Spring Cleaning for Occupy

Many social-movement organizations have become mausoleums to their causes. OWS offers a template for renewal. 

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Last week, several dozen nonprofit organizations hosted events across the country to train more than 100,000 Americans in nonviolent direct action. Dubbed the 99% Spring, the training was spearheaded by several national nonprofit organizations. If you didn’t hear about it, you’re not alone. Other than a few anticipatory stories from the Associated Press and NPR, the week’s worth of meetings and actions flew below the national radar. Whether that’s a bad thing depends on what role you expect nonprofit social-movement organizations to play in our current political discourse. The so-called nonprofit industrial complex includes organizations that want to change policies and practices for a wide range of social, economic, and political issues—from reproductive justice to foreign policy. Within this broad category is a subset of what I’ll call “social-movement organizations”—institutions that exist not only to advance their own agendas but to support a wider grassroots movement . Examples...

With the Wisconsin Recall Official, Who's Winning?

(Flickr/Sue Peacock)
With the Wisconsin recall election now official , state Democrats are in a sticky place. Pro-recall forces were able to look united through much of the process, and the million petitions they turned in sent a powerful signal that folks were united against the governor. But there are currently four Democratic candidates hoping they'll be the one to displace Walker. Furthermore, there are no clear winners; two Democrats are in a virtual tie, both in their primary and against Governor Scott Walker. Things got considerably more complicated on Friday afternoon when, hours after the Government Accountability Board made its announcement, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett announced he was throwing his hat into the ring. Barrett narrowly lost to Walker in 2010, and as mayor of a Democratic stronghold, he's got good name recognition around the state. He's also controversial with the state's labor unions—an awkward situation since it was the fight over collective bargaining rights that triggered the...

It Takes an Election

Last year's Save Texas Schools rally produced thousands of people, but education funding was still slashed by $5.4 billion. (Flickr/matthewjuran)
Last year, Save Texas Schools held a rally that wowed most of us covering it. Around 10,000 people came from across the state , traveling hours on buses to demand lawmakers prioritize education funding, and forego the unprecedented cuts the legislature's initial budget had proposed. In a state with little history of organization and few structures for bringing people together, the rally was an impressive success. But here's the thing: Even with the public outcry, lawmakers went ahead and slashed education funding anyway. So perhaps it's not a surprise that this year's rally only had about 1,000 attendees at its height (though organizers say a total of 4,500 people came through at one point or another). Toward the end, the numbers seemed to be in the low hundreds. The speakers each had a different pet cause or complaint —testing, funding, equity—and the overall program ran about 30 minutes longer than it was supposed to. Over at The T exas Observer , I left the program thinking the...

Woody Guthrie at 100—at SXSW

(Flickr/Karen Apricot New Orleans)
If there was one song I didn't expect to hear during the hipster-convention that is the South by Southwest Music Festival, it was "This Land Is Your Land." And while I didn't expect to hear it, I sure as hell didn't expect to sing. Let alone sing it twice on the same day. But then again, I'd forgotten that this year would have marked Woody Guthrie's 100th birthday. The SXSW organizers had not—and the folk legend's memory was in the air for quite a bit of the festival. The twangy Okie and migrant worker who chronicled fights for social and economic justice died in 1967, but he influenced everyone from Bob Dylan to Joe Strummer to Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen, it turned out, was keynoting the festival Thursday, and prior to his address, a Guthrie tribute was in order. Eliza Gilkyson and Jimmy LeFave took the stage to sing Guthrie standards. Joining them for the second half of their set was Colombian pop star Juanes. Juanes, who rarely sings in English, spoke of his own love for the...

Time for Government and Public Workers to Be Friends Again

Labor-management cooperation is the key to treading the line between budget shortfalls and unions' demands.

A lost theme in improving public services—labor-management cooperation—has begun to receive long-overdue attention in recent weeks. Over the weekend The Washington Post gave front-page coverage to a Maryland teachers’ union collaborating with school authorities to accelerate curricular reform and improve teacher performance while disciplining ineffective teachers. Last month, Nicholas Kristof wrote approvingly in the New York Times of a comparable collaboration in New Haven. These examples hardly reflect a new development. In 2001, Toledo won an Innovations in American Government award from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government for its collaboration of organized teachers and school administrators. Parts of the Toledo Plan were replicated in other large Ohio cities. When Indianapolis decided to “contract out” some street repair work, the city’s unions persuaded Mayor Stephen Goldsmith to allow them to bid on the contract. The city workers won the contracts and saved the...

So Long But Not Farewell to Dennis Kucinich

(Flickr/abstract plain)
( Ready Abby's response to Salon 's Glenn Greenwald .) The Daily Show , April 11, 2011: John Oliver: Help me understand how you have been re-elected in the state of Ohio? Representative Dennis Kucinich: Harmony and understanding, sympathy, and trust abounding. John Oliver: Are you quoting the musical "Hair"? In the end, there just wasn't much harmony and understanding in the race for Ohio's ninth district. Dennis Kucinich, among the wackiest members of Congress, got beat decisively last night by his colleague Marcy Kaptur in very nasty Democratic primary. The two incumbents got lumped together after Ohio lost two seats in redistricting. Kucinich was one of the least likely, most memorable members of Congress. He started his political career in the late '70s as the "Boy Mayor" of Cleveland. He entered Congress in 1996, and thanks to two no-shot-in-hell presidential bids, Kucinich came to be a favorite among lefty college kids and Birkenstock-wearers around the country. He was probably...

The Other Big Ohio Primary

(Flickr/abstract plain)
Tomorrow, one of the nastier primary races in recent memory will come to an end. Nope, not the Republican presidential race. (That may drag on for eternity.) Ohio will be the first state to hold a congressional primary, which means an end to the vicious fight between Marcy Kaptur and Dennis Kucinich, two Democrats who both currently hold office. (A third Democrat, Graham Veysey, is also running in what's likely to be a distant third.) After the 2010 Census numbers were in, Ohio lost two congressional seats. The GOP-controlled legislature decided to lump two of the most union-friendly representatives together in one district: Kaptur, from Toledo, and Kucinich, from Cleveland. Both are consistently pro-union, with the same high rating from the powerful United Auto Workers. The unions, by and large, are staying out of the race rather than choosing between the two . However, each campaign does have the the support of a super PAC . The Ohio district favors Democrats, and it's likely that...

Zombie Bill Springs Back From the Dead

Tuesday was a day for bills to come back to life—zombie bills you might call them. In Virginia, the Senate passed a revised version of its pre-abortion sonogram measure , which had looked dead only a few days before. And in Arizona, senators passed one of the measures aimed at killing public employee unions weeks after the measures appeared to have stalled out. Quite a day for the undead. Arizona started the legislative session with four anti-union bills, including one that would outlaw collective bargaining. Unlike Wisconsin, which also targeted public employee unions, these measures did not exempt firefighters or police officers. Two weeks ago, the senate passed a measure requiring yearly authorizations in order for unions (and other outside groups) to automatically make deductions from paychecks of public workers. The bill makes it harder for unions to collect money. However the other three bills didn't go anywhere. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer was hardly advocating for the measures...

The Moral Calculus of Online Shopping

Amazon fulfillment center in Scotland (Flickr/Chris Watt)
I don't know too many liberals who shop at Walmart. The primary reason is principle—the company is notoriously cruel to its largely low-wage workforce, works to crush the faintest hint of a desire for collective bargaining with a ferocity that would be the envy of any early 20th century industrialist, and imposes vicious cost-cutting all the way down its supply chain. But not shopping at Walmart is also easy. The stores are rare in the urban areas where lots of liberals live, and elsewhere, there's probably a Target nearby where you can get stuff just about as cheaply (Target's own corporate citizenship is a complicated topic for another day). So it isn't like not shopping at Walmart is some kind of hardship or costs them any money. But what about Amazon? A few months ago, Harold Pollack explained why he no longer shops there: nearly every sin of which Walmart is guilty, Amazon also commits. And the online world has its own particular sweatshop: the fulfillment center, where people...

Wisconsin Poll Results: Should Walker Be Concerned?

On its face, the latest poll from Wisconsin doesn't seem to offer much in the way of conclusions. But dig a bit and the poll offers a guide to the potential pitfalls of the Scott Walker campaign in the upcoming months, as the governor prepares for a likely recall election. The key results are sort of bland. The p oll of registered voters , the second one of the monthly polls conducted by Marquette University Law School, showed Walker's favorability rating to have slipped slightly. While 50 percent of respondents rated the governor's job favorably in January, only 46 percent did this time around. Meanwhile his negatives were up a bit—from 45 percent to 48. Certainly not good news for Walker, but hardly catastrophic. Meanwhile, there's been almost no movement among the Democrats who seem like potential challengers to Walker, assuming a recall occurs. Most have little name recognition; of the five Democrats the poll asked about, all had at least 47 percent of respondents giving a "don't...

The Fashion Week Bill of Rights

Two veteran runway models work to bring safe labor practices to the glamour industry.

(AP Photo/Charles Sykes)
At the height of the 1990s supermodel boom, Linda Evangelista famously said of herself and her catwalk colleagues, “We don’t get out of bed for less than $10,000.” While Evangelista and her cohort, which now includes household names like Gisele Bundchen and Heidi Klum, commanded six-figures for their photo shoots, the reality for most working models then and now is that they earn close to the minimum wage and face long hours in unregulated working conditions. Models, many of whom are teenage girls, are also vulnerable to sexual harassment and pressure to pose nude. Tired of the exploitative conditions they faced as models, runway veterans Sarah Ziff and Jenna Sauers are launching Model Alliance , to coincide with Fall 2012 New York Fashion Week, which wrapped up this week. The nonprofit aims to bring protections to the industry and has partnered with the Fordham University Fashion Law Institute to craft the regulations. “There is a sense that fashion is frivolous, and that encourages...

What Real Class Warfare Looks Like

So it looks as though Republicans are going to cave on the extension of the payroll tax cut, pretty much the only tax cut they don't like, seeing as it doesn't do much for the wealthy. But on their way to that capitulation, they made sure they could exact a price : drug testing of people applying for unemployment compensation! After all, we need to send these people a message. The bill, which looks like it will pass soon, now includes a provision that allows states to drug test anyone applying for unemployment compensation if they're looking for a job in an industry where testing occurs, which is pretty much any industry there is. So it isn't enough that you might get tested before you can get a job, you'll now have to get tested before you even start looking. The rationale Republicans offer isn't that there's some kind of epidemic of drug abuse among the unemployed. It's just if you're going to get a government benefit, paid for by the taxpayers, then you should have to prove you...

Arizona's Dissolving Case Against Unions

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
In a state that's already prevented unions from having any clout in the private sector, this was supposed to be the month Arizona put public employee unions on the chopping block. In early February, conservative website The Daily Caller included an opinion piece called "The coming Arizona public employee union apocalypse." It was hardly the only ominous article about the future for labor in the state. "Republicans in Arizona hoped to make Wisconsin's battle against public unions last year look like a lightweight sparring match," wrote Talking Points Memo's Nick Martin. At the heart of the matter were four anti-union bills that together would end collective bargaining rights and cut off sources of money for unions. Unlike Wisconsin, the proposals would impact all public employee unions, including firefighters and police. So far, though, nothing is going as planned. Thursday evening, the Arizona state Senate gave first round approval to a bill that requires yearly authorization in order...

Private Prison Bill Dies in Florida

(Flickr/Tom Pearce, Los Gatos)
In Florida, a coalition of Democrats and a few moderate Republicans killed what could have been a major expansion of private prisons. The measure would have privatized 27 prisons and displaced more than 3,500 corrections officers . In the Florida Senate, nine Republicans voted against the measure, along with all 12 Democratic state senators. It was a rare victory for both Democrats and the labor unions that fought the bill. Proponents had argued the measure would save the state over $16 million in its first year, and the defeat may now lead to increased budget cuts in education and health care. Interestingly, much of the debate around the bill focused on the workers, like prison guards, who would lose jobs as a result of the privatization. With major pushes against public employee bargaining rights in Wisconsin and now in Arizona, state workers have largely been villified. This debate seems to have gone very differently. As the Tampa Bay Times reports: Senators debated privatization...

Ohio Governor John Kasich's Tightrope Walk

AP Photo/Al Behrman
John Kasich is in a bit of a bind. The Ohio governor is, on the one hand, the tough Republican who tried to bring right-to-work legislation to Ohio and reduce government spending. He's also the guy whose efforts to limit collective bargaining got knocked down by Ohio voters. Partisan divides seem to be growing in the Buckeye State. All of which was likely on his mind when Kasich gave his State of the State address today. The governor opted to give the speech at a school rather than at the state capitol, where it's traditionally given. It wasn't the only unusual choice of the day. He also tried to push for the same types of policies he's always advocated —but package them in moderate verbiage. For instance, he told the crowd that raising taxes was not an option, because it would hurt business. "It's not just a philosophy or some sort of an ideology," he explained. "It's what makes sense." Except that it is an ideology. Raising certain taxes—or not cutting them further—is hardly about...