Forty-Five years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed by an assassin’s bullet as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.
Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals. – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
King came to Memphis in support of a sanitation strike brought on by low wages and horrific working conditions that led to the deaths of two workers.
Despite the passage of these reforms, there were still many roadblocks to African-Americans in particular and the poor generally, receiving equitable treatment and access to opportunities that would help them overcome their circumstances.
In the final days of King’s life, he worked to organize a Poor People’s Campaign in search of economic justice not only for African-Americans, but for all of our nation’s poor.
The struggle of the Civil Rights Movement, which was born of a desire for equal rights, came to include the ideas of economic justice. It is a struggle that continues to this day, not only in Memphis, but around the country and impacts all of us.
“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr.
Over the past forty years we’ve seen the fruits of King’s leadership come under consistent attack. Sometimes in ways that are hard to recognize.
The list of incremental changes over time is too long to even attempt to compile in one place, but laws that seek to limit people’s ability to exercise their rights, like the Voter ID bill, and efforts to hamper people’s ability to seek justice, like the Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011, which limits a company’s financial liability, have become the norm rather than the exception.
Yesterday I wrote about the value of work and how the notion of work has been turned on its head in recent decades. I wrote about a bill before the state legislature that would make it harder for people hurt in the actions of their work to be taken care of.
This kind of injustice is exactly what Dr. King fought against in his later years. In the years since his death, the concerted effort of one group to limit the access to justice has become commonplace both here in Tennessee and across the nation.
“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Over the past forty years, there has been an organized assault on the ideas of economic and social justice.
This effort has taken many shapes, and been played out in many venues…from school boards to legislatures at the state and federal level, as well as everything in between.
It is well funded, and organized for a single purpose: to further tilt the playing field in support of those who have plenty and seek to accumulate more, in opposition to those of us who are seeking to simply make a life for our families.
Newscoma wrote about one such group, ALEC an organization that crafts model bills that are personalized for each state. As she notes in her post, we’ve had several of them.
These bills, which have been labeled “conscientious reform” by supporters, seek to make holding people accountable more difficult, especially when they have more resources. They represent an attack on economic justice for people who have few resources to fight for themselves.
By and large, there have been few organized attempts to bring light to the impact these bills would have on regular people. The struggle has been fragmented while the attack has been organized. The end result has been a steady erosion of justice by limiting access and stifling accountability.
The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education. – Martin Luther King, Jr.
The cause of true education, as King describes it, has been under attack by forces seeking to cripple public education for the past two decades. An increased focus on testing has led to curriculum focused on teaching to the test rather than critical thinking and problem solving skills that empower people regardless of their chosen profession or trade.
While the effort began before the passage of No Child Left Behind, this bill had a devastating effect on education by forcing educators to focus on rote memory rather than broader ideas of personal development.
The philosophical foundation of the act ultimately makes learners “consumers of education” rather than active participants. True education can no be based on a passive “consumerist” model. Students must be active participants engaging in a dialogue to truly gain the “intelligence plus character” that Dr. King mentions.
This notion of consumerism is furthered in legislative efforts that have followed.
The concept of “school choice”, either through transfers, charter schools, or voucher programs, resonate with parents seeking to give their children the best opportunity to gain a quality education. This idea is based on this same consumer model predicated on personal resource availability, time, transportation, and money, that, by default, exclude those who lack resources.
In Tennessee, bills seeking to hobble teachers unions, state nullification of local charter school decisions, school voucher programs, and stiff economic penalties for the poor who do not meet state educational standards, AKA “Starve the Poor” bills have made, and are making their way through the state legislature.
These initiatives seek at once to reduce investment in education, place public dollars in the hands of private entities that are largely unaccountable in the public sphere, and most importantly, distract from the economic circumstances brought on by decades of economically unjust fiscal policy in the service of wealth concentration for the mighty few rather than opportunity for the common good.
This is similar to Dr. King’s opposition to the Vietnam War, which sucked resources away from domestic programs, and led to a global financial showdown that paved the way for the trickle down economics that would dominate the 1980′s and begin a trend of wage stagnation that continues to this day.
The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.
Dr. King’s work is most closely associated with social justice and racial equality, particularly through his I Have a Dream speech. But his legacy cannot be defined by that one awe inspiring event.
Dr. King’s vision went beyond the struggles of his day, and is owed the consideration of his later efforts, including those that led to his life being cut tragically short here in Memphis.
His later work focused on the broad ideas of justice and were targeted at helping the economically disadvantaged.
I think it was and still is difficult for people to understand the potential outcomes of this effort.
While focused in the south and primarily on African-Americans continuing their struggle for equality, his work didn’t just apply to one race, but to all who fell under the grip of poverty. I feel confident that over time this effort would have expanded to poor white coal miners in West Virginia, and migrant workers in California.
We never got to see what would come of Dr. King’s leadership on economic justice. His life and work was cut short.
We can continue to take cues from his leadership, and push on, continuing the struggle, through out tireless exertions and passionate concern, dedicated to the service of justice.
In fact, we have a duty to that very thing.
No matter how messed up something is, no matter how ineffective, my default setting is…“it can be fixed”.
This Saturday, the second part of the SCDP re-organization will happen. On March 26th over 350 faithful Democrats came out to begin the process by electing delegates. This weekend those delegates will vote on who will serve in the 38 seats on the Executive Committee.
It was a tough year for Democrats across the country, and we held our own in the legislative elections, even though, for a bunch of reasons I detailed here we got swept in the countywide elections.
I don’t have a whole lot of criticism of current Chair Van Turner, who inherited a situation where the Committee ballooned from around 40 members to 80 something members. Considering the circumstances I think Van did the best he could. I know he worked his butt off despite the odds, both internally and externally. But as a body, I don’t believe the Shelby County Democratic Party is healthy and I think that’s been clear for some time.
I’m a delegate to the convention this weekend. I doubt that I’ll end up serving on the Executive Committee, mostly because the number of seats in my district is contracting from 6 members to 2. Because of this, there will be a lot of folks who are accustomed to being on the Committee that won’t be.
Many of these folks are probably not too happy about the possibility of not making it on the Committee. There is a mechanism in place to keep it from happening…its called voter turnout. So if you don’t make it on and think you should have, ask yourself where you were during early voting and on election day in November. If you weren’t working to get people to the polls, you know why you’re in this position.
If you are a delegate to the Convention, I ask you to take a look at the current members that represent your district and ask some questions.
1. Of the people in this list, which ones did you hear from in the past 2 years? Any? All? None? If the answer is none, and you’re getting calls now asking you to support them, ask them why they deserve your support when they haven’t bothered to contact you until now.
2. In every Convention that I’ve been involved in since I moved here there has been talk of organizing down to the precinct level, but it hasn’t happened. From my perspective, that’s not the job of the Executive Committee as a whole, but of the members that represent those precincts. Ask them why we haven’t organized down to the precinct level and what they intend to do about it.
3. There have been a lot of divisions in the party for longer than I’ve lived here, and those divisions are a big part of the problem. Ask the prospective member if they’re just for their Democrats, or all Democrats.
4. Communication between the party leaders, including members of the Executive Committee and constituents has been nonexistent despite a wealth of free or cheap means for communicating. Ask your prospective member if they intend to communicate with their constituents, or if they’re going to just disappear after the Chair is selected. After they answer ask them how they intend to communicate with people and when that will be set up. Make them set a date.
5. Finally, ask them if they’ll pledge to support the Chair, no matter who it is, and work to build a stronger party. Ask them if they’re willing to commit 2 years of their lives to support Democratic candidates. Ask them if they will lead their districts in voter registration, GOTV, and other efforts to engage the public.
If they say yes, then ask them how they’re going to do it. Set a date, put a reminder in your calendar, and bug the crap out of them until they do.
If we want a better county party, we have to have a vibrant and active party. That takes time, effort, and demanding accountability, but it can be done…if we will make it happen.
Accountability Defeats Barbarism or It’s the Accountability, Stupid
There is no accountability in barbarism, and if some had it their way, there would be little accountability in government. Accountability is where ideology falls apart. Both sides call for more “accountability” so long as it’s politically expedient for them, but neither REALLY deliver. Honestly, it’s the height of stupid how badly both sides sell but fail to deliver accountability. Maybe it’s because elected officials are just not gifted at coming up with ways to police things, or maybe, just maybe they’re relying on sleepy eyed constituents that are only really engaged in the process from the car to the ballot box, and “just can’t quit” their electeds no matter how bad they’re messing it up. I’ll call it Brokeback politickin’.
See, when the Democrats are in control of the legislature, the Republicans want things like Ethics Commissions and fundraising embargoes and accountability and all that because they know that if they can cast doubt, or if there’s something that gains attention (like Tennessee Waltz), their advocacy will score political points. When the tables get turned, they want to dismantle the very same thing they built because it costs too much or it’s too burdensome. Both sides try to avoid stuff like this as a general rule because at some point, fate being what it is, they will be in power and thus subject to the rules as the party in power.
There are, however, people on both sides that always support things like this. I love these people, regardless of party because they possess a dynamic moral compass (one that doesn’t exclusively point at “them” all the damn time). They understand democratic institutions need oversight in order to be effective, but most importantly, that they need that oversight for the people who are paying attention, and even those who aren’t, to have faith in them, which is vital for effective governance.
So when Lt. Gov. Ramsey calls for the end of the fundraising embargo during the legislative session, or some drastic change to the Ethics Commission that he voted for, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand what’s at play in the political calculus. He can’t get elected Governor against a guy with as much money as oil in Saudi Arabia if he can’t raise money 24/7 and causing a dustup in the Ethics Commission or with TREF gives him some cover to do what he’s got to do to get the thing he wants to get. Of course, he could just as easily resign his seat in the Senate and raise all the money he could get his hands on, but then he would lose a powerful platform, and if he doesn’t win, he’s out of the game. It’ll be interesting to see if Democratic state legislators who are also running or considering a run for Governor get behind his effort. I love you guys, but don’t think I won’t call you out the same way.
Now, I personally don’t see any real problem with legislators raising money when they’re in session, so long as there are strict guidelines and a well-funded agency with teeth that can enforce the guidelines. That’s not the issue. It becomes an issue when the self-interest is so BLATANT that it stinks to high heaven like a fish market on a hot summer afternoon. This is something you do RIGHT AFTER a campaign, not in the run up.
But poor accountability doesn’t just happen when pols are policing themselves. Does anyone believe that the mess we’re experiencing economically could have been averted had; 1. Rules not been taken out of play for regulators, & 2. Our former administration not yanked the teeth out of regulatory agencies praying that the tooth fairy (unregulated markets) would pay off?
This is why legislators and Congress in general have low approval ratings, they just don’t get accountability. This is why people feel government is broken. In Monteagle, TN House caucus chair Mike Turner said , “Republicans get elected by claiming that government is broken then get elected and prove it!”. Now that’s a funny line, and was delivered with all the bravado that we’ve come to expect from Rep. Turner, but the truth is, Democrats break government too…like when they surrender their ideals to Republican ploys.
But that’s just government accountability, not REAL accountability. After that stupid “Guns in Bars” bill passed, there was a lot of racket from restaurant owners who were ANGRY that their elected officials had not even bothered to consult them before voting (Newscoma touched on this last week). Now sure, you can’t get to every constituent, but word gets around, particularly in the restaurant industry (I mean, town crier anyone? sheesh), and had one of these fine fellows or fellettes (I think that means something else,) bothered to talk to a couple of people, word would have spread and letters and phone calls would have been made.
Here’s a tip, if you’re waiting for your legislators to magically not be a jerk, you’re going to be disappointed. I’m NOT SAYING THAT ALL LEGISLATORS ARE JERKS, many, even the ones that do stupid things from time to time aren’t. I’m saying that if you want to ensure that they don’t go down that dark path, you have to initiate contact. But one letter only goes so far. Truth is you’ll need to get a bunch of friends and colleagues to write also to make an impact. Once you’ve made that contact, expressed your opinion, if they still consistently do the wrong thing, vote them out of office, because the flaming poop bag on the front stoop is unseemly.
But people, more often than not, are interested in playing the victim and not taking the bull by the horns, and politicians count on that which is why incumbents win like 95% of the time.
Truth is, if you don’t think you can do anything then chances are you won’t. Politicians vote against their ideals from time to time because they aren’t provided the political cover, the vocal support they need to feel confident in their actions. Progressives, on a local and statewide level, consistently fail to gain the kind of change they want not necessarily because they elected the wrong person, but because they assumed that person would remember their agenda and failed to make that person do it after the election. Further, using our logic, “it’s the right thing to do, so why should there be any question?” we find ourselves mystified when our people vote in ways inconsistent with the values they espouse. Conservatives get this. They bang the hell out of their ideas EVERYWHERE, which partially explains all the whack job letters to the editor in the paper. Is it that they have too much time on their hands, or that they’re organized in a way that allows them to have more influence even though they might be fewer in number. (ie. more vocal).
Elections aren’t the end of the process, they’re the beginning. In order to make the stuff happen that we want to happen we have to build and maintain an organization. We need to run a lobbying effort.
I know that lobbyist is a dirty word and all, but not all lobbyists are fat cats making 7 figures, drinking brandy out of fancy glasses and chomping cigars. Some are workaday Joes that make money in politics advocating for one issue or another, and others are people like you and me. See, as constituents we have the right to “lobby” our elected officials for things, and we can do this in a variety of ways that don’t necessarily include hiring a former member of congress to go up to the hill and trade a vote based on the outcome of a game of racquetball. Unfortunately, you and I don’t have as much money as large corporations, so they get more expensive lobbyists. This just means we have to invest more sweat equity in our lobbying efforts or join organizations to pool our efforts.
There are lots of organizations you can join that lobby on behalf of policy ideals, from more narrow issue groups (like ACLU and NOW) to broader ideological groups (like DFA or MoveOn), to even larger member organizations like unions or the Chamber of Commerce. This gets dicey though, because any jackass with $100 can sign up and join the US Chamber of Commerce, but if you want to join a union, one either has to exist, you have to start one, or you have to find a job at one that has one. This is why passing EFCA is so important, not only for the work benefits of joining a union (though those are important), but for the leveling of the playing field in the lobbying arena that comes with it (IMHO).
Groups like the Chamber don’t want this to happen because it’s a threat to the entitlement system that they’ve created over the past 30 years. If anyone can join a union then anyone can get involved in the lobbying process working against their interests, and thus threaten their power.
Lobbies like the US Chamber, who is singularly more responsible for the destruction of mom and pop businesses like mine, is for companies like Wal-Mart and have used their lobbying power to ensure everything from offshore loopholes for big business to anti-labor legislation that hinders the organizing process. If you ain’t a billion dollar company spread out all over the world, they ain’t your friends. But for $100 bucks you can join the USCOC if you like, and for a donation you can join DFA or MoveOn, but unless you work somewhere that has one, you can’t join a union.
So why not just join MoveOn or DFA? You can, but understand that they are not focused on issues in the same way that the ACLU, NOW, USCOC and Labor are, and they’re practically nonexistent here in Tennessee. MoveOn and DFA are broadly ideologically based, ACLU and NOW are more ideologically focused on specific topics and have a greater presence and Labor is looking out for the interests of their members, even when it runs contrary to traditional ideological allies (think Labor v. Clinton on NAFTA).
Let’s think about this locally and use SJR127 as an example. Did any group in the state start a statewide petition drive or a letter writing campaign around SJR127? Did they focus their efforts on contacting people in swing districts to write their legislators advocating a position (pro or con)? I can’t say for sure, but I’ll bet money that conservatives did, because they are passionate, focused and organized to do these things. Progressives here in Tennessee right now are just passionate.
I saw NOTHING other than blog posts from the left that showed any focused or organized effort. If there was, I must have missed it. If we want to have an effect on the passage of legislation like SJR127, we have to be able to plop a sack of letters on Mike Turner’s (or any other legislator’s) desk from HIS constituents and say, “your voters want you to vote against this”. We have to have proof, and blog posts ain’t gonna cut it. In order to “Make them do it” have to focus and organize our passion.
So, how do we do this? First, we identify allies. For the purposes of SJR127 that would be groups like NOW, Planned Parenthood, and probably several others. They have lists of supporters and donors, we have to help contact these groups to find out what actions (if any) they are engaged in to fight the legislation. From there, we as bloggers use our readership to promote the effort, and if we can clean the Cheetos off our shirts, get out there and do some boots on the ground work. Depending on the success of the effort, perhaps we can swing some votes our way.
I don’t know what, if anything NOW in TN did in opposition to SJR127, but I DO KNOW that if we keep doing what we’ve always done, we’ll keep getting what we’ve always got. Writing blogs is cool, and definitely helps, but like the election, it’s the beginning of the process, not the end. The end is when we get what we want, and unless we start doing something different, it ain’t ever gonna happen.
Several months ago someone told me to leave the politickin to the politicians and just write your blog and to donate money when you can. Well, maybe I haven’t written enough, donated enough or wished upon a star enough, but being on the sidelines and just giving money to places ain’t working for me. I’m ready for the next step.
I’ve never been much of a volunteer, but now I think it’s high time I started. I want to do all the stuff that I’m scared of, phone banking, canvassing, you name it, I’m in. I want to see how this is done, and learn from the experience, and find ways to apply it on a broader scale. Most importantly, I want to have something to show for at the end of the day other than a bunch of words and angst.
So that’s where I’m at. I know where I’m volunteering, and in the next few days I’ll write something about that effort once I become more familiar with the campaign, the strategy, and the tactics employed.
In the end, if we want our elected officials to be accountable we have to make them BE accountable beyond the ballot box. Accountability is a full time job, but it’s a job that voters have to take on. As we’ve seen over the course of this session, we can’t sit on the sidelines and hope they’ll do the right thing, we have to make it politically toxic for them to NOT do the right thing. Until that happens, nothing will change. Until that happens, all the emotion, words, and frustration we’ve seen is just wasted energy. If we want change we have to make it happen, and we have to start now.
I just finished training with Democracy for America here in Memphis. It was an awesome experience.
I encourage everyone, if you want to work or volunteer on a campaign, or even if you’re just a political junkie like me to go to the training. The insight itself is instructive. A lot of those things that you bitch about that politicians do, are explained in these trainings (through examples), even though that’s not the focus. In fact, there’s as much information to be learned about why people do what they do from this training than I can explain in my current mushy headed state.
It was awesome.
I want to remind readers that training in similar subjects will be offered at the TNDP Summit in Monteagle this coming weekend.
Guys, this has been one of the most satisfying weekends in this political junkie’s recent memory. I thank Brad Watkins for bringing them back to the area.
There were attendees from Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and even Texas at this training. It’s worth the drive from Texas folks, you missed out!
The next DFA trainings in the area are Shreveport, LA and Birmingham, AL in June. Go to Democracy for America for more information.
The TNDP launched a new site today. This is the second “refresh” of the party’s site since the election of Chip Forrester to the Chairmanship.
The new site is built on a social networking platform that allows users to not only friend each other, but also other party organizations and groups throughout the state.
Other improvements over the previous site is the ability to access just about anything and everything a user might want in relation to the state, or their county’s party organization.
This represents a quantum leap over previous efforts, and puts in place one of the campaign promises of the new Chair.
While a new site may or may not be “the” thing to turn the state blue, it represents a new tool for candidates and county parties to use in their efforts to better organize and inform their constituents, and that’s what grassroots organizing is about, making as many tools as possible available to as many people as possible.
When you have more tools, you can get more things done more effectively. By furthering the reach and communicating with people using their preferred method, more people get involved, donate time and money, stay engaged, and eventually vote for candidate that is being represented by the effort.
Honest observers of political trends will acknowledge that the new organizing tools being made available on the Internet aren’t meant to replace the old ways of doing things, but to enhance and expand them.
Nothing will replace door-to-door canvassing, phone banking, house parties, or other tried and true methods of campaigning. It would be a mistake to dismiss these activities. But adding a screwdriver to the toolbox doesn’t make the hammer obsolete. If anything, it allows the hammer to stop trying to drive screws and focus on driving nails, the job it is best suited for. By building a more comprehensive set of tools for Tennessee Democrats to utilize, the TNDP is allowing Democrats throughout the state to focus more on their individual strengths, instead of trying to make the hammer drive a screw.
Further, these new tools speed up the delivery of necessary “old school” organizing needs, distributing the information throughout the system and better focusing the efforts of volunteers and candidates in their effort to win their election.
I’m looking forward to see how the site further evolves and is utilized as we work to regain the State House and Senate in 2010. This is a step in the right direction, and an opportunity for the state party, and by extension the county parties, to expand their reach and inform their constituents in ways that were unimaginable in years past.
Congratulations TNDP, and keep up the good work.