Tracking the Movements
In 2017, this committee gave reports about what potential movements were happening, culminating with a year in review. All the archives are below, unrevised. TR@uptownprogressiveaction.org
Tracking the Movements – 2017 in Review
Normally, a monthly perspective, this issue of Tracking the Movements covers the state of the left in the USA more broadly. It takes a hard look at the difficult political landscape in front of us. It draws some hard and important conclusions. It is not a party line. The purpose of the strong claims are to get you to think hard and deep about how we can collectively overcome the “political depression” that is enabling the steady drift towards ecological catastrophe, war, and the subjugation and humiliation of increasing amount of humanity. Read it and weep. But be sure to read the whole thing. Especially the last two sentences.
Electoral Efforts and the Democrats
In the US, there is not an exciting left political party. The Green Party is largely discredited on the left with very little support and very poorly organized. Draft Bernie has not succeeded in building a People’s Party. Our Revolution, Brand New Congress, Indivisible, etc. are not activating increasing numbers of people into the streets or into sustainable, grassroots organization besides campaigning in primaries and for Democrats. Likewise, Working Families Party is reduced to consistently standing for least-bad Democrats. Corrupt corporate puppets like Donna Brazile and Howard Dean remain spokespeople for the DNC even as they pay lip service to criticisms. The DNC chose Mr. Perez over Ellison, then purged a bunch of progressives later in the year. The DNC did make some progressive, democratic compromises in the primary processes for 2020. Corporate Democrats like Doug Jones in Alabama as well as in other key races have won on the anti-Trump and the feminist tide. Fortunately, Democratic Socialists of America have grown and progressive candidates fared well in 2017, mainly in smaller races, and Bernie and his democratic socialist ideas have had tremendous airtime compared to previous years.
Federalism and the Courts
Many on the left have put their faith falsely in checks and balances, but the executive branch of the central government has exorbitant power. Courts failed to do a recount, the electoral college strategy likewise failed, and the Russia thing has yet to produce results. The numerous offenses (emoluments clause, obstruction of justice, open collusion with Israel before inauguration, etc.) notwithstanding. As for the Muslim ban, the courts are helping Trump to revise and resubmit his language until he makes it constitutional. The courts couldn’t save huge numbers of Haitians or El Salvadorans from deportation by executive fiat. They decreasingly respect the free speech of protesters, especially on the left. Meanwhile Trump has extended the Department of Homeland Security to scores of airports abroad to avoid the US law. The courts have failed to protect raids against immigrants in hospitals and Trump appointed an unprecedented number of federal judges in 2017. The central government couldn’t repeal Obamacare with legislation so they did it otherwise. The central government couldn’t change legislation so they simply refused to enforce environmental, occupational, and labor legislation. The central government wields vast amounts of undemocratic power and the tension between governmental units has been on the rise. The Feds are planning on going after state-legal marijuana, Trump tries to defund Sanctuary Cities, and taxes liberal states disproportionately. Some local governments have tried to push back, but courts refuse to allow many local electoral initiative or referendum that challenge the centralized status quo and now courts are fining lawyers who stand up for community rights against corporate power. This extraordinarily top-heavy American system is exercising its muscles in the most secretive and repressive institutions and Trump is even interested in created a parallel, private intelligence agency, which is officially a legal thing to do. In response, the #resistance is at least now focusing on lower levels of government as a way to push back after having lost the vast majority of those seats to Republicans in recent decades. Sixteen local movements have gotten their municipal governments to call for Trump’s impeachment, and many more have called for political disobedience and for their rights against corporate power.
Social Movements in the USA
Black Lives Matter has become merely a slogan at this point, not an organization. Standing Rock protests were destroyed by force and the supportive tribal political leader was voted out. Immigrant Rights movements have faced deportation and repression and have not coalesced into a mass-based grassroots movement. The decades-long historic decimation of the union continues and their role as progressives continues to decline. Why the bad news? Repression against DACA against activist, against whistleblowers, J20 activists, and water protectors. Local struggles abound around a multitude of issues, but, nationally, Feminism has emerged as the powerful movement in 2017 with the Women’s March and “me too” movement.
Bull Economy and Political Depression
With next to zero government regulation enforcement and huge government stimulus to the military-industrial-police-incarceration-complex, the economy and stock market are growing substantially. Thus, we see how capitalist “economic growth” is related to a rush towards repressive, nuclear fallout. The global shift from liberal authoritarianism (Obama) to mean-spirited repressive authoritarianism (Trump) is part of a global trends of repression as seen in Philippines, Russia, Iran, Palestine, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Iraq, Honduras, Venezuela, Brazil, etc..The bad news and miserable experiences may justify the cynical, hopeless, political depression that weighs on a majority of Americans that are disgusted with the status quo.
What else accounts for the political depression around us?
- In some instances, campaigning created burnout, fatigue, and disillusionment with the rigged system for millions post-Bernie. Likewise, the campaign for the the NY State Liberty Act led to burnout in our immigrant rights committee. However, the campaigning for Single Payer has not burned out at all, but rather has been consistently energized.
- Widespread political disorientation arose due to commonly held illusions. Many people were politically disoriented because they believed (on some level) that a) that the USA’s foundational racism and sexism were being eradicated by progress. b) that the American “nation” (including the political and economic elite) were more committed to democratic practices than to their naked self-interest. c) that fascism couldn’t combine all their hateful ‘-isms’ with the self-interest of the 1% to create another formidable social movement on the right.
Can we face the realities of a potential nuclear war in the face? Can we recognize the historic demise of the American democratic experiment with shadow government, deep state, and dark money holding unprecedented power? Can we recognize that while replacing politicians is an important way to slow down our rush towards extinction, changing the historic direction of our society requires a broad-based grassroots social movement to formulate a fundamentally different social order? In 2018 we will be bold enough to envision and create alternative institutions–starting at the grassroots level–that speak with the vast majority of people while choosing the least bad electoral alternative in front of us. In 2018, we have the good news that many many many people want to create another world that is not only possible, but is stirring. It is up to us to pierce through the heavy fog to envision boldly, to band together, and to move forward together. Your inspiration is our inspiration is the movement’s inspiration. We are in this together, inextricable.
Voting and Self-Determination
Spanish police attack the Catalan VOTERS to thwart Independence Vote that goes >90% for independence. As of Monday, the left-populist mayor of Barcelona opposed unilateral declaration of independence. Iraqi Kurds overwhelming (93%) voted for national independence (with 78% turnout). In Athens, Ohio, residents want to re-write the municipal charter to gain greater autonomy, but the courts have struck down citizens’ right to vote on such a charter. California activists are running their third effort at secession, Calexit III. This version requires re-writing the USA Constitution to allow for secession. In the meantime they are seeking to convene a California Constitutional Convention. Puerto Rico government can do very little because those elected have to obey the Fiscal Control Boards. As with the above examples, the local power (the Mayor) is in conflict with the centralized power (Trump). Meanwhile, communities and activists have organized themselves in horizontal neighborhood networks of “citizen brigades” to deal with the crisis, many with the hope of re-creating society from the ground up–both physically, but also politically and economically. Some say FEMA, police and military (NOT the lack of them) are becoming the enemy of the citizens brigades.
There is a mid-West tradition being rekindled: anti-monopoly. The merger of Monsanto and Bayer is prompting it, but some will run on such a position, reminiscent of the post WWI Non-Partisan League. Our Revolution candidate for Birmingham Mayor beat Democratic establishment incumbent. Making the mayor in the biggest cities in Alabama, Mississippi and potentially Georgia (Atlanta race is in November) progressive or radical. And some decent electoral news in Los Angeles.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s chairman and face of the protest movement lost a recent elections.
Commentary about America
WEB Dubois went to Ghana and renounced US citizenship in 1963. MLK talked about the sickness in the soul of America back in 1967. Has fifty years of bombing, neoliberalism, and mass incarceration enabled the sickness to kill its host yet by 2017? When the Confederate monuments were coming down, Donald Trump quipped: George Washington is next. Maybe Trump is right about George Washington, even the anti-Bernie NYTimes ran an op-ed “the flag is drenched in our blood” this month. Well is it true? Protesters in NYC and a bunch of cities and some states have defied the federal government and are decolonizing “Columbus Day” and making it Indigenous People’s Day. If America, with its constitutions, symbols, patriotism, and oligarchic institutions are flagging, then what is an alternative? We’re seeing the biggest sports protest in history directed towards the flag. The next generation is growing up with the NFL on one knee. What are the alternative institutions in which to build a democratic and egalitarian society? Labor unions used to be the bastion for American democracy, but they are on a 70 year historic decline. Can Uptown Progressive Action offer a neighborhood-based model for the future’s democratic institutions?
(Published Oct. 11)
Statecraft and winning government power – Our Revolution so far has 16 wins and 29 losses.
Movement – UAW was very disappointed that 62% of Nissan workers in Mississippi voted against forming a union in what Bernie called, “one of the most vicious, and illegal, anti-union crusades in decades.” DSA supports BDS of Israel, a first for 35 years, it takes a stand on the issue. Will abortion be a “litmus test” for Democrats? Jerry Brown and Bernie say no, the DNC establishment says yes.
Authority and the distribution of power
In the recent book, Democracy in Chains, the historian argues right wing forces are undermining democracy because it poses problems for the sanctity of property and profit. Forbes and the Nation report on the attempt to repeal the 17th Amendment so that State Legislatures would choose National Senators instead of popular vote for Senators. The Koch brothers are making efforts to get a national constitutional convention – and they are only a few states away from making it happen. On Nov. 7, a ballot measure on NY ballot asks if New Yorkers want a NY State Constitutional Convention. Currently the state’s constitution is set up to serve top-down decision-making for corporate interests. However, it is rightwing forces that who are pushing hardest to re-write the constitution to further their profits and hold on power. There are no clear rules on what a constitutional convention with the specter of further corporate takeover a distinct possibility. Labor is playing defense and trying to keep the constitution. Some progressives agree that preserving the constitution is the safest route at present, other progressives support a constitutional convention as a means to democratize the state towards progressive ends.
Dept. Housing, Preservation and Development announced $1.65 million towards Community Land Trusts in NYC. Santa Ana, Ca passed a resolution supporting worker cooperatives. LA, Seattle, are expanding the sphere of politics in the municipality by recently passing ordinances that mandate community oversight of police surveillance. Bill Deblasio wants to tax Wall St. to pay for the MTA—but it is illegal because of how power and authority are currently constituted in New York State.
As in hundreds of municipalities around the country, there is now a grassroots movements in Athens, Ohio and Bowling Green, Ohio who are trying to vote on new municipal charter that would ban fracking and empower the municipality. This puts them at odds with the State government who wants to make those decisions (in pro-corporate ways). In the UK, the question of how to distribute political power is being pondered by the Labour Party in their report on automation and decentralization in this fascinating document, where they are bracing for mass (20-60%) unemployment in the coming decades, and giving new emphasis on municipal ownership. Barcelona hosted the “Fearless Cities” conference this summer for activists seeking to municipalize services, develop grassroots democracy in public spaces, and challenge the authority of the corporate nation-state. This conference signals a growing municipalist movement internationally, with 40 nations represented.
It’s summer. I had to dig a bit more than usual. Some summers are full of riots and uprisings. How do we describe the state of the movements now? A lot is going into 2018 thinking. A lot is going into getting in touch with “the base” “the masses” “the people” and building a community, a network for action. I’ve pretty much made my argument in the section above: since the centralization and concentration of economic and political power undermines democratic attempts to control capitalism by dominating the national and state levels of government (and media, political parties, and so many other spheres), municipalities and neighborhoods are unique arenas for long term democratic processes, progressive initiatives, and genuine political participation of the grassroots.
The July Edition
Policy Initiatives – Vermont invests $3 million in housing. California Democrats – like those in the east coast liberal bastion in which we reside – fail to pass single payer. The failure revealed the craven party, the corporate Dems, and a democracy deficit.
Gaining Government Power – The drummer of the jam-band, Phish, was elected to office in a town in Maine. Many progressives and radicals continue to vie for local offices around the country, (one example linked). Vox wrote glowingly about Bernie 2020, NYMag and Bloomberg responded negatively, and NBC speculated. Lumumba is sworn in in Jackson, Ms.
Authority and the distribution of power – Cities take a stand against the federal government’s inability to hold the executive accountable, see “impeachdonaldtrumpnow.org” Oakland and Santa Cruz, Los Angeles – some seem to call for investigation, others for impeachment. New York City mayor has retained (for another year) control over the schools against the NY State DOE and local districts.
Movement – Black Lives Matter as an activist-based organization is factioning according to priorities and strategies, leaving its activities largely underwhelming so far. The more ephemeral movement for Black Lives Matter that is of poor urban communities continues to brew too but is not readily definable.
One (or two) Pieces of Global News – Catalonia, Spain. After gaining A LOT of ground in municipal politics in recent years, leftwing parties and coalitions in Catalonia are pressured from the national government to make compromises. Indications are that the leftwing local government is less able to mobilize their base than they used to be able to (a couple years ago). Analysts indicate that the “movement” on the ground is exhausted of being “mobilized” for electoral campaigns. If history is a guide, this “diminishing social base” will lead to the left’s eventual downfall from government office. This leaves us with two analytic questions:
- How can political power be organized so as not to diminish participation but increase it?
- What is the relationship between playing the electoral game and social mobilization?
– The meanings of patriotism and nationalism are up for debate. NYTimes writes that if you learn history, you become a “non-patriot.” The WashPost writes (via The Nation editor) that there is a deeper meaning to patriotism that is related to “making a more perfect union” (as Obama used to say). So what to the Progressive is the Fourth of July? In the 40s, the American Left once held up photos of Lincoln. In the 60s, it burned American flags. Since then, some on the left talk of Amerikkka, Imperialism, Genocide and the like. It seems congruent that in recent decades historians have now thoroughly debunked the mythology of the Founding: the Fathers were wealthy expansionist and pro-slavery, many of them supported monarchy but were outraged by British Parliament (including John Adams who scolded democrats–to paraphrase: if I had thought the revolution was for democracy, I never would have supported it.)
The June Edition:
Published June 14th 2017
NGOs – NAACP president was kicked out as they embark on listening tours to stay relevant. They had previously lobbied with their donors like the telecom companies against net neutrality. The ACLU organized ex-cons to get out the vote in Philly’s DA race and the progressive won. George Soros did give some seed money to this project.
Policy Initiatives – Vermont passes state-sponsored retirement plan option for those who lack access from private-sector employers. Seattle sets up new board that polices the police.
Statecraft – Our Revolution lost the Democratic Chair of California against someone who had support from elected officials and unions. Berniecrats have had some wins in smaller races (NY, NH, etc.) but have struggled in others (Montana, LA, Va, etc). Corporate liberals entered a race in Texas after a Berniecrat started doing real well.
Authority and the distribution of power –
Catalonians and Iraqi Kurds to hold illegal referendum on independence from Spain and Iraq.
Cities vs. Washington D.C.: Trump’s budget defunds sanctuary cities. Cities and States commit to Paris Climate Agreement with backing from billionaire Bloomberg.
Bernie’s use of the word “immoral” is important for thinking about where authority comes from.
Chicago convention. DSA poll shows its members are most interested in health care and electing officials to office, much less interest in other specific issues. No anti-war movement has emerged. ISO and other were in street battles in Portland, leftist outnumbered rightists, which had collaboration with the police who were tasked with mediating the conflict.
**College politics blows up in Evergreen State when people of color demand white people to leave. A Berniecrat-Occupy-Wall Street-supporting professor was among those who refused and got threatened as a “white supremacist” and the administration didn’t protect him. The rightwing is going crazy about this. They make the stirring accusation that this is the cannibalist fruit of “PC culture.” The right calls this the “regressive left” – along with the two items in “the unexpected” …
The Unexpected – The white supremacist who killed people on the train in Portland supported Bernie. Bernie supporter shoots Republican politicians practicing baseball.
One (plus) Piece of Global News – Rouhani (the reformists, non-far right authoritarian) wins big over conservatives in Iran. Jeremy Corbyn. Jeremy Corbyn. Jeremy Corbyn.
No (additional) Analysis today. People’s Summit. People’s Summit. People’s Summit.
The May Edition
- Progressive Democrat that received no support from DNC came closer than expected for a seat in Kansas, but lost.
- DNC is barely supporting a Berniecrat in Montana.
- 34 year old Lumumba looks like he’ll be the next mayor of Jackson, Mississippi following his father’s legacy who for some reason died eight months after taking office in 2014. Lumumba (also the name of the Congo Prime Minister hunted by the CIA 1960-61) stands for “economic democracy” and all things truly progressive.
- Black Lives Matter guy wins city council seat in town in Georgia.
- A Berniecrat is running for Seattle Mayor
- Bernie is on tour
The Constitution of Political Power
- Depending on how you count, there are 29 states that are calling for a constitutional convention. If 34 states do it, there will be a constitutional convention. This is largely a right-wing initiative.
- A federal judge ruled that Sanctuary Cities are not allowed to be economically deprived from the fed. But Texas has passed a law banning them and even local police departments are dissenting from Texas’ governor’s law.
- Puerto Rico had huge protests on May 1, which open another set of questions.
There was full on street fighting in Berkeley. It was antifascists versus a variety of militia movements, white supremacist gangs, and straight fascists. The right wing won the fight and they brought people in from around the country for the fight. The cops stood by. When they arrested a right-winger, it was reported that other right-wingers were dismayed saying, “does the cop not know that guy is one of us.” These groups came to “defend free speech” against leftist, many said.
One (and a half) Piece(s) of Global News
- A 24 hour strike in Brazil paralyzed the economy. Numbers vary but some estimate over a quarter of the country’s population was in the streets. They protested against austerity and the illegitimacy of the political class. Will the 24 hour protest spawn and spur radical re-organization of everyday life? We do know that the Left wing party (PT) has lost support among its base because it drifted towards neoliberalism when it was in office. The far Right is eyeing the Presidency in 2018.
- (Also: Le Pen lost by a lot in France, which is significant even if the winner is a right winger).
“Law” and “the Republic” are increasingly becoming the dominant rationales for political domination today. “Illegals” are against the law. “Free Speech” is saving the Republic from leftists. Progressive causes lately have appealed to non-federal law: appeals to the UN, laws emanating from cities, liberty act and single payer at the state level, ethics of immigration…. At what point in our historical process will the constitution – who gets to make laws and how – need to be changed? (See fascinating article in the New Yorker that re-thinks the American Revolution).