from among potential tactical initiatives those that have the greatest potential to systematically weaken corporate power and strengthen people power.
2. Focus attention on eliminating and replacing rules and institutions that encourage and reward behavior detrimental to the well-being of people and Earth rather than attempting to limit the damage through efforts to punish individual corporations and persons who engage in unethical behavior in response to the norms and rewards of a defective system.
The NPA concluded that the rules currently in place empower the institutions of a 1% economy that by design systematically and consistently transfers wealth and power from the 99% to the 1%. They are now clear that this system will generate increasing environmental destruction, inequality, and political corruption for as long as it remains in place.
Attempting to get a different outcome by disciplining or removing "bad apples" is akin to a game of whack-a-mole. Concerted citizen resistance may slow the damage, but different outcomes require a different system supported by different rules. Citizen action must address system change through rule change.
3. Take a long-term perspective, expose the failed system as the consequence of intentional choices, and articulate a clear long-term strategic frame that offers ample scope for tactical flexibility.Inviting people to think 40 years into the future helps them look beyond the current political morass.
The NPA planning frame begins with the memo that Supreme Court Associate Justice Lewis F. Powell sent to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on August 23, 1971, in which he outlined a long-term agenda to strengthen corporate power at the expense of people and democracy. For more than 40 years, corporate interests have been advancing that agenda through multiple pathways, including deregulation, privatization, redistribution of wealth through tax policy, strengthening corporate control of education, and packing courts with judges indoctrinated in free market ideology.
Members of the NPA then looked ahead 40 years to envision a new economy, identify pathways to that economy, and select and plan individual campaigns chosen as steppingstones on an inherently long and winding path to the envisioned future.
4. Advance critical rule changes through an inside/outside strategy that combines electoral action, direct engagement with public policy makers, and high visibility street protests.
The NPA is clear that its strategic role centers on political action to change the rules of the game in support of authentic democracy and a just and sustainable 100% economy by shifting power from the institutions of the 1% economy to real people who have a living stake in place-based communities in which they live and work.
The NPA recognizes that electing friendly officials is important, but not sufficient. There must be consistent inside and outside pressure to maintain the commitment of both elected and appointed officials to rule changes that advance the envisioned long-term power shift in the face of well-funded and well-organized corporate opposition.
5. Recognize and confront the explicit and implicit use of race by corporate interests to create and maintain divisions among those who might otherwise mobilize effective opposition to corporate rule.
The NPA recognizes that cultivating division and mistrust—particularly racial division and mistrust—is a favored means used by moneyed interests to block the formation of a broad-based political alliance of sufficient power to thwart their 1% agenda. People of color are the hardest hit by that agenda and therefore have the greatest natural interest in deep system change.
NPA thus gives priority to the issues of communities of color and looks to them as the front line of resistance and action in the drive to create a just and sustainable new economy that works for all.
6. Form long-term alliances with organizations that share the long-term vision.
The NPA recognizes that the deep change required to build a just and sustainable society depends on a broad-based social movement comprised of many players with complementary agendas and a broadly shared vision of possibility. They thus seek deep and enduring relationships with like-minded organizations and have a conscious commitment to share the credit, share the podium, and share the leadership.
Of these six lessons, perhaps the most exceptional and difficult is the first: "Listen to and work with your base to create a shared, big-picture narrative." The NPA membership is comprised of ordinary people from all walks of life. It includes family farmers, public housing residents, employed and unemployed wage laborers, citizens of every generation, and newly arrived immigrants—generally not the sort of folks we would turn to for expert policy analysis and long-term planning advice.
Yet NPA developed a process for engaging some 500 of its members in a long-term planning process. As George Goehl, NPA's executive director, and Bree Carlson, director of NPA's Structural Racism Program spelled out for YES! Magazine, it proved to be a brilliant stroke.
- First, people who experience the reality of economic system failure and have no stake in perpetuating failed economic theories often have a far more real and practical sense of the nature and source of economic failure than the folks society is most inclined to turn to for expert advice on economic policy.
- Second, inviting people to think 40 years into the future helps them look beyond the current political morass and engage a more expansive sense of possibility.
- Third, those who participate in the development of a plan are the most likely to bring a high level of understanding and enthusiasm to its implementation.
Progressive organizations commonly focus on protesting and demanding corrective action to lessen the harms and injustices of a failed economic system. Changing the system is far more difficult and takes far more time, but it is what we must ultimately do.
The lessons of the NPA experience light a path to building a formidable progressive social movement with sufficient political force to replace the institutions of the 1% economy we have with the institutions of the 100% economy we envision and must now create.
David Korten wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. David is the author of Agenda for a New Economy, The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community, and the international best seller When Corporations Rule the World. He is board chair of YES! Magazine, co-chair of the New Economy Working Group, a founding board member of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, president of the Living Economies Forum, and a member of the Club of Rome. He holds MBA and Ph.D. degrees from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business and served on the faculty of the Harvard Business School.
When negotiators from the 12 countries in the Trans-Pacific Partnership gathered this week in Salt Lake City, Utah, they were met by the "TPP Welcoming Committee," a coalition of environmental, social justice, and labor groups who did their best to show that there is opposition to the deal in the United States.Foreign TPP negotiators thanked the protestors for their work.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership would affect laws and regulations involved in fields including agriculture, media, and medicine, and would cover about 40 percent of global GDP. While the leadership of both mainstream political parties in the United States supports the deal, advocates of environmental and social justice, as well as some elected representatives, have criticized it.
The Sierra Club has said the TPP would result in an "explosion of fracking." Public Citizen called it a "corporate power tool of the one percent." And, in a letter signed by more than 130 Democratic members of Congress, representatives Rosa DeLauro and George Miller described the TPP as "weakening ... Buy America provisions, providing extraordinary investor-state privileges, and restricting access to lifesaving medicines in developing nations."
One of the goals of this week's protests was to raise the profile of the deal. The text of the TPP remains secret to everyone except the national negotiating teams and more than 600 corporate "advisers."
That secrecy was dealt a blow last week, when Wikileaks published the TPP's chapter on intellectual property. The 95-page-long leaked document revealed that the United States' negotiators are pushing for a number of policies opposed by most or all of the others—on issues such as the patenting of plants and animals, harsher fines for those accused of copyright violations, and the ability to prosecute individuals who use or share copyrighted content by accident.
As the Washington Post showed in a detailed infographic, the leaked text seems to demonstrate that the United States has become isolated in the TPP talks.
Interactions in Salt Lake City this week between protestors and negotiators from other countries gave the same impression.
Bill Moyer is executive director of the Backbone Campaign, one of the organizations that participated in the actions. Moyer says that when some of those foreign delegates stepped outside of the hotel to view or photograph anti-TPP slogans that activists had projected on the hotel wall, they thanked the protestors for their work.
Then, at another point in the evening, Moyer shouted "Don't allow yourself to be bullied by the United States" to a group of negotiators from Latin American and Asian countries, and they responded by saying, "We're doing our best!"
Organizers used a variety of inventive tactics to express their feelings about the deal throughout the week. On Wednesday and Thursday nights, they used light cannons to project messages onto the walls of the Grand America Hotel, where the negotiations were being held. On Wednesday, they suspended a 75-foot-tall banner outside the hotel using weather balloons, and about 30 people marched to the hotel’s entrance while banging pots and pans.
"We completely undermined their attempts to keep the TPP invisible in the United States and elsewhere," Moyer said. "We overcame the barriers of short notice and geography to show the country, the world, and the international delegates that resistance to the TPP is growing in the United States."
Jesse Fruhwirth, a volunteer with the Salt Lake City-based climate justice group Peaceful Uprising, said the TPP is relevant to climate politics, too. The agreement is likely to make the permitting process for oil and gas drilling easier—bad news for those working to stop or mitigate climate change.
The issue of extraction is especially sensitive in Utah, which possesses valuable gas deposits as well as tar sands.
On Tuesday, as the local Bureau of Land Management auctioned off 44,000 acres of public land for oil and gas leases, TPP opponents joined members of Peaceful Uprising and Utah Tar Sands Resistance in a rally at the auction site.
James Trimarco wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. James is web editor at YES! and you can follow him @JamesTrimarco.
Directed & Produced by Kelly Nyks & Jared P. Scott / Cinematography & Editing by Mike McSweeney / Music Composition by Malcom Francis / Artwork by Mark Wagner / Process Video by Mark Wagner / Animation by Noah Poole & Nic Stark / Colorist: Josh Kanuck / Production Assistance by Greg Hartofelis / Additional Camera by Theron Powell.