Levees Not War
Rebuilding New Orleans, Louisiana, and the Gulf Coast.

Posts Tagged ‘Occupy Wall Street’

Labor Day Is for the Workers (the 99%)

Monday, September 1st, 2014

Labor-day-1-AT-8-27“Labor Creates All Wealth”

“Our labor movement has no system to crush. It has nothing to overturn. It purposes to build up, to develop, to rejuvenate humanity.

“It stands for the right. It is the greatest protestant against wrong. It is the defender of the weak.

“Its members make the sacrifices and bear the brunt of battle to obtain more equitable and humane conditions in the everyday lives of all the people.”

Samuel Gompers, president, American Federation of Labor, “The Significance of Labor Day,” in The New York Times, Sept. 4, 1910

*

We are delighted to see that, yes, there actually are still parades on Labor Day. New York City’s will be Saturday, Sept. 6. New Orleans, on the other hand, is in the throes of Southern Decadence—not quite the same, but, still, a celebration.

A special day to celebrate the worker was first proposed in 1882, and was made a national holiday by Congress in 1894. The first Monday of September was chosen as an appropriate midway point between the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving; it would include elements of each holiday: patriotism and gratitude.

The first labor day celebration was proposed by Peter J. McGuire, a leading official of the American Federation of Labor and founder of the carpenters’ union, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners. (Credit for the idea has also been given to another Maguire, one Matthew Maguire of the Knights of Labor.) In any case, a celebration of labor, including a picnic and speeches and a big parade, was organized for September 5, 1882. It was a great success, with some 10,000 workers parading on Broadway past City Hall and Union Square, carrying signs reading “Labor Creates All Wealth” and “Eight Hours for Work, Eight Hours for Rest, Eight Hours for Recreation.” (The eight-hour workday was not yet legally protected—and in too many cases it still isn’t.)

1st Labor Day parade NYC 1882

Oregon declared the first statewide holiday for Labor Day in 1887, followed by Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York. Thirty-two states had established the holiday by the time President Grover Cleveland signed a bill on June 28, 1894, making Labor Day a national holiday. Cleveland, a Democrat but no friend of labor, had just called out thousands of federal troops to suppress the turbulent Pullman railcar workers’ strike (1894) near Chicago that had paralyzed the nation’s rail system. [See “Behind the Pullman Strike” in Further Reading below.] Cleveland’s signature, however, did not placate labor, and he was not nominated for reelection in 1896 (the Democratic candidate would be William Jennings Bryan).

How Labor Unions Strengthened America

With all their faults, trade unions have done more for humanity than any other organization of men that ever existed. They have done more for decency, for honesty, for education, for the betterment of the race, for the developing of character in men, than any other association of men. —Clarence Darrow

In the national bestseller Who Stole the American Dream? (2013), Pulitzer Prize winner Hedrick Smith explains what labor unions did for the nation’s middle class before a systematic dismantling of the New Deal and Great Society safety net shredded Middle America:

. . . the anchor of middle class-power during the long postwar period and its most consistent and effective advocate was the American labor movement. Union power played a central role in creating the world’s largest middle class by pushing Corporate America to share the economic gains from rising industrial productivity and efficiency with average Americans. Shared labor-management power delivered shared prosperity.

Organized labor’s impact extended far beyond bread-and-butter gains for its own members. The trade union movement fought for and won the eight-hour day, the five-day week, child labor laws, and labor safety laws. Not only did unions bargain with America’s biggest corporations for a better middle-class standard of living, but the AFL-CIO, the labor federation, vigorously supported consumer activists, environmentalists, and the drive to strengthen regulatory agencies. It backed political candidates—mostly Democrats, but some moderate and liberal Republicans, too—who voted in Congress for a more level economic playing field. What’s more, by establishing a social contract and economic benchmarks that many non-union employers felt compelled to match, labor’s tough bargaining with big business gained higher pay levels and better benefits for non-union workers as well as union members.

WPAWith strong governmental support during the New Deal period, labor had become a force to be reckoned with during the era of middle-class prosperity. Trade union strength had tripled in size, reaching 35 percent of the private sector workforce by the mid-1950s. By the late 1970s, unionization of public as well as private sector employees had tapered off to 27 percent of the total workforce. But that was still an army of twenty-one million, by far the largest organized body of middle-class Americans. Every big industry—autos, steel, construction, food, trucking, textiles, garment making—had big, muscular unions pressing for a better standard of living for average Americans. (p. 38)

Legislative limitations and rollbacks of union power, beginning with the Taft-Hartley Act (1947) and the Landrum-Griffin Act (1959), shifted into higher gear during the Carter administration (1977–81)—more by Congress than by Jimmy Carter—and into overdrive under Ronald Reagan (1981–89), and continue in the Obama years through the blunt-instrument tactics of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and other Republican governors. Still, in 2011 the median yearly earnings of union members were $47,684, and of non-union members, $37,284.

“In the past 20 years,” reports Mother Jones, “the US economy has grown nearly 60 percent. This huge increase in productivity is partly due to automation, the internet, and other improvements in efficiency. But it’s also the result of Americans working harder—often without a big boost to their bottom lines. Oh, and meanwhile, corporate profits are up 20 percent. . . . Productivity has surged, but income and wages have stagnated for most Americans. If the median household income had kept pace with the economy since 1970, it would now be nearly $92,000, not $50,000.” (“Overworked America: 12 Charts That Will Make Your Blood Boil,” Mother Jones, July/August 2011.)

“$15 and a Union”

On a more positive note, a movement to raise the minimum wage, stymied by a paralyzed U.S. Congress, has sparked a push for wage hikes in cities and states around the nation. Seattle recently approved a $15 per hour minimum wage, and San Francisco and Chicago are considering a similar raise.

The CEOs of McDonald’s and Yum Brands, which owns Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and KFC, each earn more than $10 million a year—more than twice as much in a day as many of their employees earn in a year. 

FASTFOOD-master675Fast-food workers, who are often paid from about $7.35 to $8 or $9 per hour—work part-time, irregular hours, often with no benefits—have been campaigning in recent years for a $15 per hour minimum wage. One worker, a single mother in Charleston who earns $7.35 an hour after ten years as a McDonald’s cashier, told a New York Times reporter, “If we win $15, that would change my life. I get paid so little money that it’s hard to make ends meet, and I’ve had to move back in with my mother.” Mother Jones notes that one year’s earnings at the minimum wage amounts to only $15,080, while the income required for a single worker to have real economic security would be $30,000 per year.

In November 2012 in New York, 200 workers went on a one-day strike at 60 fast-food restaurants, and in May this year, restaurant workers walked off the job in 150 cities around the U.S. The movement’s motto has become “$15 and a union.” In July, 1,200 fast-food employees, with backing from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), gathered near Chicago for a two-day convention about raising low-wage workers’ pay and fighting income inequality. One of the speakers, the Rev. William Barber of North Carolina, told the audience:

“You have to stay in the $15 fight until it is a reality. When you raise people’s wages and it raises the standard of living and you increase purchasing power, you actually not only do the right thing morally, but you do the right thing economically, and the whole country is blessed.”

The New York Times explains that SEIU has been trying to unionize the fast food workers, and has “brought several cases before the National Labor Relations Board, asking its general counsel to declare McDonald’s a joint employer of the restaurants run by its franchisees. If the labor board agrees, that would open the door for the S.E.I.U. to try to unionize not just three or five McDonald’s at a time, but dozens and perhaps hundreds.”

In this midterm congressional election year we want to see Democrats standing with the low-wage workers. And, even more, we want to see them standing with the workers after the election.

“A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned—this is the sum of good government.” —Thomas Jefferson

“Splendid as has been the progress in organization and federation within the recent past, yet there is much to do to convince the yet unorganized workers that their duty to themselves, their wives and children, their fellow-workers, their fellow-men is to organize and help in the great cause. We must win or regain the confidence of the indifferent, negligent, or ignorant non-unionists, to impress on his mind that he who will not stand with his brother for the right is equally responsible with the wrongdoer for any wrong done.” Samuel Gompers, “The Significance of Labor Day”

*

Further Reading about Labor Day and the American Worker

History of Labor Day  (U.S. Department of Labor)

The Origins and Traditions of Labor Day  (What So Proudly We Hail)

The Meaning of Labor Day  (What So Proudly We Hail)

Behind the Pullman Strike of 1894: The True Story of How One Man Shut Down American Commerce to Avoid Paying His Workers a Fair Wage  (Think Progress)

“Living Wage” Effort Eclipsed By Minimum-Pay Battles  (NPR)

Overworked America: 12 Charts That Will Make Your Blood Boil  (Mother Jones, July/August 2011)

The Truth About the 40-Hour Workweek: It’s Actually 47 Hours Long  (Think Progress)

Jefferson R. Cowie, Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class  (2010)

Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (2001)

Steven Greenhouse, The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker  (2009)

Simon Head, The New Ruthless Economy: Work and Power in the Digital Age  (2005)

George Packer, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America  (2013)

David K. Shipler, The Working Poor: Invisible in America (2004)

Occupying Wall Street with Nurses, Teachers, Transit Workers, and the Rest of America’s Middle Class (LNW, 10/6/11)

*

OccupyChicago

*

First Labor Day 1882 image from U.S. Department of Labor website; worker with Raise Up for $15 button by Nathan Weber for The New York Times. Bottom flag / 99% image from Occupy Chicago, 2011. • Thanks to Stephen in NYC for suggesting the quotations by Clarence Darrow and Thomas Jefferson.

*

Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare on Tumblr+1Digg ThisSubmit to redditPin it on PinterestShare via email


Pete Seeger, 1919–2014: A Life of “Defiant Optimism”

Saturday, February 1st, 2014

SUB-SEEGER-OBIT-superJumbo

“Realize that little things lead to bigger things. . . . there’s a wonderful parable in the New Testament: The sower scatters seeds. Some seeds fall in the pathway and get stamped on, and they don’t grow. Some fall on the rocks, and they don’t grow. But some seeds fall on fallow ground, and they grow and multiply a thousandfold. Who knows where some good little thing that you’ve done may bring results years later that you never dreamed of.”Pete Seeger, on Democracy Now

*

Let Us Now Praise Him and Thank Him

There is so much to admire about Pete Seeger, who died this week at 94, that one hardly knows where to begin. “We Shall Overcome,” “If I Had a Hammer,” “Turn, Turn, Turn,” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”—there are so many great songs he wrote, or refreshed and arranged for popular use, always inviting the audience to sing along, that it is difficult, and not at all cheering, to imagine what a different and poorer world this would have been without Pete Seeger and his music (the two are indistinguishable). Think of all the protests, demonstrations, sit-ins, teach-ins, and celebrations those songs and others have accompanied.

We admire Pete Seeger for his activism, generosity, his indomitable optimism, his ever-open mind, and sheer energy. For many of us, he was an old man (and a very accomplished, legendary one) for so many years that we could be forgiven for asking, upon hearing of his death, Oh, was he still alive?

ToshiSeege-obit-popupHe was indeed, and he performed as recently as 2009 at Barack Obama’s first inaugural celebrations, singing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” with Bruce Springsteen and his grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger at the Lincoln Memorial (see photo below), and at an Occupy Wall Street concert in 2011 when he was a young man of 92. His wife, Toshi-Aline Ohta Seeger, died in 2013, just days before the couple’s 70th anniversary. (The picture at right shows the Seegers in 1992.)

Pete Seeger knew everyone and played with everyone, from Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie to Paul Robeson, and Bob Dylan, to Emmylou Harris and David Byrne and members of the Jefferson Airplane. In the 1930s he collected folk songs with Alan Lomax and traveled and sang with Woody Guthrie. He sang for the labor movement in the 1940s and 50s (including for Eleanor Roosevelt and others at a racially integrated party at a CIO hall in Washington in 1944), and sang for civil rights and antiwar demonstrations in the 1950s and 60s, and for environmental causes from the 1970s to the 2010s. He sang with the Almanac Singers (including Woody Guthrie) in the 1940s and the Weavers in the 50s. In the late 1950s he refused to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and narrowly avoided being sent to prison for contempt of Congress.

“I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.” —Pete Seeger, testimony to House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) on Aug. 18, 1955

He was picketed by the John Birch Society and other right-wing groups, which boosted ticket sales, and for many years he was blacklisted from performing on TV because in the 1930s he had been a member of the Young Communist League. He did, however, eventually manage to perform his antiwar song “Waist-Deep in the Big Muddy” on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1968, after it was initially censored by CBS. As the New York Times obituary explains:

As the United States grew divided over the Vietnam War, Mr. Seeger wrote “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” an antiwar song with the refrain “The big fool says to push on.” He performed the song during a taping of “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” in September 1967, his return to network television, but it was cut before the show was broadcast. After the Smothers Brothers publicized the censorship, Mr. Seeger returned to perform the song for broadcast in February 1968.

*

Dave Van Ronk, the Brooklyn-born folk and blues singer on whom the Coen brothers’ new film Inside Llewyn Davis is (loosely) based, wrote of his admiration for Seeger in the late 1950s:

I think that the man is really great, in almost every sense of the word. . . . Artists of Seeger’s genre are hard to come by in this day and age. He is, in my opinion, taste and honesty personified, and a Seeger concert is a lesson which no singer of folksongs can afford to miss. When he speaks on the stage, his voice rarely rises above a conversational level, and yet he is heard. There is no phony upstaging at all. As a matter of fact, “stage presence” of the Broadway variety is entirely absent. Seeger does not act; he is.

I think that this is the key to his entire greatness. The man has no need to act in order to establish contact with his audience. He genuinely respects the people who are listening to him and refuses to insult their sensibilities with insincere theatrics. . . .

He is not “preserving” folklore but living it, and so are we, and he knows it. He neither sings up nor down to his material but with it. And there is no dichotomy between the performer and the content of his songs. . . . When he sings, all of him is involved. Which is another lesson that many singers of folksongs could profit by.

—from The Mayor of MacDougal Street: A Memoir (pp. 67–68)

 *

For more about Pete Seeger’s exemplary life of “defiant optimism” in music and activism, we recommend the following • New York Times obituary, “Pete Seeger, Champion of Folk Music and Social Change, Dies at 94,” and “Pete Seeger, a Folk Revivalist Who Used His Voice to Bring Out a Nation’s” • Democracy Now’s special report • Amy Goodman’s “Pete Seeger: Troubadour of Truth and Justice” • John Nichols’s obituary in The Nation, “Pete Seeger: This Man Surrounded Hate and Forced It to Surrender” • and this affectionate appreciation by Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo.

The photograph below shows Seeger performing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” at the “We Are One: Opening Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial,” with grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger (left) and Bruce Springsteen in January 2009 (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster). Below that, Pete Seeger, 92, in 2011 joining Occupy Wall Street by marching from a concert at Symphony Space to Columbus Circle (photo by Marcus Yam for The New York Times).

This Land

*

Occupy

*

Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare on Tumblr+1Digg ThisSubmit to redditPin it on PinterestShare via email


When Seawater Occupies Wall Street

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

*

A security guard walks through a flooded street in the financial district of Manhattan early on Tuesday, Oct. 29. Photo by Adrees Latif/Reuters.

*

Knee-deep thought of the day:

When seawater occupies Wall Street, perhaps Nature itself is telling Big Business and elected officials—and the public in general—to take climate change seriously, at last. 

*

The world is likely to build so many fossil-fuelled power stations, energy-guzzling factories and inefficient buildings in the next five years that it will become impossible to hold global warming to safe levels, and the last chance of combating dangerous climate change will be “lost for ever,” according to the most thorough analysis yet of world energy infrastructure. 

Anything built from now on that produces carbon will do so for decades, and this “lock-in” effect will be the single factor most likely to produce irreversible climate change, the world’s foremost authority on energy economics has found. If this is not rapidly changed within the next five years, the results are likely to be disastrous.

“The door is closing,” Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency, said. “I am very worried—if we don’t change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum [for safety]. The door will be closed forever.”

Please keep reading at “IEA Sees ‘Irreversible Climate Change in Five Years’” (LNW 1/21/12).

*

Recommended reading: Elizabeth Kolbert’s Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change (Bloomsbury, 2006).

*

Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare on Tumblr+1Digg ThisSubmit to redditPin it on PinterestShare via email


Framing the Case for Infrastructure Investment, Taxing the Rich

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

Attn.: Pro-Infrastructure Activists and Democratic Strategists:

In a Feb. 4 letter to the editor of the New York Times, Rick Stone of Madison, Wisc., makes a point that more of us should heed:

If the wealthy knew with certainty that their increased taxes would make the roads they drive safer, resistance might be less. Yet higher taxes have generally not been framed as such, but rather as a fairness issue—that you make too much, so we’ll take some of yours to give to others.

He is responding to an op-ed piece by Cornell University economics professor Robert H. Frank titled “Higher Taxes Help the Richest, Too,” a somewhat abstruse argument that takes about 900 words to make a rather simple point about why the wealthy resist tax increases. Still, we agree with the basic point, perhaps best summarized in the final sentence, “when the anti-tax wealthy make campaign contributions, they are buying only the deeper potholes and dirtier air that inevitably result when tax revenue is low.”

Earlier in his letter, Rick Stone cites the “behavioral economics concept of loss aversion—the idea that people strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains.” The impulse to avoid losses can best be countered by showing what the tax increases could make possible. And then—he doesn’t say this, exactly, but we do—change the discourse from a scarcity and austerity framework to a maldistribution-of-wealth argument.

Naomi Klein on The Rachel Maddow Show in October praised the genius of the “We Are the 99%” slogan and said the Occupy Wall Street activists were smart to take the protest to “the source of maximal abundance,” to put the lie to the discourse of scarcity. “It’s not a scarcity problem,” she said, “it’s a distribution problem.”

Mr. Stone of Madison is not talking specifically about reinforced levees or expanded public transportation, but his point applies there as well. When we push for raising taxes on the under-taxed Upper 1 or 2 Percent (and we do); when we try to generate support for what even sympathetic politicians timidly call “revenue increases,” we must show specific examples of what the revenues would pay for: stronger levees, repaired roads, expanded rail service, schools and post offices that are allowed to remain open, and so on.

We agree that arguments for higher taxes should be framed in terms of what they would make possible—that is why we are calling attention to this letter—but if Mr. Stone is saying that calls for higher taxes should not be framed as a fairness issue, then we disagree. He’s probably right that the benefits to the public (including the wealthy) should be at the forefront, but fairness should certainly be part of the argument.

What Would George Lakoff Say?

We have quoted before the advice given to us by U.C. Berkeley linguist and political analyst George Lakoff. He said that in promoting investment in infrastructure and other public goods, Democrats should not try to imitate Republican appeals to self-interest (and certainly not appeals to fear), but rather should argue for doing what is morally right. People will warm to the moral argument if it is presented simply and directly. It is right and fair for a government to collect some portion of people’s income to pay for the building of schools and roads and for monitoring food safety, etc. As we wrote in a piece on the social contract posted in Sept. 2009:

He said the moral appeal is always the best. It’s honest and it is more persuasive. Democrats and progressives, he said, always fall for the “Enlightenment fallacy,” the naïve belief that if you simply present the facts, people will see the light and support your cause. Not so simple. . . . Democrats should never try to imitate Republican appeals—it’s never believable. Instead, use the moral argument (the golden rule)—It’s the right thing to do. Expanding health care coverage, protecting our cities from hurricanes with reinforced flood protection is the right thing to do, morally and ecologically. 

Lakoff said Democrats and progressives are never persuasive with the appeal to self-interest—they can’t compete on that turf with Republicans. Part of the weakness of the self-interest approach is that it is fragmented, does not show how the various parts are connected, and therefore lacks a cohesiveness and persuasive force because it. To be persuasive, what we must do is show how seemingly disparate phenomena are related. Show, for instance, how the nation’s dependence on oil and the ravaging of the wetlands are connected; how the 10,000+ miles of oil and gas canals through the Louisiana wetlands destroy the storm-surge buffer that protects us from hurricanes, while the carbon emissions aggravate global warming, which intensifies hurricanes and raises sea levels, and so on. [Continue reading here.]

*

Thanks to Rick Stone of Madison for taking the time to write the letter, and our best wishes for the people of Wisconsin—especially the embattled public employees and union members there. We stand with Wisconsin.

See also “Public Works in a Time of Job-Killing Scrooges

The Social Contract, Explained by Elizabeth Warren, Paul Krugman, and Robert Kuttner

Tyranny Disguised as Fiscal Discipline

Republican War on Working Families

‘Shock Doctrine’ in Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, as in Egypt, ‘This Is What Democracy Looks Like’

 

*

Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare on Tumblr+1Digg ThisSubmit to redditPin it on PinterestShare via email


“There Is a Creative Force in This Universe”

Monday, January 16th, 2012

The Poor People’s Campaign, 40 Years before Occupy Wall Street

“Oh America, how often have you taken necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes. . . . God never intended for one group of people to live in superfluous inordinate wealth, while others live in abject deadening poverty.” —from an imaginary letter from St. Paul to American Christians in a 1956 sermon by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

*

In a time of resurgent, emboldened racism and a deliberate, legislated taking away of voting rights in states all across the land; in this time of meanness and hostility toward the poor and the “differently colored” from political candidates (mostly white and privileged); in these days of cowardice by public officials and those in a position to defend the weak, the poor, and the marginalized; and, more hopefully, in these days of a people’s movement toward economic fairness through Occupy Wall Street and other activism, we take some comfort and courage from the words and the actions of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Especially relevant today is his work on the Poor People’s Campaign.

We focus today on Rev. King’s remarks in the speech “Where Do We Go from Here?”, his last address as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to its members, in Atlanta, on August 16, 1967. The ideas of social and economic justice expressed in this address underlay his and the SCLC’s Poor People’s Campaign, on which Rev. King was working when he was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis. At the time of his death he was lending support to the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike. Selections from “Where Do We Go from Here?” follow. (See also King’s book Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?)

Where Do We Go from Here?

What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love. And this is what we must see as we move on. . . .

We must develop a program that will drive the nation to a guaranteed annual income. . . . Now we realize that dislocations in the market operations of our economy and the prevalence of discrimination thrust people into idleness and bind them in constant or frequent unemployment against their will. . . .

. . . our emphasis must be twofold. We must create full employment or we must create incomes. People must be made consumers by one method or the other. Once they are placed in this position we need to be concerned that the potential of the individual is not wasted. New forms of work that enhance the social good will have to be devised for those for whom traditional jobs are not available. In 1879 Henry George anticipated this state of affairs when he wrote in Progress and Poverty:

The fact is that the work which improves the condition of mankind, the work which extends knowledge and increases power and enriches literature and elevates thought, is not done to secure a living. It is not the work of slaves driven to their tasks either bay the task, by the taskmaster, or by animal necessity. It is the work of men who somehow find a form of work that brings a security for its own sake and a state of society where want is abolished. 

 

Work of this sort could be enormously increased, and we are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished. . . .

. . . Now our country can do this. John Kenneth Galbraith said that a guaranteed annual income could be done for about twenty billion dollars a year. And I say to you today, that if our nation can spend thirty-five billion dollars a year to fight an unjust, evil war in Vietnam, and twenty billion dollars to put a man on the moon, it can spend billions of dollars to put God’s children on their own two feet right here on earth. . . .

. . . as we talk about “Where do we go from here,” . . . the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society. There are forty million poor people here. And one day we must ask the question, “Why are there forty million poor people in America?” And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. . . . We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life’s marketplace. But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. . . .

When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrow. Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.

*

Click here for a slide show of the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike and the immediate aftermath of King’s assassination.

King’s Last March by American Radio Works. See also ARW’s special features Beyond Vietnam; New Front in the Fight for Freedom; The FBI’s War on King; and From the Pulpit to the Heart

Read “Dr. Martin Luther King’s Economics: Through Jobs, Freedom” by Mark Engler in The Nation

And see the fine American Experience (PBS) documentary “Freedom Riders,” available through Netflix.

*

The excepts above (except the epigraph) were transcribed from Martin Luther King Jr., I Have a Dream: Writings and Speeches That Changed the World (1986, 1992), with a foreword by Coretta Scott King, pp. 172–79. ¶ Top photograph by Dan Weiner: Martin Luther King, Jr., Montgomery, Alabama, 1956. Middle photo by Horace Cort for Associated Press.

Below: Memphis, 1968: National Guardsmen block the entrance to Beale Street in Memphis. Two days after the March 28 demonstration that King had led in support of striking sanitation workers turned violent, people continued to protest in Memphis (Mississippi Valley Collection).

 

 

Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare on Tumblr+1Digg ThisSubmit to redditPin it on PinterestShare via email


As We Enter 2012, Best Wishes to All

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

May the new year bring you all the good things you wish for.

We’ll be brief with our greetings and good wishes, as last night’s champagne slowly wears off, and as there’s some house-cleaning to do before guests arrive for the New Year’s Day dinner . . .

For all our readers here in the “upper blogosphere” and for everyone beyond, we wish a year of good health to all, steady employment, rewarding work, and, while we’re at it, good luck and bon courage in putting the “progress” in “progressive.”

State. We wish for a calm, boring hurricane season for New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, steady recovery from the wicked hellacious storms of yesteryear, and strong, robust flood protection and generous funding for coastal restoration of the eroding Louisiana coast. We also pray for no BP-style oil spills in the Gulf—or any other kind. 2010’s Deepwater Horizon disaster was enough to last for quite a while, thank you. Let those who are still recovering from that catastrophe find abundant catches of healthy seafood in clean waters, and may those still making their way back home to New Orleans and environs find affordable housing in safe neighborhoods and steady employment.

Nation. The United States has its own peculiar, festering, largely neglected problems amid the stresses of the world. During this 2012 presidential campaign season, which had already overstayed its welcome long ago, we hope that the ideas and priorities generated by the Occupy Wall Street movement will take even stronger hold on the public imagination and find their way into debates, policy, and actual programs. May the good ideas be fulfilled. Let’s keep reminding public officials and reporters and editors that there is a terrible and increasing wealth disparity in this nation, an endangered middle class, and an even more threatened (and growing) population of struggling poor people: our brothers and sisters. We are not holding our breath waiting for Congressional action—we expect nothing but continuing obstruction from one party and particular, and the other party ain’t much better but for a few individual exceptions—but we do detect energy and ideas in the Occupy people across the U.S. and around the world. Good work; keep it going, please. Long live the 99 Percent!

World. Among our wishes for world peace and goodwill among peoples, we wish the citizens and the economies of Europe in particular good luck in finding workable solutions to their ongoing crises, and we wish for renewed energy for all nations’ reformers and progressives. As 2011 was not a good year for despots and dictators, let 2012 be a good year for fair and honest leaders. Looking around the globe, we hope the activists of the Arab Spring will succeed in making a better life for themselves—not forgetting their women—and we pray that cool, sane heads will prevail (this is possible) in Iran and in its foreign relations; good luck to the Green Revolution reformers in that troubled land.

Here at Levees Not War we’ll work hard to bring you, as regularly and steadily as we can, reporting and commentary that is based in reality and in hopes for stronger, durable infrastructure, a healthier and better-sustained environment, and more peace, less war. (Click herehere, and here for New Year’s greetings from previous January 1’s.)

We hope you enjoy this new year, and hope it brings you all the good things you wish for.

Well, we meant to be brief. And now, there’s some more house-cleaning to do . . .

*

Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare on Tumblr+1Digg ThisSubmit to redditPin it on PinterestShare via email


“We Want Something Different”

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

Yearning for a New Kind of Society

The ever-sharp Matt Taibbi has written incisively, in sometimes R-rated language, about Goldman Sachs, Citicorp, and other Wall Street investment banks—who can forget his description of Goldman Sachs as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity” (“The Great American Bubble Machine”)? But he admits, “At first, I misunderstood Occupy Wall Street.”

Several weeks ago, after visiting the occupation at Zuccotti Park several times, he wrote in “My Advice to the Occupy Wall Street Protesters”:

“. . . the time is rapidly approaching when the movement is going to have to offer concrete solutions to the problems posed by Wall Street. . . . I’d suggest focusing on five:

(1) Break up the monopolies. (2) Pay for your own bailouts. (3) No public money for private lobbying. (4) Tax hedge-fund gamblers. (5) Change the way bankers get paid.”

The column and the explanations for each point are worth reading in full.

But first, before we head back down to Zuccotti Park for some fresh air, we want to share some excellent pieces from Taibbi’s new Rolling Stone column “How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the OWS Protests.” What we find most valuable—besides his ever-vigilant bullshit detector—is his trenchant description of what it is that’s calling tens and hundreds of thousands and more into the streets and encampments around Wall Street and elsewhere in the U.S. and around the world. Note: This was written before the NYPD evicted the Occupiers Monday night.

“People want out of this fiendish system”

“Occupy Wall Street was always about something much bigger than a movement against big banks and modern finance. It’s about providing a forum for people to show how tired they are not just of Wall Street, but everything. This is a visceral, impassioned, deep-seated rejection of the entire direction of our society, a refusal to take even one more step forward into the shallow commercial abyss of phoniness, short-term calculation, withered idealism and intellectual bankruptcy that American mass society has become. If there is such a thing as going on strike from one’s own culture, this is it. And by being so broad in scope and so elemental in its motivation, it’s flown over the heads of many on both the right and the left.

“. . . modern America has become a place so drearily confining and predictable that it chokes the life out of that built-in desire [for a better and more beautiful future]. Everything from our pop culture to our economy to our politics feels oppressive and unresponsive. We see 10 million commercials a day, and every day is the same life-killing chase for money, money and more money; the only thing that changes from minute to minute is that every tick of the clock brings with it another space-age vendor dreaming up some new way to try to sell you something or reach into your pocket. The relentless sameness of the two-party political system is beginning to feel like a Jacob’s Ladder nightmare with no end; we’re entering another turn on the four-year merry-go-round, and the thought of having to try to get excited about yet another minor quadrennial shift in the direction of one or the other pole of alienating corporate full-of-shitness is enough to make anyone want to smash his own hand flat with a hammer.

“. . . There’s no better symbol of the gloom and psychological repression of modern America than the banking system, a huge heartless machine that attaches itself to you at an early age, and from which there is no escape. You fail to receive a few past-due notices about a $19 payment you missed on that TV you bought at Circuit City, and next thing you know a collector has filed a judgment against you for $3,000 in fees and interest. . . . This is why people hate Wall Street. They hate it because the banks have made life for ordinary people a vicious tightrope act; you slip anywhere along the way, it’s 10,000 feet down into a vat of razor blades that you can never climb out of.

“That, to me, is what Occupy Wall Street is addressing. People don’t know exactly what they want, but as one friend of mine put it, they know one thing: FUCK THIS SHIT! We want something different: a different life, with different values, or at least a chance at different values.

(more…)

Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare on Tumblr+1Digg ThisSubmit to redditPin it on PinterestShare via email


NYPD Occupies Zuccotti Park; OWS Evicted in Night Raid

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

see livestreaming via GlobalRevolution ]         photographs © Levees Not War 2011

*

What are their [NYPD’s] demands?” asked social historian Patrick Bruner. “They have not articulated any platform. How do they expect to be taken seriously?” 

“I suppose they have a right to express themselves,” said local resident Han Shan. “But I’d prefer it if instead they occupied the space with the power of their arguments.”          —“NYPD Occupying Liberty Square; Demands Unclear

*

This Will Only Strengthen the Movement

After midnight Monday/Tuesday Nov. 15–16 the New York Police Department on orders from Mayor Mike Bloomberg, citing public health and safety concerns, roughly and abruptly cleared Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan, where Occupy Wall Street protesters have been encamped since September 17. Starting about midnight hundreds of police surrounded the park, set up bright lights, and, using bullhorns, ordered everyone to take down their tents and evacuate or face arrest. About 100 protesters refused to evacuate, and locked arms around the kitchen area (see map), chanting “We are unstoppable / Another world is possible.” By 1:00 a.m. police and NYC sanitation workers began clearing, uprooting the settlement, arresting holdouts (see map and timeline). About 200 were arrested in the night raid (video of 3:30 a.m. arrests). When the sun rose, Zuccotti Park was occupied only by police.

We went to Zuccotti Park this morning, or as close as we could get: on the other side of steel police barricades where hundreds of NYPD officers formed a “thin blue line” inside a cage of their own. We talked to Robert and Steve, residents of New York City who have been among the Occupiers since the beginning. They have jobs, one of them is married, and apparently they do not sleep overnight in Zuccotti Park all the time, but Steve had his possessions, including a bedroll, wrapped up in several tote bags.

We talked with Robert (right) and Steve for a half hour or so, leaning against a building along Cedar Street on the south side of the park (see map). Robert, a former Wall Streeter (though not a money man), said he wore a suit for the first two weeks of the occupation.

As we talked, helicopters were hovering in locked positions a thousand or so feet overhead. They said that during the raid, the news media’s helicopters were blocked by police from the air space over Lower Manhattan so they could not film the raid. (“Media blackout,” reporters say on Twitter.) The subway system was also shut down (or the entrances to the stations in the area were blocked) and the Brooklyn Bridge was closed to keep people from coming to the occupiers’ defense.

Like the other reporters who’d swarmed to Lower Manhattan to cover the eviction, I’d quickly discovered that the media was not allowed here. The police had created a one-block buffer zone around the park—in some areas two or three blocks—and were refusing to admit even the most credentialed members of the press. A New York Times reporter had already been arrested, a member of the National Lawyers Guild told me. —Josh Harkinson, “Inside Police Lines at the Occupy Wall Street Eviction” (Mother Jones)

We asked if there had been any warning that the eviction was coming. None, though one of the occupiers yesterday noticed the police vans or buses driving by on Trinity or Broadway and sensed that something was up. “I used to be a police officer,” she told her fellow campers. “Something’s coming.” Something indeed. Now the NYPD occupies Zuccotti Park.

Meanwhile, attorneys representing Occupy Wall Street had won a judge’s approval of a restraining order on the city’s eviction, but still the police were there, inside the barricades, and we, representatives of the 99 Percent, were not. Word had gone out that around 8:30 a.m. people would be allowed back in the park, a 24-hour public park that is owned by Brookfield Properties, located across Liberty Street, adjacent to the park. On Tuesday afternoon, New York State Supreme Court Judge Michael D. Stallman ruled in favor of the city’s eviction. (Click here for a PDF of the ruling.)

Steve said that the three main issues that have brought most of the protesters to Occupy Wall Street are (1) that the elected officials in Washington are useless, sold-out properties of the corporations and the super-wealthy and are utterly unresponsive to the public interest; (2) a demand that the investment banksters who wrecked the economy be made to pay for their destructive ways just as the middle class and poor have been made to suffer for their recklessness, and . . . but before we could get to issue #3—

At about 10:45 we heard a sound coming from the west. “That’s the group that’s been at a park over near the entrance to the Holland Tunnel, coming back to re-take the park.” We joined in with the big group carrying signs, blowing horns, chanting “Whose park? Our park!” and walking in a large loop around the police- barricaded park. One of the signs said “Obama, Say Something.” Another: “Pres. Obama: If You See Something, Say Something.”

It was a mild, overcast autumn morning with bright yellow leaves on the trees in the park and a dampness in the air. The people, mostly young, but of all ages, really, walked in a steady stream around the park. Steve from time to time said in a loud voice, “Keep moving, please, no civil liberties to be seen here. Move it, people—no freedom here.” Seriously, Steve advised in a lower voice, you’re less likely to draw unwanted attention from the cops if you keep moving.

Around 11:30 there was a sudden rush of camera crews to the south side of the park, on Cedar Street, when one of the protesters planted an American flag in the park soil, on the police side of the barricade. There was a struggle over the barricade as the police tried up uproot the flag, and a group of protesters loudly fought to keep it planted. The police pulled the flag out of the ground and took it over to lean against a tree in the middle of the park. We heard protesters yelling at the police, who stood stone-faced and unresponsive all around the perimeter, clearly instructed not to engage with the civilians, but no further rowdiness ensued. Later, the New York Times City Room blog reported, a protester jumped the railing and ran to grab the flag. He was grabbed and escorted to the exit. The new occupation was reinforced by the judge’s ruling later in the afternoon.

Stay tuned for more dispatches from Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Oakland, and other occupations to come . . . (Read our account of the big Oct. 5 march, “Occupying Wall Street with Nurses, Teachers, Transit Workers, and the Rest of America’s Middle Class”).

*

(more…)
Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare on Tumblr+1Digg ThisSubmit to redditPin it on PinterestShare via email