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Dana Drugmand
From left, Representative-elect Nika Elugardo, Cornell Law School's Carl Williams and Michele Brooks of the Massachusetts Sierra Club at the Massachusetts Peace Action's 'The Next Two Years and Beyond' conference held Nov. 17 at Simmons College in Boston.

Progressive movements conference calls for unity to confront contemporary crises

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By Monday, Nov 19, 2018 We the People 3

Boston — “We have been drawn together by a sense that there is danger in the air,” Rev. Karlene Griffiths Sekou remarked in the opening of her afternoon keynote address Saturday, November 17. She addressed an audience of more than 100 gathered at Simmons University for a progressive organizing event titled “The Next Two Years and Beyond: A Movement Building Conference.” The conference, sponsored by Massachusetts Peace Action and other progressive organizations, covered a range of critical issues currently facing the country and the world, and explored the intersections of contemporary social movements.

Speakers and participants spent the day discussing and strategizing, connecting and communicating. The overall conversation featured three main threads: reflecting on the recent midterm elections; recognizing how historical struggles and forces have led to the crises we face today; and understanding the interconnectedness of various issues and the need for an intersectional movement that unites progressive fights for economic, environmental and social justice.

John Nichols, national affairs correspondent with the Nation, delivered the opening keynote, speaking to the current political landscape and highlighting notable progressive victories from the November 6 election. While significant obstacles remain—Nichols pointed to voter suppression, mainstream media that covers elections like a sporting event, and a Democratic Party that operates in a centrist, managerial mode—the midterms demonstrated the potential for transformative change. Nichols discussed several examples: Democrats retaking the House to restore a constitutional check on Trump’s abuse of power; the three states that narrowly went for Trump in 2016, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, seeing Democrats win key races for senators and governors; and the election of young, diverse and progressive people to Congress like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Ayanna Pressley.

“I am so excited for the transformation that is coming. This is just the beginning,” Nichols said.

At the state level in Massachusetts, one of these progressive, anti-status quo candidates was just elected to represent the Boston area 15th district in Suffolk and Norfolk counties. Representative-elect Nika Elugardo addressed the conference from a historical perspective. She said the broader structural conception of the slavery era still exists, comparing modern-day workers to slaves and servants of the past, both subordinates who are beholden to a master. “The plantations of our history are the corporations of today,” she said.

Other speakers referenced the nation’s roots in colonialism and racism. Carl Williams, a movement lawyer currently teaching at Cornell Law School, said that the U.S. Constitution is filled with language that speaks to the concepts of domination, racism and slavery. “At its essence, the founding document of this country is white supremacist,” he said. “Racism, xenophobia and nationalism are a part of the constitution of this country,” added Griffiths Sekou, who organizes with Black Lives Matter Boston and is an international public speaker and public theologian. She noted that racial injustice and white supremacy still exist today, exemplified by realities like the school-to-prison pipeline and hyper-policing in predominately black neighborhoods.

Given the continuation of historical systems of oppression, and with modern forms of militarism and authoritarianism on the rise, emerging social justice movements like the women’s marches, March for Our Lives, Fight for $15, Black Lives Matter and the People’s Climate Movement represent a collective response to compounding crises. The challenge, as this conference identified, is bringing all of these movements together and maintaining unity among diverse groups working on what are seen as separate issues.

“All the words we hear about our movements are true. We need to break down the barriers and silos and be more intersectional,” said Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. Several other speakers pointed to the importance of “showing up for others” and uniting across movements.

“In this fight that we’re up against, we need all hands on deck,” said Griffiths Sekou.

And with everything on the line, from human rights to the sustainability of life on Earth, the importance of the fight cannot be understated, as Williams alluded to.

“All we have to do is double down, know that we can win and fight like hell,” Sekou added.

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3 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Jim Balfanz says:

    Recently, over 300 million lottery tickets were sold in 4 days. Within hours of the drawing, lottery officials knew how many winning tickets were sold, and where the winning tickets were sold – right down to the specific store locations.

    Weeks after polls closed, some election officials don’t know how many people voted, who they voted for, or the accurate results.

    The US election system is broken on purpose!

  2. Jim Balfanz says:

    From The Washington Post – comes this very interesting study result.
    The myth of stagnant incomes

    By Robert J. Samuelson
    November 18 at 5:55 PM
    We aren’t stagnating, after all.
    Unless you’ve been hibernating in the Himalayas, you must know of the recent surge in economic inequality. It’s not just that the rich are getting richer. The rest of us — say politicians, pundits and scholars — are stagnating. The top 1 percent have grabbed most income gains, while average Americans are stuck in the mud.
    Well, it’s not so. That’s the message — perhaps unintended — from the Congressional Budget Office, which reports periodically on the distribution and growth of the nation’s income. It recently found that most Americans had experienced clear-cut income gains since the early 1980s.
    This conclusion is exceptionally important, because the CBO study is arguably the most comprehensive tabulation of Americans’ incomes.
    Most studies of incomes have glaring omissions. Some examine only before-tax income; others, after-tax. Many don’t include some government benefits — for example, food stamps, Medicare or Medicaid (health programs for the elderly and the poor). Others exclude employer-paid health insurance, which is a big item. The CBO study covers all of these areas.
    It confirms that the rich have catapulted ahead of most Americans, including many with six-figure incomes. The richest 1 percent of U.S. households had average pretax incomes of $1.855 million in 2015. The growth has been astonishing. From 1979 to 2015, pretax incomes of the top 1 percent jumped 233 percent. That’s more than a tripling. (All figures are corrected for inflation.)
    But it’s not true that no one else had gains. If the bottom 99 percent experienced stagnation, their 2015 incomes would be close to those of 1979, the study’s first year. This is what most people apparently believe.
    The study found otherwise. The poorest fifth of Americans (a fifth is known as a “quintile”) enjoyed a roughly 80 percent post-tax income increase since 1979. The richest quintile — those just below the top 1 percent — had a similar gain of nearly 80 percent. The middle three quintiles achieved less, about a 50 percent rise in post-tax incomes.
    These seem small, but over four decades, they’re meaningful. It’s doubtful that most Americans would prefer to revert to the world as it was in 1979 — a world without smartphones, the Internet, most cable television or laparoscopic surgery.
    Why then the belief in stagnation?
    One plausible theory is that the gains in any one year are so small that most people don’t recognize them. Instead, they feel they’re marching in place. The demands on their income — for housing, food, college tuition, vacations and much else — swamp tiny gains.
    Certainly, what’s occurring today is less impressive than the great gains of the 1950s and 1960s, when there was a flood tide of new technologies and products: television, modern appliances (washers, dryers), jet travel, air conditioners and antibiotics, to name a few.
    Some economists legitimize the stagnation thesis by selective studies and their use of language. For example, former treasury secretary Lawrence H. Summers has used the term “secular stagnation” — which was coined in the late 1930s — to describe today’s economy.
    Glance at the table below. It shows that modest income gains were widespread.
    For the period 2000 to 2015, it gives the average gain in after-tax and after-transfers (government benefits) income for each quintile, from poorest to richest. The year 2000 was chosen as the base to dispel any notion that income gains occurred in the 1980s or ’90s. Interestingly, the relative gain for the poorest quintile was about twice the increase of other quintiles (again: a quintile represents a fifth of the population).

    Although higher incomes could — in theory — reflect generous tax cuts, that doesn’t appear to be the case. In 2015, the richest 1 percent paid an average federal tax rate of 33 percent, close to the 1979 rate of 35 percent.
    With income inequality rising, it’s not surprising that richer groups have actually provided an increasing share of federal tax revenue. In 2015, the richest quintile of Americans paid 69.5 percent of revenues, up from 55.1 percent in 1979. The share of the top 1 percent (included in the richest quintile) went from 14.1 percent in 1979 to 26.2 percent in 2015.
    (Note: Because President Trump’s tax bill wasn’t passed until 2017, the CBO study doesn’t include its effect. Neither does this column. Still, it would cut taxes for wealthier Americans.)
    All the numbers seem complex and confusing. Piercing the statistical fog is essential to anchor our debates in reality and not in journalistic or political mythology. It may seem that, except for the fortunate few, hardly anyone is getting ahead. That’s convenient rhetoric, but it just ain’t so.

    Finally, an income growth assessment that includes Federal, State and Corporate benefits and assesses after tax income. The lowest 20 % (Quintile) income increased twice as fast as the other 80% (4 Quintiles).

  3. Jim Balfanz says:

    So, who famously said back in 2005 the following:
    “We simply cannot allow people to pour into the United States undetected, undocumented, and circumventing the line of people who are waiting patiently, diligently, and lawfully to become immigrants in this country.”
    Yep, it was Barack Hussein Obama….

    So tell us, liberal progressives, what’s changed since then? And, why shouldn’t what is going on at our border be considered an invasion?

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