Monday, October 21, 2013

What Jane McAlevey and 2000 Bush/Gore recount can teach us...

Its good to see labor out fighting on Social Security.    If we are to protect Social Security we have to raise some hell.

I haven't seen it here in Georgia yet from unions; I'm waiting for the posts and leadership to start rallying the troops locally (cough cough).

But while I wait for Georgia labor to mobilize on Social Security, I'm reminded of something I've learned from Jane McAlevey's excellent book on organizing Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell): My Decade Fighting for the Labor Movement--we have to raise expectations and raise some hell if we ever expect to make political gains vs the 1%.

I found her book via an excellent Doug Henwood interview she did which you need to check out. After buying her book, my own organizing in the workplace blossomed in to some really awesome work which i've learned and grown from in so many ways.

I think McAlevery's book provides some important context to why I've been hitting Michelle Nunn hard for her policy positions and her failure to publicly hold positions that protect and empower working people.  

Lacking backbone is a DLC/Fix the debt trademark of the past 30 years for the Democratic Party and labor has been acquiescence in the decline.  McAlevey opens her book talking about the Bush v Gore ballot recount and the failure to fight embedded into the playbook of Democrats and labor and its worth a read...
Palm Beach County was the land of the butterfly ballot and the hanging chad. Butterfly ballots were punch card ballots with the candidates and issues displayed on both sides of a single line of numbered voting marks— an arrangement especially liable to misinterpretation by people with poor vision, such as the elderly. Hanging chads were tiny bits of paper that should have fallen out of the ballots when voters punched in their choice of candidate but hadn’t, leaving a trail of ambiguity that could be used to obscure the intent of the voter. Thousands of ballots were being discounted or contested due to this rather archaic paper voting system. 
Finally, our plan took shape. Each of the senior staff would be given a team of organizers and we would start knocking on doors and collecting affidavits from people who would swear under oath that they had meant to vote for Gore but, confused by the butterfly ballot, had accidentally voted for Bush or Pat Buchanan.* Other teams were dispatched to grocery stores, and some were sent to a candlelight “protest” vigil. I was given a team of organizers, an attorney or two, a van, and a stack of maps indicating our assigned condominium complexes, mostly inhabited by senior citizens, and we raced off to collect affidavits. 
It was like shooting fish in a barrel. From the first complex we hit until we were pulled off the assignment a few days later, it was hard to find an elderly voter who hadn’t screwed up the ballot or didn’t want to make a sworn statement. These places were full of funny, highly educated, cranky New York Jews. I was a New Yorker myself, with a partly Jewish upbringing,† and these people felt like home to me. I adored them. And they were really pissed off, especially the ones who thought they had accidentally voted for Pat Buchanan (“ the SS guard,” they called him). There were holocaust survivors, and sons and daughters of holocaust survivors. What’s more, many of these folks had been union members in the Northeast before retiring. You would knock on their door and it was as if they had been sitting there impatiently wondering when the union would finally show up. Soon there were long lines in the community rooms, because we hadn’t anticipated such an outpouring. These folks could hardly stand up, there were walkers all around, but no one was leaving until they’d all met the lawyer, told their stories, and filled in the affidavits. And they were ready to do much more than that. Affidavits? Lawyers? Hell, these people were furious. 
I reported this every morning and evening at the  debrief meetings for lead organizers. “So when can we actually mobilize them, put these wonderful angry senior citizens into the streets and on camera?” I would ask. But we didn’t do anything of the sort. Instead, we did a candlelight vigil, which was an awful, badly organized affair, just the kind of event that makes me crazy. First, because it could have been huge, and second, because everyone who came was bored— a good recipe for how to get motivated, angry people to stay home the next time they get a flyer. But it got worse. Big-shot politicians from across the land were starting to show up, and they all came to the vigil to calm people down. It was a mind-blowing thing to watch. Were these guys idiots, did they want to lose, or what? 
I heard someone from the press mention that Jesse Jackson was coming in two days to do his own rally and march. Hmm. Why hadn’t we heard of that? Then, later that night, during the regular debriefing on legal updates on the recount and the next day’s assignments, a higher-up said, “Jesse Jackson is coming to do a big march. We won’t be participating in it. 
” I thought I had heard him wrong: “Um, sorry, can you repeat that?” 
“The Gore campaign has made the decision that this is not the image they want. They don’t want to protest. They don’t want to rock the boat. They don’t want to seem like they don’t have faith in the legal system. And they definitely don’t want to possibly alienate the Jews— you know, it’s Jackson— so we are not mobilizing for it.” 
While my heart was sinking my head was exploding. The American electoral process is breaking up like the Titanic and we don’t want to rock the boat? 
“I’m sorry, something doesn’t seem quite right here. As the person leading a field team in largely Jewish senior complexes, and, frankly, as someone raised by Jews, I can tell you that we need to take people into the streets. We need to let them express their anger. Republicans are starting to hold little rallies demanding that Democrats not be allowed to ‘steal’ the election. We need to either support this rally or do our own or both. 
” I also knew that to turn them out would require some resources, beginning with transportation from each condo complex. Most of these people didn’t drive or didn’t like to drive, which was why they lived in the condos, but that also meant they were generally home where we could find them. We had an instant mobilization in waiting; we could have 30,000 people in the streets in two days. I knew that the only outfit in Florida with the money, staff and experience to make this happen was organized labor. 
What was on the table here was more than a rally. It was a question of what sort of power was going to be brought to bear on a defining national crisis. The Gore people not only wanted to project a nice image, they wanted to be nice. They wanted everyone to go home and hand everything over to something called “the legal process.” This was ridiculous, because when and how and where this went to court was deeply political. Al Gore himself appeared to actually believe that if he could politely demonstrate that more Floridians had voted for him than for Bush, the “democratic system” would award him the election. Gore was right in the sense that he had won the state. There were other Democratic Party honchos who were not so naïve, but they lived in a world where you deal with these things behind closed doors. They were completely unprepared for the hypercharged political street theater exploding in Florida, and couldn’t understand the difference between a narrowly conceived legal strategy and a mass mobilization direct action strategy. They thought there was no difference. 
OK. That was the Democratic Party. We were organized labor. We didn’t represent the candidate. We represented thousands of union workers whose votes were being stolen, and millions more who would suffer if the whole damn election was stolen. We knew how to mobilize and we had the resources to do it. We had the Florida voter lists. We had the computers. We had an army of smart people on the ground, ready to go. And we had a base of literally millions of really angry people. We could have had buses of senior citizens chasing Katherine Harris, 
Florida’s secretary of state and the Bush campaign’s hatchet woman, all over the state— a Seniors Truth Commission of lovely, smart, appealing, telegenic elders lined up with their walkers outside every single meeting Harris was in and camped outside her house at night while she slept. Don’t Let the Republicans Steal Votes from Your Grandparents. All they needed was a top-notch lead organizer and an experienced field team, a lawyer, a communications team: in short, exactly the big support we had on hand. They could have operated 24/ 7, like in a strike. Unions know how to do strikes, don’t they? 
That moment, when we could have supported the Jesse Jackson rally and didn’t, could have organized something big of our own and didn’t, was the turning point, the moment when the Gore campaign and their unquestioning AFL-CIO cohort snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. And by the way, it wasn’t like I was a big fan of the contemporary Jesse Jackson. But Jackson could turn people out and give a good speech— the same one he’d been giving for thirty years. The fact that our choice was between joining a rally led by Jesse Jackson and not doing anything at all was beyond pathetic. Oh, well. All that was at stake was an endless war in Afghanistan, an unprovoked war on Iraq, American torture, warrantless wiretapping, eight years of doing nothing on global warming, not to mention a relentless class war against workers and their unions, all building up to a second Great Depression. No big deal.
McAlevey, Jane; Ostertag, Bob (2012-11-13). Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell): My Decade Fighting for the Labor Movement (Kindle Locations 55-118). Norton. Kindle Edition. 

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