I want to share hope and inspiration with you in these dark times. I see no need to obsess on describing the endless injustices of our time. My approach to injustice is that you and I cannot and must not yield to despair. Despair is demoralizing and a luxury that we cannot afford. For me, action is the antidote to despair, hopelessness and depression. As Dolores Huerta said so eloquently: “Every moment is an organizing opportunity, every person a potential activist, every minutes a chance to change the world.” To do so, we must inspire hope and courage. This year, we can and must crush Trump and his allies and put a pro-worker, pro-justice government in place.
I want to share two thrilling upbeat stories of recent great people’s victories in Arizona. The young heroes and heroines of these stories inspire me and give me great hope. Their stories prove we can overcome great challenges and move our country toward greater justice and a better future. I often say: “We are the people we have been waiting for. We need to act like it.”
Over the past 10 years, my wife, Diane, and I have developed a great affection and respect for the people and state of Arizona as we have visited there many times. Our visits always include taking action in support of the people’s struggles for justice there.
If these stories inspired and moved you, please pass them on.
BUILDING PERMANENT PROGRESSIVE POLITICAL POWER IN ARIZONA
As some of you may know, I have spent the past 8 years traveling the country doing 430 economic justice and labor history speeches and trainings. I am blessed and lucky to have the opportunity to do this work. In doing so, I have met wonderful courageous activists who prove that we can win big in hard times.
On February 14, 2015, I did a training at the Electricians Union hall in Tucson for the Pima Country Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO. Some of the participants were fired up, hard charging young Latinx activists who had driven 100+ miles from Phoenix. They were leaders and members of Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA). One of the attendees was Tomas Robles, co-Executive Director of LUCHA and its sister organization, Arizona Center for Empowerment (ACE).
The work of LUCHA and ACE is extraordinarily inspiring. Arizona is ground zero for the war against immigrants, voter suppression, longstanding repression of Latinx citizens and residents and worker abuses. LUCHA and ACE were created in response to these rising injustices.
Here is a quick synopsis of tremendous work and victories of these organizations and their many allies.
In 2010, Arizona passed Senate Bill 1070 (SB 1070), one of the harshest anti-immigrant law in the nation. It was called the “Show Me Your Papers” law. Activists waged a 103-day vigil and conducted many mass mobilizations trying to defeat it. They failed.
The next year, LUCHA, ACE and other progressive organizations led a successful recall election of the prime sponsor of SB 1070, State Senate President Russell Pearce. This was the first time in the 99-year history of Arizona that a state lawmaker had been recalled.
In 2012, this growing movement attempted to defeat the infamous Maricopa County (Phoenix) Sheriff Joe Arpaio. He was notorious for his racism, anti-immigrant hostility and brutal conditions in his jail system. He publicly bragged that his “Tent City” was a concentration camp. Arpaio denied his statement despite an online video of his comment. Arpaio was re-elected and later said, “But even if it was a concentration camp, what difference does it make? I still survived. I still kept getting re-elected.” Arpaio ruled with an iron hand until 2016.
In the next four years, LUCHA, ACE and other allied organizations registered tens of thousands of new voters, built an extensive voter education and get out the voter organization, and went on the attack. Between 2014 and 2018, Latino voter turnout leaped from 32% to 49%.
In 2016, Trump narrowly won Arizona by 3 percentage points. At the same time, the growing progressive movement won a successful statewide initiative with 58% of the votes. Their victory raised the state minimum wage to $12 per hour and won paid sick leave for millions of workers. They defeated Joe Arpaio with 56% of the vote. They also defeated the county recorder who was accused of championing voter suppression.
In 2018, they played a key role in defeating the right-wing, racist, anti-immigrant, Republican U.S. Senator Martha McSally. The victor, Kristen Synema, is the first Democratic U.S. Senator from Arizona since 1988. Many progressives are critical of Synema but her victory is still very important.
LUCHA, ACE and many other progressive organizations in Arizona are gearing up for the 2020 elections. They can help deliver Arizona for the Democratic presidential candidate and defeat Martha McSally again. She has been appointed U.S. Senator after John McCain died and his replacement, Jeff Flake, resigned.
Here is a great New York Times article that documents these victories. I hope you take the time to read it and are inspired like me. And if you are looking for organizations to support for the 2020 elections and build permanent progressive political power in a key swing state, give some money to LUCHA and ACE.
If you are looking for organizations to support for the 2020 elections and build permanent progressive political power in a key swing state, give some money to LUCHA and ACE.
BUILDING GROWING SOLIDARITY AND SUPPORT FOR MIGRANTS AND ASYLUM SEEKERS IN SOUTHERN ARIZONA
The growing border wall and our nation’s increasingly harsh treatment of immigrants and political asylum seekers has created a horrific and deadly humanitarian crisis in southern Arizona and northern Mexico. The extremely harsh Sonoran Desert straddles the Arizona-Mexico border. It is a nightmare of death and repression. In the past 20 years, more than 3,000 dead migrants have been found in the desert in the jurisdiction of the Pima County (Tucson) Office of Medical Examiner. To date, 2/3 have not been identified. Who knows how many more have died but have not been found?
This crisis has sparked the creation of many grassroots organizations in southern Arizona that are actively combatting these horrific injustices including:
- Tucson Samaritans
- No More Deaths – An official ministry of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson
- Humane Borders
The Samaritans and No More Deaths are direct action groups that leave food and water in the desert near the border as acts of humanitarian compassion. The food and water can prevent needless and unjust deaths in temperatures up to 120 degrees.
Arizona’s growing movement for immigrant justice is under relentless attack from Trump’s Justice Department. “In 2017, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions had ordered federal prosecutors to step up their enforcement of the harboring statute, telling them to pursue ‘any case involving the unlawful transportation or harboring of aliens.’”
The Department has turned its attention to imprisoning humanitarian volunteers for felonies for allegedly aiding illegal immigration and misdemeanors for littering in the desert.
Scott Warren is an Arizona State University professor and a member of No More Deaths. He is one of the targets of the Trump repression and intimidation campaign. “Warren and eight other No More Deaths volunteers were hit with federal misdemeanor littering charges in 2017 for leaving food, water, and other humanitarian aid supplies on a federal wildlife reserve outside Ajo, where migrants routinely die. The first trial in those cases, held in January, resulted in four No More Deaths volunteers convicted and sentenced to 15 months of probation and ordered to pay $250 in fines. A second group of volunteers facing misdemeanor charges accepted similar consequences days later, and the charges against them were formally dismissed.”
The repression and intimidation is growing. In June 2019, Scott Warren, was put on trial for 3 felony counts related to his humanitarian work with No More Deaths. He faced up to 20 years in prison. The jury was unable to reach a verdict with 8 of the 12 juries voting for acquittal; 4 for conviction.
In November 2019, Scott was tried again on 2 felony charges. Diane and I were in Tucson during the trial. Community organizing resulted in 100’s of had yard signs declaring: “Humanitarian Aid is Not a Crime.” We joined the picket lines and solidarity actions in front of the Federal Courthouse and at Southside Presbyterian Church, a leading sanctuary church for migrants.
The day the trial went to the jury, leaders and members of many faith traditions and leaders and activists from many secular organizations held a rally in support of Scott. During the rally, a number of faith leaders stepped forward and blessed the gallons of water that they would be distributing in the desert that day. They announced their names publicly thereby making it easier for the Trump administration to arrest them on criminal charges. It was extremely moving and courageous. This is courage in action.
After the rally, the faith leaders silently filled the courtroom urging justice for Scott and all those courageous people who engage in humanitarian acts to stop the deaths.
NOW THE GOOD NEWS AND THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES.
Later that day, the jury spent only two hours acquitting Scott Warren on both charges. These trials are our tax dollars at work.
That same day, the Trump administration called for more prosecutions. Michael Bailey, the U.S. attorney for Nevada, vowed to continue prosecuting people who harbor and smuggle migrants.
“We won’t distinguish between whether somebody is trafficking or harboring for money, or whether they’re doing it out of, you know, what I would say a misguided sense of social justice or belief in open borders or whatever,” Bailey told the AP.
Gregory Kuykendall, Scott’s lawyer eloquently stated after the trial:
“This is a place where a humanitarian crisis of epidemic proportions is occurring,” Kuykendall told The Post. “People who exercise the golden rule, people who are Samaritans, are not committing crimes. They are doing what all of us should aspire to.”
The struggle for justice continues in Arizona. The same day in the same courthouse, former Border Patrol agent Matthew Bowen was sentenced to three years’ probation and supervised release. In a plea deal, Bowen admitted he had intentionally run over a Guatemalan migrant with his truck – and then lied about it.
THIS YEAR WE MUST BE THE MESSENGERS AND ACTIVISTS OF HOPE AND JUSTICE.
In closing, I wish all of you a Happy New Year. These are my New Year’s resolutions.
- May we work hard to bring hope to the tens of millions of our fellow citizens and residents who want a more just and equitable today and future.
- May we make deep commitments to work hard and give generously to defeat Trump and rout the Republicans in Congress and across the country.
- May we fight hard to protect and expand our hard-won right to vote.
- May we fight hard to strengthen our democracy and build a better future.
- May we reaffirm that all people regardless of their race, creed, color, national origin, religion or lack thereof, gender, sexual orientation and union affiliation should and must be treated fairly and equitably in our nation.
- May we reaffirm a national commitment to search for the truth and inspire others to do so as well.
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We Have Fought and Won This Battle Before: Trump and Family Separation
AUGUST 18, 2018
Everywhere I go, many people are upset and angry about the brutal, cruel and inhumane immigration policies of the Trump administration. The latest wave of outrage has focused on individuals and families seeking asylum, refugee status and, safety from brutal and unsafe conditions in their homelands. The Trump solution has been to forcibly separate children from their parents and jail entire families with virtually no regard for the law or the impacts on these children and their families.
As I reflect on these deliberate abuses by the administration, I want to find hope and inspiration that will encourage people to continue their fights to change these immigration policies. So where do I find hope and inspiration? The extraordinary level of resistance that led to 700+ demonstrations and protests on June 30th alone. This is unprecedented in our nation’s history of immigration. The soul of our country is not dead. It is rising up against these and so many other injustices.
It is critically important for people of conscience to use our own history to grasp the significance of our modern-day resistance and find hope and inspiration to keep fighting forward.
Consider this perspective. For almost 250 years, it was constitutional and legal for white slavers and slave-owners to rip children away from their unjustly enslaved parents. Children were separated from their parents and sold to separate slave owners. The power of our government and the dominant social mores backed these practices. Tragically, the outcry of the white population was small and weak for most of this period. Eventually, African-Americans and people of conscience organized the abolitionist movement and these barbaric slavery practices were wiped out after the Civil War. How many children and their parents suffered such unfathomable life-changing pain and injustice? It is safe to say million during the 250+ years of slavery. The number boggles my mind and pains my soul.
Our nation was founded by tearing away Native Americans from their land and forcing the survivors on to reservations. White settlers pushed them into smaller and smaller areas and countless Indian people were killed and wounded. Once the carnage was over and the land taken, the government tore thousands of children away from their parents and forced them into schools where they were cleansed of their heritage and values. Thousands more children were taken. It was not until the 1970s that Native Americans and people of conscience ended these horrific practices.
So where do I find hope and in this current period of injustice and cruelty towards immigrants in America? As we have seen in the past, I find hope and inspiration that we, the people, have risen nearly a thousand demonstrations and protests in one day.
It is critical for people of conscience to recognize that the level of resistance to these injustices today dwarfs the resistance for most of the 250+ years of slavery and the conquest and dispossession of our Native American brothers and sisters.
Our own history can give us hope and inspiration that we can prevail over injustice and create a more just and humane future. We can do this if we find hope and inspiration in our own acts of justice and compassion and inspire others to take action as well. Despair is our enemy. Hope is our ally. We can bring hope to our friends, families, communities, and unions and inspire them to act. Do you agree? Where do you find hope and inspiration?
Originally published at Winning Social Justice.
FINDING HOPE AND INSPIRATION IN THE AGE OF TRUMP IN IOWA
JULY 9, 2018
On June 20, 2018, I gave a keynote speech to delegates from Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, and the Dakotas at the Electricians’ Union’s 11th District annual meeting in Dubuque Iowa. These dedicated trade unionists are waging a determined years-long struggle against relentless anti-union, anti-worker attacks from right wing politicians and their billionaire corporate sponsors. I was honored and privileged to learn directly from workers who had won tremendous victories in Iowa. They inspired me and proved we can win big in the Age of Trump.
What happened? What can we learn from their successes?
In 2017, state and local government workers, both union and non-union, voted overwhelmingly to keep their unions in their workplaces. The results were phenomenal. Pro-union voters won 436 of 468 elections. The cumulative statewide pro-union vote was 28,448; the no vote 624. A 98% pro-union vote. 88% of potential voters voted. A significant number of non-union workers voted to keep the union in place. They knew that the union protects them even if they chose to not be a member. This is truly historic and unprecedented. Wow! Who ever heard of an election with an 88% turnout with a 98% yes vote?
After years of relentless public sector union busting in states like Wisconsin, unions and workers in Iowa had learned from these defeats. They clearly demonstrated that a strategy of talking to every worker, one-on-one, can rally people toward justice and standing up for their rights.
Where did these elections come from? In 2017, the anti-union, anti-worker governor and legislature passed a new collective bargaining law which drastically rolled back 43 years of collective bargaining rights for state and local government workers. In most cases, they can only bargain over base wages with a legislative cap on wages. They can no longer bargain over health insurance, other benefits, performance evaluations, layoffs, and other worker and union rights they had for decades. All this with virtually no public debate.
The new requirements for union elections and future contract bargaining were very undemocratic. Prior to bargaining a new contract, a new election must be held to determine if the workers in the bargaining unit still want the union. Here is the kicker. In order for pro-union workers to win the election, they had to get a majority of votes of everyone who is eligible to vote, not merely the majority of people who voluntarily choose to vote. If a worker did not vote, it counted as an anti-union vote. Yes, you read this right. For example, a 500-worker bargaining unit election would require 251 yes votes to retain the union. A vote of 250 yes votes and 0 no votes would result in the union being voted out.
Where is the justice and fairness in these requirements? There is none. Stripping workers of their rights and denying them the right to advance their common interests was the goal.
If this majority of all eligible voters was applied to our national and state elections, no one would have ever been elected President. For example, Lyndon Johnson set the record for highest popular vote with 61% in 1964 with a voter turnout of 61%. He only received 37% of the potential eligible voters.
Why is this story important? It clearly demonstrates that working people are not powerless in the face of vicious anti-worker and anti-union attacks. It shows that a strategy of reaching out to all voters, face to face, can prevail against deeply undemocratic rules that are intended to kill democracy and workers’ rights. It required that many previously inactive members to get active. Sitting by was not an option.
If our sisters and brothers in Iowa can win big like this, certainly people like us over the country can do the same in union and political elections. Let’s take heart from these big wins. We must remember that we are the people we have been waiting for to change our country. No one is going to do it for us. It is time we acted like we know this to be true.
Where do you find hope and inspiration in Age of Trump? Please comment to our blog!
Our next blog will focus on how state and local government workers did it – how they got the job done.
Originally published at Winning Social Justice.