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A Conversation with Movement Generation
The transformation of the Occupy moment into power for movements that can actually challenge entrenched economic interests will be a complex process. Movement Generation activists recently gathered to reflect on what it will take to make this happen. For the full interview visit: urbanhabitat.org/rpe/radio
Ellen Choy: Why are you committed to the Occupy movement?
Michelle Mascarenhas-Swan: We think Occupy’s critical because we believe that mass movements are a vital ingredient to shifting the public debate and moving us closer to transforming the economy and the political system. This is not just about making demands on the state, but also about reclaiming our right to meet our own needs directly, in community—to restore our resilience, our ability to support one another, to look after each other, to have the means to do that collectively. I think Occupy is presenting a really important model for how people can work together to set priorities and make decisions about how to best meet each others’ needs in a way that’s responsive and responsible to the place where they live.
Bertha Lewis is president and founder of the New York-based action think tank, Black Institute and former president and chief organizer for the community organizing group, ACORN. A veteran organizer and powerful public speaker, Bertha has been organizing since the 1980s. The following is an excerpt from a conversation recorded for Radio RP&E on the occasion of Urban Habitat’s State of the Region where Lewis gave one of the keynote addresses to the equity advocates gathered.
B. Jesse Clarke: What does good organizing mean to you and what were the issues that first got you involved?
Bertha Lewis: Well, you know, we’re a membership organization and we organize low- and moderate-income folks. We take our issues from our members and fight on things that affect them. But the fight has to benefit our members and at the same time, move public policy.
We Are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For
Activistas from the New Majority
At the Empowering Women of Color conference in March this year, I was moved to hear Grace Lee Boggs, in an open dialogue with Angela Davis, say that we must re-imagine everything; change how we think, what we do, to re-invent our society and institutions in order for revolution to happen. And as I listened to female MC and rapper Rocky Rivera give short glimpses into the revolutionary lives of three iconic women activists—Gabriela Silang, Dolores Huerta, and Angela Davis—in the 16 bars of “Heart,” I wondered who would be our next movement builders.
Erin Aubry Kaplan: Great, so this is I guess the moment some of us have been waiting for. We’re going to have a conversation on stage with Angela Davis and Reverend James Lawson. And before we get into that, I just want to remind folks that 20 minutes after the program, you still – the auction will be open for another 20 minutes after the end of the program, so there’s a lot of fabulous stuff there still to bid on. So could we please have you all come up?
You all settled in? Okay. Well let’s just get right into it. We’ve talked a lot this evening about Occupy – the Occupy movements. It started in New York and it’s spread everywhere, and so I just want to ask both what is really going on in the world right now? Just a little question, you know?
James Lawson: What’s going on in the world?
The Struggle of the 99%
Kaplan: Yeah, as it relates to the Occupy movement. The Occupy movement is actually taking the world by storm. So in terms of the Occupy movement, what’s at stake here? What are the challenges, the opportunities, and critically how can we make it clear, or clearer, that the struggle for the 99% is also the struggle for racial and economic justice? Either one of you can start.
Meaghan LaSala: Up next, a round table with three guests from the San Francisco bay area discussing how the movement of the 99% can move forward, toward long term solidarity. Neeta Bee is one of the original participants at Occupy Oakland, and is a member of the People of Color Committee. Maria Poblet is the Executive Director of Causa Justa, Just Cause, a housing rights organization that’s working with the occupy movement to fight foreclosures. And Steve Williams is the co-founder and co-director of POWER also known as people organized to win employment rights. Making Contact production intern Christopher Holmback moderated the discussion.
Christopher Holmback: I’d like to begin by asking you, Maria, what went through your head the first time you heard about OWS.
Maria Poblet: Well my very first thought was, “Yes! Yes. Finally the people of the US have taken issue with the corporations of the US that have done so much harm to our communities inside the US and also in other countries. I remember thinking, maybe not everybody is asleep. Maybe people have noticed what’s been happening over the last 10 yrs, 20 yrs, 30 yrs, maybe now the US people’s movements will actually show their face and show their allegiances, and their allegiances will their corps, but instead with regular everyday people. And it just seemed like such a timely critique. And the fact that it was just out in the streets where nobody could deny it, and where it was control of everyday people, it was inspiring.
Holmback: Do you have the same immediate sense of joy, Steve?
Irene Florez: Making Home Affordable is a key part of the Obama Administration's effort to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. If you are struggling with your monthly mortgage payments or if you have already missed a payment, now is the time to take action and apply for HAMP the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). But what if taking action means butting up against a system that repeatedly loses your paperwork and often starts the foreclosure process without your knowing it?
She remembers the details of every letter with a lover’s compulsion. Flipping through the faxes, call logs and notices in her amassed document binders she looks up somberly almost reciting the circumstances. This is the story of one woman, a single mother, who is facing foreclosure.
For the last three years, Ana Romero has wrestled with the largest behemoth banks, waging the kind of drawn out David and Goliath battle that leaves insomnia, hypertension and lachrymose reflection in its wake.
When Romero purchased her San Francisco home seven years ago the monthly payments were reasonably covered by her two income household. Divorce changed all that. With only one income since 2008 Romero has not been able to meet her monthly payments.
Imagine the life of a domestic worker—a caregiver, nanny, or housekeeper, serving in a private home. Now, imagine not being able to sleep for more than three hours a night, having to wake every few hours to change a patient’s diapers. Or only being allowed sponge baths by the sink, no showers. Or not having access to a kitchen because your patient dislikes the smell of your cooking. Imagine being treated as less than human. This was the experience of “Boots,” a Filipina caregiver from the Pilipino Workers Center who testified at the Assembly Labor hearing earlier this year.
Domestic workers are primarily immigrant women who are usually the primary income earners for their families. There about 200,000 domestic workers in California, according to the DataCenter. The vast majority of Asian domestic workers—97.8 percent—are foreign born. Without these immigrant domestic workers many Californians would be forced to forgo their own jobs to address their household needs, resulting in direct economic consequences for families and the economy. But despite the important nature of their work, domestic workers have historically received wages below the poverty line and continue to be excluded from some of the most fundamental labor protections that other California workers enjoy.
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Frank Lopez: How are the plaintiffs going to ensure that the criteria chosen to evaluate the alternatives are going to be more equitable?
Alegria De La Cruz: Part of what is exciting to us about being able to open this [up], is that there’s a lot more information available around the failures of trading processes in other areas, but also specifically in California. CEQA doesn’t require specific criteria to be used when you’re doing alternatives analysis, but because this is going to be such a highly-watched big-deal process, it is going to put the impetus on CARB to make sure that they are doing something that’s defensible.
Because the judge was so focused on the real failures of CARB to do a good job in looking at an alternative to cap-and-trade, it provides a lot of leeway to address the things that he raised in the order and make sure that CARB is doing that.
Lopez: Is there an alternative that CRPE prefers to cap-and-trade?
De La Cruz: Anything.
Lopez: Anything but cap-and-trade?
De La Cruz: Any time you allow “flexibility” or the “market” to determine the best way forward, that’s when we really see environmental justice communities suffering, no matter where they are located.
At our own advocacy organization, outside of this litigation, the communities that we represent are largely in the Central Valley. We see a lot of challenges to CARB’s lack of regulation of the agricultural industry. [Our communities are located near] oil refineries near Bakersfield and in the South Kern [County] area, so we’re looking at industrial regulation.
Scott Kurashige: We’re going to start with our panelists giving us their sense of how they see the world today and the core concepts we need—to make sense of the challenges we confront.
Grace Lee Boggs: I had the great privilege of coming to Detroit in 1953. And I have lived through Detroit becoming the national and international symbol of the miracles of industrialization, to becoming a national and international symbol of the devastation of industrialization.Today, you see here a symbol of a new kind of society. A society where the gulf between the industrial and the [agrarian] epoch are being resolved. Not because anyone thought it would be desirable, but because living at the expense of the earth, living at the expense of other people, has brought us to the edge of disaster. And it’s that time on the clock of the universe where we face an evolution to a higher humanity, or the devastation and extinction of all life on earth.
A United Methodist pastor and civil rights leader, James Lawson was a counterpart of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He helped coordinate the Freedom Rides in 1961 and the Meredith March in 1966, and as pastor of Centenary Methodist Church in Memphis, Tenn., played a major role in the sanitation workers’ strike of 1968. As a young college student, Lawson was exposed to Gandhi’s teachings on nonviolence through his association with the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), America’s oldest pacifist organization. Now retired, he continues to teach nonviolence and fight for the rights of the oppressed.
Andrew Stelzer: I think a lot of people would say that since the 1960s, or perhaps the early 1970s, we haven’t really seen a massive effective mobilization that worked on any issue. Do you think that’s true?
Lawson: Yes. The peace movement has failed. I would say that mobilizations at the Democratic or Republican conventions (in which I have participated) in Seattle, and some of the anti-Iraq War mobilizations have failed. What is needed is a protracted struggle—organizing around non-violent assessment and focusing on a target—with maybe a decade or two of intense activity that does not depend upon Congressional legislation, but rather forces upon a city or nation the agenda of justice and truth.