What if you worked long, hard days in others' homes, cleaning, cooking, or caring for others' children or disabled family members; or if your workplace were in the fields of crop that feed American families, under the unforgiving heat of the sun and charge of a demanding employer — honorable work, to be sure — and yet, you weren't even covered by the most basic of federal labor protections?
In addition to a general lack of basic worker rights, exclusion from safety net programs, like social security, intensifies these workers' struggle for economic stability.
But, momentum is building to ensure rights for this invisible workforce. In summer 2010, New York state opened the doors for broader reform by passing a Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights. A major organizing force behind this victory was Domestic Workers United (DWU), a NY-based group that is "organizing for power, respect, fair labor standards and to help build a movement to end exploitation and oppression for all."
A recent report (pdf) by DWU, National Domestic Workers Alliance and Urban Justice Center discusses the bill's good points, the work that remains to be done, and the way forward in an age of new rights in New York. As support builds for fair labor laws, and for a more broadly inclusive economy, victories like this will pay political dividends to workers in other industries like agriculture.
DWU member, Christine Lewis, went toe-to-toe with Stephen Colbert to raise public awareness of the challenges faced by domestic workers, to discuss the importance of their work, and to show that when people unite for a just cause, history can be made.
If during last night's State of the Union address, you were more moved by Obama's words than by Michele Bachmann's PowerPoint charts, you're not alone. Sure—data has it's place. But when it comes to inspiring people and garnering the support necessary to create change, it's all about the stories we tell.
In last night’s State of the Union address, President Obama used a story that evoked our shared memory, history, and pride.
“Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik, we had no idea how we would beat them to the moon. The science wasn't even there yet. NASA didn't exist. But after investing in better research and education, we didn't just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs. This is our generation's Sputnik moment.”
Using that Sputnik narrative as his starting point, he then made the case for meeting the challenges of our generation with large-scale investments in clean energy, information technology, and biomedical research. Regardless of what one may think of the overall message Obama delivered, the method is right on.
He could have stood up there and cited statistics from Mark Zandi of Moody’s about how each federal dollar we spend in infrastructure investments generates $1.59 in economic stimulus, but that would have fallen flat. Worse, it would have been met with skeptics who have adverse knee-jerk reactions to “government spending” of any kind. Instead, he used a powerful story that evoked a sense of pride, and in doing so re-framed the debate based on our shared history and understanding of the world. That’s how we are going to win hearts and minds.
It is through stories like these that we are able to process new information and facts. Jeff Chang and Brian Komar expanded upon this concept in an article entitled, “Vision: Bringing our Culture into Progressive Politics is a Winner,” posted on Alternet today.
“Culture is the space in our national consciousness filled by music, books, sports, movies, theater, visual arts, and media. It is the realm of ideas, images, and stories -- the narrative in which we are immersed every day. It is where people make sense of the world, where ideas are introduced, values are inculcated, and emotions are attached to concrete change…”
That is, culture – in the form of stories, shared experiences, metaphors, and the like – is the way in which people make sense of the world. It’s the way in which facts are processed. This understanding has greatly informed the work of United for a Fair Economy (UFE). It’s part of the reason we have put the stories and culture of change at the forefront of our work.
- Stories: When discussing her support for a progressive tax system and strong estate tax at a UFE press conference, Abigail Disney made a compelling case about how her family’s wealth (she is the granddaughter of Roy Disney, Walt’s brother and business partner) would not be possible if it were not for the highways that brought Americans to Disneyland and the courts that protected the copyright of Mickey Mouse.
- History: In our most recent State of the Dream report, we retell the story of how the broadly-shared prosperity of the 1950s and 1960s was created through massive public investments in infrastructure and people – the interstate highways system, aerospace industry (Obama’s Sputnik story), and the GI Bill – interwoven with the story of race in America.
- Art and Theater: To explore inequality in our workshops, we use a popular UFE exercise involving 10 chairs and 10 volunteers. Each chair represents 10% of the wealth and each person represents 10 percent of the population. By the end of the workshop, one person representing the top 10 percent is laying across seven chairs while the remaining nine are crammed onto the last three chairs. These exercises create a powerful set of shared experiences for participants that are far more memorable than watching a Powerpoint presentation.
Clearly, much work remains to be done, but the road ahead is clear and it’s lined with the stories, history, art, and shared experiences that define our culture.
As we close in on Black History Month, the soothsaying jesters at The Daily Show have—in brilliantly hilarious fashion—taken heed of the ways racism continues to rear its ugly head in modern day.
UFE's 2011 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day report, citing the groundbreaking book, The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, acknowledges some of the societally damaging effects of economic policies that fail to account for the factors of race and inequality.
In the video below, The Daily Show's Wyatt Cenac builds on that, revealing how nasty things can get when society attacks, history is ignored, people are devalued, and the most marginalized communities—like Turkey Creek, MS—are nearly wiped from existence.
If you support a progressive tax system, does that make you a "socialist?"
A progressive tax is one where the tax rate increases as the taxable base amount increases. In plainer terms, it's one that levies a fairer share from those who have reaped the greatest financial benefits from our many taxpayer-funded economic structures.
Chances are, if you vocally support a progressive tax system, you’ve dealt with such accusations at one point or another.
Perhaps, like me, your knee-jerk reaction is to get angry. Or to accept the name-calling, figuring it just comes with the territory of being "on the left," so to speak. But Steve Schnapp, a popular educator with United for a Fair Economy, offers a more constructive approach.
Steve was recently interviewed for a forthcoming documentary by Will 2 Power Productions. In the interview, he explained how he responds to progressive activist concerns of being labeled with the 's' word.
“You can call it socialism, you can call it whatever you want,” he said. “Here’s what I stand for: equity, fairness, helping each other out. Some folks like to call that socialism, and they think if they just paint us with that brush, it will end the conversation…But I believe that these are values we all share.”
Steve’s point is a good one (and well-articulated, as you’ll see below). Whether it’s in the halls of Congress or at our kitchen tables, it’s important for each of us to remember the values that unite us rather than the partisanship that seems to divide us. After all, writing each other off with labels squashes any potential for dialogue.
With an open mind, we're more likely to find that we have much more in common with our political “adversaries” than we think.
Proposed 10% Cut to Federal Workforce Will Deepen the Racial Divide in the U.S.
Late last week, the Washington Post ran a story about a bill introduced by Representative Kevin Brady (R-TX) to cut the federal work force by 10 percent in the next decade. Three days later, UFE released our new State of the Dream report which documents, among other things, the disproportionate impact that federal employee cutbacks will have of Black families.
It’s important to remember that public sector workers perform very important functions in our society that benefit Americans of all races. Public sector workers are the ones who inspect our food supply, police our streets, and educate our children. As a result, attacks on the public sector and its workers hurts all Americans regardless of race by eroding the ability of our nation to meet the needs of its citizens.
At the same time, the proposed cuts to the federal work force will disproportionately hit Black workers who are more likely to be employed in public sector jobs. In fact, Blacks are 30 percent more likely to work a public sector job than the general work force, and 70 percent more likely to work for the federal government in particular.
For Blacks, the attack on the public sector workforce is a one-two punch. In addition to the eroding ability of our nation to meet the needs of its citizens, Black workers will shoulder the brunt of the layoffs at a time that the Black unemployment rate is 15.8 percent.
Just in time for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we released our 8th annual report on racial economic inequality in the United States.
This year's report, State of the Dream 2011: Austerity for Whom?, surveys the impact of a belt-tightening, deficit-reducing, tax-cutting and, ultimately, government-shrinking economic agenda on communities of color.
Our research explains that if such an austerity agenda advances, Dr. King's dream of racial equality in the U.S. will be pushed further out of reach.
- Read a summary of the report.
- Watch a video of co-authors, Brian Miller and Mazher Ali, discussing key points of the report.
With this report, we are calling on Americans of all races to stand up for a more racially just and inclusive economy – one that brings people together, rather than tears us apart. We hope you'll help us spread the word.
Here are ways you can help:
- Share this email and the report as broadly as you're able. Use social media to get this information into your online networks.
- Read the report and write op-eds, letters to your local editors and/or blog about what it means to you.
- Have conversations with your family, friends, colleagues and other community members, and ask them to do the same.
- Stay informed on the issues outlined in State of the Dream 2011, and other issues of racial inequality, and take every opportunity to share your positions with your elected officials.
Also, on MLK Day this Monday, January 17th, consider participating in a day of service as a way to honor Dr. King's legacy.
"Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood."
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "I Have a Dream" speech, Washington, DC, August 28, 1963
Happy MLK Day.
MLK envisioned a work where the color of one's skin mattered about as much as the color of one's toothbrush. Sadly, the juxtaposition between the beauty of MLK's dream and the reality of racial and economic equality in America today is startling.
According to a new report released today by United for a Fair Economy—State of the Dream 2011: Austerity for Whom?—the racial economic divide in this country remains significant. For example: for every dollar of net wealth held by Whites, Latinos hold 12 cents and Blacks hold just 10 cents. Blacks are 90 percent more likely and Latinos are 50 percent more likely to be unemployed, and those who do work earn significantly less than their White counterparts—Blacks earn 57 cents and Latinos earn 59 cents to each dollar of White median family income.
Austerity measures supported by GOP and Tea Party activists will hurt all of us who rely on good schools, safe roads, and strong communities. But beyond that, austerity measures will simply worsen the economic inequality and prevent us from realizing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream.
This video features Mazher Ali and Brian Miller of United for a Fair Economy, two of the co-authors of the report, discussing the key findings of the report.
A dear friend to and warrior for the social justice movement, Felice Yeskel, left this world on Tuesday, January 11, 2011 after a hard-fought battle with cancer. She will be sorely missed.
My first substantial encounter with Felice was as a participant in a 3-day training of trainer (TOT) event being run by Share the Wealth, the organization that Felice and Chuck Collins co-founded, and which they ran as co-directors. (Shortly after that, Share the Wealth changed its name to United for a Fair Economy to better represent our “big tent” strategy of addressing the growing economic divide.)
Felice (with Chuck) led the TOT, and I, newly hired to bolster UFE’s popular economics education program, was daunted by her fantastic training skills, sharp intellect, and above all, the warmth and respect shown toward all the TOT participants. I was not a newbie to this kind of work, with 30 years of organizing experience and five more leading popular education TOTs. Yet I was wowed again and again by her amazing ability to teach, engage, encourage, and challenge in ways that lifted us all.
Although Felice moved to Amherst and worked mostly from a distance, gradually reducing her role at UFE, I continued to observe, support, or co-lead UFE workshops and TOTs alongside Felice over the next couple of years. Much of the success of my educational work to date is the direct result of her wisdom and mentorship.
One example of the many things I learned from Felice was a strategy of responding to discordant anger from a workshop participant. Felice referred to the strategy as a "jiu-jitsu" approach – using the momentum of an attack to unexpectedly draw a person in, rather than strike back, welcoming their energy and passion without necessarily condoning their behavior or the content of their comments. She advised that trainers be curious, allow space for challenges, yet always respect the expectations and integrity of the group by purposefully keeping the dialogue moving forward. Felice was the master at this, and set a high bar for aspiring popular educators.
Of course, Felice was much more than an incredibly skillful educator. She was a loving mom and life-partner, a mentor and a friend to innumerable people, an active community member and good neighbor, a wit and enthusiast of fine (and not-so-fine) literature, and much more.
Felice and I also shared an appreciation for our New York City working class Jewish roots. She, however, brilliantly incorporated this life experience and a scholarly study of class into an analysis and a set of strategies for action. That ability helped Felice to give birth to UFE and, later, to Class Action (which she co-founded with Jenny Ladd and directed until her battle with cancer forced her step back).
There is so much more one can say in tribute to Felice. I look forward to learning more about this remarkable woman and to reading and hearing the tributes and recollections that are beginning to pour into various websites.
I don’t think I would be at UFE – now going on 13 years – if not for Felice. I’m not sure whether UFE would be here if not for her vision and persistent effort. We are immensely grateful for her gifts to us and our deepest sympathies go out to her partner Felicia, her daughter Shira, and all the many members of her family, communities, colleagues, and friends.
Felice Yeskel, presenté.
A beautiful video by Lawrence Bush, editor of Jewish Currents magazine, in memory of Felice and others recently lost:
There are few Congressional theatrics as dramatic as the filibuster. In the movies, in order to filibuster, Senators must bravely stand in the Senate and passionately make their case to the American people.
But in today's modern Senate, things have become downright lazy. Rather than taking a bold stand of impassioned principle or courage, Senators can filibuster by placing a phone call to a clerk and heading off to a leisurely dinner. The mere threat of a fillibuster is often enough to stop legislation dead in its tracks. What's worse, the lack of a strong filibuster has contributed to the worst partisanship and gridlock we've seen in decades.
This January 5th, we have an important opportunity to demand that the rules of our Senate change. We can demand that our elected officials go on the record with their positions in an all night talk-a-thon in order to block legislation or nominations.
Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Tom Udall (D-NM) are calling for a new filibuster rule to make the voice of the minority heard and to make the Senate more productive. This new rule must be adopted on the first day the Senate convenes next year, when only a simple majority of Senators is required for a change in Senate rules.
Take a stand today to demand that your Senators take a stand! If you want to return to the days of Mr. Smith, take action today! Call your Senators by January 5 and ask them to support the improved filibuster rule.
Ninety-seven percent of Americans got the muddy end of the stick in the lopsided tax bill President Obama signed into law in December. Of that 97 percent, people of color will suffer the most.
When it comes to tax policy, the national conversation typically fails to account for race as a factor. So, although the progressive tax movement suffered a setback in the Obama-GOP tax deal, the debate offered reason for hope in the coming two-year battle over the estate tax and top-tier Bush tax cuts.
The Congressional Black Caucus stepped up to express its overwhelming distaste for the tax deal. In doing so, those legislators have signaled their awareness of the connection between tax breaks for the super-rich and the economic backsliding of African American communities. CBC member Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. likened President Obama's tax plan to Reaganomics:
"I'm worried that the deal President Obama cut with Republicans sets us up for a Reagan-style set of bad choices…That was President Reagan's strategy: a 'starve the beast' plan of lowered taxes and increased military spending that would force Congress to make deep cuts in programs for the most vulnerable."
The CBC wasn't alone in their outrage. A group of Black church leaders, representing 50,000 congregations, loudly denounced the tax deal. Reverend W. Franklyn Richardson, chairman of the Conference of National Black Churches, wrote:
"Based on our prophetic responsibility to speak to those in power on behalf of the poor, underserved, and vulnerable, we find it utterly shameful that those who insisted that the deficit be reduced, now celebrate billions of dollars being added to the deficit as tax cuts for the wealthy."
Latinos are also among those to feel the scald of poor tax policy. Oscar Chacón, Executive Director of the National Alliance of Latin American and Carribean Communities (NALACC), explains the insecurities Latinos, like African Americans, face in the Obama-GOP tax deal:
"The continuation of the Bush tax cuts for the richest 2% in this time of crisis is an utterly irresponsible act. With the incoming Congress, it is foreseeable that the significant increase in federal debt generated by this "compromise" will be used as a leading argument to enact cutbacks in key social programs that will inevitably have a disproportional negative impact on Latino and Latin American immigrant communities in the U.S."
In the short-term, a worrisome finding in the Obama-GOP tax plan is that the poorest Americans would experience a slight tax increase due to the replacement of the President's "Make Work Pay" tax credit with a temporary 2 percent cut to the payroll tax. Workers of color are strongly represented in the lowest tax brackets, and would therefore carry a disproportionate amount of the weight of that tax hike.
The payroll tax cut itself is like whiskey in a Red Bull can. Measures that cut holes in safety net programs–as this cut threatens to do with Social Security–are dangerous for the working class and people of color, who are more likely to rely on those programs than white Americans. If the payroll tax cut now is used as a reason to cut benefits later, the overall economic impact will be more contractionary than stimulative.
In determining which way is forward, we must constantly consider the type of society in which we want to live. At the most basic level, many of us want the same things, regardless of race or ethnicity: meaningful work that adequately provides basic needs for ourselves and our families, time and the means for recreation and others with which to enjoy it.
We first have to realize that when our communities as a whole do well, we as individuals are more likely to do well. Then it's up to us to create the circumstances that make that possible by fighting for policies that provide opportunity to the most vulnerable populations.
It starts with you and I. We get informed, we take action and we pay it forward to as many others as possible.