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Governor Elect Whitmer’s Transition Team: Who’s In, Who’s not

November 15, 2018

The day after Gretchen Whitmer was announced the winner of the Governor’s race in Michigan, the Governor-Elect released the names of the people who will be part of her transition team.

One person on that transition team has received a great deal of attention, the CEO of Blue Cross/Blue Shield (BCBS), Daniel J. Loepp. Loepp’s appointment to Whitmer’s transition team not only was reported in news outlets around the state, it garnered an article on the independent news site, The Intercept

One of the reasons why Loepp’s appoint is so controversial, is that BCBS contributed $144,000 to her election campaign. In addition, having BCBS on Whitmer’s transition team, will certainly be the end of any possibility of a statewide single-payer health care system being introduced in Michigan. Whitmer has already gone from talking about a more progressive health care system to now using the term affordable, which essentially means that single-payer or Medicare for All will not be what the Governor Elect will advocate for.

Who else is on the Transition Team?

Besides the CEO of BCBS, there are 10 other members of Whitmer’s Transition Team. Let’s take a look at who they are.

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha – An associate professor at MSU and director of the MSU and Hurley Children’s Hospital Pediatric Public Health Initiative, a model program mitigating the impact of the Flint water crisis.

Barbara McQuade – A professor at University of Michigan School of Law, Professor McQuade served as the U.S attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan from 2010-2017.

Dennis Archer – Mayor of Detroit from 1994-2001. While Archer was Mayor of Detroit he oversaw major downtown development projects, projects which initiated a great deal of the gentrification of Detroit and opened the door for business owners like Dan Gilbert to buy up lots of property in the city, which has lead to a widening of the gap between those living in poverty and the 1 percent.

Kate Pew Wolters – Chair of the Steelcase Foundation and a Grand Valley State University Trustee, Ms. Wolters is also president family’s foundation and is involved with the Progressive Women’s Alliance of West Michigan. Wolters is part of the power structure in Grand Rapids; was involved with the now defunct One Kent Coalition – which sought to restructure and consolidate the government for the Greater Grand Rapids area; and while she was board chair at the Grand Rapids Art Museum, she was tasked with telling Dennis Komac, then the Director of the Art Museum that he had to stop being involved with the LGBT book store Son’s & Daughters or he would be fired from his job at the Art Museum. Komac refused to disassociate himself with the bookstore and was fired – as is documented in the film, A People’s History of the Grand Rapids LGBTQ Community.

Mike Prusi – Former Michigan Senate Minority Leader, who also served three terms in the House of Representatives. Prusi is from the UP and served as president of USW Local 4950.

Joe Schwarz, M.D. – Former Republican Congressman for Michigan’s 7th District and a practicing physician. Dr. Schwarz also serves on the board of directors of “Voters Not Politicians.”

Allan Gilmour – Retired Vice Chairman of Ford Motor Company.

Dug Song – Co-Founder of Ann Arbor-based internet security provider Duo Security.

Gary Torgow – Chairman of Chemical Financial Corporation, the holding company of the largest bank headquartered in Michigan,

Portia Roberson – CEO of Focus: HOPE, a non-profit community organization that was one response to the 1967 riot in Detroit. The Board of Directors and Advisors of Focus: HOPE is made up primarily of representatives of corporations. https://www.focushope.edu/about-focus-hope/#staff

Thus, it seems that there are 5 members of Whitmer’s Transition Team that come from the corporate world, 3 former politicians, 2 lawyers, 1 doctor and 1 non-profit director.

Who’s Not on Whitmer’s Transition Team?

One glaring omission from Whitmer’s Transition Team is organized labor. This is significant in many ways, especially since organized labor contributed to her election campaign. http://mcfn.org/followthemoney2018#Governor Organized labor contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars, yet they don’t have a seat on the Governor-Elect’s Transition Team. Organized labor should be there to fight to restore pensions for public sector employees and teachers, remove Michigan’s Right to Work policy, fight to get a livable wage for Michigan’s workers and reduced the power that corporations like Nestle has over State government. Organized labor has to stop supporting Democrats, unless there are clear benefits for working class people, as we noted in Part II of our Labor Day articles

There is no overt representation of anyone from the Environmental Justice movement that is part of Whitmer’s Transition Team. Having someone from the Environmental Justice Movement could lead to reversing the state’s water give-away to Nestle, lead to an end to Line 5, bring about some immediate outcomes to the Flint & Detroit water crisis and the development of clean and efficient mass transit.

There is no one on Whitmer’s Transit Team that is part of the racial justice movement. Having someone from the racial justice movement would send a strong message to the state that police violence against black and brown communities would no longer be tolerated, that funding for communities of color would increase dramatically, that ICE violence against the immigrant community would no longer have the support of the Governor’s office and that the newly proposed private immigrant detention facility in Ionia would be canceled.

There is no overt representation on the Governor-Elect’s Transition Team from the LGBTQ community. Having LGBTQ representation would send a strong message to the people of Michigan that unlike Schuette’s anti-LGBTQ stance, the new Governor would take the offensive in promoting LGBTQ policies like adding LGBTQ protections to the Elliot-Larson anti-discrimination laws and provide greater protections for members of the trans and gender non-conforming community.

There is no representation from the Housing Justice or anti-gentrification organizations across the state. Having someone from this sector on the Transition Team would send a strong message to developers, landlords and property management companies that rental costs should be reduced to a truly affordable level. Someone from this sector would also mean that there could be an end to Emergency Management policies and give greater control to neighborhoods and communities that are constantly be taken over by or threatened with gentrification.

There is no representation from the Public Education community on Whitmer’s Transition Team. Having a strong public education advocate could lead to Lansing defending public school teachers, challenging Charter School expansion, not allowing public money to support Charter or private schools and a commitment to greater funding opportunities of public education, especially if it levels the playing field for school districts that are primarily made up of students of color.

This brief list of who is not on the Governor-Elect’s Transition Team is meant to get us all to stop just being happy that there isn’t a Republican Governor and to get us to engage in radical imagination about what could happen and what needs to happen if we want social justice to be achieved. Having said all this, I am not surprised that Whitmer’s Transition Team does not include people from social movements. Elections rarely include the vision of social movements, which is why social movements should always be autonomous from electoral politics, allowing them to challenge governments to adopt policies that promote greater economic, social and racial justice.

Senator Stabenow wants Michiganders to make the weapons used by US military and sold to foreign governments

November 14, 2018

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow’s office has recently released a new report, Make It American

The report is designed to change the Buy American legislation loopholes, which allows US government agencies to purchase goods manufactured in other countries. Senator Stabenow’s report is designed to get rid of these loopholes and provide greater opportunities for Michigan manufacturers to get those government contracts in the future.

Not surprising the largest area of government agency use of contractors outside of the US is the Department of Defense, using $84 billion of US taxpayer money to have military equipment made by contractors from around the globe.

Senator Stabenow’s pitch in this report is to close these loopholes, so that Americans, and especially those living in Michigan, get the jobs in the manufacturing industry. Sounds about right. Every politician runs on the idea that they will create jobs. Jobs, like crime and education, are main pillars in any campaign strategy. However, to emphasize the importance of the report, Senator Stabenow’s homepage (as of this writing), has a picture of her with the CEO of R.A. Miller Industries (RAMI), a Grand Haven-based manufacturer of high-tech products for our military. 

There are some major issues that the report misses, issues that virtually all politicians don’t want to talk about, so let’s unpack the contradictions of capitalism and militarism that are at the heart of this new report from Senator Stabenow.

Americans should build the weapons and other tools used by the US military. It is fairly well known that the US economy was at its peak during WWII, since everything from the steel industry, transportation and technology industries were geared towards making items used by the US military. This was really the birth of the US Military Industrial Complex, that Eisenhower warned the people about just as he was leaving office.

However, since the Military Industrial Complex is part of the system of capitalism, weapons manufacturers and other industrialists, their allegiance is determined more by profits than patriotism. With the US government and specifically the Department of Defense, they too operate within a capitalist framework, thus they will seek out manufacturing contracts that are lower, thus their allegiance often is swayed by capitalism and not by patriotism.

Americans pay for the US Military Industrial Complex. No where in Senator Stabenow’s report is there any discussion of how US taxpayers fundamentally subsidizes the US Military Industrial Complex, as is well documented by the National Priorities Project. US taxpayer pay for war and militarism, regardless of who actually makes the weapons.

Even if Americans make the weapons, a large percent of the weapons are being sold to foreign government. US weapons sales and military aid has always been astronomical. In fact, the US has been the largest global weapons trafficker for decades and the amount of military that the US provides is greater than the combined total of most countries that provide military aid abroad, as can be seen in the chart below. In addition, US weapons sales are being used by foreign governments to engage in warfare and oppression, with Israel and Saudi Arabia as just two examples.

Capitalists don’t like to be regulated. Capitalist, especially global capitalists don’t like to be regulated. However, in the case of the Defense Industry, they are happy to get government contracts, which are essentially a subsidy from taxpayers and sometimes referred to as a form of State Capitalism. Senator Stabenow will have a nearly impossible time trying to get the loopholes closed with the current Buy American legislation. However, I suspect that this was not really her goal. The Senator’s goal was really about demonstrating to the public and military contractors (mostly military contractors) that she cares about Michigan’s economy, since the report was released just weeks before the November election.

Lastly, it is worth noting that like all US politicians at the federal level, Senator Stabenow has a commitment to neoliberal capitalism and US Imperialism. More profits for weapons profiteers and more weapons for the larger global US imperial project.

Diversity of Tactics, Movement Building and the campaign to End the ICE contract with Kent County

November 13, 2018

As we reported, last Thursday, representatives from the ACLU and the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC) presented both legal and personal reasons why Kent County officials should take a stand and end their contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

There were several members of Movimiento Cosecha GR, which spoke during public comment, like they have for months, since the campaign to end the contract began in June. The first person to speak from the ACLU/MIRC was a member of the affected community and followed the same type of message that Cosecha GR members have used…….she spoke about the actual harm being done to her family members by ICE violence.

The story from this woman was powerful and it was important that the lawyers from the ACLU and MIRC began with this testimony, which continued to center the voices and lived experiences of the immigrant community.

A lawyer from MIRC spoke next and provided important legal arguments for why Kent County did NOT need to comply or cooperate with ICE agents in Kent County, which you can read about in more detail at this link

The closing comments were made by a lawyer from the ACLU, who also made some legal arguments. However, what Miriam Aukerman (ACLU) made clear in her comments that what was important is that the County needed to act now, especially since the community has been asking them to end the contract since June. Aukerman made it clear that it is unconscionable that the County has failed to act after the affected community has been using their voices and sharing their lived experiences. The ACLU lawyer made it clear that the County needed to introduce and pass a resolution to demand that the Kent County Sheriff end their contract with ICE.

What the lawyers had to say were nothing but complementary to what Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE have been saying for months. In fact, even though County Administrators and County Commissioners have viewed the End the Contract efforts with distain, primarily because of the tactics that have been used, the ACLU/MIRC call to End the Contract should be viewed as the an affirmation of what has happened over the past 5 months.

In addition, the ACLU/MIRC call for an End to the Contract also spoke to the diversity of tactics that are necessary in movement building. While the county officials may dislike the disruptive tactics, what Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE organizing effort has demonstrated is that this insurgent social movement (movement from below) is consistent with previous movements, like the Civil Rights Movement.

The Civil Rights Movement used education, legal means and a whole lot of direct action to force politicians to adopt policies that were based on equality and freedom. The Civil Rights Movement, like all social movements, engaged in direct action tactics that disrupted “business as usual” social norms. Whether that meant a sit in, boycotting a business, shutting down street traffic or disrupting bureaucratic proceedings that the public has no say in and is designed to protect systems of power and privilege, the tactics that have been employed by Movimiento Cosecha GR, GR Rapids Response to ICE, the ACLU and MIRC are all necessary in the fight to resist ICE violence in Kent County.

Documents from FOIA request about Kent County ICE Contract reveal several important points

November 12, 2018

(A special thanks to Amy Carpenter for submitting a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the documents pertaining to the Kent County ICE Contract.)

Recently, someone working with Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE requested that the county release documents regarding the Sheriff’s Department contract with ICE, beginning with the lead up to the June 28th action at the Kent County Commission meeting, all the way up to the County segregating the public to a different room during their regular meeting schedule.

The documentation includes a great deal of repetitive content, since the e-mails include certain threads between county commissioners and county administration staff. However, there are several things that are instructive when reading the FOIA requested documents.

First, it is instructive that county officials (referring to staff, commissioners and Sheriff’s Dept.) began by stating that the ICE contract is a federal matter and that there is nothing they can do about it. From there, the language changed to “it is the Sheriff’s Department that has the contract,” and eventually the demand to end the ICE contract “will not achieve what your group wants to do.” There was clearly an evolution to how county officials responded to the demands to end the ICE contract.

Second, it was clear from numerous exchanges between county officials that they were clearly monitoring Movimiento Cosecha GR, GR Rapid Response to ICE and GRIID articles about the campaign to end the contract. On a June 14 communication between County Administrator Britt and Commissioner Saalfeld, Britt states, “It is strictly a Sheriff policy issue but it’s germane to the County Board because we are the funding unit that equips him with the jail. However, we can stop anyone from using public comment to politicize an issue.” Numerous commissioners have denied any relationship between the county budget and the ICE contract, even though it seems that Britt makes that point pretty clear. It’s also interesting how he is suggesting that they want to “stop anyone from using public comment to politicize an issue.” What else could public comment about the ICE contract be other than political?

County Administrator Britt does send out a message (June 29) just after the June 28 County Commission meeting, with a message that was vetted through corporate counsel, about what happened at the June 28 meeting. The meeting was ended “to ensure the safety of all individuals in the room.” This is ridiculous, since no one who came to that meeting was a threat to anyones safety. The only threat came from armed officers who threatened to remove people from the room.

In preparation for the July County Commission meeting, county officials wanted to make it clear that they were going to include some new protocols in response to the June 28 meeting, by dictating and controlling how public comment would go and how the physical space would be organized, as you can see from their comments below.

On pages 45 – 48 of the FOIA documents, regarding the August 23rd Commission meeting, county officials provide justification for their suspension of the meeting and moving it to another building.

On page 55 of the FOIA documents, we see that a staff person with Michigan Senator Gary Peters was at the July Kent County Commission meeting. It was agreed that Chairperson Saalfeld would not introduce the staffer with Sen. Peters, rather he just wanted to listen and observe. There was no further information or correspondence with Sen. Peters’ office in the FOIA documents.

On page 64, one County administrator states, “The County and its Commissioners remaining willing to discuss the issues and the limited ability of the County to influence the federal immigration law, but the recent vandalism and trespassing at the County Board Chair’s home and further disruption at the today’s meeting did not foster collaboration or cooperation.” There was no vandalism at Chairman Saalfeld’s home, just numerous signs left challenging him to end the contract with ICE.  If there was vandalism or trespassing the police would have arrested people, but no one was arrested despite significant police presence. In regards to the disruption at the July County Board meeting, the groups that have organized these actions have made it very clear that until the county ends their complicity with ICE violence, there will be disruptions at the meetings, because the mild inconvenience of meetings being disrupted is nothing compared to how the lives of immigrants are being disrupted every day in this community. 

This sentiment from county administrators is continued on page 65 when they state, “If they want to solely protest without listening and dialoguing it will be a disappointment.” Well, representatives from Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE did meet with County officials at a separate gathering in early August, but despite the information shared about the ongoing violence being done to the immigrant community, the County officials present refused to even discuss any possibility of ending the contract with ICE.

On page 68, Commissioner Antor writes to County Administrators about his frustration with “protestors” and suggests that the county no longer allow signs in the commission meetings or bullhorns and any disruptive behavior. He also states that the county should put out a statement on the FACTS about the ICE contract to “dispel all the hyperbole and misinformation.” This same commissioner was recorded at a later meeting engaging in his own propaganda that was merely parroting the Trump administration positions on immigration. 

On page 70 we finally learn about the fact that some county officials were setting up a separate meeting that did not include those organizing the end the contract campaign, where the sheriff and undersheriff were present.

Beginning on page 75, we see the first information about the decision of the County Board Chair to suspend the September 13th meeting because of the People’s Commission that was held in the commission chambers. On page 77, the FOIA documents show that the county once again was monitoring the campaign’s Facebook page and quoting it at length.

On page 81, Chairman Saalfeld makes his feelings known in a short rant about those involved with the End the Contract campaign:

Interesting that he notes that he spoke with a news person off the record about how facts are distorted, which is interesting considering that the local news has continued to report on the campaign to end the ICE contract and has even provided information that challenges the County’s ongoing lack of taking people seriously.

On pages 89 – 90, there is correspondence from a resident in Ada that said they were praying for the county commissioners and Saalfeld said to let her know that “their prayers are greatly appreciated.”

On page 97 there is an e-mail from Comm. Bulkowski asking if there has been any discussion about setting up a meeting between “the Sheriff and the Hispanic community.“ He then goes on to say, “I tam pretty confident that the few people who disrupt our meetings don’t represent the wider Hispanic community.” Then on page 104, Comm. Bulkowski goes on to say more about wanting to meet with the “Hispanic Community” and that groups like the Hispanic Chamber and the Hispanic Center should be invited to talk about these matters. This is further indication that the commissioners are dismissive of those involved with Movimiento Cosecha GR and the affected community that has continued to share their stories about the pain suffered by ICE violence.

Beginning with page 115 and continuing for several pages there is the county’s response/PR damage control in regards to their decision to not allow the public in the Commission chambers during the 2nd September meeting.

On Page 121, Comm. Saalfeld commends County Administrator Britt for his interview on WKTV and then states that the others interviewed indicates both some inaccurate facts and some things that are not understood. We of course have a much different perspective on the interviews. 

On page 128, Comm. Saalfeld sent another e-mail to County Administrator Britt, with a link to a GRIID article about the No Business With ICE Day action and the following comment.

“Maybe time to engage the GRPD.”

Saalfeld no doubt makes this comment because in the GRIID article cited and many of others, there has been a huge GRPD presence at anti-ICE actions. Since the Kent County Sheriff has stated repeatedly that they will not arrest people during County Commission meetings that Saalfeld wants to enlist the GRPD to deal with those who disrupt the commission meetings. 

While the documents based on the FOIA request don’t necessarily reveal anything significant, they are instructive as far as how the county views those involved in the end the contract campaign and how the disruptions have made some of them very uncomfortable moving forward.

Lawyers present case that Kent County doesn’t need to comply with ICE, yet majority of the Commissioners fail to take action

November 9, 2018

Yesterday, about 25 people working on the End the ICE contract with the Kent County Sheriff’s Department attended the morning meeting of the Kent County Commission.

Only a few of the organizers with Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE spoke about the contract during public comment. However, there were several representatives from the Western Michigan branch of the ACLU and MIRC (Michigan Immigrant Rights Center) who presented together, making it clear that Kent County was not legally obligated to comply with ICE, nor to continue the contract.

The legal arguments for why Kent County doesn’t have to comply with ICE was laid out in a letter sent to then Sheriff Stelma in late September, a letter you can read here.

In addition to their legal case, representatives from the ACLU and MIRC told the Kent County Commissioners and administrators that they have been circulating a letter in the community with clear demands about ending the contract with ICE and making Kent County a more welcoming community for immigrants. You can read and sign on to the letter here, and here are the list of demands presented in the letter:

We call on you, the County Commissioners, to pass a welcoming resolution for Kent County that does the following:

1. Proclaims that Kent County is a county that welcomes immigrants;

2. Calls on the Sheriff to end the contract with ICE and its voluntary and harmful practice of aiding ICE’s deportation efforts;

3. Prohibits any county funds from being used for federal immigration enforcement efforts; and

4. Commits to engage the community on other steps the county can take to make Kent County a more welcoming county.

The letter has been signed by community stakeholders including Justice for Our Neighbors, the Hispanic Center of West Michigan, the Micah Center, Treetops Collective, Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids,  Christian Reformed Church Office of Social Justice, Joy Like a River United Church of Christ, Grand Rapids Rapid Response, and the West Michigan Coalition for Immigration Reform.

At the end of the meeting, just before the commissioners adjourned, there were a few responses directed at the issue of the ICE contract. Comm. Melton spoke with some urgency about the need to do something, especially since the community has been coming before this commission for more than four months now.

Commissioner Talen made reference to the 2019 County Budget that was discussed earlier and he said he was struck by the language in the section of the budget about public safety (Sheriff’s Department and Jail) that the county should protect people, especially the most vulnerable. He then made the connection between the most vulnerable and the families impacted by ICE violence, but never agreed to take action or to honor the demands laid out by the ACLU, MIRC, Movimiento Cosecha GR or GR Rapid Response to ICE.

Commissioner Bulkowski then said what he and some others have been saying since June, which was that they need to go through the process of investigating the matter and establish a Task Force. This is problematic on several levels. First, suggesting that the county establish a Task Force completed dismisses the lived experiences of the immigrant community, which has been communicating with them since June about the harm that their families are enduring because of ICE. Second, establishing a Task Force minimizes the organized efforts of Movimiento Cosecha GR, GR Rapid Response to ICE, the ACLU and MIRC, which has been calling for an end to the ICE contract since June. All of these groups have done their due diligence, by taking testimony from hundreds of people impacted by ICE violence, documenting it, providing legal support for the families, mutual aid support and publicizing the ICE violence for the past 2 years. In addition, Chairperson Saalfeld said he was hesitant to establish a Task Force, since the Commissioners can’t dictate policy matters to the Sheriff’s Department. Saalfeld made these comments just minutes after the ACLU and MIRC made it clear that the county is under no legal obligation to comply with ICE.

Commissioner Womack was the last to respond to this issue, by stating that he was going to commit to writing up a draft of a Kent County Commission Resolution to call on the Sheriff’s Department to end the contract. It seems that the only person to hear what people have been saying for months and willing to take action, is the only commissioner of color.

How about we work on collective liberation: On why we should not be seduced by electoral politics

November 7, 2018

Ok, so it’s two days after the election and lots of people are feeling good about the outcome. This euphoria is understandable, especially since the Trump administration took over the White House and began making the already white supremacist political culture in the US an even greater nightmare for communities of color.

I get why people turned out in large numbers on Tuesday and voted to reject the reactionary far right agenda. I also get that people voted overwhelmingly for Democrats. However, let us be clear that the vote yesterday was primarily about doing what some refer to has a form of “harm reduction.” Personally, I think the term is problematic, but I get that people want to believe that their participation in voting might be a way to slow down the harm that is being done to so many in the current systems of oppression – capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, settler colonialism, etc. That being said, it doesn’t STOP THE HARM BEING DONE. Harm is still being done and we all know which communities of people who were experiencing the greatest amount of harm are and who will continue to experience harm tomorrow – black Americans and other communities of color, immigrants, the disability community, the LGBTQ community (especially trans and queer people of color) and people who are experiencing the brutality of poverty.

Voting as a form of harm reduction should also tells us that the system of voting is not really designed to challenge systems of power and oppression, rather it just trying to keep it from totally destroying us. Sheldon Wolin, in his important book Democracy Inc: Managed Democracy and the Spector of Inverted Totalitarianism, makes it clear that the form of representative democracy that exists in the US is a form of managed democracy (sort of like managerial racism). Those who have the real power, will only tolerate small changes from civil society. Wolin also points out that those in power have only become more entrenched in recent decades, with even more influence over the electoral system in the US. This is exactly why a great deal of people in the US do not participate in the process. In 1956, the great African American scholar W.E.B. Du Bois wrote, “I believe that democracy has so far disappeared in the United States and that no two evils exist. There is but one evil party with two names, and it will be elected despite all I can do or say.”

I add this comment from Du Bois not to say that people shouldn’t vote, rather to make the point that voting is but one tactic to use to work towards collective liberation. However, voting within the current system that is used in the US will never bring about collective liberation, which is why those in power allow it to continue. For instance, think about the three state ballots proposals that passed in Michigan. While they all generated a fair amount of positive attention in liberal/progressive circles, Props 2 & 3 are merely tweaks to the existing electoral system and in fact just provides more legitimacy to the system of managerial democracy. Proposal 1, which will legalize the sale of marijuana in Michigan, will be a very small step in reducing the harm done by the War on Drugs, especially against communities of color. However, as legal and anti-racist scholar Michelle Alexander points out, “Here are White Men poised to run big Marijuana businesses, dreaming of cashing in big. Big money, big business and selling weed, after 40 years of locking up impoverished black kids for selling weed. Their families and futures destroyed. Now White men are planning on getting rich doing precisely the same thing.” The poor black and brown people who are in for drug possession will not likely be pardoned, nor will they be reimbursed for loss of wages, jobs, housing, etc. Also, within the system of capitalism, who do you think will be the primary beneficiaries of marijuana sales?

However, the most important point I want to make here is that while voting can be a tactic for harm reduction, it does not get us to collective liberation. If we want collective liberation and especially the liberation of black, brown and indigenous people, those who identify as trans and queer, immigrants, those experiencing poverty and those suffering the brunt of US imperialism, then we need to ask ourselves…….how do we make this kind of collective liberation possible?

Think about it. Today, and yes, even after the newly elected people take office, what will we have in the US?

  • We still have land that was stolen by a system of settler colonialism from hundreds of Native nations.
  • We still have a country where most of the taxes are used for the Military Industrial Complex to expand US imperialism, with the US being the largest weapons trafficker in the world.
  • We still have a country where black people are murdered by cops at an alarming rate, with disproportionately high levels of poverty and millions of black people in the Prison Industrial Complex.
  • We still don’t have anything remotely close to Climate Justice. In fact, we still have a capitalist system which doesn’t give a shit about the ongoing ecological destruction that is taking place on a global scale.
  • We still have the system of patriarchy in place, where women are sexually assaulted at astronomical rates and a rape culture that permeates virtually every aspect of this society.
  • We still have a heterosexist system that rewards cisgendered people and punishes trans, queer and gender non-conforming people.
  • We still have a system of capitalism, which brutalizes workers and redirects more public money into the private sector.
  • We still have a system where undocumented immigrants are criminalized and being rounded up by ICE every day to be sent to detention facilities, often leading to deportation.
  • We still have a health care system that is driven by private corporations, which have no regard for the well being of most people.

I could go on about the kind of system we have, but the point here would be that this system has been around since the US was founded, regardless of who sits in the White House or who controls Congress.

I know there are plenty of people who think that voting for Democrats is enough to change the system, but voting for Democrats will not end or even challenge the the systems of oppression listed above. For example, in the first few years of the Clinton Administration and the first few years of the Obama administration, when Democrats controlled the White House and Congress, the structural and systemic oppression of people and the planet continued. Democrats controlling the White House and Congress did not result in a major systemic changes or dismantling of systems of oppression. This is not to say that the Bush II administration and the current Trump administration has pushed legislative politics further to the right, to expand the control of systems of power and oppression, but the point here is that Democrats in power do not push legislative politics in ways that challenge systems of power and oppression, social movements do.

Of course, what I am saying is that while voting may have been a form of harm reduction, it will not get us to collective liberation. If we want to work for collective liberation then we will need to be involved in mass movements. Mass movements not only have the power to challenge the systems of power and oppression that run the country, they have the power to create safe spaces, to center the lives and voices of the most vulnerable, movements can allow us to engage in radical imagination and provide opportunities to create new, independent and autonomous ways of organizing.

What I want to encourage people to do is to vote for and to chose to be part of social movements that are fighting for justice and collective liberation. If it isn’t clear to people what those movements look like, I would suggest the following:

  • Black Lives Matter and other black-led movements for liberation that are challenging the system of White Supremacy.
  • Indigenous movements, like we saw at Standing Rock that are now being replicated all over Turtle Island, movements which are challenging the system of Settler Colonialism.
  • Movimiento Cosecha, Mijente and other immigrant led and immigrant justice movements
  • Queer and Trans liberation movements, like Pink and Black or the Silvia Rivera Law Project.
  • Disability Justice movements, especially those that operate outside of the non-profit system.
  • Food Justice movements, especially those that renounce food charity and corporate agribusiness, like Via Campesina.
  • Climate Justice movements, especially those that do not believe that capitalism and sustainability are compatible, like Idol No More.
  • Tenant Rights and housing justice movements that are led by those experiencing gentrification and skyrocketing housing costs, like the Right to the City movement.
  • Anti-imperialist movements like the Zapatistas, the Palestinian BDS movement and other insurgent movements fighting against US imperialism.

Educate yourself. Be part of movement building work. Fight to dismantle systems of oppression. Work towards Collective Liberation. Vote for social movements, with your energy, your ideas, your creativity, your passion, your imagination and your resources. Don’t be seduced by the limitations of electoral politics and embrace the power of collective liberation.

White House releases a report on the evils of Socialism and of course the Acton Institute praises it

November 1, 2018

A week ago, the White House released a report entitled, The Opportunity Costs of Socialism

The 72 page report was put together by the White House group known as the Council of Economic Advisors (CEA). The CEA was founded in 1946, during the Truman administration and conducts research for the White House on economic policy.

The CEA is made up of individuals who all have a history of defending the economic system of capitalism, beginning with the Chairman, Kevin Hassett. Hassett, a former consultant for the US Treasury Department, spent numerous years as an economist for the American Enterprise Institute, an influential right wing think tank. 

On Friday, the Grand Rapids-based think tank, the Acton Institute, posted an article summarizing the White House report and essentially affirming its analysis. The Acton Institute’s support of the report is no surprise considering that the organization is an apologist for free market policies. 

The article has one accompanying photo, which shows people at a rally in the US, holding signs saying Medicare for All. In the White House report and the Acton Institute article, the idea of Medicare for All is considered scandalous, since it would prevent private corporations the right to sell people insurance. The White House report does not provide an assessment of the current health care system in the US, other than to suggest that it is less of a tax burden than single payer health care policies that other countries have adopted. The report also fails to mention that there are millions of Americans who support policies like Medicare for All.

The report is riddled with flaws, but perhaps the largest one is the role that the US has played in attempting to undermine countries which have adopted socialist policies. The White House report attempts to critique the economic policies of China, the former Soviet Union, Cuba and Venezuela.

The report offers no comparison on the differences in China or Russia today, which have essentially adopted state-sponsored capitalism, to the socialist policies that both countries previously held. More importantly, in the case of Cuba and Venezuela, the report omits the fact that the US government has actively tried to undermine undermine Cube since 1959, using a variety of tactics or what Noam Chomsky refers to as decades of political terror and economic warfare

In the case of Venezuela, the US during the years that Hugo Chavez was in power and up to the present, has also actively attempted to undermine the country by isolating Venezuela, punishing countries that have positive relations with them, using economic leverage and undermining the political process through organizations such as the National Endowment for Democracy.  Eva Golinger’s book, The Chavez Code: Cracking US Intervention in Venezuela, provides excellent analysis on  how the US has worked to undermine Venezuela.

The White House report on socialism hasn’t received much attention in the mainstream commercial media or even in more independent media sources. This is understandable, considering everything else that has been happening in recent weeks, but the failure of news agencies to cover the findings of the report is indicative of the news media’s tendency to focus on the person of Donald Trump, rather than the policies of the current administration.