Saturday, August 13, 2011

What's the Verizon strike all about?

Why We Are Picketing Here Today
Verizon Workers Are on Strike to Protect Middle-Class Jobs
We’re picketing today because we are on strike at Verizon and Verizon Wireless. A Verizon manager or replacement employee is doing a job here that would normally be done by a union-represented worker.
Verizon is hugely profitable. In the past four years alone, the company made more than $19.5 billion in profits—and paid its top five executives over a quarter of a billion dollars.

Yet this highly profitable company has demanded $1 billion in take-backs from 45,000 workers—$20,000 for every one of our families. Verizon wants to:
§     freeze pensions for current workers and eliminate them for new hires;
§     continue sending our jobs to Mexico and the Phillipines;
§     slash sick leave and benefits for workers injured on the job;
§     force current and retired workers to pay thousands of dollars for health care; and
§     slash paid holidays, including eliminating MLK’s Birthday and Veterans Day as holidays.
Verizon’s attack on us is part of a massive problem that affects virtually all Americans: Corporate profits are eating up more and more of our national income, leaving less and less for the rest of us.
Instead of killing the American Dream for 45,000 Verizon workers, Verizon should be treating its workers fairly, investing in the middle class, and helping to build a better future.
Corporate Greed is out of control in America. The rich are getting richer. We need good jobs that support families, neighborhoods, and communities. We need good, middle-class jobs to end the recession.
We are sorry for any inconvenience that may  occur, but we feel we have to stand up to protect our middle class jobs. We ask you to support the 45,000 members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) who are on strike to protect the American dream.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The last speech from the Great Dictator

Probably not more than two of my readers will watch this video, but for those two: did you have goosebumps by the end?  This 1940 film, The Great Dictator, was the first film in which Charlie Chaplin spoke.  He plays two roles in this comedy/drama, the Dictator Hynkel and the Jewish baker who looks just like him. 

Relocatable houses: one adaptation to climate change

One coastal section of Australia is saying, you can't build a house by the sea unless you can move it if need be.  of course this is adaptation to climate change, not a solution, but  we're going to need both.

Photo from Aldseley's photostream at Flickr.

More to do on ward representation in Springfield

Today Arise had a press conference with some of the Springfield's most stalwart warriors for ward representation, to talk about what's gone right so far with the new system and what still needs to be done.

  • We now have geographic representation.  In the 10 years previous to changing to ward representation, an astounding 89% of at-large candidates came from only three of the city's eight wards.  Now every ward has a councilor.
  • We have increased racial diversity.  In the 45 years previous to ward representation, only four African-Americans and one Latino had ever been elected to city council-- in fact, Jose Tosado got his first seat on the council when a councilor resigned and he moved up from 10th place. Now we have three Latino/as and two African-Americans in ward seat.
Still to be done:
  • Increase voter turn-out.  Voter participation has been declining for decades, and ward representation is not going to turn that around in just two years.  However, in the 2008 election when ward representation was on the ballot, an astounding 74.2% of those who voted said YES to ward representation.
  • Get more candidates running.  2009 was a truly competitive year for ward seats, but 2011 has only one ward with a contested race.  But instead of considering that a failure, it may very well be that people in each ward are pleased the with performance of their representative!
In the "fair and balanced" category, Pete Goonan of the Springfield Republican got comments from the two people who voted against placing ward representation on the ballot-- Tim Rooke, still currently serving in an at-large seat, and Bud Williams, who hopes to regain an at-large seat this November.  Bud gives ward representation a "C+."  I wonder if he enjoyed the good old days of the at-large system, when he got to be the only African-American on city council?

Yesterday's press conference featured some of the real heroes of ward representation.  Frank Buntin and Gumersindo Gomez, Exec. Dir. of the Puerto Rican Veterans Center, started meeting about ward rep in 1992, and we built on their experience.  Both stayed involved for the long haul.  Joe Fountain tried to file a lawsuit against the at-large system in 1996, but was denied standing as a white person.  He brought the lawsuit to Arise and we recruited the NAACP and the Spanish American Union (now sadly defunct) to join with us in the first federal lawsuit.  Rev. Talbert Swan II was a plaintiff in the second lawsuit, and involved his network in pushing the work forward.  Council president Jose Tosado, a long-time supporter of ward rep, got the city council to approve placing the ward rep question on the 2008 ballot.  And there were so many more that if I get started, I'll be bound to forget important people, but I do have to give a shout-out to E. Henry Twiggs, Min. Yusuf Muhammad, Nick Camerota, Norm Oliver, Alan Howard and Mable Sharif, to name a few, and, within Arise, most especially Joe Oliverio, Tory Field and Liz Bewsee.

We have a lot more to do to make sure democracy really works in Springfield.  I called the Election Office last week to see if there were any community groups leading the charge on voter registration, and sadly, there were not-- not even, to date, Arise.  But we're going to turn that around.  We need a new coalition in Springfield that focuses on voter education and participation, that helps identify potential leaders and that mentors them through the electoral process.  The Springfield Institute and MassVOTE have already offered support.  Who else would like to join us?

Photo from the Springfield Institute.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Obama's failure, a truth-telling tour, and a march on Washington, D.C.

This morning I read an opinion piece by Drew Westen that completely summed up the deep disappointment I feel in our president, Barack Obama.  I urge you to read all of it, but these two paragraphs frame Obama's failure.

When Dr. King spoke of the great arc bending toward justice, he did not  mean that we should wait for it to bend. He exhorted others to put their  full weight behind it, and he gave his life speaking with a voice that  cut through the blistering force of water cannons and the gnashing teeth  of police dogs. He preached the gospel of nonviolence, but he knew that  whether a bully hid behind a club or a poll tax, the only effective  response was to face the bully down, and to make the bully show his true  and repugnant face in public. 

IN contrast, when faced with the greatest economic crisis, the greatest  levels of economic inequality, and the greatest levels of corporate  influence on politics since the Depression, Barack Obama stared into the  eyes of history and chose to avert his gaze. Instead of indicting the  people whose recklessness wrecked the economy, he put them in charge of  it. He never explained that decision to the public — a failure in  storytelling as extraordinary as the failure in judgment behind it. Had  the president chosen to bend the arc of history, he would have told the  public the story of the destruction wrought by the dismantling of the  New Deal regulations that had protected them for more than half a  century. He would have offered them a counternarrative of how to fix the  problem other than the politics of appeasement, one that emphasized  creating economic demand and consumer confidence by putting consumers  back to work. He would have had to stare down those who had wrecked the  economy, and he would have had to tolerate their hatred if not welcome  it. But the arc of his temperament just didn’t bend that far.

 Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornel West believe that Barack Obama is ignoring the plight of poor people.  They have launched The Poverty Tour: A Call to Conscience, to help wake this country up to what poor people have to go through every day, how their lives and the lives of their children have been stunted and cast aside.  Their inspiration also comes from Dr. Martin Luther King: "I choose to identify with the underprivileged, I choose to identify with  the poor, I choose to give my life for the hungry, I choose to give my  life for those who have been left out of the sunlight of opportunity. .  .This is the way I’m going.  If it means suffering a little bit, I’m  going that way.  If it means sacrificing, I’m going that way.  If it  means dying for them, I’m going that way, because I heard a voice saying  “DO SOMETHING FOR OTHERS.”

Poor people are organizing on our own behalf, too-- not just in the small ways we do every day, but for major mobilizations.  The Assembly to End Poverty, which was formed from the poverty resolution at the 2010 United States Social Forum, is calling for a march on Washington, D.C. on June 30, 2012. I don't know yet how we're going to do it, but Arise, and poor people from all over Western Massachusetts, will be there.

We are fighting for our lives.

Photo from Racole's photostream from Flickr.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Cut the military budget FIRST!

 If you don't know about the website Just Foreign Policy, you need to--  if you're sick of the 30 second sound bites that don't really tell you anything about U.S. foreign and military budget, then this is a site that reports objectively on issues progressives care about.  I subscribe to a daily newsletter that starts with a summary and follows with more in-depth reporting if you have time. 

 Here's two tidbits from today's summary.  So it would be better to cut Social Security and Medicaid than the military budget?

 1) Defense Secretary Panetta effectively told Congress to raise taxes and cut Social Security and Medicare before taking another swipe at the Pentagon budget beyond defense cuts already called for in the [first round of] the debt-ceiling deal, the New York Times reports. Panetta took the position that the joint committee created by the debt ceiling legislation should make no further defense cuts. The White House, however, has not ruled out further defense reductions. The committee, to be composed of six Democrats and six Republicans, would also be unlikely to take them off the table, the New York Times notes.

2) Also reporting on Panetta's statement that Congress should cut Social Security and Medicare and raise taxes rather than further cut the military budget, the Washington Post notes that defense spending represents about half of the federal government's discretionary spending, and the military's budget has increased by more than 70 percent since 2001. Although the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost the Pentagon upward of $1 trillion, nearly half of the growth in defense spending in the past decade has been unrelated to the wars.

Photo from Brave New Worlds photostream at Flickr.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Yes-- we're appealing Dept. of Environmental Protection's air permit for PRE.

In today's Republican, Pete Goonan has a story about the next steps in fighting to keep Palmer Renewable Energy's biomass incinerator out of Springfield.  The Conservation Law Foundation and Toxics Action Center have both filed appeals to the Department of Environmental Protection's issuance of an air permit. CLF is filing on behalf of its members, which includes many people from Springfield, and Arise for Social Justice.  I want to say thank you to both CLF and the Toxics Action Center, which have provided us with invaluable support the last two years, for taking up this battle.

Check out the new advertisement from the American Lung Association.  It reminds me of when one of our Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield members used the bulk of her two minutes before the Springfield City Council playing a recording of a child having an asthma attack.  Our city council did the right thing and revoked the local permit, but, not unexpectedly, PRE is now suing the city.  So the battle goes on.

I wrote on Monday about why local control may be the only control we can count on in the short term.  But even local control  is hard-won!  We have a lot of community education and mobilization still to do.  Want to help?  Get in touch.



Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Rebuild Springfield Advisory Committee: listening is not necessarily hearing

On behalf of Arise, :Liz and I went to the first Rebuild Springfield Advisory Committee meeting last night at Milton Bradley Elementary School.  The listening sessions are designed for the four sections of the city hardest hit by the June 1 Tornado; this one was for residents and businesses in the South End.

Other than advisory committee members and public officials, only about 20 people attended-- not surprising given that the dates for the four meetings were announced on Friday, July 29 and last night's meeting was Tuesday, August 2.  In addition, only 6 of the 15 advisory committee members actually attended the session (a tally kept by a man-- a renter-- in the back of the room).  I will be curious to see if advisory board members make a better showing in the primarily homeowner neighborhoods .

Health and Human Services Director Helen Caulton-Harris, who I believe described herself as the liaison between the community and the advisory board, and Parks, Buildings and Recreation Management Director Patrick Sullivan, another liaison, talked about the length of the tornado and the damage done.  They also talked about the development of a Master Plan.  i admit my heart sunk a bit there, not that I hadn't heard that before.  Whose Master Plan?  How much will that plan really include the desires and needs of Springfield residents?  And how can it include them if thery're not sufficiently invited?

Most South End residents talked about the need to have their housing rebuilt.  One woman, from 15 Park St., said, "OK, you wanted us to live downtown, and we did.  Now help us come back!"  Rico Daniele of Mom and Rico's wanted to see the South End Community Center built deeper into the South End.  Someone else spoke about the need for a market.  (By the way, check out Mike Dobb's editorial in the Reminder about the same need in a different place-- should be online tomorrow.)

I'm going to try to keep an open mind about the whole process, although I know most decisions are made behind the curtain.  Still, as the organizer's axoim goes, use what you've got to get what you need.
August 5th       6:00 – 8:00 p.m.      JC Williams Comm. Cntr         116 Florence St.
August 11th     6:00 – 8:00 p.m.      Greenleaf Comm. Center         1188 ½ Parker St.
August 16th     6:00 – 8:00 p.m.      Holy Cross Church                    221 Plumtree Rd.

Photo by Don Treeger, Republican staff photographer

Life will find a way

Monday, August 1, 2011

The worst is yet to come

Does anyone think, this morning, that the debt ceiling crisis has been "solved?"

I'm no political analyst and it's going to take me (and the rest of the country) some time to figure out exactly how bad the pending deal is going to be for poor, working class and middle class people of this country.  But I got a big hint this morning of where we're headed next during CNN's interview of Sen. John McCain.

McCain mentioned that as a way to stimulate the economy and get businesses investing, he'd like to see a two year moratorium on all government regulations.

Following is a list of some of the federal agencies and bureaus that would be affected by McCain's plan.  Take a look and use your imagination: Just how might the robber baron corporations exploit lack of regulations, both those that currently exist and those that might be proposed?

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, Bureau of Prisons, Commission on Civil Rights, Council on Environmental Quality, Department of Agriculture,
Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services,Department of Labor, Environmental Protection Agency, Equal Employment Opportunity Division, Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Maritime Commission, Federal Trade Commission, Fish and Wildlife Service, Food and Drug Administration,Food Safety and Inspection Service, Housing and Urban Development, Justice Department, Labor Department,Marine Mammal Commission, Mine Safety and Health Administration, National AIDS Policy Office, National Park Service, National Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Public and Indian Housing, Veterans Health Administration.

Well, I can give you a hint: as of last Friday, 39 anti-environmental riders were attached to the 2012 spending bill for the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.  If passed, they would mean that for a year: no greenhouse gas regulations, no new auto efficiency regulations,  no limits on mountaintop coal removal, no strengthening of protections for wetlands, no labeling the toxic ash from coal-fired power plants as hazardous waste-- and much more.  You can read some details in a Sunday Editorial in the New York Times.

So what are we to do?  Our options on a federal level may be limited at the moment, but as a lifelong community organizer, at least one course of action is clear to me: fight for local control on every front of this war against us.  Build our strength and our skills to challenge, from the bottom up, the corporate control over our lives.  Tell the truth!  Oppose illegitimate authority!  Start taking back our power-- at the next street corner, at the steps of city hall, at our state capitals.  And do it now.

Only after the last tree has been cut down.
Only after the last river has been poisoned.
Only after the last fish has been caught.
Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.

                                           ~ Cree saying