Tag Archive | "organizing"

Why don’t working class people come to our meetings?

Stuart Bramhall on why the left fails to attract the working class.

After posing this question to working class clients and friends for 30+ years, I have come up with the following answers:

Liberals and progressives rarely address the nitty gritty financial issues (i.e. paying the rent or mortgage and food and doctor bills) that would motivate blue or pink collar workers to become politically active. When you can’t afford a doctor or shoes for your kids, it’s hard to get excited about wars in the Middle East, banking reform or climate change.

Liberals and progressives tend to be insensitive to working class culture and are often perceived as moralizing about “political correctness” and “lifestyle changes.” This often includes a heavy emphasis on changing light bulbs and other “sacrifices” activists are expected to make to reduce global warming.

My blue collar friends complain about not being heard at political meetings because more educated activists tend to monopolize the discussions.

My working class friends tend to be mistrustful of progressives in general, owing to their tendency to stigmatize common working class issues, especially chronic illness and obesity (which increase in prevalence as income decreases), smoking and gun control.

Liberals and progressive organizers are generally urban, middle class and above, and too often patronizing to the working class whom they expect to quietly listen to and absorb the perceived wisdom from them, their enlightened betters. Marxists are just as guilty of this, if not more so, since they deliberately ignore the white working class in favor of people of color, who are supposedly more prole and thus more authentic. Plus Marxists really expect you to shut up while they tell you about their religion. Few liberal, progessive or Marxist organizers genuinely listen to what the working class says, much less encouraging them to have leadership roles in their organizations. Saul Alinsky did, and that’s precisely why he was so successful.

Posted in Politics, Saul Alinsky

Bob Dylan turns 70. Has the Left changed since 1963?

I love the ‘US out of Vermont’ slogan on the guy on the left and the rest of the cartoon made me laugh too. But it got me thinking, tactics on the left haven’t changed much since Dylan’s early days, have they? Back then it was civil rights marches. A few years later the anti-Vietnam War mobilizations were huge and had massive impact. Some of those DC protests drew a million people, and they were organized without email, Twitter, the Internet, faxes, or copiers. To use current jargon, word about the protests spread virally.

Not much has changed on the Left since then in terms of tactics and strategy. It’s all a bit calcified, frozen in amber. Protests, even huge ones, don’t have the impact they had in the 1960’s, when it was all fresh and new. Yet the left mostly plods along with the same old ideas – and wonders why its impact has waned. The world has changed, the American Left, not so much.

First off – and this has become abundantly clear since we moved to southern Utah – the American Left is almost entirely urban and seems allergic to going into rural areas. Along with this too often comes the unspoken assumption that anyone living in the country must be a right-wing, gun-toting goober (who needs politics explained to him by a leftie living in a city who doesn’t know the difference between hay and straw.) But the only thing correct about that is the gun-owning part. The Populist Revolt of the 1890’s came straight out of the Kansas farmer heartland. And I bet not a single left-wing organizer from the city ventured there to see what was happening or lend a hand.

And could we please toss out the tired old idea that mass organizing can only happen with the help of or be led by unions? Most unions today are ineffective and part of the problem. The leadership of major unions hasn’t the slightest interest in creating One Big Union to smash the bosses, as this could threaten their big salaries and private jet travel perks. The current protests in the Middle East and now in Europe aren’t coming from unions or even from just the left. They are arising spontaneously from a pissed-off populace.

The best thing the American Left can do is to nurture (not lead) such dissent. But as to when this could happen, the answer my friend, is blowing in the wind.

Posted in Politics, populism

Lefties, the Scottish National Party shows us what to do

The SNP, a “pro-independence moderate left-of-centre party” which was left for dead four years ago in the aftermath of the Royal Bank of Scotland having to be bailed out by Britain, has roared back and now controls the Scottish Parliament. They decimated Labour and the Lib Dems. They did not do this by being timid little church mice and constantly moving to the right. Instead, they stood strong for health care, affordable housing, education for all, and a green economy which includes investment to develop Scotland’s huge wind, wave, and tidal energy resources. And the voters responded.

This of course is what the Democratic Party here should do. Stand tall and fight for specific issues instead of cravenly capitulating, trying to grab a mythical center. The SNP shows us Left can win.

Posted in News

Polizeros Radio podcast tonight

US Uncut. Violence at protests. Bloggers arrested

The podcast is hosted on BlogTalkRadio. Call in to listen live at 626-414-3492 tonight at 8:30 PT (9:30 MT, 10:30 CT, 11:30 ET.) You can also download it or listen to the archive on BlogTalkRadio after it’s done.

With Josh Mull from Rethink Afghanistan and Firedoglake, Steve Hynd of Newshoggers, and myself.

Posted in Anti-war

Polizeros Radio. SOTU, Egypt, organizing tactics, using the Internet

Tonight’s discussion was free-ranging. The SOTU address seemed mostly banal. Also, Utah revamped their state pension plan in just one year, potentially saving 50%. Can this be a model for other states? It shows that change can happen, and quickly too.

Egypt is erupting. Will the protests succeed in toppling the government? What would that mean for the rest of the Middle East? While the protests are anti-government, the underlying cause may be rising food prices and water shortages.

These protests have spread their message via SMS and Twitter. These are powerful tools. But here in the States, we need to decide what the message is, and make sure it resonates across political boundaries, not just left or right.

With Steve Hynd of Newshoggers, and Josh Mull of Firedoglake & Rethink Afghanistan and myself.

Listen to the podcast on BlogTalkRadio.

Download the mp3.

Posted in News

On the pretend left in the blogosphere

L’Hote in the The blindspot says what passes for the left in the US is merely tepid neoliberalism with no genuine radicalism much less socialism.

There are many myths within the political blogosphere, but none is so deeply troubling or so highly treasured by mainstream political bloggers than this: that the political blogosphere contains within it the whole range of respectable political opinion, and that once an issue has been thoroughly debated therein, it has had a full and fair hearing. The truth is that almost anything resembling an actual left wing has been systematically written out of the conversation within the political blogosphere, both intentionally and not, while those writing within it congratulate themselves for having answered all left-wing criticism.

That the blogosphere is a flagrantly anti-leftist space should be clear to anyone who has paid a remote amount of attention. Who, exactly, represents the left extreme in the establishment blogosphere? You’d likely hear names like Jane Hamsher or Glenn Greenwald. But these examples are instructive. Is Hamsher a socialist? A revolutionary anti-capitalist? In any historical or international context– in the context of a country that once had a robust socialist left, and in a world where there are straightforwardly socialist parties in almost every other democracy– is Hamsher particularly left-wing? Not at all. It’s only because her rhetoric is rather inflamed that she is seen as particularly far to the left. This is what makes this whole discourse/extremism conversation such a failure; there is a meticulous sorting of far right-wing rhetoric from far right-wing politics, but no similar sorting on the left. Hamsher says bad words and is mean in print, so she is a far leftist. That her politics are largely mainstream American liberalism that would have been considered moderate for much of the 20th century is immaterial.

Naked Capitalism agrees

Freddie deBoer’s post “the blindspot” (hat tip Richard Smith) seems to have created a bit of a frisson among political bloggers. It make a long-form argument that “the political discourse, in our punditry, lacks a left-wing.”

That should not be a controversial statement.

For instance, this blog has started to deal with political issues as they relate to the financial services industry, and now and again to the broader economy, largely as a result of the failure to implement meaningful reforms in the wake of the financial crisis. If you are not angry about the ongoing plutocratic land grab in this country, you are either not paying attention, deluded, or part of the problem. And I continue to be surprised that my views are deemed to be left-leaning. I’m middle of the road as of the Reagan era; the rest of the US has made a remarkably large shift to the right and seems to be continuing its move in that direction.

Oh, there is a far left blogosphere, and it’s often quite robust. But it gets no traction in the States.

Part of the problem on the far left is that too often such groups are primarily interested in recruiting for their little Marxoid cult not in the ostensible cause of their front groups. But you can’t have it both way. To build a truly mass organization, you need moderates. But they won’t allow that. This had very real ramifications in the anti-Iraq War protests with front groups like ANSWER who were controlled by Workers World (then PSL after the split from WW). They alienated the moderates because ANSWER was primarily a recruiting tool, the anti-war stuff was always secondary. (This is not speculation, I was there and also have it on impeccable authority from a decades-long organizer)

Also, on the far left, it is reasonable to assume that far left groups have been compromised and infiltrated by informers. In the 50’s, as it turned out, half the participants in Communist Party meetings were FBI. Anti-war organizers in the 1960’s who did FOIA requests decades later were stunned to find how much they were watched. So, there’s no doubt that such things still happen.

Sadly, the Iraq anti-war movement fell apart after Obama was elected. It appears the most of the protesters were really anti-Bush, not anti-war. Too many liberals and progressives now still think Obama will suddenly morph into Liberalman and continue to wait for that.

The US left, from liberals out to socialists, needs to determine what it actually believes in and to stop making self-destructive mistakes. We can’t change the right but we can change ourselves.

Posted in Podcasts

Polizeros Radio podcast tonight. Influential left-wing ideas

Tonight’s podcast will be on the Influential left-wing ideas (good, bad, and not influential enough) post on BobFromBrockley that has spurred considerable discussion, with Steve Hynd of Newshoggers, Josh Mull from Rethink Afghanistan and Firedoglake, and myself.

The podcast is hosted on BlogTalkRadio. Call in to listen live at 626-414-3492 tonight at 8:30 PST (9:30 MST, 10:30 CST, 11:30 EST.) You can also download it or listen to the archive on BlogTalkRadio after it’s done.

Links discussing BobFromBrockley’s post.


Harry’s Place. 1, 2, 3

Right here at Politics in the Zeros. 1, 2

Posted in News

Influential left-wing ideas

BobFromBrockley (UK) presents three categories of influential leftie core values in a thoughtful post which bears repeated reading.

Good influences

  • Social justice
  • Internationalism
  • The one state solution
  • Open source
  • Strangers into citizens

Social justice seems to me to be the predominant leftie value, and is the one that separates the left from conservatives and libertarians. Most everything flows from the assumption that all should get a reasonably sized piece of pie and be treated fairly. Yes, some conservatives and libertarians may believe this too. But it’s not their primary value, that’s the difference.

Bad influences

  • National sovereignty
  • Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions
  • Blood for oil/the Israel lobby/the shock doctrine
  • Foreigners are stealing our jobs –
  • Second campism

He sees boycotts of Israel having “zero chance” of actually helping Palestinians and the shock doctrine as conspiracy theory analogous to South Park underpants gnomes who jump from Phase 1 to Phase 3 in their business plan, completely ignoring Phase 2 with no causal relationships linking Phase 1 and Phase 3.

Not influential enough ideas

  • Mutualism, co-operatives, self-management
  • Small government
  • No borders
  • Class analysis
  • Agnosticism

The left should take back the idea of small government, which is now the sole property of the right. I completely agree. Also, he adds, class analysis needs to be restored as a major idea for the left in Britain because without it, the left meanders and is rudderless. Here in the States there is finally, due to the financial crisis and accompanying obvious exploitation by the few of the many, a dim but growing awareness that class differences exist.

What are your thoughts about influential ideas on the left?

Posted in News

Labor’s obligation and opportunity: Philly organizer challenges unions to rally around Greens

In an open letter to the leaders of the Philadelphia labor movement, the young and energetic organizer for UFCW Local 152 Hugh Giordano has challenged the city’s unions to have the courage to support the Green Party.  Giordano ran an exceptionally strong campaign as a Green for state legislature this year, which I wrote about for Polizeros here, in which he raised almost $30,000 and got over 18 percent of the vote in a three way race, getting support from Republicans, Democrats, independents, and even some Tea Partiers along the way.  Now he’s working (with many other people) to spread the message of honest government, workers’ rights, and a clean environment, among other things, to the rest of Philadelphia.

As the members of the party, which I am aiding in every way I can, build the organization to run candidates in 2011 local elections, Giordano has seized the opportunity make the area’s union leadership reconsider the popular path of supporting corporate Democrats.  In his words, “Why are we, the strong men and women of the labor movement, bowing down to the corporate bosses and politicians…Union brothers and sisters, when any one of us becomes ‘fearful’ or ‘controlled’ by a political party – it’s time to step down and pass the torch on.”

The full letter is printed, with Hugh Giordano’s permission, below.

What We, As Labor Leaders, Must Do!

Dear Union Brothers and Sisters,

This letter is more of a “cry for action” rather than just an informational or ideological statement or platform. It is meant to be serious and intense, and I hope you take this letter in that form! This letter is being sent to as many union brothers and sisters as possible.

I have been involved in the labor movement now for about ten years, from non-union worker/union activist, to member, and officially becoming a union representative for UFCW Local 152. I have been a part of every aspect of the union movement, and now I must take the next step – Labor leader.

What do I mean by leader? Being a leader does not mean having the title of Business Manager or President of a local. It means standing up and saying what needs to be said against the status quo. There were numerous forms of this leadership before me, and their will be numerous ones after me – but I am worried about what is happening in today’s present labor environment.

Many of you might have heard about me in my run for State Representative as an Independent with the Green Party, and I am proud of that decision. I ended up getting the highest vote of any third party in Philadelphia and I am pretty sure I received the highest in a three way race. This is what needs to be done! I did this using basic union organizing skills and having a handful of unions behind me. Imagine what would have happened if I had all of the Philadelphia unions behind me?

Why do we support the Democrats and Republicans when all they do is take our money, use our man power, and then leave us out to dry? Why do we support CEO’s, corporate consultants, and corporate attorneys, when 365 days of the year when they are not running for office, they are fighting unions, breaking labor laws, and spreading their greed? But all of a sudden when they run for office as a ‘Democrat”, they have changed their ways? This just proves that the Democrats are as corporate as the Republicans.

Continue Reading

Posted in Politics

Don’t mourn, organize

Susie Madrak

Did you know that during the Greater Depression, communists and socialists organized people all over the country to stop foreclosures and evictions? Why aren’t more of us doing it now?

She details how some groups are doing something now.

Image via The Big Picture

Posted in News


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