Wanted: A Massive Education, Organizing Drive and Progressive Vision to Vanquish Trump

by Les Leopold, www.commondreams.org, June 3, 2017 www.commondreams.org/views/2017/06/03/wanted-massive-education-organizing-drive-and-progressive-vision-vanquish-trump

As Trump stumbles, and maybe crumbles, progressives are confronting a painful truth: Trump is a reflection of a much bigger problem ― the rise of runaway inequality and the failure of the liberal establishment to address it.

Between 1980 and 2014, the gap between the top 100 CEOs and the average worker climbed from $40 to one to an incredible $844 to one. All boats did not rise. During that time the real income of the average worker (after accounting for inflation) actually declined. Both Republicans and Democrats alike rushed to deregulate Wall Street, which is a major cause of these enormous gaps.

The Democrats, who once spoke for these working people, are in real danger of losing them. Since 2008, they have given up 917 state, local and federal elected offices. There are now 33 Republic governorships.

Who’s to blame?

In workshops around the country, we’ve been asking participants why Trump won. The answers primarily focus on the Comey letter, Hillary as a poor candidate, the Russian hacking, anti-establishment protest, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and so on..

In no instance is there any self-reflection from progressives about our own role in any of this. Isn’t it possible that maybe, just maybe, the enormous rightward drift has something to do with us ― with how progressives are organized and disorganized? At the very least, we should admit the obvious: all of this happened and continues to happen on our watch. To not take some responsibility for this growing calamity is to concede that we have no agency, no power, and no effective strategy to forge meaningful social change.

The Hazards of Silo Organizing

For the last generation, progressives have organized themselves into issue silos, each with its own agenda. Survival depends on fundraising (largely from private foundations) based on the uniqueness of one’s own silo. Each group must develop its own expertise and activities which distinguish it from other groups. Each needs to proclaim that its issue is the existential threat, be it climate change, police violence, abortion rights or health care. The net result of this Darwinian struggle is a fractured landscape of activity. The creativity, talent and skill are there in abundance, but the coherence and common purpose among groups is not.

Siloed organizational structures also make it extremely difficult to cooperate on a common program to reverse runaway inequality, There is little incentive to form a grand progressive alliance to build what the Sanders campaign, for example, had set in motion. Better to launch your own national effort and claim that it is the center of the organizing universe.

It is therefore not surprising that the two biggest progressive challenges to runaway inequality in the last decade ― Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders campaign ― did not arise from within these siloed organizations. OWS largely grew from a notice in Adbusters, a Vancouver, BC, journal. Most of those who did the occupying at the 900 encampments also did not come from progressive siloed organizations. In fact, the non-profit/NGO community more or less watched from the sidelines.

Similarly, the Sanders campaign also did not emerge from a concerted effort among progressives to create a new politics within the Democratic Party. Rather, it was driven by Bernie’s own social-democratic vision that he had been espousing for over 40 years, year after year after year. When his effort showed signs of life, progressives broadly divided between the idealists feeling the burn and the pragmatists seeking to back a sure winner, who at least would provide access to progressive ideas.

Talking to Ourselves?

The advent of Trump certainly has unleashed an enormous amount of progressive activity. In addition to the many sizeable marches, there are now approximately 5,000 Indivisible groups making life miserable for Republican office holders. However, nearly all of this activity is anti-Trump and defensive. There is no common Indivisible national agenda, nor is there a common organization to set a coherent strategic direction.

More importantly, pure anti-Trumpism guarantees we will be talking to the already convinced. By focusing solely on Trump, it becomes next to impossible to reach the Trump voters who also voted for Sanders and Obama.

Some argue that such outreach is a waste of time because there really are not that many Obama-to-Sanders-to-Trump voters. Unfortunately, exit polls do not give us enough data to reasonably estimate the size of this hybrid voting population. But sources inside the United Steelworkers, for example, report that 50 percent of their members who voted, voted for Trump. Given how representative those members are of the broader working class, we’re probably looking at several million Obama-Sanders-Trump voters.

We do know this: In the state of Michigan there was a 500,000 vote loss from Obama (2012) to Clinton (2016). It was minus 290,000 in Pennsylvania and minus 222,000 in Wisconsin.

Very few, if any of our siloed progressive organizations are targeting these working people. Danger ahead.

The Deplorables?

It will not be easy for progressive to reach out to Trump voters, unionized or not. In part, that is because anti-Trump defensive activity has become the basis for a new wave of silo organizing and fundraising. Each group is claiming that its activities will be the most effective means for upending the Trump agenda and returning Congress to the Democrats.

The animosity towards Trump voters runs deep. One prominent progressive educator told me privately that Trump voters should be viewed as terrorists ― that their anti-establishment revolt was like throwing a grenade into a crowd, and we’re the collateral damage. Others argue that the Trump voters really are “deplorables” when it comes to their racism, sexism and anti-immigrant beliefs.

The suspicion also spreads to those who do want to reach out to these Obama-Sanders-Trump voters. They are often criticized for favoring class over race ― for failing to put anti-racism as the central feature of all organizing and educational efforts. So for example, if addressing “white skin privilege” is not a major part of the education, then the education is viewed as catering to the racist white working class.

This can cascade into a series of litmus tests on race, gender, immigration, abortion, global warming, etc that must be passed in order to be welcomed into the progressive community. While there is no denying that these issues are of critical importance, the net effect of administering such tests is that progressives will be stuck within their own bubbles.

The Power of Education:

We’re facing a moment of truth about education and social change. We need to decide whether or not we believe that real education about big picture issues can make a difference in how people see the world. This kind of education is not the same as campaign propaganda, sound bite memes or technical training about how to get out the vote or organize an action. It’s about building a broad-based discussion on how the economy works and doesn’t work, and how to make it serve us all. Here are some of its features:

1. Placing a Target on Wall Street: By showing how and why society is growing more unequal, runaway inequality education (see runawayinequality.org) lays bare the ways in which Wall Street and its CEO partners engage in financial strip-mining, ― the immoral siphoning away of wealth from our jobs, communities and families. The weapons of financial engineering are many including mortgage fraud, high interest student loans, stock buybacks, payday loans, too big to fail/jail, bailouts, tax loopholes, tax breaks, off-shore accounts, privatization of public assets, and many, many more. None of our silos are immune from ravages of financial strip-mining

2. Building Common Ground: Big picture education can tie together virtually all the issues that we care deeply about. Runaway inequality and runaway finance are linked to runaway global warming. The forces causing runaway inequality are connected to the rise of the prison population and the expansion of private prisons where we now warehouse millions of our impoverished youth. It’s tied to the attack on union rights, the decline of good paying jobs, the harassment of immigrants and the failure of our corporate-run health care system. This educational process helps us see that our issue silos are in fact deeply connected.

3. Safe space for Dialogue: A strong educational process provides an excellent venue to have dialogue with those that do not immediately share every progressive value or position. I’ve done runaway inequality workshops with Trump voters and the response has been positive. They too want to understand why the richest country in the history of the world cannot provide decent paying jobs and adequate public services for all its people.

4. Developing and Spreading a Common Agenda: Such an educational process also leads naturally to testing and sharing a common agenda to reverse runaway inequality. Such an agenda, in the form of a petition, can serve as an educational tool, and, if it catches on, a way to shift the public debate towards a social-democratic agenda. (See here for national polling results on how young people reacted to such an agenda.)

Learning from the Populists of the late 19th Century

Over a century ago, small farmers, black and white, in the Midwest and South organized a potent mass movement to challenge the power of Wall Street. They called for cooperative enterprises, public banks, public ownership of railroads and telegraph, a progressive income tax and many other limits on corporate power. Their agenda led to many state and nation reforms as well as paving the way for the New Deal and its tight controls on Wall Street.

“Building a fairer and more just society will require a massive educational movement. As the Populists taught us, it can be done.”

The key to their organizational successes was education. They fielded 6,000 educators to help build their chapters and spread the word in the 1880s and 1890s. Today we would need about 30,000 to do the same, given the growth of our population.

Building such a network, however, requires having faith in the power of education. It requires that we understand that runaway inequality ties us all together and can only be tackled through a broad-based common movement with a common agenda. This educational process asks us to have the confidence and courage to engage in dialogue with a wide range of people who also care about building a better society for themselves and their families.

None of this will come easy. Our silos provide us with strength. We take pride in our identities and are empowered by them. Also, it is very difficult for us to even imagine what a common movement might look like, let alone how to build one. But we can be sure of one thing: Building a fairer and more just society will require a massive educational movement. As the Populists taught us, it can be done.

(For those willing to take that leap, please join us in building the runawayinequality.org educational network. We need you. We need each other.)

Overview – progressive movement

The reemergence of a Democratic left will be one of the major stories of 2014. Moderates, don’t be alarmed. The return of a viable, vocal left will actually be good news for the political center. For a long time, the American conversation has been terribly distorted because an active, uncompromising political right has not had to face a comparably influential left. As a result, our entire debate has been dragged in a conservative direction, meaning that the center has been pulled that way, too…the new militancy on the Democratic left is a consequence of a slowly building backlash against the skewed nature of our politics… the Democratic left is animated by the battle against growing inequality and declining social mobility — the idea, as [Senator Elizabeth] Warren … her allies are not anti-capitalist. Their goal is to reform the system so it spreads its benefits more widely…And here’s why moderates should be cheering them on: When politicians can ignore the questions posed by the left and are pushed to focus almost exclusively on the right’s concerns about “big government” and its unquestioning faith in deregulated markets, the result is immoderate and ultimately impractical policy. To create a real center, you need a real left. The resurgent progressives By E.J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post, January 1, 2014

Collective imagination emerges when people find strength in collective organizations, when they find strength in each other. Justice is never done. It’s an endless struggle. And there’s joy in that struggle, because there’s a sense of solidarity that brings us together around the most basic, most elemental and the most important of democratic values.” Henry Giroux Being interview by Bill Moyers, Moyers & Company, November 22, 2013

slo­gans and proposals and will mean nothing without the requisite power standing behind themWe need politi­cians more afraid of voter out­rage than they are of corporate retribution…it’s in the interest of some of the most powerful players on earth to prolong the status quo… [changes] go against the power of the status quo, and hence they will be enacted only if we build move­ments strong enough to force them…We’ll never get the solutions we need—the solutions every­one has known about for two decades—unless we build the move­ment first. It’s Time to Fight the Sta­tus Quo by Bill McK­ibben

…if we take seriously the basic moral principles at the core of modern philosophical and theological systems we claim to believe in, in light of the data on social injustice and the serious threats to ecological sustainability, these questions should be central in the work of intellectuals…intellectuals…help us deepen our understanding of how the world works, toward the goal of shaping a world more consistent with our moral and political principles, and our collective self-interest. What are the forces that keep people, especially relatively privileged people, mute in the face of such a clear need for critical intellectual work? …I suspect that a desire to be accepted by peers is at least as powerful a motivation for intellectuals to accept the status quo. Humans are social animals who generally seek a safe and secure place in a social group, and there’s no reason intellectuals would be different.… When one’s professional cohort works within the worldview that the wealthy and powerful construct, the boundaries of that world seem appropriate. Curiosity about what lies beyond those boundaries tends to atrophy. Those forces have been in play for a long time, but another potentially crucial factor is the way in which confronting the reality of injustice and unsustainability can be morally and psychologically overwhelming for anyone…Intellectuals are in the business of assessing problems and offering solutions…to be a responsible intellectual is to be willing to get apocalyptic, and the first step in that process is to give up on the myth of neutrality. Intellectuals shouldn’t claim to be neutral, and the public shouldn’t take such claims seriously. American Intellectuals’ Widespread Failure to Stand Up to Billionaires and Authoritarian Power By Robert Jensen, AlterNet, July 5, 2013 

…We are staring down multiple cascading ecological crises, struggling with political and economic institutions that are unable even to acknowledge, let alone cope with, the threats to the human family and the larger living world… A deep grief over what we are losing—and have already lost, perhaps never to be recovered—is appropriate. Instead of repressing these emotions we can confront them, not as isolated individuals but collectively, not only for our own mental health but to increase the effectiveness of our organizing for the social justice and ecological sustainability still within our grasp. Once we’ve sorted through those reactions, we can get apocalyptic and get down to our real work…to get apocalyptic means seeing clearly and recommitting to core values…we must affirm the value of our work for justice and sustainability…Mainstream politicians will continue to protect existing systems of power, corporate executives will continue to maximize profit without concern, and the majority of people will continue to avoid these questions. It’s the job of people with critical sensibilities—those who consistently speak out for justice and sustainability, even when it’s difficult—not to back away just because the world has grown more ominous…To adopt an apocalyptic worldview is not to abandon hope but to affirm life…By avoiding the stark reality of our moment in history we don’t make ourselves safe, we undermine the potential of struggles for justice and sustainability. Get Apocalyptic — The Case for the New Radical By Robert Jensen 

…Reality does shift, not merely on its own but as a result of determined minorities who learn how to use the lever of social action…Now is the time to choose our future… This means thinking big: embracing a vision so enormous it overflows our sense of the possible…The lever, [Judith Hand] says, is “people power”: the strategy and tactics of nonviolent action of all sorts. The fulcrum is any weak spot in the existing power structure, any shameful but unchallenged absurdity of power (e.g., segregated lunch counters, the British salt tax). The weight put on the lever to dislodge the fulcrum could, perhaps, be called applied moral authority… The Lever of Social Action by Robert C. Koehler

Can National Grassroots Push Depose the ‘Billion Dollar Democracy’? 

Chris Hayes: Bring on the upper-middle-class revolution!

Popular Resistance Is Percolating Across the Country — Inspiring Activism That the Corporate Media Always Ignores

We Can’t Give in to the Culture of Fear and Apathy — Channel Your Discontent into Positive Action

Progressive Activism Is Bubbling Up Across the Country

 

Liberals, conservatives differ in estimating consensus within their group

By Susan Perry, MinnPost.com, 11/26/13

A key difference on thinking about consensus may help explain why the conservative Tea Party movement was able to gain political traction while the liberal Occupy Wall Street movement did not.

As I’ve mentioned before in this column, recent years have seen an explosion of research into the psychological underpinnings of the ideological differences between liberals and conservatives.

These studies have found in general that conservatives tend to be more fearful of threats and losses, less tolerant of ambiguity, and more likely to value order, structure and stability. They are also more likely to develop punitive judgments about people who violate social norms.

Liberals, on the other hand, tend to be more open to new experiences, more accepting of ambiguity and change, and more egalitarian in their attitudes toward others.

Well, you can add another differing psychological characteristic to that list. For a new study has found that conservatives and liberals also vary significantly from each other in how they estimate the percentage of people who share their opinions on politics and other topics.

Conservatives tend to overestimate the similarity of their views to other conservatives, while liberals tend to underestimate the similarity of their views to other liberals.

According to the team of New York University researchers who conducted the study, this difference may help explain why the conservative Tea Party movement was able to gain political traction while the liberal Occupy Wall Street movement did not:

At the height of the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011, the liberal movement had garnered mass support and possessed potential for enacting meaningful change. However, supporters of the movement struggled to develop consensus on both large-scale (e.g., creating a shared agenda) and small-scale (e.g., determining how to respond to the New York City Police Department’s request to take down signs) issues, which hindered the movement’s ability to progress toward social change. … In contrast, supporters of the conservative Tea Party movement reached consensus on important goals and successfully founded a congressional caucus.

The inability of liberal Occupy Wall Street protestors to achieve consensus on vital issues ultimately contributed to the movement’s failure to develop solidarity and enact political change. Although developing actual consensus within a group’s ranks is important for mobilizing collective action, research has shown that perceiving consensus — even if that perception is not entirely grounded in reality — is similarly a vital step in motivating collective social change.

Two separate studies

The published study actually contains two separate but closely related studies. The first study involved 292 volunteer participants (171 women, 121 men); the second, 287 participants (162 women, 125 men). All participants were recruited through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk online survey website. They ranged in age from 18 to 82, but the mean age in both studies was 35.

When asked to describe their ideology, 137 of the first study’s participants said they were liberal, 93 said they moderate and 62 said they were conservative. In the second study, the numbers were similar: 125 identified themselves as liberal, 96 as moderate and 66 as conservative.

Participants in both studies were asked to indicate whether they agreed or disagreed with 41 statements, some political (“American should strive to strengthen its military”) and some nonpolitical (“I like poetry”). They were also asked to estimate the percentage of other people who share their political persuasion would agree with each statement  — a measure of perceived in-group consensus. Study one’s participants were asked to make this estimate in reference to other people participating in the study. Study two’s participants were asked to do it in reference to Americans in general.

Study’s two’s participants also completed a standardized questionnaire designed to evaluate individuals’ “need for uniqueness.”

Findings

Both studies found that moderates and conservatives tended to perceive their beliefs as being more similar to those of others in their political groups than they actually were — evidence of what psychologists refer to as the “false-consensus effect.”

Liberals, on the other hand, generally perceived their beliefs to be less similar to those of other liberals than they actually were, thus displaying an effect that psychologists refer to as “truly false uniqueness.”

Liberals did this in part, the research also revealed, because they possess a stronger desire to feel unique than do moderates and conservatives. (Other research has shown that additional motivations, such as the need for closure and a desire to avoid uncertainty, may also explain why liberals and conservatives differ in the accuracy of their similarity estimates.)

Political implications

The current study’s findings are undoubtedly provocative. They may also have important political implications, as the NYU researchers explain:

Liberals’ greater desire for uniqueness likely undermines their ability to capitalize on the consensus that actually exists within their ranks and hinders successful group mobilization, whereas moderates’ and conservatives’ weaker desire to feel unique (i.e., greater desire to conform) could work to their advantage by allowing them to perceive consensus that does not actually exist and, in turn, rally their base.

In recent years, America has seen the demise of media outlets in which liberal commentators and listeners provided similar positions on political issues (e.g., Air America), whereas their conservative counterparts (e.g., The Rush Limbaugh Show on the radio and The O’Reilly Factor on television) continue to thrive and create influential political discourse. The present research suggests that the failure of media outlets that promote consensual opinions among liberals may be due in part to liberals’ greater desire to develop beliefs and preferences unique from those of other liberals.

As political movements like Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party continue to develop over the coming years, dispositional motivations associated with the political ideologies of the movements’ members could inform the extent to which members accurately perceive the consensus that exists within their ranks and ultimately affect the groups’ ability to strive toward and successfully achieve collective goals.

The study was published online Nov. 18 in Psychological Science, a journal published the the Association for Psychological Science.

http://www.minnpost.com/second-opinion/2013/11/liberals-conservatives-differ-estimating-consensus-within-their-group?utm_source=MinnPost+e-mail+newsletters&utm_campaign=ab7fc3a1a1-12_1_2013_Sunday_Review11_27_2013&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_3631302e9c-ab7fc3a1a1-123367202

Chris Hedges on the Role of Art in Rebellion

http://www.truthdig.com/avbooth/item/chris_hedges_on_the_role_of_art_in_rebellion_20131127/

Posted on Nov 27, 2013

After a talk on the collapse of complex societies, Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges answers an audience question: “Will it take [literature, music and art] to waken us to the empathy of other suffering or hardship?”

Transcript:

Peter Z. Scheer: You spoke a lot during your speech about literature and someone asked is it literature, art, music; will it take those things to waken us to the empathy of other suffering or hardship? Are those, what’s the role of literature, art and music?

Chris Hedges: Well, the role of art is transcendence. It’s about dealing with what we call the nonrational forces in human life, those forces that are absolutely essential to being whole as a human being but are not quantifiable. Not empirically measureable. Grief, beauty, the struggle with our own mortality, the search for meaning, love—Freud said he could write about sex, he could never write about love—and that’s only going to come through art. I mean, I don’t think it’s accidental that the origins of all religions are always fused with art, with poetry, with music. Because you’re dealing with a transcendence or a reality that is beyond articulation. And for those of us who seek to rise up against this monstrous evil, culture is going to be as important as the more prosaic elements of resistance such as a food tent, or a medical tent or a communications tent.

I saw that in revolutionary movements I covered in Latin America. And that has just been true throughout history. African-Americans endured the nightmare of slavery through music. And because it’s a kind of, it’s a paradox when you sink to that level of powerlessness where it is you go to find power.

And the great religious writers, the great philosophers, the great artists, the great novelists, the great musicians, dancers, that’s what they struggle to honor and to sustain. And we, who are in essence when we really talk about it, engaged in a spiritual battle against forces of death, corporate forces are forces of death. We are fighting for life and we are going to need those transcendent disciplines that remind us of who we are, why we’re struggling, and what life finally is about.

[Audience applause]

286 words

 

Contagious: Why Things Catch On

by Jay Connor, August 1, 2013

Six Elements to Turn Your Ideas of Collective Impact Viral, http://vibrantcanada.ca/blog

Jonah Berger in his recently published book, “Contagious,” has given us a very good read that builds on “Switch” and “The Tipping Point.”  In essence we are introduced to a means to put into practice what were simply observations in the Heath’s and Gladwell’s separate takes on how to influence others.  Those of us who work across sectors in community are always trying to find the magic formula for engaging and moving our respective audiences to action.

For Berger, there are six essential factors that contribute to contagious ideas: think of them as the STEPPS to having your ideas catch on.  Not all elements are necessary for an idea to catch on, but a combination of some or all these elements would certainly increase the likelihood. (A key note here is that this is not all about virality in an Internet context — according to Berger only 7% of real world contagion occurs on the web; the vast majority of ideas that catch on are still transported word of mouth.)  A quick look at some of the most successful viral campaigns reveals each of these elements at work.

Social currency. We share things that make us look good or help us compare favorably to others. Exclusive restaurants utilize social currency all the time to create demand.  In community: involvement in an effort to solve seemingly intractable problems would provide social currency, but if jargon makes it too hard to explain either the issue or the solution we preclude virality.

Triggers. Ideas that are top of mind spread. Like parasites, viral ideas attach themselves to top of mind stories, occurrences or environments. For example, Mars bar sales spiked when in 1997 when NASA’s Pathfinder mission explored the red planet.  In community: think of how to frame your ideas in order that they might have triggers for the larger community.  For example: your work on poverty reduction might have more triggers if you were also able to talk about it in economic development or community betterment terms.

Emotion. When we care, we share. Jonah analyzed over six months of data from the New York Times most emailed list to discover that certain high arousal emotions can dramatically increase our need to share ideas - like the outrage triggered by Dave Carroll’s “United Breaks Guitars” video.  In community: we’ve been fairly adept at the first part of the equation – care – but we have had more difficulty with creating the vehicle for sharing, be it a video, website or story.

Public. People tend to follow others, but only when they can see what those others are doing. There is a reason why baristas put money in their own tip jar at the beginning of a shift. Ideas need to be public to be copied.  In community: the question should be: what is the behavior we want repeated and how to we publicly model it.

Practical. Humans crave the opportunity to give advice and offer tips (one reason why advocate marketing works – your best customers love to help out), but especially if they offer practical value. It’s why we `pay it forward’ and help others. Sharing is caring.  In community: have you provided your advocates with a story, checklist or tool to share that brings practical value.  Many communities have developed a “kindergarten-readiness checklist” for this purpose.

Stories.People do not just share information, they tell stories. And stories are like Trojan horses, vessels that carry ideas, brands, and information. To benefit the brand, stories must not only be shared but also relate to a sponsoring company’s products. Thus the epic failure of viral sensations like Evian’s roller baby video (50M views) that did little to stem Evian’s 25% drop in sales.

As you are developing your marketing campaign or community engagement strategy, you should put it through the test of the STEPPS elements.  It will move you from your frame of reference to your audiences’ and that is the beginning of being contagious!

- See more at: http://vibrantcanada.ca/blogs/jay-connor/contagious-why-things-catch#sthash.aiLAhioz.dpuf

http://vibrantcanada.ca/blogs/jay-connor/contagious-why-things-catch

The Zimmerman Verdict Is a Wakeup Call to Address the Deep and Structural Injustices in America

By Makani ThembaAlterNet, July 15, 2013   Makani Themba is executive director of The Praxis Project.

Excerpt

…It is wrong. It is an atrocity. There’s no way this verdict would have gone down if Trayvon was white. The legal argument that led to this verdict, which is centuries old, could not exist without de facto acceptance of racism as legitimate motive and Blackness itself as life threatening…The Zimmerman trial was essentially an opportunity to lay more legal groundwork to advance vigilantism. Let’s face it.   This is a standard ‘go to’ move in the white supremacy handbook because the vigilante state is particularly important when the “majority” becomes a “minority” as a way to hold power without the pretense of democracy…What is most important, however, is the structural analysis and strategy that undergirds their work. Much of our work – in stark contrast – is focused at the level of individual casework.  And it’s just not enough. We often labor under the mistaken assumption that law is created by case history and argued in courts.  As a result, the bulk of resources targeted for racial justice work are invested in groups engaged in legal defense strategies.  Yet, law is so much more than cases.  Law is a fluid amalgamation of principle – ideals like freedom, liberty, equality; public perception and meaning – how we come to understand what principles mean in our current context; code – the nitty gritty words and technicalities that make up how these principles are implemented to and for whom; andcoercion and intimidation – we follow laws that don’t work for us because we’d rather not deal with the consequences. The Right understands the importance of all these elements in the forging of law and social norms...Yes, we should support efforts to bring Zimmerman up on civil rights charges……… We must also be more adept at leveraging human rights tools at our disposal to take our efforts beyond the limited framework of the Constitution  and reimagine remedies at a macro-systemic level including, yes, even reparations. Ending this tragic history of murder and mayhem; ensuring that there are no more Trayvons or Oscars or Vincents or Addie Maes requires an upending of the deeply entrenched structures that led to their deaths in the first place.  Let’s hope that this latest wakeup call will inspire more of us to take on the deeper work of structural transformation to make tragedies like these a thing of the past.

Full text

“They call it due process and some people are overdue… Somebody said ‘brother-man gonna break a window, gonna steal a hubcap, gonna smoke a joint, brother man gonna go to jail.’  The man who tried to steal America is not in jail… And America was ‘shocked.’  America leads the world in shocks.  Unfortunately, America does not lead the world in deciphering the cause of shock…” - We Beg Your Pardon (Pardon Our Analysis) by Gil Scott-Heron

No matter how many times I live through moments like these, it never gets any easier.  Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant [3], John T. Williams [4], Henry Glover [5], Juan Herera [6], Amadou Diallo [7], Iman Morales [8],Eleanor Bumpers [9], Vincent Chin [10], Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, Denise McNair [11], Emmett Till [12]… There are so many more names to recall.  There are so many names I don’t know.  And they number into the millions, over centuries as we are reminded over and over again that for people of color in this country, our lives are cheap.

I think my friend Dennis said it best when he observed that Trayvon was convicted of his own murder.

My heart goes out to Trayvon’s family and all of us who are feeling the trauma and pain in this moment. It is wrong. It is an atrocity. There’s no way this verdict would have gone down if Trayvon was white. The legal argument that led to this verdict, which is centuries old, could not exist without de facto acceptance of racism as legitimate motive and Blackness itself as life threatening.

With each of these cases, we find ourselves in a kind of shock.  As in how could the country that brought you slavery, the Alamo, small pox blankets and waterboarding do such a thing?  Again? Many of us believe there is a “real” America, which is noble and great and if only we could take her “back” and let her be as she was intended, everything would be alright. 

I’m betting that that’s going to work about as well as any other abusive relationship.  It’s time for a change.

The Zimmerman trial was essentially an opportunity to lay more legal groundwork to advance vigilantism. Let’s face it.   This is a standard ‘go to’ move in the white supremacy handbook because the vigilante state is particularly important when the “majority” becomes a “minority” as a way to hold power without the pretense of democracy. Unlike Malcolm X in his famous 1964 speech The Ballot or the Bullet [13], white supremacy works to hold down the ballot and the bullet. It is not an “either or” proposition.

What is most important, however, is the structural analysis and strategy that undergirds their work. Much of our work – in stark contrast – is focused at the level of individual casework.  And it’s just not enough.

We often labor under the mistaken assumption that law is created by case history and argued in courts.  As a result, the bulk of resources targeted for racial justice work are invested in groups engaged in legal defense strategies.  Yet, law is so much more than cases.  Law is a fluid amalgamation of principle – ideals like freedom, liberty, equality; public perception and meaning – how we come to understand what principles mean in our current context; code – the nitty gritty words and technicalities that make up how these principles are implemented to and for whom; andcoercion and intimidation – we follow laws that don’t work for us because we’d rather not deal with the consequences. 

The Right understands the importance of all these elements in the forging of law and social norms.  They push for cases that push us on all these fronts.  They work to control not only the public narrative but the institutions that shape meaning and teach us what to think about the world and each other.  And they defend vigilante and state violence that works to limit our freedom, our mobility and even our dreams of what’s possible for our children.   Trying to counter these efforts with law centered strategy is like expecting to beat a card shark at poker – using their marked deck.

Yes, we should support efforts to bring Zimmerman up on civil rights charges [14] and boycott the companies that fund groups like ALEC that are responsible for the law [15] that made his acquittal possible.  We also need a DOJ investigation and suit to address the blatantly racist patterns in the application of stand your ground type laws and extrajudicial killings [16] in general.  We must also be more adept at leveraging human rights tools at our disposal [17] to take our efforts beyond the limited framework of the Constitution [18] and reimagine remedies at a macro-systemic level including, yes, even reparations [19].

Ending this tragic history of murder and mayhem; ensuring that there are no more Trayvons or Oscars or Vincents or Addie Maes requires an upending of the deeply entrenched structures that led to their deaths in the first place.  Let’s hope that this latest wakeup call will inspire more of us to take on the deeper work of structural transformation to make tragedies like these a thing of the past.

See more stories tagged with:

zimmerman [20],

trayvon [21]


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/reimagining-remedies-21st-century-wake-zimmerman-verdict

Links:
[1] http://alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/makani-themba
[3] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/05/mehserle-sentencing-judge_n_779643.html
[4] http://colorlines.com/archives/2011/02/seattle_cop_resigns_after_native_american_carvers_killing_ruled_unjustified.html
[5] http://www.nola.com/crime/index.ssf/2010/06/nopd_officers_indicted_in_henr.html
[6] http://www.ocregister.com/news/herrera-62938-furtado-city.html
[7] http://www.nytimes.com/2000/02/26/nyregion/diallo-verdict-overview-4-officers-diallo-shooting-are-acquitted-all-charges.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm
[8] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/25/nyregion/25tased.html?_r=0
[9] http://www.nytimes.com/1985/04/13/nyregion/state-judge-dismisses-indictment-of-officer-in-the-bumpurs-killing.html
[10] http://blog.sfgate.com/eguillermo/2012/06/27/vincent-chins-murderer-still-sorry-but-30-years-of-freedom-hasnt-changed-his-view-of-the-crime/
[11] http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=93402&page=1#.UeQgjay4UiU
[12] http://www.emmetttillmurder.com/
[13] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRNciryImqg
[14] https://donate.naacp.org/page/s/doj-civil-rights-petition?source=zimmermannotguiltyLB&utm_medium=lightbox&utm_source=NAACP&utm_campaign=zimmermannotguiltyLB
[15] http://www.republicreport.org/2012/trayvon-martin-alec-corporate-funder/
[16] http://mxgm.org/operation-ghetto-storm-2012-annual-report-on-the-extrajudicial-killing-of-313-black-people/
[17] http://thepraxisproject.org/using-international-convention-elimination-all-forms-racial-discrimination-icerd-advance-human
[18] http://thepraxisproject.org/scotus-decisions-poignant-reminder-time-finish-reconstruction
[19] http://www.law.harvard.edu/students/orgs/blj/vol20/feagin.pdf
[20] http://www.alternet.org/tags/zimmerman
[21] http://www.alternet.org/tags/trayvon
[22] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

 

Introduction to Community Organizing: Choosing an Issue

By Angela Butel, JRLC Bonner Fellow, Thursday, 24 January 2013

I’ve always been inspired in my work for social justice by an energizing quote from the Unity School of Christianity. It goes like this:

“I fairly sizzle with zeal and enthusiasm, and spring forth with a mighty faith to do the things that ought to be done by me.”

Usually, in social justice work, finding people with zeal and enthusiasm is not the hard part; the challenge is in figuring out what the “things that ought to be done by me” might be.

For example, I recently attended a meeting of passionate idealists who had resolved to come together to make a change in their community. They spent the meeting discussing the problems at hand and then brainstormed next steps. The flipchart at the front of the room was full of ideas like “Build bridges,” “Fight prejudice,” “End corruption.” These are all laudable goals, but I struggled to imagine precisely what this group might do to accomplish them. Without a plan of action for achieving specific, tangible goals, the energy around the issues will simply disperse.

To avoid that sort of fizzling, it’s important to clearly define the issue you hope to work on. This post, the second installment in our Introduction to Community Organizing series, presents some tips from the Midwest Academy Manual for Activists on how to choose an issue that will engage the enthusiasm of your group and channel it toward concrete, successful action.

The first step in choosing an issue is to understand the difference between an issue and a problem. The people at that meeting were aware of the problems in their community – factionalism, prejudice, corruption – but hadn’t yet articulated specific ways to solve them. As the Midwest Academy puts it, “A problem is a broad area of concern. An issue is a solution or partial solution to the problem.” You don’t organize people around homelessness; you organize them around a bill to allocate more funding to affordable housing programs, or around creating a coalition of churches willing to provide shelter to those who need a place to stay.

Most likely, if you are concerned with large, complex problems like homelessness or hunger, you will not be able to pick one issue that will solve the problem completely; you will need to target one specific facet of the problem. How do you choose that issue? The Midwest Academy suggests many criteria for this process. A good issue should:

Result in Real Improvement in People’s Lives. There must be some measurable way to determine whether your work on the issue has succeeded. Are people better off than they were before? On a related note, the issue should be worthwhile. People who sign on to help must feel that their work is going toward something that is worth the effort.

Be Winnable. Don’t choose an issue that is so huge and abstract that the end result is unimaginable. Those involved should be able to see, from the beginning, that there is a good chance of succeeding in their efforts.

Be Widely Felt. You need a large base of support, so pick an issue that will appeal to many different people.

Be Deeply Felt. People need to not only agree with your issue, they need to care enough to do something about it.

Be Easy to Understand. If people do not see that the problem you are targeting exists, or if they cannot understand how your solution will contribute to fixing the problem, they are unlikely to support your cause.

Have a Clear Decision Maker. A Decision Maker is a person, such as a Mayor or other elected official, who has the power to give you what you want.

Be Non-Divisive. This does not mean that you can never work on issues that are controversial. However, it’s important to frame your issue so that your supporters will be united in working toward a common goal, rather than arguing with each other.

Be Consistent with Your Values and Vision. Does this issue fit with the personal values that guide how you want to live in community with those around you? If you are organizing in the context of your faith community, how does this issue help promote the kind of world that your faith tradition calls on you to help build?

Click here for the complete Midwest Academy checklist of criteria for choosing a good issue.

On the note of values and vision, there are plenty of teachings from different faith traditions that encourage us to work on those tasks that are “ours to do” instead of spreading ourselves thin trying to take on everything at once.

For example, from my own Catholic tradition comes the voice of Archbishop Oscar Romero, praying, “We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us…We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.”

Or, from the Jewish tradition, there is the concept of tikkun olam. This idea began with a myth about holy vessels that held God’s light. These vessels, unable to contain the magnificent light, shattered, and the sparks of light were scattered across the world. Our task as humans is to seek out those sparks where we can find them and gather them up, doing our part to contribute to the repairing of the world. No individual will be able to gather all the sparks, but working together we can find them all eventually.

Whatever the inspiration that guides you to work for social justice, we hope you’ll keep following our blog for more Introduction to Community Organizing tips on how to get started doing your part to make the world a better place!

In the meantime, take a look at JRLC’s Legislative Goals for 2013. We’ve chosen the issues where we feel JRLC’s work will be most effective; take a moment to brush up on them before Day on the Hill on February 21st!

http://jrlc.org/blog/571-introduction-to-community-organizing-choosing-an-issue

The Obama Majority

By Harold Meyerson, Washington Post, January 22, 2013

Excerpt

There is an Obama majority in American politics…whose existence is both the consequence of profound changes to our nation’s composition and values and the cause of changes yet to come. That majority…would not exist but for Americans’ struggles to expand our foundational belief in the equality of all men. The drive to expand equality, [President Obama] said in his speech’s most historically resonant line, “is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall.”

Our history, Obama argued, is one of adapting our ideals to a changing world. His speech…reclaimed U.S. history from the misrepresentations of both constitutional originalists and libertarian fantasists…the moral and practical arc of U.S. history bends toward equality..The president closed his speech by asking his supporters to join him to help “shape the debates of our time.”

..The Obama Majority — its existence and mobilization — is what enabled the president to deliver so ideological an address. No such inaugural speech has been delivered since Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, demanding the curtailment of government programs and secure in the knowledge that much of the white working class had shifted its allegiance away from the Democrats and supported his attack on the public sector and minority rights. On Monday, Obama, secure in the knowledge that the nation’s minorities had joined with other liberal constituencies to form a new governing coalition, voiced their demands to ensure equality and to preserve and expand the government’s efforts to meet the nation’s challenges

Full text

“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change we seek,” candidate Barack Obama said in 2008. At the time, his comments came in for criticism: They were narcissistic; they were tautological; they didn’t make a whole lot of sense.

But in the aftermath of Obama’s 2012 reelection and his second inaugural address, his 2008 remarks seem less a statement of self-absorption than one of prophecy. There is an Obama majority in American politics, symbolized by Monday’s throng on the Mall, whose existence is both the consequence of profound changes to our nation’s composition and values and the cause of changes yet to come.

That majority, as the president made clear in his remarks, would not exist but for Americans’ struggles to expand our foundational belief in the equality of all men. The drive to expand equality, he said in his speech’s most historically resonant line, “is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall.”

Our history, Obama argued, is one of adapting our ideals to a changing world. His speech (like recent books by Michael Lind and my Post colleague E.J. Dionne Jr.) reclaimed U.S. history from the misrepresentations of both constitutional originalists and libertarian fantasists. “Fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges,” the president said. “Preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action. For the American people can no more meet the demands of today’s world by acting alone than American soldiers could have met the forces of fascism or communism with muskets and militias.”

Having established that the moral and practical arc of U.S. history bends toward equality, Obama vowed to push his demands for equality still further — to ending the systemic underpayment of female workers; the voter suppression that compels some Americans, usually minorities, to wait hours to cast their votes; the deportations of immigrants who would otherwise help build the economy; and the laws that forbid gay Americans to marry.

As the president acknowledged, however, social equality is rising even as the relative economic equality that once defined American life has sharply and broadly receded. “Our country cannot succeed,” he said, “when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.” For this, Obama prescribed revamping our taxes and reforming our schools, but these are by no means sufficient to transform our nation into one that, as the president put it, “rewards the effort and determination of every single American.” The waning of the middle class is, with climate change, the most vexing item on the president’s agenda and requires far-reaching solutions beyond any he laid out. U.S. workers must regain the power they once had to bargain for their wages, but that only begins the list of economic reforms that are as difficult to achieve as they are necessary to re-create an financially vibrant nation.

The president closed his speech by asking his supporters to join him to help “shape the debates of our time.” The biggest mistake Obama made when he took office was to effectively disband the organization of the millions of Americans who had worked for his election — for fear, in part, that it might upset members of Congress whose votes he would need for his policies. He wants no such unilateral political disarmament now; his operatives hope to keep his 2012 campaign’s volunteer army in the field for the legislative battles ahead. Obama’s legions have proven that they can win elections, and this matters a great deal more, the president has learned, than whatever trace elements of goodwill he may win by deferring to Congress.

The Obama Majority — its existence and mobilization — is what enabled the president to deliver so ideological an address. No such inaugural speech has been delivered since Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, demanding the curtailment of government programs and secure in the knowledge that much of the white working class had shifted its allegiance away from the Democrats and supported his attack on the public sector and minority rights. On Monday, Obama, secure in the knowledge that the nation’s minorities had joined with other liberal constituencies to form a new governing coalition, voiced their demands to ensure equality and to preserve and expand the government’s efforts to meet the nation’s challenges. As he left the stage, he stopped and turned to marvel at the crowd, at the new American majority they represented. They were the ones he, and we, were waiting for.

Read more from Harold Meyerson’s archive or follow him on Twitter.

Read more on this from Opinions: E.J. Dionne: Obama’s unapologetic inaugural address David Ignatius: A flat, partisan and pedestrian speech Michael Gerson: Obama shoves idealism into its grave Eugene Robinson: The black president no longer Marc Thiessen: An inaugural gift from the GOP

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/harold-meyerson-obama-forges-a-new-majority/2013/01/22/c66489a6-64a7-11e2-9e1b-07db1d2ccd5b_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines

A Global Convergence of Social Movements?

By Joe Brewer, Chaotic Ripple, Cognitive Policy Works In Collaboration, Economic Patterns, Social Change on May 24, 2011

Excerpt

What will the world look like in 2050? 2070? 2100?  It’s impossible to say for sure, especially since the collective impacts of human civilization have altered the state of the world at unprecedented scales.  We stand at a cross-roads with an uncertain future.  And we have important decisions to make.

In this post, I’d like to suggest a promising path that lies before us.  It is a road we can travel down if enough of us choose to do so.  Imagine if the major social movements of the world — sustainability, global justice, world federalism, corporation reform, open collaboration, and social finance – were to congeal into a new way of being.  There are trends that suggest this is already happening.  We can help amplify this convergence.  Or we can suppress it. (go to site for graphic representation)

I’ve been following all of these movements throughout the last ten years and see a new economic paradigm emerging that brings them all together.  We can help this process along by familiarizing ourselves with the various social movements that have been on the rise for decades:

The Sustainability Movement

 

The Global Justice Movement


The World Federalism Movement… in order to make our global political systems responsive to the threats of regional conflict, climate change, and poverty.

The Corporate Reform Movement…seeing new corporate forms created that seek to balance people, profit, and planet.  These forms go by names like triple bottom line companies, social enterprises, and benefit corporations.

The Open Collaboration Movement

An undercurrent of change is pervading all social movements through the revolutionary changes in information technologies, mobile phones, and social media platforms on the internet.  For the first time in history, crowds can self-organize and collaborate to create the largest repository of knowledge (Wikipedia), reveal large-scale consumer preferences (American Idol), build superior computer operating systems (Linux), and fund micro-scale projects (Kickstarter).  The open collaboration movement is a paradigm shift in economic production that alters the range of possibilities for all of the other movements.  And it makes possible the convergence we are beginning to see.

The Social Finance Movement…

 this new approach to funding brings together social mission, community organizing, and finance into a configuration that unleashes the power of money for doing good.  It has taken the forms of crowdfunding, social impact investing, strategic philanthropy, and pooled revenue to discover institutional frameworks that increase human well-being alongside the exchange of money…

Full text

What will the world look like in 2050? 2070? 2100?  It’s impossible to say for sure, especially since the collective impacts of human civilization have altered the state of the world at unprecedented scales.  We stand at a cross-roads with an uncertain future.  And we have important decisions to make.

In this post, I’d like to suggest a promising path that lies before us.  It is a road we can travel down if enough of us choose to do so.  Imagine if the major social movements of the world — sustainability, global justice, world federalism, corporation reform, open collaboration, and social finance – were to congeal into a new way of being.  There are trends that suggest this is already happening.  We can help amplify this convergence.  Or we can suppress it.

(go to site for graphic representation)

I’ve been following all of these movements throughout the last ten years and see a new economic paradigm emerging that brings them all together.  We can help this process along by familiarizing ourselves with the various social movements that have been on the rise for decades:

The Sustainability Movement

What started out as big game hunters wanting to preserve natural lands grew into a multi-generational exploration of the relationship between human communities and the larger ecological systems that we depend on for our survival.  This movement has been divided into categories like conservation, climate change, green urbanism, local foods and environmental justice throughout its history.  And now it is all starting to come together in the form of whole system design for economic and urban planning.

The Global Justice Movement

As the last century pulled us through two World Wars and a plethora of regional conflicts, we have learned a great deal about the power of shared prosperity for lifting people out of poverty, weakening the influence of fundamentalism, and promoting compassionate responses to situations that place people in harm’s way.  As new media pathways make us more aware of our profound interdependence, we are experiencing much greater consciousness about the social web of life and our moral responsibilities to improve the quality of life for all people.

The World Federalism Movement

Increasing sophistication across the global economy has led us to a place where global-scale governance is necessary for international business and economic development.  This has taken the forms of regional federalist systems like the European Union and an explosion of transnational governing institutions like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and the United Nations.  While these institutions remain too weak for addressing global challenges, they exemplify where we must go in order to make our global political systems responsive to the threats of regional conflict, climate change, and poverty.

The Corporate Reform Movement

It has been clear for some time now that the way we’ve designed publicly traded corporations is inadequate.  Moving from critique and into the realm of superior design, we are now seeing new corporate forms created that seek to balance people, profit, and planet.  These forms go by names like triple bottom line companies, social enterprises, and benefit corporations. At the same time it is increasingly the case that corporate brand strategies require that companies be responsive to the delicate web of values and shared identity that they have crafted through advanced marketing research over the last two decades.  The semantics of these relationships have considerable financial power in the marketplace.  And those companies that express a legitimate social mission are proving to be more adept at adapting to the desires of profoundly shifting consumer landscapes.

The Open Collaboration Movement

An undercurrent of change is pervading all social movements through the revolutionary changes in information technologies, mobile phones, and social media platforms on the internet.  For the first time in history, crowds can self-organize and collaborate to create the largest repository of knowledge (Wikipedia), reveal large-scale consumer preferences (American Idol), build superior computer operating systems (Linux), and fund micro-scale projects (Kickstarter).  The open collaboration movement is a paradigm shift in economic production that alters the range of possibilities for all of the other movements.  And it makes possible the convergence we are beginning to see.

The Social Finance Movement

A particular example of open collaboration that is poised to transform the entire global economy is social finance.  Emerging out of the micro-credit lending concept of Grameen Bank, this new approach to funding brings together social mission, community organizing, and finance into a configuration that unleashes the power of money for doing good.  It has taken the forms of crowdfunding, social impact investing, strategic philanthropy, and pooled revenue to discover institutional frameworks that increase human well-being alongside the exchange of money.

Taken together, these movements represent an emerging system of global governance, business, and finance.  We can encourage their integration and accelerate the transition to a new world order — one that is much more democratic and robust in the face of tremendous global change.  The choice is ours to make.

I for one am going to do all I can to speed up the process.  Will you?

http://www.chaoticripple.com/2011/global-convergence-social-movements/

‘Fix the Debt’: How 1%ers Build a Mass Movement for Millionaires

by Kevin Roose, November 30, 2012 by New York Magazine

The Fixers: How Fix the Debt Won Over Wall Street and Built a Fiscal Cliff Army

“You meet people, and you’re all trying to work on something together. It’s its own little think-tank.”

“The beautiful thing about this is that, when you get a room full of incredibly bright people with compelling ideas together in a room, something good comes of that.”

“We would lose people if we got more specific about our goals. We’d rather try to influence the overall broad parameters of what happens.”

Quick: Which loosely organized, quasi-ideological faction came up with those lofty expressions of idealism?

If you guessed Occupy Wall Street, you were wrong. They came from recent interviews with top-level members of Fix the Debt, the high-minded confab of business elites that is pushing for bipartisan deficit reduction ahead of the so-called “fiscal cliff.”

The Campaign to Fix the Debt, as it is properly known, is a four-month-old effort led by Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, the bipartisan duo who unsuccessfully tried to push a deficit-reduction scheme through Congress in 2010. With a reported $43 million war chest and the support of Peter G. Peterson, the Blackstone billionaire and leader of the deficit-scold movement, the group has been waging a nationwide media campaign meant to encourage President Obama and House Republicans to work together to avoid the expiration of the Bush income tax cuts and get long-term spending under control.

At its top levels, Fix the Debt has quickly morphed into a massive business kaffeeklatsch — a stateside Davos, with fewer panels on green energy and more talk of baselines and dynamic scoring. The organization’s “CEO Council” now consists of roughly 150 executives, many of them recognizable names from Wall Street’s upper echelons. The leaders of Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, and Citigroup are all in, as are a number of well-known investors like Bill Ackman and Bain Capital’s Josh Bekenstein. Members of the group have a multitude of reasons for getting involved — real concerns about the deficit, a desire to make their voices heard in Washington, and, for some, a chance to hop on a growing bandwagon filled with A-list peers.

The single-minded mobilization of Wall Street’s finest raises a question: How, exactly, did this group of corporate chieftains assemble?

Fix the Debt prefers to keep its behind-the-scenes operations under wraps. Most on-the-record comments are a mishmash of platitudes about shared sacrifice and working together for the good of the country. But interviews with a number of organizers and CEO council members point to a massive networking effort among one-percenters — one that relies on strategically exploiting existing business relationships and appealing to patriotic and economic instincts.

The roots of the movement were planted last September, at a series of private dinners held at the home of Virginia Senator Mark Warner, and hosted by Maya MacGuineas, the president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. In attendance were budget experts like Alice Rivlin and politically active CEOs including David Cote of Honeywell and Mark Bertolini of Aetna. MacGuineas, a longtime Peterson ally, told the CEOs that their help — along with the support of small-business leaders and private citizens — could help steer the conversation about the deficit in a way that could essentially save the economy from Washington’s gridlock.

When Fix the Debt was officially launched in July, it had a working budget of about $3 million, and the most visible talking heads were the group’s centrist political figures: Simpson, Bowles, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, and former New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg. MacGuineas was the official spokesperson. But that changed as Cote, Bertolini, and other early organizers like BlackRock chief Larry Fink began reaching out to their fellow business titans, setting up small lunches and dinner meetings, and bringing new recruits into the fold. Executives recruited their friends, board members, and clients, who then dug into their own networks on the group’s behalf. “CEO Tools” were given to members to use in pitching the Fix the Debt platform, including sample letters to employees and Powerpoint decks to “communicate the debt story in a visual way.”

A vast and powerful fund-raising machine emerged. Cote and other non-bank CEOs targeted their peers in the Fortune 500, while Simpson and Bowles leaned on their various political and corporate connections (Bowles, a board member of Morgan Stanley, is said to have gotten the bank’s CEO, James Gorman, in the mix). Steven Rattner and James B. Lee, Jr., it was decided, would head up the Wall Street push.

The choice of Rattner and Lee as Fix the Debt’s main financial industry recruiters was an indicator of the group’s division-healing ambitions. Rattner — an Obama administration auto czar, Bloomberg consigliere, and former private equity executive — had the Democratic bona fides to woo left-of-center financiers. “Jimmy” Lee, the vice chairman of JPMorgan Chase and right-hand man to CEO Jamie Dimon, had a golden Rolodex and an ability to get Republicans on board. The two had butted heads on deals before (most notably, during the 2009 Chrysler bailout, when Rattner represented the government and Lee negotiated on behalf of Chrysler’s creditors). But now they would work together to shoehorn their Wall Street connections into the movement and get them not only to contribute their time, but their cash as well.

“Maya came to me and said, ‘I’ve got a $3 million budget,” Lee says. “And I said, ‘Maya, it costs a billion dollars to run for president. Where’s $3 million going to go?’”

While Rattner began touting the group’s aims on cable TV shows, Lee formed a team of government-relations types and began working the phones. “Steve and I are running it like a deal,” Lee says. “We’ve got a syndicate book, if you will — who’s spoken to who, how much they’ve contributed.”

Soon Wall Street machers — some of whom had been major supporters of Mitt Romney and were looking for a way to recover their Washington influence after Romney’s election loss — were tripping over themselves to contribute to the cause. Rattner and Lee, along with Cote and other members of the Fix the Debt steering committee, raised tens of millions in a matter of weeks.

“Jimmy’s very persuasive,” said one Fix the Debt recruit. “He’s very good at getting a good group of people together in a room, talking about good ideas.”

“These phone calls take about a minute when you explain what you’re doing,” Lee told me. “It doesn’t matter if you’re talking to a Democrat or a Republican — they say, ‘where do I sign?’”

Not all of the chieftains’ pitches worked, though. Lee tried and failed to persuade Blackstone co-founder Steve Schwarzman to join the cause, according to one insider. President Obama’s longtime allies on Wall Street — hedge fund manager Marc Lasry, Evercore Partners founder Roger Altman, and former UBS banker Robert Wolf, among others — are conspicuously absent from the CEO council. And, for reasons having more to do with the gender makeup of the Fortune 500 than the appeal of deficit hawkery, the group has had trouble making inroads with female executives.

“We’re a little short on women,” one recruiter sheepishly admitted.

But many of the business bigwigs signed on. Jamie Dimon, Lee’s boss, agreed to host a pair of Fix the Debt–themed lunches at JPMorgan’s Park Avenue headquarters, and appear with Bowles and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein on CNBC in mid-October to make the case for a grand bargain. (That appearance so impressed CNBC’s top brass, according to a source close to the network, that they decided to blanket the airwaves with a channel-wide, Fix the Debt–inspired marketing campaign called “Rise Above.”) Blankfein became part of a corporate coalition that has made multiple lobbying trips to Washington, including a trip to the White House this week to meet with President Obama.

“These CEOs are supporting the effort more than financially,” MacGuineas said. “They’re willing to do the work.”

Fix the Debt’s impressive growth is easy to understand as a social phenomenon, especially given the various personal and professional webs that have connected many of its members for decades, and how little up-front investment is required of new joiners. It’s not hard to imagine that when Rattner, Lee, or one of your biggest corporate clients is on the phone, twisting your arm for a small check and your support, the potential costs of not participating make saying yes a no-brainer. In addition to being a powerful political force, Fix the Debt is also an elite hobnobber’s paradise.

“We have these great dinners,” raved one relatively new member, who says he has met a number of CEOs for the first time through his work with the group. “Everyone has been throwing out ideas about how to get the message to a broader audience.”

But even as Fix the Debt increasingly resembles a networking event with a vague political gloss, many of these CEOs have concluded that a federal impasse on deficit reduction poses serious risks to their businesses and the broader economy. Rightly or wrongly, they genuinely believe that their corporate acumen makes them well-suited to determine what is best for America as a whole. If you can analyze a billion-dollar term sheet with a gimlet eye, they imagine, it shouldn’t be that hard to balance a federal budget in a way that protects future generations from an all-out debt crisis.

“It’s really not a political thing,” one steering committee member told me. “These guys all look at the numbers, and they see that the country’s entitlement programs and demography are headed for a crash.”

Not everyone thinks Fix the Debt is acting in good faith. In recent days, the group has aroused the suspicion of groups on both the left and the right, who see in it a pro-business ideological movement masquerading as aisle-crossing diplomacy. Critics have accused the group’s CEO leaders of acting in their economic self-interest by laying groundwork for lower corporate taxes and deep cuts to entitlement programs that primarily benefit the working and middle classes. After a meeting with Fix the Debt members, House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement, “One thing Republicans won’t be party to is a deal that protects big businesses and preserves special-interest tax breaks while raising tax rates on the small businesses.” (Fix the Debt says Boehner’s statement is consistent with its mission.)

And even though Fix the Debt makes no specific proposals for entitlement cuts, groups that want to protect Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security — Peterson’s lifelong bêtes noires — are howling.

“Fix the Debt is a PR campaign that appears as a very sensible, very bipartisan effort. But at its core, all of it is window dressing for a very ideological, partisan policy position, which is the destruction of Social Security,” Alex Lawson, the executive director of Social Security Works, told me yesterday.

Whether Fix the Debt will ultimately succeed in bringing about a grand bargain before the fiscal cliff is anyone’s guess. Most likely, Congress and President Obama will hash out some sort of arrangement that allows them to claim credit for any bargain that includes new tax revenue and entitlement reform, no matter the exact details or timing. And what then? Will this massive, mobilized group of powerful business executives just vanish back into their corner offices? Like kids approaching the last day of summer camp, some members sound like they want to keep the movement alive even after a deal is struck.

“I don’t know,” Lee said, when asked about the group’s future. “Maybe we tackle some other issue of national importance, like making the Boston Red Sox a contender again.”

© 2012 New York Magazine

Kevin Roose is a staff writer for New York Magazine. He is also the author of The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University, which was published in March 2009 by Grand Central Publishing.

Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org

Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/11/30-0