These spring months have been particularly hectic for UFE's Education Team. So, with great pleasure, I get to write this.
For four years, UFE has partnered with the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO) to present a bird's-eye view of the economy as part of their Moving from Debt to Assets financial literacy education and empowerment program.
The program assumes a multi-faceted approach to keeping low-income people, predominantly from communities of color, out of financial harm's way, using education, counseling, leadership-building, and ongoing peer support--sometimes continuing for years after graduation--to prepare these folks for financial stability and upward economic mobility.
Steve and Jeannette, UFE's Pop[ular Education] Stars, were working with a national crew of fair tax organizers in Baltimore, and needed a hand for this month's class. I stepped in with educator/historian, activist/motivator, Susan Hecht, to co-present UFE's custom workshop, "Getting Aboard the Asset Train: Race, Class & Wealth in the US," to a full room in Dorchester, MA.
Once Susan and I laid out the "doom and gloom" of what's transpired in the US economy over the past 6+ decades, the resounding message of the participants was: THIS ISN'T FAIR! and What can we do about it?
Glad they asked. Prior to the workshop, Joel Schwartz, manager of GBIO's Debt to Assets program, gave me fair warning that, in the past, one of the greatest challenges of this section of the class is to not weigh the scale too heavily on the side of the melancholy, but to balance it with an appealing call to action--one that's clearly worthwhile.
Susan and I came armed with an arsenal of resources and ideas, but more importantly, we came with a story to tell about how activism, even at the individual level, has led to change for the greater good of our society.
Closing time came, class was adjourned, and spirited discussions of a better world spilled onto the sidewalk under a dim street lamp. It's an understatement to say that this class was galvanized, but this class was galvanized. Many of the highly motivated students expressed their readiness to leap into activism, and with the skills and knowledge imparted to them through this opportunity with GBIO, I'd say they're getting a pretty solid start.
Boston City Councilors Felix Arroyo and Michael Ross filed a resolution this week, urging the City of Boston to review all business activities conducted with the state and municipalities of Arizona, and to the extent possible, cease those activities. The results came quickly -- it passed! The initiative was sparked by an uproar of Bostonians in response to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer's signing into law the anti-immigrant legislation, SB 1070.
Councilor Arroyo shared his thoughts:
"As a city, we have long rejected the idea that racial profiling is sound public safety policy. And we decided we don't want to invest in a state that believes otherwise."
From an "outraged" Councilor Ross:
"[I was] outraged when I heard about the Arizona law that requires anyone who looks 'reasonably suspicious' to be stopped and asked to prove that they're a legal resident of the United States. The last time people were stopped and asked for papers in this country, it was during the era of slavery."
Although this resolution is a non-binding measure, it's adoption certainly makes a powerful statement. Former UFE board member and Director of the AFSC's Project Voice, Gabriel Camacho, who attended the Cinco de Mayo City Council hearing, had this to say:
"Even if it's just a symbolic gesture, it sends a strong message that Massachusetts is the cradle of democracy in this country and sends a message to our fellow states that this can't be encouraged."
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, also a supporter of the Council's resolution chimed in:
"It's a message saying America is a land of opportunity. Now there's one little state out there saying, 'We don't want that land of opportunity. We want to be isolationists.' To say you're not welcome in your state to work, that's wrong. This country was built on immigrants. My grandfather, so many other folks, came to America looking for that hope of a better future."
Boston's boycott of Arizona is the embodiment of democracy in action. And, it shows the continued and growing strength and solidarity of the human and civil rights movements, which gives great hope for the future of humane immigration policy.
AP Photo via CBS News
In April, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into law the anti-immigrant legislation, SB 1070. The law mandates state and local law enforcement to stop and check the immigration statuses of anyone they believe could be an undocumented immigrant. If a "suspect" can't prove legal status on the spot, he or she may be detained. And, built into the law is the right of legal Arizona residents to sue state officials or agencies that fail to or choose not to enforce SB 1070 (see Sec. 2, Article 8G).
You might be wondering, How can they tell if someone is undocumented? Simply put, they eyeball it. If you're a individual with brown complexion, you're fair game. If your next thought is, Isn't that racial profiling?, you're right on track.
Despite Gov. Brewer's defense of the law and assurances that racial profiling will not be a practice in its enforcement, it's clear that it was happening even before the law was passed, as in this case of wrongful detainment. What's still very unclear is how racial profiling won't be a practice in its enforcement. That being the case, we can safely say that the law is immoral, unconstitutional in the U.S, and in violation of international human rights standards.
There is a growing movement of cities, coalitions, organizations, and individuals--some very high profile--who have furiously protested Arizona's action since the law passed in April, an indication of its gaining momentum. But, this is no light debate. President Obama has taken a very public stand against SB 1070. And, while he earlier pledged to pass immigration reform this year, he more recently worked a vague pushing of that deadline into a Cinco de Mayo address.
If this movement for humane immigration reform maintains its intensity, a historic immigrant rights victory just may be on the horizon.
The Economist is getting a lot right these days. After dropping some wisdom on celebrity columnist Dana Milbank and torture advocate Marc Thiessen (both of the Washington Post), they’re weighing in on inequality and social mobility in the U.S. They lay out some facts:
"Between 1947 and 1973, the typical American family’s income roughly doubled in real terms. Between 1973 and 2007, however, it grew by only 22%—and this thanks to the rise of two-worker households. In 2004 men in their 30s earned 12% less in real terms than their fathers did at a similar age, according to Pew’s Economic Mobility Project." [emphasis added]
And, “The richest 10% earned nearly half of all income, surpassing even their share in 1928, the year before the Great Crash.” (That’s British for the Great Depression.) They also mention that “parental income is a better predictor of a child’s future in America than in much of Europe,” something we shared with you several months back. And, they even go a step further, citing a study by the Economic Mobility Project, which finds that “those born to black middle-class families are much more likely than their white counterparts to fall in rank.”
Nicely done, but they still missed the mark on a few points. For instance, they write, “[T]he recession came at the end of a period marked by record levels of inequality.” Close, but the recession didn’t end growing inequality, it’s actually making it worse, a fact they point out later in the same article.
"The recession, meanwhile, may have exacerbated trends in inequality. The capital markets, points out Timothy Smeeding of the University of Wisconsin, have recovered more quickly than the housing or labour markets. This is troubling for the poor and the middle class, since homes represent a greater share of their wealth. Unemployment has been concentrated in America’s lower ranks. As the rich recover, poor and middle-class people may lag behind. Young workers may fare badly, too. Those who graduate in recessions have lower incomes in the long term, according to Lisa Kahn of Yale University." [emphasis added]
While it’s good that they corrected themselves, it’s odd that they needed to. As with their premature declaration of the end of a period of record inequality, they also jumped the gun on the end of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. We’re still working on that. For the record, President Obama has proposed ending the Bush tax cuts on top incomes while extending them for everybody else, but Congress has not yet taken up his budget proposal. When they do, even Obama’s modest tax proposals will be under withering attacks from America’s angry, but misguided anti-tax movement. That’s why we need as many voices as we can get calling for fairer economic policies.
The Economist has long been the world’s leading journal of laissez-faire economics. So, we weren’t shocked to see a call for “reducing entitlements” in their conclusion. It’s disappointing and wrong, but it’s still refreshing to see them addressing inequality at all.
This is sad. Despite everything, it’s still hard to believe that anyone would oppose a tax cut on basic food items because for fear that it will lead to "increasing taxes on some taxpayers making more than $200,000 a year."
Back in April, the Alabama House of Representatives voted not to debate House Bill 1, a bill that would have repealed the 4% sales tax on groceries and saved residents upwards of $300 million per year. Why? Because some didn't like that it made up for that revenue with modest tax increases on those making more than $200,000 per year.
Our Alabama TFOC partner waged a noble campaign. There will be victories to come, but, for now, this stings.