Month: March 2017

Resistance Tuesday: March 7, 2017

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While the Trump administration works to divide our nation and to deepen the hatreds and inequalities that further such division, organizations like MoveOn.org are working assiduously to keep that agenda from succeeding.  MoveOn’s program includes the participation in national “Resistance Tuesdays” (also pursued by other organizations as well).  For the many outraged Americans who can only do so much, the idea is to focus the energies of as many resistance members as possible on Tuesdays, a weekday that allows us to visit elected leaders’ offices and to hold public events that can enjoy a brief moment in the spotlight.

This week, I participated in three actions for Resistance Tuesday.  First, I joined a group of MoveOn and Indivisible members, and visited the Detroit Regional Office of Michigan’s Senator Debbie Stabenow.  Terry Campbell, the senator’s regional manager, had a friendly meeting with the roughly 40 or so of us.  We brought with us a flyer of issues to present, calling on the Senator’s help in resisting Trump.  Senator Stabenow has already been at the spearhead of the resistance by Democratic members of the US Congress, so there was no acrimony like that found between many Republican members of Congress and their constituents.

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Terry Campbell (on the left, at the head of the table), Sen. Stabenow’s regional manager, discusses our issues with MoveOn and Indivisible members in the senator’s Detroit office.

Then, I went to Ypsilanti, MI to participate in a Planned Parenthood/ACA support rally at a district office of US Representative Debbie Dingell (MI12-D).  We rallied on the street outside of the office building for about half an hour, while cars driving past us honked their horns in support of our rally.  Dingell’s district office staff invited us up to the office for cookies and lemonade, and to discuss our issues with them.  As with Senator Stabenow, Rep. Dingell has been a key player in supporting the Affordable Care Act and resisting the Republican agenda of repealing it; and she has also been a leading voice on the Hill for defending Planned Parenthood from attacks by conservatives.  Our meeting with the staff was therefore similarly friendly.

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Planned Parenthood supporters rally in front of the Ypsilanti district office of Rep. Debbie Dingell.

Both Stabenow’s and Dingell’s staffs made it abundantly clear that Republicans are not shy about contacting them about concerns and pleas to vote on their side; and that our voices were therefore a vital part of the growing resistance, and a necessary part of the process of pushing Congress away from the extremism of the White House’s agenda.  We were thanked for our activism, and urged to make Resistance Tuesdays a regular moment for contact and action.  The staff members also told us that for our voices have been far more numerous than are the voices of those supporting the regime of hatred and division.  Terry Campbell of Stabenow’s staff said that some 10 resistance calls come in for each call urging support of Trump nominees and initiatives.

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Planned Parenthood supporters enjoying cookies and lemonade while filling out issues cards in the Ypsilanti district office of Rep. Debbie Dingell.

Finally, I drove to Dearborn, MI, where I had worked for the Clinton campaign during last year’s campaign season.  At the Arab American National Museum, speakers from Voters Not Politicians and Count MI Vote held a town hall on redistricting.  The groups are working on fielding a ballot proposal in Michigan to create an independent, nonpartisan redistricting commission to eliminate the state’s outrageously gerrymandered districts.  In the 2016 election, for example, Republicans accounted for 47.6% of the vote, while Democrats accounted for 47.3%; a minuscule advantage showing the state’s roughly even partisan split.  However, 9 of the 14 Representatives elected to Washington were Republicans, versus 5 Democrats.  In the state house in Lansing, a closer split (63 Republicans to 47 Democrats) still shows a much stronger partisan division than is apparent in the actual, counted votes of the state’s citizens.  Both Republicans and Democrats in Lansing have taken advantage of gerrymandering in the past to minimize the votes of the weaker party in the state house, and have redrawn districts to silence opposition and to create primary challenges to strong candidates from the weaker party.

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Michigan citizens attend a town hall with Voters Not Politicians and Count MI Vote in Dearborn.

The two groups holding the town hall argue that voters from neither party can be truly represented as long as gerrymandering continues.  While voters for the weaker party will never get either their candidates nor their issues onto the central stage, voters for the stronger party will also get pushed over in favor of special interests as that party’s candidates will always be confident of re-election.  Candidates and elected officials in states with gerrymandering are universally more responsive to campaign contributions from large, corporate donors; and take only a token interest in hearing even their own party supporters on issues and positions.  Corporate donors have long been opposed to state propositions to eliminate gerrymandering, because they understand clearly that while gerrymandering does not itself cause corporate corruption of politics, it is an environment that openly enables such corruption to flower.  The groups were recruiting volunteers and donors for the upcoming year’s campaign to put their initiative onto the ballot in Michigan.

The day’s activism demonstrates several strengths about the resistance.  First, the three completely different groups of voters participating in three different events (I was the only one in the crowd who attended more than one of these three events), shows us that, with local groups rising all over the state and the nation, resistance support is much stronger than what might be thought by looking at the numbers of any one, single event.  The state of Michigan held far more events this Tuesday than just the three that I attended; and each event had a diverse group of local and regional supporters come to be heard and to learn about how to express their collective voice.  The resistance is strong, is diverse, is everywhere, and is growing.

The second lesson is that, thanks perhaps to groups like Women’s March on Washington, and to Planned Parenthood, women are specifically taking an increasingly dominant role in organizing, leading, and attending these events.  While the agenda of the Trump administration affects all people in the United States, women are specifically impacted even more by so many of the different aspects of Republican plans to infringe on our rights.  From steps to keep refugees out of our country (a group that is predominantly women and mothers with children), to the deportation sweeps and detention actions against immigrants (mothers are being separated from their children and families, particularly the children born here being separated from their mothers who are being detained), to more visibly anti-woman programs like the campaign against Planned Parenthood (whose provision of health care to the poor would be even more necessary if the Republicans succeed in repealing the ACA) and against reproductive rights, women have found that this regime has them directly in their cross-hairs.  Women activists are coming out fighting, pushing their issues onto the central stage, taking seminars on running for office, and constructing a community of non-violent, caring resistance members and actions.  This community is strong, is diverse, is everywhere, and is growing.

Finally, individual voices of constituents are consistently held by elected officials to be a strong factor when they can be heard in groups.  A single voter acting alone can have their issues recorded for their member of Congress if they bother to call, and those issues are tallied so that members of Congress do see what issues are important to the constituents who call or write or visit.  However, groups showing up en masse can put an agenda directly in the face of elected officials, who have little choice but to respond and to try to show their responsiveness on those issues.  Conservative citizens’ groups were created by and shaped the Tea Party during the last eight years of Republican obstruction of the Obama administration; and the new progressive resistance is coming out in numbers that are simply unprecedented, and make the Tea Party pale by comparison.  These groups are strong, are diverse, are everywhere, and are growing.

What can you do?  Get on Facebook, or Twitter, and find a local Women’s March, Indivisible, or other group.  Or go to MoveOn.org, or Planned Parenthood, or to any other citizens’ groups working for the resistance.  Check out The Resistance Calendar for events in your area (or national events that you can travel to if you are able).  And keep calling, emailing, and visiting your members of Congress, putting your issues onto their agenda.  Actions like these are why the resistance is strong, is diverse, is everywhere, and is growing.

Headline image (Senator Stabenow’s Regional Manager in Detroit, Terry Campbell, sits in the front row, second from the left), shared with the author by an unknown MoveOn volunteer, taken on her cell phone, and used with her permission.   All other photographs ©2017, Sparkpolitical.

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A Brief Thought from Today’s Resistance

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Today, Trump supporters in Michigan rallied at the state capital in Lansing, bringing with them cranes and trucks with professional Trump campaign signage – leading one to wonder, “Just which side is paying people to protest, precisely?”  Indications of professional political campaign financing to the conservatives notwithstanding, resistance organizers all around Michigan organized a counter-march, in effect protesting against the counter-protesters protesting against our protest.  Joe Montgomery of Ypsilanti was one such organizer, posting a page onto Facebook inviting people to march at the capital building, while other organizers created events at other Michigan cities as well.  My wife and I chose to join the capital protest.  Having several signs from previous protest actions, rallies, and marches, we found the signs we wanted, and drove to Lansing.

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While the Trump supporters, with their seemingly well-financed materials, gathered by the capital building, we of the Resistance rallied first at Wentworth Park, just a few blocks away.  We chanted as we gathered enough of a crowd to make an impact; then at noon, we marched to the capital building to launch our peaceful protest of the support rally.

Upon arriving at the capital building, we noticed people wearing and carrying Confederate battle-flag apparel and other materials; and contrarily flying the American flag as well (not apparently aware of the opposition of those two flags during the war in which both were flown, nor of the opposition of the ideas that those flags stood for).  Mr. Montgomery also noted that one of the leaders of the support rally offered a Nazi “heil” salute at one point.  While the regime’s speakers used megaphones from the side of the building to argue in favor of their doctrine of hatred and fear, we stood by the street and chanted the normal chants becoming ever more familiar to the Resistance.

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The Trump supporters hurled insults at our crowd; while our marchers for the most part resisted the temptation to engage the other side (I saw only one marcher attempt a conversation with a Trump supporter; Trump supporters’ insults were generally ignored or laughed off as not being worth the time to recognize or requiring any response).  Trump supporters called the marchers “snowflakes,” “losers,” and “cockroaches.”  One Trump supporter walking past me called the marcher next to me a “whore.”  This was a divide not just of politics; but of style of engagement and hostility.  The Republicans were openly aggressive, hostile, unfriendly, and they directed their opposition not towards our positions but toward a simple adolescent recourse to personal invective; while our side deployed maturity, relevance on specific issues, and overt friendliness and positivity.

Many of our resisters noted further that while many of our signs argued for policy positions, very few of the Trump supporters’ signs did (most of the supporters carrying signs held only the standard-issue Trump-Pence campaign signs left over from last year).  Another demonstrable difference between our two crowds was the expected ethnic difference; with our crowd’s great cultural diversity offsetting the depressingly homogeneous whiteness of the predominantly middle-aged and older supporters of Trump.  In short, then, our crowd had not just a language and issues advantage; and not just an advantage of positivism over negativism; we also had the ethnic advantage, and the advantage of diversity of ages participating, young and middle-aged and old alike.

After sharing the space to the side of the capital building for about 15 minutes or so, Mr. Montgomery suggested we rally right on the front steps of the capital (some of our marchers later claimed to have earlier chased off the Trump supporters from those front steps).  We marched around to the front steps, and there rallied where each marcher who wanted to speak to the crowd could.  There, we were rallied by the improvised remarks of representatives of Women’s March and Planned Parenthood supporters, activists from By Any Means Necessary, students fearful of the regime’s implications on their education, immigrants fearful for the safety of their families, gay and transgender and cisgender and other people of all sorts of cultural identities fearful of the whitewashing over of their society by the hatred of the new administration and its supporters.  Activists who had helped to fight against deportation sweeps and actions by state police and ICE agents spoke out about keeping our eyes open and actively standing in the way of the administration’s extremist agenda.

As with so many actions of the past two months, we of the Resistance showed each other great love and care for each other, regardless of our disjointed agenda of a thousand different issues.  We applauded each other, hugged each other, and promised each other to stay networked in as we continue to form our twenty-first century resistance, a resistance (like that of the Arab Spring and in so many other places) that is enabled by today’s technology to develop with a power and speed unimaginable to resistance efforts of previous centuries.  And the millennials who are even more plugged in to this technology are ever more the driving force of the Resistance.

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All photographs ©2017, Sparkpolitical.  With special thanks to Joe Montgomery.

The DNC Election, and the Big Tent

Dems fear divisions will persist after DNC chair election

With Tom Perez’s narrow, second-ballot victory over progressive rival Keith Ellison for the chair of the Democratic National Committee this week, many on the left and center of American politics are revisiting last year’s primary win by Hillary Clinton over Democratic Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders.  The same hostility between certain factions of leftist and centrist politics in the United States is being repeated and expressed in similar terms as the continuing armchair quarterbacking of last year’s election.  This hostility means one thing only: a victory for the other side, for the Republicans under the guidance of Donald Trump, who want to destroy unions, fire workers, concentrate wealth, allow small businesses to be swallowed up by large corporations, and pursue an agenda of hatred and divisiveness not seen in this country since before the 1960s.

The United States is not a parliamentary democracy, but a presidential one; and while political parties are never mentioned in the Constitution, the methodologies devised for selecting national leaders, presidential and congressional, promote the existence of two large parties.  In some ways, some of the framers of the Constitution imagined not two but several or numerous “factions” (political parties); but this vision was intended to place the decision of the president’s election in the hands of the House of Representatives, rather than in the hands of the popular electorate.  And with the House controlled by a majority, that majority would be expected (the original framers imagined further) to elect a president friendly to that majority – the largest “faction,” or political party.

But the transformation of presidential elections into a popular vote at each state level, and the states’ collation into the Electoral College, puts power squarely into the hands of any political party that establishes itself as a “big tent,” as opposed to the multitude of smaller, competing parties found in modern European parliamentary democracies.  And ultimately, the only way to combat a “big tent” party is to form an opposing “big tent.” Hence the perpetuation of the domination of American politics by two parties.

Republicans and Democrats both, in order to win and to compete with each other, and especially in order specifically to get presidents elected, must be “big tents” that bring in a multitude of often disparate and competing interests.  These interests create a constant push and pull within both parties.  Both parties find themselves torn between, on the one hand, internal struggles for the helm of the “big tent,” and for the opportunity to set priorities for the rest of the occupants of the tent; and on the other hand, the external struggle with the other party and for those voters whose interests put them in the middle or are attracted by different positions to both parties simultaneously.

The Democratic Party’s “big tent” includes many gun-owners (roughly a third of self-identifying Democrats, according to a 2006 Gallup poll); the party includes religious conservatives who are opposed to abortion; the party includes fiscal conservatives unconvinced about the need to spend taxes on social supports.  A traditional demographic of the party during twentieth century was union voters; and these voters are hardly progressive in any real sense, often (even if quietly, and while denying that they do) expressing racism, sexism, homophobia, religious bigotry, and other “traditional values.”  Many of these “traditional Democrats” voted for Trump and other Republican candidates last year, and many of them had, as former Democrats, voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012.  The Democratic Party is losing elections ever more as it becomes less of a big tent, losing moderates and conservatives who have until now been suspicious of the Republicans to those very same Republicans.

During last year’s election, and again during this year’s battle for the DNC chair, the “Big Tent” saw continued struggles for partisan identity between those conservatives remaining (many frightened of the openly antidemocratic  – small “d” – promises and actions of the Trump Republicans), with the moderates and progressives wanting to push the right-centrist Democratic Party of the Obama era more to the left.  The struggle between Bernie and Hillary was one between those more hopeful of the Democratic Socialist vision, and others finding enough promise and realism for positive reform and governance from Hillary’s urge for the tent to be “Stronger Together.”  It was also a struggle between those who managed to buy from Republican detractors the message that Bernie’s promise was substantially contrary to that of Hillary’s, and those who had already followed both politicians long enough to know that there was in fact little sunlight between them – particularly when looking at their mutual voting records, in which they voted together roughly 97% of the time.  The battle for the primary ended with a newly energized Bernie “revolution,” shocked that a candidate almost identical to their own and who then embraced their very platform, had defeated their seemingly unconquerable hero – a hero who was losing the fight for the party’s popular vote long before the issue of superdelegates seemed to throw party contrivance and conspiracy into the light as the “reason” why Bernie lost.

In three key states – Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio – Green Party candidate Jill Stein captured key progressive votes.  In each of these states, progressives tossed their votes out on Stein as a protest of the Hillary campaign’s win in the primary, angrily rejecting both their own platform (embraced by both the DNC and by Hillary Clinton’s campaign specifically) and their former candidate, Bernie (who also endorsed Hillary and spent the general campaign fighting for her election).  Stein votes in each of these three states were greater than the Trump campaign’s minuscule margin of victory over Hillary.  Had these progressives voted for the candidate who had embraced their very platform, and who was endorsed by their previous candidate, Clinton would have won those states, and the general election as well – and we would today be having an existentially different conversation about American politics than the one we are having now.

The battle for the DNC has dug up all of the hostilities from last year’s battles, as progressives fought for Rep. Keith Ellison (MN5-D) to be the new chair.  Ellison promised a progressive reshaping of the Democratic Party, attracting the praise of Bernie Sanders and his “revolutionaries” of last year.  And that promise resonated with enough of the ranking members of the DNC (the people who get to vote for chair and vice-chairs, elections closed to the general voters of the Democratic Party) that it took two votes for the chair to be decided.  Tom Perez, the Latino Secretary of Labor under President Obama, was also able to form a large base of diverse Democrats, by urging greater activism among the youth and for social and racial justice; moving donation drives to small-money donors rather than large, corporate-friendly donors; working more with state parties to  develop a 50-states strategy; forming a permanent organizing campaign; and other DNC means of supporting local and state parties’ fights for the upcoming elections of the next two years.  This powerful program, hardly an embrace of party conservatism, won over the admittedly moderate heads of the DNC, an election that nonetheless felt to many “revolutionaries” as another spit in the face by a party that they see as being insufficiently progressive and insufficiently “Democratic.”  Mutterings that, “Democrats are going to keep losing elections,” were heard across the social media as progressives felt shut out and rejected.

Those expressing such mutterings chose to ignore, or to see as a token attempt to sweeten the defeat of progressives, the election of Ellison to the Deputy Chair position.  This slate gives the highest powers of the DNC to a Latino and to a black Muslim, an indicator of the ethnic diversity around which the Democratic Party hopes to rally its forces.  Yet however much a token that Ellison’s deputy chair position seems to appear to progressives, the fact remains that the DNC has inherited from the campaigns of last year an agenda comprised of unimpeachably progressive values and goals.  Furthermore, the DNC is ultimately not a grassroots organizing agency or an ideological demagogue; but instead is a means of supporting the state Democratic parties and is a strategic planner for national resources utilization.  Individual state parties, and their committees, candidates, and elected leaders, will determine how progressive (or not) the Democrats are going into this year’s local elections and next year’s state and congressional elections.  Progressives should be encouraged by the power emanating from such mechanisms as the Indivisible movement, the Women’s March movement (which continues to organize and conduct protests, rallies, and other events), and other grassroots forces.  These forces can, if they do not give up their power, drive the state Democratic parties to retain their new-found progressivism, and put progressive issues and positions on the ballots and into public debates this year and next.  The DNC’s seemingly progressive agenda suggests that, although the DNC will also probably protect those conservative Democrats fighting to keep their seats in the many states that went for Trump, the DNC will likely empower the progressives and moderates in some local and state campaigns.

Headline image, of Rep. Keith Ellison, and Labor Secretary Tom Perez, posted in The Hill, 2/24/27.