What Does Black Lives Matter Want?

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By Robin D. G. Kelley

On August 1 the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL), a coalition of over sixty organizations, rolled out “A Vision for Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom & Justice,” an ambitious document described by the press as the first signs of what young black activists “really want.” It lays out six demands aimed at ending all forms of violence and injustice endured by black people; redirecting resources from prisons and the military to education, health, and safety; creating a just, democratically controlled economy; and securing black political power within a genuinely inclusive democracy. Backing the demands are forty separate proposals and thirty-four policy briefs, replete with data, context, and legislative recommendations.

But the document quickly came under attack for its statement on Palestine, which calls Israel an apartheid state and characterizes the ongoing war in Gaza and the West Bank as genocide. Dozens of publications and media outlets devoted extensive coverage to the controversy around this single aspect of the platform, including The Guardian, the Washington Post, The Times of Israel, Haaretz, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Of course, M4BL is not the first to argue that Israeli policies meet the UN definitions of apartheid. (The 1965 International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the 1975 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid define it as “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.”) Nor is M4BL the first group to use the term “genocide” to describe the plight of Palestinians under occupation and settlement. The renowned Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, for example, wrote of the war on Gaza in 2014 as “incremental genocide.” That Israel’s actions in Gaza correspond with the UN definition of genocide to “destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” by causing “serious bodily or mental harm” to group members is a legitimate argument to make.

The few mainstream reporters and pundits who considered the full M4BL document either reduced it to a laundry list of demands or positioned it as an alternative to the platform of the Democratic Party—or else focused on their own benighted astonishment that the movement has an agenda beyond curbing police violence. But anyone following Black Lives Matter from its inception in the aftermath of the George Zimmerman verdict should not be surprised by the document’s broad scope. Black Lives Matter founders Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi are veteran organizers with a distinguished record of fighting for economic justice, immigrant rights, gender equity, and ending mass incarceration. “A Vision for Black Lives” was not a response to the U.S. presidential election, nor to unfounded criticisms of the movement as “rudderless” or merely a hashtag. It was the product of a year of collective discussion, research, collaboration, and intense debate, beginning with the Movement for Black Lives Convening in Cleveland last July, which initially brought together thirty different organizations. It was the product of some of the country’s greatest minds representing organizations such as the Black Youth Project 100, Million Hoodies, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Dream Defenders, the Organization for Black Struggle, and Southerners on New Ground (SONG). As Marbre Stahly-Butts, a leader of the M4BL policy table explained, “We formed working groups, facilitated multiple convenings, drew on a range of expertise, and sought guidance from grassroots organizations, organizers and elders. As of today, well over sixty organizations and hundreds of people have contributed to the platform.”

The result is actually more than a platform. It is a remarkable blueprint for social transformation that ought to be read and discussed by everyone. The demands are not intended as Band-Aids to patch up the existing system but achievable goals that will produce deep structural changes and improve the lives of all Americans and much of the world. Thenjiwe McHarris, an eminent human rights activist and a principle coordinator of the M4BL policy table, put it best: “We hope that what has been created carries forward the legacy of our elders and our ancestors while imagining a world and a country profoundly different than what currently exists. For us and for those that will come after us.” The document was not drafted with the expectation that it will become the basis of a mass movement, or that it will replace the Democratic Party’s platform. Rather it is a vision statement for long-term, transformative organizing. Indeed, “A Vision for Black Lives” is less a political platform than a plan for ending structural racism, saving the planet, and transforming the entire nation—not just black lives.

Boston Review

 Bernie Sanders Speaks

In his most revealing interview, the socialist presidential candidate sets out his vision for America.

 (Photography by Marius Bugge)
(Photography by Marius Bugge)

By John Nichols in The Nation

 When Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders told The Nation last year that he was “prepared to run for president,” he said he would do so only if it was clear that progressives were enthusiastic about a movement campaign seeking nothing less than “a political revolution.” It was an audacious proposal—but after traveling the country for a year, Sanders decided that the enthusiasm was there and announced in late April as a candidate for the Democratic nomination. There were plenty of doubters then. Two months into the campaign, however, everything about this candidacy—the crowds, the poll numbers, the buzz—is bigger than expected. That says something about Sanders. But it also says something about the prospects for progressive politics. In late June, The Nation sat down with Sanders for several conversations that asked the longtime Nation reader (“started when I was a University of Chicago student in the early 1960s”) to put not just his campaign but the moment in historical perspective for our 150th-anniversary issue:


The Nation: Your campaign for the presidency has surprised people. The crowds are big; the poll numbers are stronger than the pundits predicted. You’re a student of political history. Put what’s happening now in perspective. Are we at one of those pivot points—as we saw in the 1930s—where our politics could open up and take the country in a much more progressive direction?


Sanders: Obviously, we’re not in the midst of a massive depression, as we were in the 1930s. But I think the discontent of the American people is far, far greater than the pundits understand. Do you know what real African-American youth unemployment is? It’s over 50 percent. Families with a member 55 or older have literally nothing saved for retirement. Workers are worried about their jobs ending up in China. They’re worried about being fired when they’re age 50 and being replaced at half-wages by somebody who is 25. They’re disgusted with the degree that billionaires are able to buy elections. They are frightened by the fact that we have a Republican Party that refuses to even recognize the reality of climate change, let alone address this huge issue.

In 1936, when Roosevelt ran for reelection, he welcomed the hatred of what he called “the economic royalists”—today, they’re the billionaire class—and I’m prepared to do that as well. That’s the kind of language the American people are ready to hear.

The Nation: As long as we’re talking about the evolution of public policy, let’s talk about the evolution of a word: socialism. You appeared on ABC’s This Week and, when you were asked whether a socialist can be elected president, you did not blink; you talked about socialism in positive, detailed terms. I don’t believe a presidential candidate has ever done that on a Sunday-morning show.

Sanders: Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, often criticizes President Obama, incorrectly, for trying to push “European-style socialism,” and McConnell says the American people don’t want it. First of all, of course, Obama is not trying to push European-style socialism. Second of all, I happen to believe that, if the American people understood the significant accomplishments that have taken place under social-democratic governments, democratic-socialist governments, labor governments throughout Europe, they would be shocked to know about those accomplishments. One of the goals of this campaign is to advance that understanding…. How many Americans know that in virtually every European country, when you have a baby, you get guaranteed time off and, depending on the country, significant financial benefits as well. Do the American people know that? I doubt it. Do the American people even know that we’re the only major Western industrialized country that doesn’t guarantee healthcare for all? Most people don’t know that. Do the American people know that in many countries throughout Europe, public colleges and universities are either tuition-free or very inexpensive?

I have always believed that the countries in Scandinavia have not gotten the kind of honest recognition they deserve for the extraordinary achievements they have made…. The Danish ambassador, whom I talked to a couple of years ago, said to me that in Denmark it is very, very hard to be poor; you really have to literally want to be outside of the system. Well, that’s pretty good. In Denmark, all of their kids can go to college; not only do they go for free, they actually get stipends. Healthcare is, of course, a right for all people. They have a very strong childcare system, which to me is very important. Their retirement system is very strong. They are very active in trying to protect their environment…. And, by the way, the voter turnout in those countries is much higher; in Denmark, in the last election, it was over 80 percent. Political consciousness is much higher than it is in the United States. It’s a more vibrant democracy in many respects. So why would I not defend that? Do they think I’m afraid of the word? I’m not afraid of the word.

Read more at The Nation

Supreme Court Ruling Makes Same-Sex Marriage a Right Nationwide

By Adam Liptak in The New York Times

 The White House was illuminated in honor of same-sex marriage.
The White House was illuminated in honor of same-sex marriage.

WASHINGTON — In a long-sought victory for the gay rights movement, the Supreme Court ruled by a 5-to-4 vote on Friday that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage.

“No longer may this liberty be denied,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority in the historic decision. “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.”

Marriage is a “keystone of our social order,” Justice Kennedy said, adding that the plaintiffs in the case were seeking “equal dignity in the eyes of the law.”

The decision, which was the culmination of decades of litigation and activism, set off jubilation and tearful embraces across the country, the first same-sex marriages in several states, and resistance — or at least stalling — in others. It came against the backdrop of fast-moving changes in public opinion, with polls indicating that most Americans now approve of the unions.

The court’s four more liberal justices joined Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion. Each member of the court’s conservative wing filed a separate dissent, in tones ranging from resigned dismay to bitter scorn.

Read more at The New York Times

Why Is Socialist Bernie Sanders So Popular?

Berniemania! Why Is Socialist Bernie Sanders So Popular? – The New York Observer

Brooklyn-born, Vermont-fueled, Bernie Sanders promises a revolution if he’s somehow elected president next year. Does Hillary have to watch her back?

(Illustration: Josh Gosfield/New York Observer)
(Illustration: Josh Gosfield/New York Observer)

Mr. Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, violates most laws of American politics. He proudly calls himself a socialist, a label vilified by Republicans and avoided by most Democrats. He is not outwardly charming; he rarely glad-hands and his speeches are often mirthless. Like a modern day Jonathan Edwards, who found Eugene V. Debs rather than Jesus Christ, he thunders about the dying middle class and oligarchies eroding democracy. Cross him, like one camera-holding man who yapped at him in Keene to take a position on the Edward Snowden affair, and earn a stern rebuke. Why wouldn’t he answer the man’s question? “Because you’re rude, and you’re shouting out things and I don’t really like that,” Mr. Sanders groused.

Despite a thorny approach to retail campaigning, Mr. Sanders’ quest for the White House is on an upswing. Last week, a Wisconsin Democratic Party straw poll showed Mr. Sanders trailing Ms. Clinton only 49 to 41 percent among delegates. On Observer.com, Brent Budowsky wrote, “There is a very real prospect that Mr. Bernie Sanders wins an outright victory in the Iowa caucus.” Donations are flooding in; he raised $1.5 million in the 24-hour period after he announced his candidacy in early May. He has since raised cash from more than 100,000 individual donors.

For a long time, Mr. Sanders’ unbridled liberalism was out of vogue. The Clintons, slashing the welfare rolls and deregulating Wall Street, ruled the booming 1990s. The Soviet Union collapsed; some socialists had lost a lodestar, though Mr. Sanders firmly insisted it was the democratic socialism of the Scandinavian countries, and not the authoritarianism of Russia, that he extolled.

A Sanders supporter in Keene underscored this point, gently chastising a reporter for asking whether an avowed socialist could win over voters nationwide.

“He’s a democratic socialist, like another celebrated Jewish socialist—Jesus,” he said.

Still, after a one-term African-American senator with a funny name rose from nowhere to whip Hillary Clinton, the Sanders faithful are suddenly asking, And why not Bernie? What seems more far-fetched: Barack Hussein Obama, around 2007, becoming leader of the Free World or a socialist Jew (a member of Congress for 24 years and former mayor, to boot) becoming president in 2016? (Never mind Mr. Obama was telegenic and three decades younger.)

Read more at The New York Observer

A crisis for seniors who rely on Social Security

 By Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) - 06/10/15 05:31 PM EDT Photo credit:  Greg Nash
By Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) – 06/10/15 05:31 PM EDT Photo credit: Greg Nash

It seems every time we talk about the long-term future of Social Security, many in Washington start clamoring to raise the retirement age or propose other ways to trim Social Security’s modest benefits. Those calling for cuts are missing the dire state of retirement security for the typical American. Traditional pensions have become a thing of the past, and stagnant wages are making it harder and harder to put aside savings. For the two-thirds of retirees who rely on Social Security for a majority of their income, there is not a Social Security crisis, there is a retirement crisis. That is why we must preserve and enhance the one program Americans have always been able to count on.

Just the other week I sat down with seniors in Glastonbury, Conn., to discuss our nation’s retirement crisis. These men and women hail from all walks of life: veterans, small-business owners, homemakers and machinists. They’ve built and rebuilt this country through wars and recessions. I spoke with one man who spent his life as a lineman, his fingers now crooked and gnarled from a lifetime helping to usher America into the Digital Age. Can we really in good conscience ask the millions of men and women, who have already given so much, to keep pushing well past their breaking point? How does it make sense to push the retirement age ever higher or cut benefits at a time when people need them most?

We can shore up Social Security for future generations without needlessly slashing benefits for people like those seniors in Glastonbury or their children and grandchildren. That is why I have been joined by more than 60 of my colleagues in putting forth H.R. 1391, the Social Security 2100 Act.

Rather than cut benefits or hike the retirement age, this proposal would increase benefits across the board. It would provide a better cost-of-living adjustment that would reflect the true cost seniors incur, such as higher medical expenses. It would also ensure that those who have paid into the system won’t retire into poverty by increasing minimum payments. Because more seniors are working into their retirement years, this proposal provides a tax cut to 11 million beneficiaries by raising the level of income individuals and couples can earn before their Social Security benefits are taxed. All of these provisions will strengthen and enhance Social Security for current beneficiaries and generations to come.

The Social Security 2100 Act keeps the system solvent for the next 75 years and beyond, according to the independent analysis of the Social Security Administration’s chief actuary, and does so without cutting benefits or contributing a dime to the deficit.

How do we do this? First, we ask individuals making more than $400,000 a year to contribute into Social Security in the same way as the rest of us. Currently, those with earnings above $118,500 no longer have to pay into the system. To put it another way, LeBron James has made his yearly contribution to Social Security by about lunchtime on New Year’s Day.

Second, we slowly introduce an increase to the contributions both workers and employers make. Over the span of 25 years, it would mean an additional 0.05 percent each year. A worker making $50,000 a year would pay an additional 50 cents per week each year to Social Security.

Read more at The Hill

Bernie Sanders Announces His Candidacy for President of the United States

Bernie Sanders is more serious than you think

Give ‘Em Hell, Bernie

 Bernie Sanders’ entrance into the 2016 presidential race isn't a footnote to the inevitable coronation of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee. Win McNamee/Getty
Bernie Sanders’ entrance into the 2016 presidential race isn’t a footnote to the inevitable coronation of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee. Win McNamee/Getty

By Matt Taibbi April 29, 2015

Many years ago I pitched a magazine editor on a story about Bernie Sanders, then a congressman from Vermont, who’d agreed to something extraordinary – he agreed to let me, a reporter, stick next to him without restrictions over the course of a month in congress.

“People need to know how this place works. It’s absurd,” he’d said. (Bernie often uses the word absurd, his Brooklyn roots coming through in his pronunciation – ob-zert.)

Bernie wasn’t quite so famous at the time and the editor scratched his head. “Bernie Sanders,” he said. “That’s the one who cares, right?”

“Right, that’s the guy,” I said.

I got the go-ahead and the resulting story was a wild journey through the tortuous bureaucratic maze of our national legislature. I didn’t write this at the time, but I was struck every day by what a strange and interesting figure Sanders was.

Many of the battles he brought me along to witness, he lost. And no normal politician would be comfortable with the optics of bringing a Rolling Stone reporter to a Rules Committee hearing.

But Sanders genuinely, sincerely, does not care about optics. He is the rarest of Washington animals, a completely honest person. If he’s motivated by anything other than a desire to use his influence to protect people who can’t protect themselves, I’ve never seen it. Bernie Sanders is the kind of person who goes to bed at night thinking about how to increase the heating-oil aid program for the poor.

This is why his entrance into the 2016 presidential race is a great thing and not a mere footnote to the inevitable coronation of Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee. If the press is smart enough to grasp it, his entrance into the race makes for a profound storyline that could force all of us to ask some very uncomfortable questions.

Here’s the thing: Sanders is a politician whose power base is derived almost entirely from the people of the state of Vermont, where he is personally known to a surprisingly enormous percentage of voters.

Read more at Rolling Stone

Poor People Need a Higher Wage, Not a Lesson in Morality

David Brooks’ rendition of poverty is as “representative” of people with low-incomes as corrupt corporate titans are of small entrepreneurs.

By Greg Kaufmann in The Nation

Baltimore, Maryland (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Baltimore, Maryland (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

“The idea that poverty is a problem of persons—that it results from personal moral, cultural, or biological inadequacies—has dominated discussions of poverty for well over two hundred years and given us the enduring idea of the underserving poor.”

—Michael Katz, The Undeserving Poor

In a recent op-ed, New York Times columnist David Brooks called for a “moral revival,” one which requires “holding people responsible” so that we have “social repair.”

To illustrate the need for said revival—which he frames as a reassertion of social norms—Brooks offers what he describes as three “representative figures” of “high school-educated America”: a man whose mother was absent, Dad is in prison, attended seven elementary schools, and “ended up under house arrest”; a girl who was “one of five half-siblings from three relationships,” whose mom lost custody of the kids to an abuser, and whose dad left a woman because another guy had fathered their child; and, finally, a kid who “burned down a lady’s house when he was 13” and says, “I just love beating up somebody and making they nose bleed…and beating them to the ground.”

So goes the latest iteration of the “undeserving poor,” an age-old concept brilliantly excavated by the late historian Michael Katz in his book of the same title. Like the long lineage it stems from, Brooks’ rendition is as “representative” of people with low-incomes as corrupt corporate titans are of small entrepreneurs. Anecdotally, in my years working for Boys and Girls Clubs, reporting as a poverty correspondent for The Nation, and now editing TalkPoverty.org which regularly features posts from people living in poverty—Brooks’ “representative figures” remind me of exactly zero people I have met during this time. I’m not saying that these individuals don’t exist, but they have little to do with the policies or the morality we need to dramatically reduce poverty in America.

Read more at The Nation

Instead of Criminalizing Homelessness, Utah Is Doing the Opposite — And It’s Working

Utah

After Barbara Simons left her abusive husband and the house they lived in together six years ago, she had nowhere to go. She was without a job and her daughter, Jamie, was struggling with mental health issues. She ended up in Salt Lake City, Utah, and feared she’d become homeless.

Then she heard about a program run by the state that would pay for her and Jamie to get an apartment with no strings attached. The Housing First program started in 2005, and Simons says it might have saved her life.

“I don’t know if I’d be alive,” Simons told Mic by phone. “Or I’d be alive and living on the street. It just helped me get back on my feet. It showed that people cared about you.”

Even though Utah is one of the most conservative states in the nation, it has become a leader in progressive policies meant to help the homeless. By proving that a conservative state could solve its chronic homelessness problem for less money than traditional homelessness policies, Utah has become a model for towns, cities and states across the nation.

Read more at Policy.Mic

Majority of public assistance goes to working families, report finds

"20111110-OC-AMW-0050 - Flickr - USDAgov" by U.S. Department of Agriculture - 20111110-OC-AMW-0050. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
U.S. Government Food Stamps, 1941. Image via the United States Department of Agriculture (public domain).

State and federal public assistance programs pay $153 billion to low-wage workers who can’t make ends meet

The majority of American families on public assistance or Medicaid are headed by at least one full-time worker, according to a report released Monday by the University of California at Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education.

Researchers who analyzed annual state and federal spending on public assistance programs — including food stamps, Medicaid, Temporary Aid to Needy Families and the earned income tax credit — found that more than 56 percent of that spending goes to working families.

In other words, employers, such fast-food restaurants, are paying their employees so little that they must rely on government assistance to make ends meet. In total, these employees seek an estimated $153 billion in public assistance each year, according to the report.

“When companies pay too little for workers to provide for their families, workers rely on public assistance programs to meet their basic needs,” Ken Jacobs, chair of the Center for Labor Research and Education and co-author of the report, said in a release. “This creates significant cost to the states.”

Read more at Al Jazeera America