September 29, 2006

Future Preacher of the House?

"Forty is a number fraught with meaning in the Bible, whether it is the Jews and the Gaza, Noah and his wife and the ark, or Christ in the desert,'' Pelosi said she reminded the House Democratic caucus.
Oye, I've heard of Democrats going out of their way to appeal to the "faith community," but that's pretty over the top.

It'll take more than biblical forecasting and heavenly appeals to unseat fear-mongering congressional Republicans armed with this kind of language:
"Democrat Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and 159 of her Democrat colleagues voted today in favor of more rights for terrorists,'' Hastert charged Wednesday night after the bill passed. "So the same terrorists who plan to harm innocent Americans and their freedom worldwide would be coddled if we followed the Democrat plan.''
Nevermind empty threats of foreign attack. Yesterday freedom and civil liberties were dealt a lethal blow right at home, by none other than Denny and his cohorts. Kiss habeas corpus goodbye. And now it's entirely at the president's discretion who's labeled an enemy combatant and thereby elligible to be subjected to cruel and inhumane punishment (including rape, since that apparently no longer qualifies as "torture"). And all the while mainstream media lauds the bill as a "compromise" (despite few White House concessions) focusing solely on political rather than historical ramifications of the legislation.

They've got Dems shaking in their boots.
We don’t blame the Democrats for being frightened. The Republicans have made it clear that they’ll use any opportunity to brand anyone who votes against this bill as a terrorist enabler. But Americans of the future won’t remember the pragmatic arguments for caving in to the administration.
Rather than cowering, a winning strategy from Democrats would be to stand firmly on principle and call out their opponents for corrupting the very fabric of democratic ideals in the name of a false sense of security. Clearly prayers and acquiesence haven't gotten them anywhere.

September 06, 2006

Students mobilized...on Facebook

At last, student activism has been reinvigorated.
"Now's the time to give them constructive criticism and to let them know that we're not going to go quietly in the night. We're here to stay, we want significant change. Let's work!"
What single issue could mobilize 360,000 high school and college students (and counting) in about two days' time? Not the rising cost of higher education. Not genocide, or a bloody civil war and occupation. And warrantless wiretapping? Though that poses a much more significant threat to personal privacy, it's got nothin on ::gasp:: changes to Facebook. Jake's on it:
The response has been overwhelming. The entire community is rising up and creating groups upon groups criticizing the new features, which are called "minifeed" and "newsfeed". Walls and discussion forums in the new groups are bustling with rapid chatter. People are placing anti-minifeed messages in their status updates and profiles, as well.
The massive "Students against Facebook News Feed Group" is like a microcosm of the larger political sphere, with representatives from every faction lining up, offering their two cents about the change that rocked their world (or didn't). You've got net-evangelists starting a discussion entitled "WHAT REALLY MATTERS IN LIFE (it's about God, y'all)," and my personal favorite, the archetypal "love-it-or-leave-it" conservative:
P.D. (Grand Rapids CC) wrote:
grow up, shut up, and if you want, LEAVE FACEBOOK. no one is making you stay.
a la South Park--"If you don't like america, then you can git out!"
I'll admit, it's pretty impressive. Jake concludes:
This is the single greatest spectacle of youth activism I have ever witnessed.
Knowing Jake, there's probably a little more than a hint of sarcasm in that. I think he's right to be cynical though, that there doesn't seem to be much else in the real world worth celebrating on the student activism front. Though this perfectly illustrates the power of netroots activism, I can't help but feel discouraged. Internet activism (while it can't replace the real thing) has huge potential, but only if people have their priorities straight, and there's clearly something seriously wrong in that department. Maybe I'm just nay-saying. "Always nay-saying...everything I create!"

I'm willing to bet that the majority of these students are far more active in online networks than in any organizing around real issues and policies impacting their communities at the local level, much less at the national or international level. Why? Because it's easy and requires only a mouse click or two. Sadly, that's no replacement for honest-to-god organizing in the flesh. And thanks to the way MSM reports it and what it chooses to prioritize(you knew it had to come back to that), what's really happening is no more real than what happens on the internet.

Remember that Le Tigre song, "Get Off the Internet"? I don't need to tell anyone here how the web is a powerful tool for organizing. There's no doubt about it. It democratizes communication and the flow of ideas (though the digital divide must be narrowed to improve access for less priviledged communities), and that's why the net neutrality fight is such an important one. But the song's got a point:

It's about how demoralizing "cyber-activism" can be...I think it’s really important that people remember not to become isolated in their apartments or in their offices with their e-mail and understand that there is a real place for activism that isn’t so language-based. People get so involved in online discourse that it sort of becomes meaningless -- it’s kind of like being in a hall of mirrors or something. That’s what that song is about to me -- it’s about actually remembering what your priorities are.
"Get off the internet! I'll meet you in the street!"

...or I'll just sit at my laptop for another 48 straight hours.


Okay, ONE LAST THING and I've said my peace.

Perhaps there is something to be said for Facebook as a surveillance tool. If anything, this is what users should be holding its owners accountable for, instead of something like the "news feed," which on relative terms does little to change the actual database, besides cluttering an otherwise pretty straightforward interface. Sure, now you can know the moment when someone breaks up and friends someone new, or messages someone, or scratches their ass. But investors' links to CIA information gathering projects on? Meh. And though Facebook denies trasmitting information on students, one can't help but be weary:
One lucky Oklahoma student who posted an unsavory comment about President Bush received a friendly Secret Service visit. Saul Martinez, a sophomore member of a “Bush Sucks” Facebook group, responded to another student’s assertion that his pet fish would make a better President, posting a comment along the lines of “Or we could all donate a dollar and raise millions of dollars to hire an assassin to kill the president and replace him with a monkey.” Four months later, Martinez found himself being questioned by a secret service agent who thought he might be a trained assassin.

You know the CIA's got some serious issues if it's relying on Facebook.

But just keep it in mind next time you join the "Bush sucks" group. If there even is a Facebook tomorrow.

September 04, 2006

Happy defanged Labor Day

Ah yes, the first Monday in September. The end of summer, the start of the school year and campaign season, and (who's really counting?) "labor" day--a day so stripped of its historical significance and dissociated from its proletarian roots that you're hard pressed to find a U.S. citizen able to distinguish it from Veteran's Day or Memorial Day. According to a Rasmussen poll,

Thirty-eight percent (38%) say they take the day to celebrate the contributions of society's labor force and 45% say they use the day to mark the unofficial end of summer. Sixteen percent (16%) aren't sure what they celebrate on Labor Day.

And of course today isn't recognized outside the U.S., because ironically, the original Labor Day--International Worker's Day—established in this country to commemorate the Chicago Haymarket Massacre and the struggle for an 8 hour work day, was celebrated worldwide already on May 1st. What gives?

The holiday's burgeoning popularity led Congress, in 1894, to establish "Labor Day" in September to honor American workers -- a holiday established, not by ordinary workers themselves as an expression of empowerment, but by big business and their Congressional apologists, as a way to try to dictate what workers were and weren't allowed to celebrate.

One day belonged to the workers; the other 365 days belonged to big business, and we were to work as many hours of those days as business pleased.

May Day was a day won by workers, begrudgingly conceded by the government, only to be rendered an empty gesture towards those deserving far greater recognition for their part in the struggle for dignity and protection in the workplace.

Nelson Lichtenstein, a labor historian at UCSB and the go-to guy on the Walmartization of the global economy, explained how this year, the Great American Boycott on May Day reclaimed the holiday:

…Demonstrations and boycotts return the American protest tradition to its turn-of-the-20th-century ethnic proletarian origins—a time when, in the United States as well as in much of Europe, the quest for citizenship and equal rights was inherent in the fight for higher wages, stronger unions, and more political power for the working class.

And it looks like more actions like the marches on May 1st are scheduled around the country in the coming week.


Today, only 12.5% of the workforce is unionized, and the same poll conducted on the public recognition of Labor Day concluded that (try to resist the urge to vomit)

More Americans have a favorable opinion of retail giant Walmart (69%) than Labor Unions (58%).

Those are some pretty despicable numbers. But how representative are they? Do they really indicate the decline in union support that corporate America keeps trumpeting? Public opinion data from a nationwide survey by respected pollster Peter Hart in 2005 found 53 percent of nonunion workers - that's more than 50 million people - want to join a union, if given the choice.

David Sirota of the SF Chronicle says “Bashing organized labor is a Republican pathology, to the point where unions are referenced with terms reserved for military targets." He cites an article headlined "GOP readies for War With Big Labor.”

I had a pretty looney econ professor who used the classroom as a platform for his tirades against unions, accusing them of single-handedly upending the purported natural stability of the free market, and of representing only a cabal of the selfish elite workers out to profit at the expense of unorganized lower income labor. Corporations, on the other hand, were blameless. Naturally.

Daraka Larimore-Hall is an organizer and grad student at UCSB. He’s got a thing or two to say about “big labor.”

Corporations outspend unions 24 to 1 on political donations, and yet they are often discussed as if they are identical threats to the democratic system. Not only do employers have more power in the economy and in the workplace, they have more power in the political process: more money to give, more leverage over elected officials, more access to media.

…And let’s not kid ourselves: there is a moral distance between corporations, which are driven by profit, and democratic organizations which represent millions of people at the bottom of the economic ladder. All things are not equal when they chose to intervene in politics. One does so for the benefit of the many, the other for the benefit of the few. It’s that simple.

A couple years back, Daraka gave a talk at a Campus Dems meeting, where he delivered a call to action along with the most convincing argument I’d heard on the direct correlation between the success of the Democratic party and the strength of union organizing:

It is not an accident that as unions have waned, so has the “traditional” Democratic Party. We can wring our hands and talk about using the internet to "take back America", or we can understand that that fight happens in workplaces and neighborhoods across the United States. It is in organizing drives, Living Wage struggles, house meetings and city council elections from Seattle to Miami. Everywhere, labor is a part of those battles. Unions are far more than a national ATM machine for tepid, “liberal” candidates. Labor is the heart and soul of our progressive future.

On this day (more like every day), labor in California deserves to be commended for a number of victories over the past year, with voters’ rejection of Prop 75, the Living Wage campaign’s success in Santa Barbara, coalition building for immigrant and labor rights around May Day mobilizations, and we can all thank a union-led movement for a successful campaign to pass recent legislation boosting the state minimum wage to $8 by 2008. But given the record of expanding corporate influence and systematic labor suppression in recent decades, there’s clearly still a lot standing in the way of progressive labor policies, and a great deal of work to be done—just not on oh-so-generous day off, right?