FINDING HOPE AND FIGHTING FORWARD IN 2020

January 4, 2020

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:

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.

I would love your feedback on this article.  Please pass it on. I can be reached at:

Markmcdermott1@msn.com

206-617-7033

www.markmmcdermott.com   

The theft of the next election is already under way

This article was originally published in The Stand.

(April 12, 2017) — If you care about our democracy, our nation, fair elections, the right of the people to fairly choose our elected officials, and our future, you should be paying close attention to the systematic efforts of the Trump regime, Corporate America and their Republican allies to steal the 2018 and 2020 elections. Regardless of the issues you care about, you should care about fair elections. Stolen national elections in 2018 and 2020 will have a devastating effect on you, those you love and the issues you care about. This renewed effort is a continuation of a decades-long strategy.

The attempted grand theft of these elections started on Nov. 27, 2016, when Trump began his “big lie” propaganda campaign about a stolen election by stating: “In addition to winning the Electoral College by a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”

Trump has steadfastly refused to demonstrate the truth of his “Big Lie.” In response to growing challenges to his lying, Trump said: “You know what is important. Millions of people agree with me when I say that.”

Yes, they were ignorantly believing his “Big Lie.”

On Jan. 27, 2017, with no proof on any serious voter fraud, Vice President Pence laid out their strategy to steal the election in 2020: We need “a full evaluation of the voting rolls in the country and to protect the overall integrity of the voting system.”

With overwhelming evidence that major voter fraud is not taking place, what is their deeper motive? To restrict voting rights of millions of Americans and legally steal our elections by diluting the voting power of those opposed to their radical policy agenda.

This is not a new idea. Our nation’s history of voter suppression and stealing elections is long and ugly. Consider Mississippi. In the late 1880s, a bi-racial coalition of Republicans and Populists won the governor’s race and the state house. This coalition was made up of many poor black and white farmers and workers who deeply resented the economic and political domination of the wealthy planter class…

Read the full article at The Stand.

The Democratic Party is losing the working class

This article was published in The Stand January 2017.

(Jan. 10, 2017) — In 2008, Barack Obama was elected along with large Democratic majorities in Congress. Eight years later we have Donald Trump and Republican control of Congress. The Democrats have lost 935 state legislative seats since 2008, and 26 states are under complete control of the Republicans. It is hard putting a happy face on this disaster for Democrats.

Understanding this multi-year catastrophe is critical to our movement’s organizing an effective long-term strategy anchored in a positive vision to reclaim our country and build a more just, equitable and sustainable future. We must be self-critical and not merely blame the Kochs, Trump and the Republicans. There are many factors for this disaster and I want to focus on three critical factors centered on the

Democratic Party:

  1. The enormous loss of support for Democrats among households making less than $50,000 per year;
  2. Major loss of support among union members particularly in the Rust Belt; and
  3. The long-term support of both Clintons and Obama for “free trade” and largely ignoring its impacts and the long-term crisis of deindustrialization in the Rust Belt.

Over the past four years, I have presented my economic justice and labor education work 16 times in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and upstate New York, as well as campaigning in western Pennsylvania for 16 days before the election. (See “Doorbelling at the scene of corporate crimes” — The Stand, Nov. 4, 2016.)

I have visited many cities, large, medium and small, that have been devastated by plant closures, massive permanent job losses and jobs moving to foreign countries. The intergenerational character of many tight-knit communities has been severely weakened as their younger people leave and permanent hard times remain in many of these hard-hit communities.

The white working class was hit hard, but the black working class was hit even harder. If you doubt this, visit the many devastated black neighborhoods in Detroit, Flint, Cleveland, Toledo, and Pittsburgh. There is a deep anger about this long-term decline and it erupted last month.

On Nov. 8, the American people were stunned by the election results. Questions of what happened abound. A Reuters exit poll offers important insights into voters’ attitudes:

  • 75% agree “America needs a strong leader to take the country back from the rich and powerful.”
  • 72% agree: “The American economy is rigged to the advantage of the rich and powerful.”
  • 68% agree: “Traditional parties and politicians don’t care about people like me.”

Read the full article at The Stand.

Two Profiles in Courage

This article was originally published for The Retiree Advocate at psara.org in July 2016.

Forty-four years ago I was a poor recent college graduate and antiwar activist. I moved from Chicago to Seattle to work on my brother Jim’s campaign for governor. He was opposed to the Vietnam War, and he was fighting for universal health care, mass transit, and a more just world. He ran hard but lost. For the next 44 years, Jim and I continued to fight for economic, racial and social justice, peace, and much more. Brother Jim chose the path of serving in elected office; my path was as a lifelong labor and community activist and appointed official for three governors and four Seattle mayors. Continue reading “Two Profiles in Courage”

Making Retirement Security Real for Everyone

This article was originally published for The Retiree Advocate at psara.org in October 2015.

PSARA will premiere our new workshop “Making Retirement Security Real for Everyone” on Friday, October 30, from 10 a.m. to noon at Washington State Labor Council, 321 16th Ave. S., Seattle. Led by PSARA Education Committee Chair, Mark McDermott, the workshop will educate and inspire participants to fight for a more secure retirement for all people and generations. Continue reading “Making Retirement Security Real for Everyone”

Reflections on Campaigning in Western Pennsylvania – 1st report

This article was published in The Stand November 2016.

October 30, 2016

I first came to Pittsburgh in 1983 as a representative of the Seattle King County Unemployed Organizing Committee which eventually morphed into the Seattle Worker Center which is part of the King County Labor Council. I was attending the National Unemployed Network national meeting in Erie Pennsylvania. I had lost my job in a vicious union bust and had been out of work for almost a year. We are trying to organize a national fight back against the avalanche of plant closures, mass layoffs that devastated many communities and union busting that resulted in millions losing their jobs. Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania was ground zero of this unjust economic catastrophe. Diane and I have returned to the scene of these corporate crimes. Continue reading “Reflections on Campaigning in Western Pennsylvania – 1st report”

Reflections on Campaigning in Western Pennsylvania – 2nd report

November 2, 2016

Thanks much for all of your comments on my first report.  Diane and I would love to hear from you again.

JOHNSTOWN.  We have driven through the beautiful mountains and hardwood forests with the stunning changing leaves on the way to Johnstown, the county seat of Cambria County 70 miles east of Pittsburgh.  The city has lost 70% of its population in the past 90 years as the steel and coal industries have largely collapsed.  From the 1870s to the early 1980s, the state was the center of our nation’s steel and coal production.  During World War 2, the state’s unionized steelworkers produced almost as much steel as Germany and Japan combined.  It was the epicenter of the arsenal of democracy that helped crush Nazism and fascism in Japan and Italy. Continue reading “Reflections on Campaigning in Western Pennsylvania – 2nd report”