|What was YOUR share of the Bush tax cuts?
|Take the Tax Pledge to help ensure the Obamas, the Romneys and other wealthy Americans pay their fair share!
This is a critical year for tax fairness. The Bush tax cuts are set to expire at the stroke of midnight on December 31st. Those tax breaks were a bad idea from the get-go, because they largely went to upper-income households that didn't need them.
We should let the Bush tax cuts expire—it's one of the only ways to meaningfully address our revenue crisis and make long-overdue investments in our economy. But, it's going to take bold action to ensure Congress and President Obama do the right thing by allowing them to expire.
United for a Fair Economy and Responsible Wealth are calling on progressive tax advocates throughout the country to support the movement to end the Bush tax cuts and restore fairness to the federal tax code. You can show your support today in three easy steps:
|Calculate your savings from the Bush-era tax cuts by entering three numbers (or rough estimates) from your tax return into our tax cut calculator.|
|Take the Responsible Wealth Tax Fairness Pledge to "reject" the Bush tax cuts.|
|Donate your savings to the tax fairness organization of your choice.|
Join Responsible Wealth members Marnie Thompson and Stephen Johnson of Greensboro, NC, both of whom will take the pledge again this year. Last year, their savings were over $12,000. Each year, they donate their savings to UFE's efforts to end the Bush tax cuts, strengthen the estate tax, "tax wealth like work" by raising the capital gains rate, and support state-level tax fairness organizing.
Thanks to the support of committed progressive tax activists like Marnie, Stephen, and many others, this work is producing results. More people are learning that our tax code is tilted in favor of the wealthy. And more people are taking action to bring the fight for progressive tax policies to Capitol Hill and to state capitols across the country.
We can make significant progress by demanding that Congress and President Obama do absolutely nothing by allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire at the end of the year. But, it won't be that easy. It's going to take a lot of work over the next eight months—awareness-raising, organizing, educating, and mobilizing—and we need all the help we can get.
If you believe our tax code is rigged in favor of the wealthy and that the richest Americans should pay their fair share, then make a bold statement in support of progressive tax policies by taking the Responsible Wealth Tax Fairness Pledge today.
What if there was a way to bring in substantial new revenue to pay for vital public services? What if we could generate that revenue exclusively from those who can best afford it, the estates of millionaires and billionaires, and at the same time reduce economic inequality? We'd be crazy to not do it, right? Well, the good news is that a strong estate tax will do exactly that.
At a time when so many essential government programs are facing painful cuts or even elimination as a result of low federal revenues, restoring a strong estate tax can be a big step toward solving some of the problems facing our federal budget and addressing the growing epidemic of persistent economic inequality. There is a bill currently in congress, The Sensible Estate Tax Act (H.R. 3467), that would be an excellent estate tax reform.
The American's for a Fair Estate Tax (AFET) coalition, which is made up of more than seventy national and state groups including membership organizations, advocacy groups and labor unitions, just sent a letter urging congress to pass H.R. 3467 (PDF). Among the reasons AFET supports H.R. 3467:
- The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that federal estate and gift taxes will generate $516 billion in revenue from 2013 through 2022, assuming that the 2010 estate and gift tax cut expires as scheduled at the end of 2012.
- Other policy options would be fiscally irresponsible. CBO found that extending the estate tax reduction in effect for 2011 and 2012, which increased the estate tax exemption to $5 million per spouse and reduces the top estate tax rate to 35 percent, would cost $432 billion over the following decade.
- Existing tax breaks would continue to protect small businesses and farms under either the pre-2001 rules or the Sensible Estate Tax Act. A CBO analysis (PDF) found that only 0.3 percent of taxable estates were either family held-business estates or estates of farmers and lacked sufficient liquid assets (like cash, stocks, and bonds) to pay the estate tax. That’s why opponents of the estate tax have not been able to find a single farm that had to be sold to pay the tax.
The Sensible Estate Tax Act would also make important reforms that reunify the gift and estate tax exclusions; make permanent the portability of the exemption for spouses; restore the state credit to provide critical revenue for states without increasing taxes; close loopholes in the asset valuation and minority discount rules; among a number of other reforms.
It's a great bill. Unfortunately, every Republican tax proposal includes eliminating the estate tax, and President Obama supports extending the estate tax at its lowest level from the Bush tax cuts. Neither of these options is nearly good enough. That's why AFET is pressuring congress and building support for the Sensible Estate Tax Act.
For more on AFET's support of H.R. 3467, read our press release.
Today, Rep. Jim McDermott released the Sensible Estate Tax Act of 2011, and United for a Fair Economy, Responsible Wealth and our allies have his back. The bill is an effort to raise taxes on the top one percent to benefit the 99 percent... literally.
The main thrust of bill H.R. 3467 is to restore pre-Bush era estate tax rates and levels, with a maximum marginal rate of 55 percent and a $1 million exemption. Of course, tax rates and exemption levels are only part of what was compromised by President Bush's hatchet job. Rep. McDermott's estate tax bill would also address various loopholes that have enabled the extremely rich to avoid taxation and amass even more wealth.
The estate tax, while not a be all, end all solution to our fiscal crisis, is of vital importance to the U.S. economy. It represents the principle of meritocracy — that hard work, not the reproductive lotto, should be the basis for upward mobility.
Our country has become one of the most economically unequal and socially unjust industrialized nations. So, the estate tax also represents a fundamental change that needs to take place—the reduced concentration of wealth, and thus, political power in the U.S.
As flawed as our political system may be — as much as I sometimes wish we could replace it all together — it's still important to elevate truly progressive policies that arise in that system. Too often, such policies don't ever see the light of day. For those of you who think our economy is in disrepair and want to support a concrete solution, this is one of 'em.
Become a pro-estate tax advocate, and speak out as constantly and publicly as you're able. Talk about it to your friends, families and colleagues. Share this link on your social networks, and write your local media. Hammer your senators and representative with a message that you want the wealthiest among us to pay more to protect the common good of our country. Tell them you support a strong estate tax.
The twelve members of the congressional Super-Committee charged with finding at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction are nearing their November 23rd deadline. The decisions that they make will determine the direction that our country and economy take for years to come. They will be making choices about the future of vital social programs, tax policy and military spending.
There are two ways that you can get involved right now.
- Add your name to our sign-on letter to the Super-Committee (details below), and please forward the letter to anybody that you think might be interested, especially upper-income taxpayers, investors and wealthy individuals.
- Register for an important update on the Super-Committee with Senator Al Franken put on by our friends at the Coalition for Human Needs. You can join this emergency update next Wednesday, November 16 at 4:00 PM by phone or online. Register for it now. The update will cover Super-Committee negotiations that include disastrous plans to reduce tax rates for millionaires, while cutting Medicaid and other essential programs, and making people wait till they are 67 to get Medicare. This doesn't have to happen. Find out more on Wednesday in the 20 minute update.
Details about the letter:
Super-Committee members need to hear that wealthy individuals, investors, and business owners support our priorities. We are seeking signers of a letter to the Super-Committee. More than 40 upper income taxpayers have already signed our letter in the last two days. The letter says:
- At least half of the total deficit reduction package should come from increased revenues that would improve tax fairness by increasing taxes on wealthy people and corporations.
- At least half of any spending cuts should made by reducing unnecessary military expenditures.
- There should be no cuts that impact beneficiaries of key social programs (such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, education, and other programs that help middle- and low-income families).
- Any proposal that does not meet these principles should be rejected.
Click here to add your name to the letter today.
Some Democrats on the Super-Committee worry that the economy would be hurt if there is no deal. They need to understand that a bad deal is worse than no deal. Hearing from people like you will persuade them to hold firm for a deal that truly benefits our country. That’s why it’s important that you sign the letter to the Super-Committee by Sunday, November 13.
People who are not wealthy individuals, investors, and business owners can also sign the letter to show their support.
To increase our impact, we will release the letter to the media next week and put media in contact with signers who want to speak out. We’ll also send the letter to all members of Congress before they vote on any package from the Super-Committee.
Please make sure to invite people you know to join you in signing the letter. You can also print a copy of the letter and ask friends and relatives to sign it.
As word spreads about Occupy Wall Street, it's getting harder and harder for the typically apolitical to ignore it. Because my Facebook wall has become something of a clearinghouse for Occupy-related news, I frequently field inquiries on what it's all about. Here's the most recent:
"Maz, can you clearly explain to me what the goal of OWS is? I've asked about 40 people and no one comes even close to an intelligible answer. Seriously though, I am very curious."
It's true, the amorphous nature of the Occupy Movement can make it difficult to put into words. There are no "leaders"—in the most typical sense of the word—to approach for all the answers. Instead, supporters have chosen to operate in the spirit of collectivism; the will of the group having priority over that of the individual. We're all welcome to our own interpretations, and the process encourages us to find common ground. I find that refreshing and necessary, even, because building a better world will require more imagination and cooperation than seems to exist in our state and national capitals. So, without further ado, here's how I responded:
"Occupy Wall Street (OWS) and, now, the global Occupy Movement, is about money, power and opportunity. Specifically, it's a rejection of a political and economic system that before anyone else serves the already wealthy and corporate interests.
In order to become a politically viable force, the first step was (and continues to be) to bring people together around that broad notion. Each occupation has nightly General Assemblies (GA), where participants (anyone who chooses to attend) practice direct democracy through consensus-building processes to determine their occupation's goals and strategies. This process stands in stark contrast to both our electoral and policy-making processes, which are mired in corruption and cronyism.
The reason no one is able to provide a crystal clear answer as to what the goal is, is because the ultimate goal has yet to be established. What we do have, for now, is the OWS first official declaration; a compilation of grievances that thousands and thousands of participants and supporters have agreed are issues of great concern to humanity.
The occupation itself is an awareness-raising tool that grows more effective as more people join (as occupiers or supporters in various capacities). A day in an occupation is more than just the GA, rallies, marches, sign-toting and yelling. The occupations are also meant to serve as a public display of the sort of humane, egalitarian, democratic and cooperative society that supporters believe in; one where everyone, rich or poor, has a voice.
It's also about education—workshops on an array of subjects are being held on the regular. It's about collaboration—working together to literally keep a community going. Working groups are established on food, logistics, tactics, media, education, arts and culture and more. Under this model, everyone has a job; everyone can make a meaningful contribution to society; our destinies are not under the control of CEOs and corporate boards who can put thousands out of work with the wave of their hands.
How this will affect our status quo, our existing political apparatus, is unclear—which is fine. The idea is that we don't have to wait for someone up high to tell us what we're supposed to do; that we have the power to be a part of that decision. And, who knows how long that might take? [Re]building a society with our collective well being in mind, rather than that of the richest among us, won't be a quick or easy process.
Even if the Occupations disperse, if nothing else, we want them to have shaped the national and global discourse about how people should be governed. We want them to have altered our mass psyche in a way that will foster greater solidarity and respect for humanity and the natural environment in the future.
There is no simple answer. In many ways, it requires a leap of faith for those of us who have been hard-wired to believe that we just have to live with what we have, for better or worse. But, with Occupations and meet-ups having gathered in over 1,500 cities worldwide, this movement seems to be capturing a lot of people's imaginations."
For more on the origins and emergence of Occupy Wall Street, read Nathan Schneider's "From Occupy Wall Street to Occupy Everywhere" on TheNation.com.
The following is a repost of a Facebook note by Responsible Endowments Coalition organizer, Martin Bourqui.
After visiting the Occupy Wall Street protests on their seventh day yesterday I feel like I need to put in writing — and in longer than 140 character status updates! — what I see and hear about what's going on here and the way in which these protests are being perceived, both by me and by those on the right and the left.
So what are these protests all about? Wikipedia may not be the most reliable source, but it's probably the most neutral right now. It defines them this way, as would I:
Occupy Wall Street, or #occupywallstreet, is an ongoing nonviolent demonstration opposing what participants view as negative corporate influence over U.S. politics and a lack of legal repercussions over the global financial crisis.
Hmmmm. This isn't something that should be so hard to get behind, right? 75% of us think that corporations have too much influence on politics today . 67% think that corporations are paying too little in taxes . I can't find solid numbers on how Americans feel about how accountable the banks have been held post-bailout, but I imagine they aren't held in too high of regard. And that's just the American public in general - within my personal network I imagine these anti-bank, anti-corporate, pro-accountability sentiments would be much, much higher.
So why do I see a lack of support for these protests from my peers? How come when I talk about Occupy Wall Street on Facebook, or with my friends, the only overt signs of support I see and hear are from those whom I'll respectfully define as radicals?
Where is the broader left in this discourse - those who I know believe in corporate accountability for the financial crisis, those who support of higher taxes for rich corporations and individuals, who believe that money is destroying our political system? Those who don't necessarily define want to define themselves as 'radical', but who agree with the underlying motivations of these actions? That's right, peers. I'm talking to you! I'd like you to read the thoughts that I've put down here, and to think about what you agree with, and what you're going to do about it.
These protests have the potential to unite a broad cross-section of society towards urgently needed political and cultural change in our society, but they're not meeting it. I'd like to acknowledge and explore why that is.
These events have what politicos (and some organizers, like me) refer to as an "optics problem." In understanding how the majority of society views what's going on, we constantly must be re-evaluating how we all interpret the visuals - images, pictures, videos - that we receive from the front lines of our discourse, that represent the debate.
Take, for example, this photo, one of the precious few images on the Occupy Wall Street wikipedia page right now, one of the only visuals that a huge audience will take in to represent what is going on right now. What do you see? Protestors wearing the masks associated with the organization known as Anonymous, one of whom is wearing a keffiyeh (3) (4).
What is your gut reaction upon seeing this picture? Are you willing to stand next to this person, in solidarity with their self-presentation? Or do you feel ambivalence, hesitation, perhaps even fear? Do you want to be associated with them? Would your parents want to be associated with them? Would your friends? Why or why not?
The Anonymous mask and the keffiyeh are loaded symbols, and they mean very different things to different people. They tap into a much broader set of issues beyond fair taxation, post-financial crisis accountability, and the role of money in our political system. More worryingly, I worry that these symbols are misinterpreted, both by the viewer and potentially even by the wearer.
A lot of the protestors that I have seen both in-person and through the internet reflect a broadly radical self-presentation. In my heart of hearts, I don't want to condemn this. But these protestors speak of "revolution," and they seek to create not just an anti-corporate, pro-fair taxation, pro-bank accountability space. They are trying to envision something much bigger, but I think that many of us are squinting to see it.
Let's contrast the depiction of these protests from a sympathetic, radical documentarian with the depictions of the mainstream media. Let's establish the narratives, and unpack them.
I encourage you all to watch this eight-minute documentary, titled "Nobody Can Predict the Moment of Revolution," capturing interviews with protestors on days five and six. It's a thing of beauty, and a strongly sympathetic depiction of the protests, but the narrative it weaves is much broader than just about corporations, banks, and taxes. Protestors interviewed describe their beliefs this way:
"I don't know how to achieve collective liberation, which we're all striving for, but I think it all needs to happen at the same time. And, you know, we're here, making a stand, we're holding space."
"It's a model for a new society. It's not a protest, in a sense of being against something. It's a way to formulate something new."
Contrast that with the coverage from the New York Times, published on the same day.
Most of those entrenched in Zuccotti Park had indeed traveled from somewhere else; they had come from Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Missouri, Texas and so on with drums, horns, tambourines and, in the instance of one young man, a knee-length burlap vest, fur hat, ski goggles and tiny plastic baby dolls applied to the tips of his fingers.
One of the few New Yorkers I met, a senior at Bronx High School of Science, was stopping by in fits and spurts, against the wishes of his psychiatrist mother, who feared the possibility of tear gas and had chastised her son for giving his allowance to the cause.
That cause, though, in specific terms, was virtually impossible to decipher. The group was clamoring for nothing in particular to happen right away — not the implementation of the Buffett rule or the increased regulation of the financial industry. Some didn’t think government action was the answer because the rich, they believed, would just find new ways to subvert the system.
Some said they were fighting the legal doctrine of corporate personhood; others, not fully understanding what that meant, believed it meant corporations paid no taxes whatsoever. Others came to voice concerns about the death penalty, the drug war, the environment.
“I want to get rid of the combustion engine,” John McKibben, an activist from Vermont, declared as his primary ambition.
Where the documentary "Nobody Can Predict The Revolution" sees visionaries of a new society, the Times sees spoiled children, ignorant, foolhardy loudmouths, and People Who Are Not Like Us.
To be honest, I find both of these depictions highly problematic. "Nobody Can Predict the Moment of Revolution" takes the energy of Occupy Wall Street out of what I interpret to be its current iteration, and into the realm of radical, revolutionary societal visioning. The Times piece, on the other hand, takes a hammer to any emerging narrative, and raises up only the conflicting, fragmented, ignorant sentiments of isolated individuals. And going back to the idea of visual narrative, the Times piece pulls out a topless woman, "blonde with a marked likeness to Joni Mitchell and a seemingly even stronger wish to burrow through the space-time continuum and hunker down in 1968," who they declared to be the "default ambassador" of this movement in their intro paragraph. Thanks, Gray Lady. Big favor you did everyone there, by literally picking the craziest person there to be the face of the movement.
What I saw with my own eyes yesterday, this protest, at its core, contains a narrative that is emerging but that is being hijacked on both the right and the left. So now that we can hopefully see this, I want to put these clashing narratives to one side and attempt to draw out what I see taking place. Check it out.
The discourse coming from the left about the role of the banks in our political and economic system, and the way in which corporate interests have defended their own while gravely damaging the economic prospects of all who are not in the top 5%, has been exhausted through our existing political system's channels. When such channels are exhausted, we have a right to take direct action.
The American people must have the right to nonviolently protest, to occupy public space, and to encourage a dialog on what so many of us see as the root causes of the political and economic crises facing the U.S. today. We have a right to assemble in peace, to document what transpires through video, audio, photography, and both the mainstream and underground media.
We have a right to do so without police brutality, which has reared its ugly head. I was deeply disturbed by the footage of peaceful protestors being penned in the street and maced in Union Square. The police presence that I witnessed in lower Manhattan last night, with orange tarp pen fences, vans full of police officers in riot gear, and jail wagons ready to take away scores of protestors, reflects a fear-based approach to get any and all protestors, peaceful or otherwise, to disperse. Hell, it worked on us! The response to this protest is morally bankrupt. I saw it with my own eyes. I attest to it.
However, I am not only disturbed by the response from the powers that be, whether it by the New York Times' coverage of these events, which debilitates and fragments its message, or by the NYPD's fear-based tactics to silence entirely legal and legitimate public discourse.
I am more worried, however, about the inability of the protestors and organizers of the Occupy Wall Street action to coalesce around a cohesive narrative, a moral legitimacy, and a unifying, invitational visual narrative. I am not an anarchist. I do not seek to get rid of the combustion engine. I choose not to wear a keffiyeh. And yet I live a stone's throw across the East River from Wall Street, and literally organize full-time, for my job, around the role of the banks in our economic system.
If anyone should be standing in solidarity with these protests, it would be me - and I am. But If even I feel alienated by the fragmented visual, cultural, political narratives coming out of this action, how on earth are we supposed to unite the entire Left around it?
Change requires unity. I don't have the answers on how to get there, or on how to address these questions. But I'm choosing to shine a light on these problems, in the hopes that we can begin to intentionally tackle them.
So what can you do — whether you agree or disagree with the arguments I'm putting forward?
- If you share in my opposition to the reaction of the powers that be to this protest - whether it be the mainstream media's slanted coverage, or the actions of the NYPD to intimidate, fragment, and dismantle this discourse - please help me in raising awareness. That video of the cops macing the women tied my stomach in knots. Different perspectives are painting completely different pictures of what's going on. Help shine a light.
- If you agree that these protests lack a cohesive narrative, help to promote and define one by joining the discourse, as I am trying to do. Despite the counter-narrative being spun by its opponents, as well as the competing narratives being introduced by some on the Left, I believe that Occupy Wall Street is at its core about the American people standing up to the corporate greed that has permeated our political and economic systems. Please use your privilege as writers, artists, documentarians, activists, college degree holders, and/or owning-class people in our society, to speak up and ask the hard questions that need asking.
- Maybe you literally disagree with everything I'm saying. that's fine. That's great! But don't stay silent. Join the discourse. Write a blog post about it. Email me. Email your network. Write a letter to the editor. Make your voice heard.
- If you want to see the protests continue but choose not to participate, they could still use food, money, and awareness. Speak up. Pay up. Use your resources, even if it's just a Facebook note or a $10 donation.
- However you feel about the protests, if you're in the NYC area, go down there and see it for yourself. Engage with people. If you disagree with people's tactics, language, or presentation, engage with them about it. If you support others, let them know you support them and want to elevate their visual or political narrative. Use all of the tools you have to do so.
- If you would like to share what I wrote here, please feel free to do so. I don't really get how sharing notes on Facebook works (sigh), but feel free to reproduce this. I hope it helps get people's wheels turning.
- Stay informed. The three places I look for information are Occupy Wall Street's unofficial site which contains links, information, and even a live stream; the Occupy Wall Street Wikipedia page, which for better or worse will document the narrative that the majority of people see, and the #occupywallstreet Twitter hash tag, which many people are using to share information and stay updated, whether they're in Lower Manhattan or halfway across the world.
The mainstream media won't show it, but I see, online, thousands upon thousands worldwide watching this unfold and crossing their fingers that these protests will, sooner or later, create a shift in the American political discourse, in the give-and-take of our economic system, and in the power dynamics of our society. People who are college-educated, highly informed, highly resourced individuals, especially those in the NYC area - people whom I'm writing for- hold a huge amount of privilege to make this succeed, fail, or at least make this look more like what we want it to look like.
Whether you agree, disagree, or feel ambivalent about what's taking place this week, it's our right, and our obligation, to speak up, to join this discourse. I don't see it taking place in a meaningful way in our political system or in the media, so let's use the tools we have to help it take place in the spaces we create, whether it be on the internet or in our living rooms. Speak up. Get involved. Get those who aren't involved to be involved. We can't keep our heads buried in the sand forever.
How would you feel if...
- Job cuts by your employer forced you to assume twice the work load, which lead to upwards of 9 out of 10 workers experiencing work-related pain;
- Your employer refused to provide tools that would allow you to do your job with fewer risks for injury;
- Your employer consistently failed to address workplace safety violations, and even fought legislation to protect you and your co-workers;
- You and many of your colleagues were fired without just cause;
- You were all replaced with temp workers — that you were actually expected to train — who your employer paid only minimum wage with zero benefits; and
- When you decided, enough is enough, your employer resorted to harmful retaliatory tactics?
You'd probably feel cheated, burned, disregarded as a human being, right? Well, many are facing this unfortunate reality, and they need your support.
UNITE HERE, has reached out to UFE and other allies in the economic justice movement because Hyatt Hotels Corporation is bullying workers across the country for the sake of profit, and they can't take them on alone.
Here's one Hyatt worker's story:
My name is Cathy Youngblood, and I am a housekeeper at the Hyatt Andaz in West Hollywood. Today I am joining thousands of other Hyatt workers on strike across the United States.
I believe in hard work, but living in pain is a different story. I have to take medication regularly because my wrists and shoulders hurt from having to lift 100-pound mattresses over and over again every day as I change the bedding. Other Hyatt housekeepers have been permanently injured by the grueling work we do.
Not far from my hotel in West Hollywood, at the Hyatt in Long Beach, California, workers have no union. Conditions there are even worse. My sisters are required to clean twice as many rooms in one eight-hour shift, leaving them just 15 minutes for each room. That's 15 minutes to change bedding, scrub the bathroom, dust, vacuum, empty the trash, and change linens, among other things. It's no surprise that women are getting hurt.
Today, I strike—not just for myself or for a fair contract at my hotel—but for our right to stand up to Hyatt wherever they are abusing housekeepers.
We know we can't take on a global giant like Hyatt alone.
We hope you'll join Hyatt workers and UNITE HERE on the frontline of what is truly a fight for all workers' rights.
Even if you can't join a picket line, there are three things you can do:
- Join the online picket line and let a Hyatt housekeeper know that you stand with her in this struggle.
- Tell a friend about the struggle to end the abuse at Hyatt.
Ty, would you share with us a specific instance in which you witnessed the effectiveness of popular education?
The D7 RoundTable was a community-based organization focused on the struggles against racism, violence, and poverty in Greater Roxbury – Boston’s poorest, brownest, most culturally-diverse, and politically-marginalized neighborhood. For eight years, from 2000 to 2008, D7 convened a monthly grassroots public policy forum, bringing residents of Roxbury and Boston's other progressive communities together to examine, debate, and exchange opinions on a host of critical issues and public institutions.
In the spring of 2001, Boston’s public schools were being criticized for an evident “achievement gap,” as reflected in the scores of mandatory standardized tests. D7 dedicated one of its regular monthly forums to exploring the issue – specifically, the factors contributing to the “gap” in student test performance.
The nearly one hundred community members who attended the forum were seated at tables of with 8 to 9 of their neighbors. On each table was an information packet providing a detailed profile of a selected area school district or local high school.
The popular education exercise was divided into three rounds. In round one, participants were tasked with becoming “experts” on their data packets and answer three questions: 1) What do you see in the data? 2) What, if anything, stands out to you? and 3) How might this explain the “achievement gap”?
In round two, the tables were reconfigured to mix the research teams. This is called the “jigsaw method." The new teams were then tasked to compare and contrast their findings on the districts or schools examined, based on a new set of questions: 1) What similarities and differences stand out to you? 2) Which items appear most relevant to student achievement? and 3) What is the problem and where should Boston’s reform efforts begin?
The final round was devoted to a full-group discussion focused on describing the problem (test score disparities), its contributing factors (student body by race, income, language proficiency, student suspension days, curriculum access), and specific recommendations for change. participants displayed an impressive grasp of the data and its implications, often making surprising connections and inferences. Many participants shared with us how much they enjoyed the exercise, some even expressing their surprise over the how much they now understood doing policy research.
The only downside was that the exercise wasn't connected to an actual organizing initiative for school reform. Nevertheless, after ten years, a number of individuals who participated in the event and are now involved in local reform efforts tell me they remember the exercise clearly and use similar models in their own work.
One of the principles of popular education is that education must be a reciprocal process between facilitators and participants. It is an acknowledgement that no individual has all the answers, and that our unique lived experiences allow each of us to act as both sudents and teachers. What's one of the most important things you have learned in your work with other groups?
I start from the general assumption that most of what we think we know, just ain’t so. By this, I mean that we must be alert to testing our assumptions and risking exposure to new ideas. This is not the same as blindly accepting “expert knowledge," because we need to test that as well. But it does appreciate that the most useful knowledge is grounded in real world experience. Knowledge is best constructed as a collective effort – it is never fixed and it must be subject to challenge once it fails to explain new experiences.
How can others around the country get involved in popular education for social & economic justice?
To say, “get involved,” in popular education is an accurate formulation. Pop-ed is a medium for constructing people’s knowledge, a strategy for raising consciousness and informing appropriate action. It’s more a means to an end than an end in itself.
There are already a number of national organizations and networks that folks can get involved with that have a history of using pop-ed techniques as a medium for progressive organizing.
Among them are the Right to the City coalition, the Applied Research Center, the Highlander Research and Education Center, the People’s Institute for Survival & Beyond, Project South and various local expressions of people’s theater, a.k.a., “Theater of the Oppressed."
What are your short- and long-term hopes for the progressive movement both within the U.S. and in the global community?
In the short-term, I’m hoping to see the emergence of the broad, multi-racial and united front against war, racism and poverty envisioned by Dr. King more than 40 years ago. This is a major piece of unfinished business for progressives. In the long-term, I’m just hoping to be around long enough to finally enjoy the fruits of that movement.
Amid all the rightful outrage over Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to do away with collective bargaining rights for public sector unions in Wisconsin, one important point has been neglected: The demise of public sector unions would be most detrimental to women and African-Americans, who make up a disproportionate share of the public sector workforce.
Much has been made of Walker's decision to exempt from his plan firefighter, police and state trooper unions -- conveniently, the only three public sector unions that endorsed him. But as Dana Goldstein points out, not only are the exempted unions largely Republican-leaning, they’re also overwhelmingly male -- over 70 percent of law enforcement personnel are male, as are over 96 percent of firefighters. On the other hand, many of the non-exempt unions represent professions that are disproportionately female -- approximately 80 percent of teachers are women, for example, as are 95 percent of nurses.
African-Americans are also disproportionately employed in the public sector: According to a report by the nonprofit United for a Fair Economy, blacks are 30 percent more likely than the overall workforce to hold public sector jobs. Kai Wright reports that preliminary data from a study by Steven Pitts of U.C. Berkeley's Center for Labor Education and Research shows that 14.5 percent of all public sector workers in the nation are black, compared to 10 percent in most other sectors, and around a quarter of black workers are employed in public administration, as compared to under 17 percent of all white workers.
A Republican proposal that hurts women and people of color? I'm shocked, shocked! All jokes aside, I'm not arguing that Walker intentionally targeted women-heavy professions for union busting, or that he's secretly trying to undermine one of the remaining sources of stable employment for blacks, who are unemployed at nearly twice the rate of whites. But it doesn't need to be intentional to have serious effects.
Some of those effects are economically tangible. Despite high rates of public sector employment, black women working in the public sector make less than others, with a median wage of $15.50 an hour compared to the sector's overall median of $18.38 and a median of $21.24 for white men. Yet weakened public unions will make it more difficult for black women to bargain for better wages. Furthermore, as the Shriver Report finds, "nearly 4 in 10 mothers (39.3 percent) are primary breadwinners, bringing home the majority of the family's earnings, and nearly two-thirds (62.8 percent) are breadwinners or co-breadwinners, bringing home at least a quarter of the family's earnings." Making women's jobs more precarious has serious implications for the well-being of millions of families -- especially for families in the bottom two income quintiles and black and Hispanic families, where female breadwinners are particularly prevalent.
Others are subtler: As Wright points out, the portrayal of public sector employees as overpaid and underworked, taking advantage of hardworking taxpayers, carries echoes of racially charged caricatures -- the welfare queens of the '80s behind a desk in the Capitol. And politically motivated though it may be, the continued elevation of traditionally male professions like public safety and law enforcement over traditionally female ones like public health and public education is part of the reason women still earn only 77 cents for every dollar men do.
The events in Wisconsin are just one example of a larger trend of Republican efforts to make it more difficult for women, and particularly low-income women, to go to work (for example, by proposing significant cuts to childcare benefits and preschool programs) while simultaneously slashing services that women need to care for themselves and their families (for example, proposing to cut nearly a billion dollars from programs aimed at promoting the health of low-income pregnant women and mothers). And if that weren't enough, when public budgets are cut, women often make up for the cuts by volunteering at schools and providing unpaid childcare.
Likewise, public sector unions have garnered especial criticism for their pensions, which Republicans claim are bankrupting the state. Such lack of concern for elderly well-being is sadly consistent with Republicans' efforts to cut funding for programs providing the elderly with support for meals and housing. Incidentally, women make up two-thirds of the poor over age 65, while 60 percent of black seniors rely on Social Security for more than 80 percent of their income. So women and people of color aren't just paying for the cuts once, they're paying over and over again.
Of course, public sector cuts hurt people across the board, but they nearly always end up hitting the most vulnerable members of society the hardest. As Paul Krugman pointed out earlier this week, unions are important in part because they're some of "the few influential players in our political system representing the interests of middle- and working-class Americans." Indeed. But public sector unions are especially important representatives of middle- and working-class black and female Americans, who continue to be vastly underrepresented in every branch of government.
Republicans will surely protest that their efforts to undermine the public sector, whether by busting unions or slashing services, aren't sexist or racist -- they're just what needs to be done to balance the budget. And honestly, I suspect the gender and racial impacts of union-busting never consciously crossed Gov. Walker's mind. But not knowing exactly whom your policy decisions will hurt means you've never thought about the actual people who are affected by political maneuvering. If Republicans don't know who's paying for their attacks on public sector employees, it's because they just don't care.
By Alyssa Battistoni - Originally posted on Salon.com, February 24, 2011
This week, Massachusetts residents have an opportunity to advance the movement for economic justice in the Bay State by urging their state representatives and senators to support the Higher Education Transparency Act.
Massachusetts' private colleges and universities, which are designated as non-profit organizations, enjoy tax exempt status while also receiving direct federal and state subsidies. That's because of their primary functions—to educate and to provide opportunities and services to their communities.
And yet, we too often witness the same taxpayer-subsidized institutions—some with multi-billion dollar endowments—engaging in profit-motivated behaviors, such as tuition hikes, casino-like investing and layoffs.
Also, as this rececession forces average American workers and their families to "tighten their belts," the leaders of some of these colleges and universities are being paid over a million dollars a year.
Economic recovery requires shared sacrifice.
This bill would strengthen the financial disclosure requirements for Massachusetts’ private, non-profit colleges and universities by mandating more thorough reporting on employee compensation; how endowments are invested; agreements with outside consultants, and the total tax subsidies they receive.
Additionally, it would give the public and the legislature a way to evaluate the financial choices being made by institutions of higher learning, and the values under which they operate.
Here is a summary of the provisions of the Higher Education Transparency Act:
- Affects private, nonprofit colleges and universities and their related organizations who have investments (defined as value of, not interest on) or real property over $10 million dollars;
- Requires the schools to calculate the received benefit from all tax exemptions;
- Mandates individual conflict-of-interest disclosures by trustees or directors of the institution;
- Mandates disclosure of payments of greater than $150,000/year to outside individuals or firms for advice or services;
- Mandates disclosure of payments of greater than $150,000/year from outside individuals or firms for advice or services;
- Mandates disclosure of the names and titles of anyone making more than $250,000 year;
- Requires the Attorney General to set the method and scope by which tax calculations and disclosures are done;
- Requires disclosure of the names, amounts, and descriptions of services provided to and from vendors.
Our friends at SEIU Local 615, which represents janitors, security workers, and other property service workers in MA, RI, and NH, are leaders in the fight for this rule change to hold private, non-profit colleges and universities in Massachusetts accountable. Visit their campaign page for more ways to get involved.
If you want to add your voice to this campaign, be sure to call your elected officials by Friday, February 4th! (Click here to find your elected officials.)