ACTIONS FOR PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST
PEACE LIFE CENTER WILL BE OPEN EVERY TUESDAY, Noon to 3 pm. Come by for coffee or tea and just to chat or look at our book and magazine collection. Bring your own bag lunch; there may be films some days. 720 13th St. Call us 529-5750, we'll get back to you with info on vigils and other activities.
Month in New Orleans... By MICHAEL MOORE
Norman Solomon - Media Beat
Peace & Justice
Around the Center:
Peace Essay rules and application form to download and print
Statement of Conscience Against War and Repression by the Board of the Peace/Life Center
Link: California Peace Action
Link: MoveOn--grassroots activism, electronically based
Link: True Majority
Recipes from Connections
Out and About
COMMUNITY CALENDAR --CURRENT & COMING EVENTS
Masthead and Back Issues
Opinion and Letters to Connections
Project Censored is a media research group out of Sonoma State University which tracks the news published in independent journals and newsletters. From these, Project Censored compiles an annual list of 25 news stories of social significance that have been overlooked, under-reported or self-censored by the country's major national news media.
1) BUSH ADMINISTRATION MOVES TO ELIMINATE OPEN GOVERNMENT
The Bush administration has been working to make sure the public - and even Congress - can't find out what the government itself is doing.
In the Fall of 2004, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-CA.) released an 81-page report that found that the feds have consistently "narrowed the scope and application" of the Freedom of Information Act, the Presidential Records Act, and other key public information laws. At the same time the government expanded laws blocking access to certain records - even creating new categories of "protected" information and exempting entire departments from public scrutiny.
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) gives citizens the ability to file a request for specific information from a government agency and provides recourse in federal court if that agency fails to comply with FOIA requirements. Over the last two decades, beginning with Reagan, this law has become increasingly diluted and circumvented by each succeeding administration.
Under the Bush Administration, agencies make extensive and arbitrary use of FOIA exemptions such as those for classified information, privileged attorney-client documents and certain information compiled for law enforcement purposes.
Bush administration has even refused to release records to Congressional subcommittees or the Government Accountability Office. A few of the potentially incriminating documents being held secret from Congress include records of contacts between large energy companies and Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force; White House memos pertaining to Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction; and reports describing torture at Abu Ghraib.
The Critical Infrastructure Information Act of 2002 (CIIA), part of Homeland Security, exempts from FOIA any information that is voluntarily provided to the federal government by a private party, if the information relates to the security of vital infrastructure. But under the act, even "routine communications by private sector lobbyists can be withheld from disclosure if the lobbyist asserts that the changes are related to the effort to protect the nation's infrastructure. Such a broad interpretation of CIIA could hide errors or misconduct by private-sector companies working with the Department of Homeland Security.
In March 2002, the Bush Administration reduced public access to information through FOIA by mandating that agencies safeguard any records having to do with "weapons of mass destruction." This included "information that could be misused to harm the security of our nation and the safety of our people," according to a memo by White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card. However, the memo did nothing to define these terms and agencies were left free to withhold virtually any information under the vague charge of "national security."
In 2003, the Bush Administration won a new legislative exemption from FOIA for all National Security Agency "operational files." The Administration's main rationale for this new exemption is that conducting FOIA searches diverts resources from the agency's mission.
See: Common Dreams, September 14, 2004, New Report Details Bush Administration Secrecy, by Karen Lightfoot, www.commondreams.org/news2004/0914-05.htm
2) MEDIA COVERAGE FAILS ON IRAQ: FALLUJAH AND THE CIVILIAN DEATHTOLL
Les Roberts, an investigator with the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, conducted a rigorous inquiry into pre- and post-invasion mortality in Iraq, sneaking into Iraq by lying flat on the bed of an SUV and training observers on the scene. The results were published in the Lancet, a prestigious peer-reviewed British medical journal, on Oct. 29, 2004 - Roberts and his team (including researchers from Columbia University and from Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad concluded that the death toll associated with the invasion and occupation of Iraq is about 100,000 civilians, and may be much higher. 95% of those deaths were caused by helicopter gunships, rockets, or other forms of aerial weaponry and more than half of the fatalities were women or children.
The study was done before the second invasion of Fallujah in the Fall of 2004. More than 83 percent of Fallujah's 300,000 residents fled the city. The people had nowhere to flee and ended up as refugees. Many families were forced to survive in fields, vacant lots, and abandoned buildings without access to shelter, water, electricity, food or medical care.
The 50,000 citizens who either chose to remain in the city or who were unable to leave were trapped by Coalition forces and were cut off from food, water and medical supplies. Men between the ages of 15 and 45 were refused safe passage, and all who remained were treated as enemy combatants. Coalition forces cut off water and electricity, seized the main hospital, shot at anyone who ventured out into the open, executed families waving white flags while trying to swim across the Euphrates or otherwise flee the city. US forces shot at ambulances, raided homes and killed people who didn't understand English, rolled over injured people with tanks, and allowed corpses to rot in the streets and be eaten by dogs.
Medical staff and others reported seeing people, dead and alive, with melted faces and limbs, injuries consistent with the use of phosphorous bombs. As of December of 2004 at least 6,000 Iraqi citizens in Fallujah had been killed, and one-third of the city has been destroyed.
The International Committee for the Red Cross reported on December 23, 2004 that three of the city's water purification plants had been destroyed and the fourth badly damaged.
Peacework, December 2004-January 2005, The Invasion of Fallujah: A Study in the Subversion of Truth" By Mary Trotochaud and Rick McDowell
World Socialist Web Site, November 17, 2004, US Media Applauds Destruction of Fallujah, by David Walsh, The NewStandard, December 3, 2004, Fallujah Refugees Tell of Life and Death in the Kill Zone, by Dahr Jamail, The Lancet, October 29, 2004, Mortality Before and After the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, By Les Roberts, Riyadh Lafta, Richard Garfield, Jamal Khudhairi and Gilbert Burnham, The Lancet, October 29, 2004, The War in Iraq: Civilian Casualties, Political Responsibilities, by Richard Horton, The Chronicle of Higher Education, February 4, 2005, Lost Count, by Lila Guterman, Asheville Global Report, April 15, 2004, CNN to Al Jazeera: Why Report Civilian Deaths?"
Updates: English Al-Jazeera website at http://english.aljazeera.net/HomePage, and website at www.dahrjamailiraq.com, The World Tribunal on Iraq at www.worldtribunal.org
ACTION: For full postings of the 23 other stories see: www.projectcensored.org
Film: Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices
TRIVIA question for your next kaffee klatsch: What do the Bush administration and Wal-Mart have in common?
ANSWER: In criticizing either one, you just never know where to start.
The brash bulldozing into communities, despite residents’ wishes, lowering living standards and putting small merchants out of business. Asian sweatshops which produce most of its goods. The shameless exploitation of its domestic workers, leaving the public to pick up health care and food stamps costs (each employee costs taxpayers $2,103 a year). History’s largest gender discrimination suit, with 1.6 million female plaintiffs. Race bias. Refusal to stock morning after pills in its pharmacies. The number of lawsuits, all fought in court, by folks hit by falling appliances because the firm doesn’t believe in warehouses.
A book, How Wal-Mart is Destroying America and What You Can Do About It by Bill Quinn, was the hit of the 2000 Unitarian Universalist (UU) General Assembly in Nashville, and now Brave New Films, releasers of Outfoxed and Uncovered has produced a documentary entitled, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices.
The film premieres at 7 p.m. Wednesday, November 16, in the sanctuary of the UU Fellowship of Stanislaus County, 2172 Kiernan Ave., Modesto and at hundreds of venues around the nation during that week.
Early plans are for the public to be invited without admission charge, although there may be a collection, and for a discussion to follow. Sponsored by local UU Social Concerns Committee.
Please see related article on page 4.
Ford vs. Wal-Mart: a tale of two companies
By DAVID BATSTONE and DAVID CHANDLER
The AFL-CIO has launched a major campaign to draw attention to the business practices of Wal-Mart. “The biggest corporation in America today has a business plan that lowers standards, first among its own employees and ultimately for all Americans,” says John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO.
Is Sweeney’s assessment fair and accurate? Wal-Mart, with over $250 billion in annual sales, is more often praised for its streamlined business model. Its inventory system and distribution network are beyond compare in the retail industry.
Wal-Mart’s recipe for success, however, does depend as well on squeezing labor costs. The majority of its hourly workers earn less than $8.50 an hour, which means that a full-time sales clerk at Wal-Mart falls under the official U.S. poverty level for a family of four.
Nearly a century ago, Henry Ford planned for his employees to be his best customers. Challenging the conventional wisdom that the best way to maximize profits was to tailor your product to the wealthiest segment of society, Ford decided to market his black Model T as “America’s Everyman car.”
For Ford, mass production went hand-in-hand with mass consumption. He established a simple benchmark for worker compensation: His workers should be able to buy the product they were making. Ford promised a $5-a-day minimum wage for all his workers - twice the prevailing automobile industry average.
Doing so, Ford created a virtuous circle. Workers flocked to his factory to apply for positions. If they managed to secure a coveted job, then in time they too would be able to afford one of his cars. The company flourished on these twin pillars - a desirable product and a highly motivated employee base. By the time production of the Model T ceased in 1927, Ford had sold more than 15 million cars - half the world’s output.
Compare Ford’s virtuous cycle with Wal-Mart’s dual strategy of ruthless cost-cutting and “Everyday low prices.” On the surface, the goal is the same - produce goods that consumers want and can afford to buy. The result in implementation, however, is vastly different.
While Ford’s business model helped lay the foundation for a rising middle class in America, the Wal-Mart model reinforces downward mobility. Wal-Mart today is the largest commercial employer of labor in the United States. In 2002, 82 percent of American households bought something at Wal-Mart. Americans must love to shop at Wal-Mart; on the other hand, maybe they have no choice. A sizeable percentage of Wal-Mart’s sales come from low-income households.
The effort to minimize production costs is a legitimate business strategy; no argument there. But does Wal-Mart realize that the employees whose wages they squeeze are often the customers upon whom they rely to fuel their business?
While Ford created demand and wealth with a new and innovative product, Wal-Mart displaces existing demand - siphoning consumption from elsewhere by under-cutting prices. Wal-Mart sets the pricing agenda in whichever market it enters. Suppliers and competitors are squeezed - forced either to push jobs overseas themselves, or forced out of business altogether. For every Wal-Mart supercenter that opens in the next five years, two other supermarkets will close.
Now that it has reached the bargain basement on domestic production costs, Wal-Mart is increasingly turning to overseas operations to stock its shelves. Wal-Mart’s domination of the U.S. retail economy has ramifications beyond its own profit margin.
Many economists present Wal-Mart as a net-positive for the U.S. economy. The popular interpretation of anti-trust law today holds that large companies are only a threat to the community if their dominance results in rising prices for consumers. Hence, Wal-Mart escapes regulation because the company’s domination of the retail sector delivers lower prices, across the board. Little long-term thought is given to the wider implications of the methods the company uses to produce those lower prices.
The single-minded pursuit of economic growth can exact a heavy toll on a community. Our economic goal of creating wealth should coincide with our ideals of human and societal development. In today’s business environment dominated by Wal-Mart, Henry Ford’s ideas would be as revolutionary as they were when they were first applied.
David Batstone is author of Saving the Corporate Soul and Executive Editor of Sojourners Magazine.
David Chandler is the Associate Director of the Center for Non-Profit Management at the University of Miami (FL).
Reprinted by permission of Sojourners Magazine • 2401 15th Street NW • Washington DC 20009; (202) 328-8842; www.sojo.net
BY HAROLD A. PETERSON, III
November is National Hospice Month and there is no better time to reflect on the activities of Community Hospice in the past year. The Terri Schiavo story brought end-of-life decisions onto center stage nationally, and internationally, the modern hospice movement lost its founder, Dame Cicely Saunders.
Locally, the opening of the long-anticipated Alexander Cohen Hospice House on March 7th gave our community the option of 24-hour nursing care in a comfortable, homelike setting at the end of life. We also moved our outpatient care teams and bereavement staff, along with the Community Hospice Foundation, to the new Haig & Isabel Berberian Patient Services Center in May.
While we pause to think about these important milestones, we’re also actively planning for an increasing need for hospice services in the coming years. With our two new facilities, we’re building the necessary infrastructure to support our growth so that in turn, we can support the community’s growth in population. That’s how we’re planning for the coming years. My question to you is: “What are your plans?”
“What plans?” you may ask. We plan for weddings, the birth of a child, college and retirement. Sometimes we spend months planning for vacations. Many of us even plan for more difficult situations, by writing wills, purchasing life insurance, and giving consent for organ donation.
Yet far too many people wait until they are in the midst of a healthcare crisis before determining what options are available, or what care they or their loved ones would have wanted. If these plans have not been discussed, families can find a difficult situation becoming even more painful.
National Hospice Month’s purpose is to raise awareness about quality end-of-life care. Much of this quality is tied to the awareness that people have about hospice, and what hospice means for you or a loved one. Engaging in important healthcare discussions today — in good health — will make decisions easier in the future.
ACTION: In recognition of National Hospice Month, Community Hospice is hosting Advance Healthcare Directives workshops on Thursday, November 1st and Thursday, November 17th. Hospice is also offering an annual “Coping with the Holidays” workshop on Wednesday, November 9th. All events are free. Call 578-6300 to register.
The author is the CEO of local non-profit Community Hospice.
“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a closed room with a mosquito.”
— African proverb
By PETER PHILLIPS
The term progressive is widely used by contemporary writers, politicians, and liberals, but an understanding of what makes up a progressive agenda is generally unknown. Many people have a vague sense that progressives are left-of-center folks mostly concerned with societal fairness and governmental transparency. This notion is rooted in the Progressive movement that occurred in the US between 1900 and 1914. According to Richard Hofstadter in his book The Progressive Movement, 100 years ago our grandparents and great grandparents faced the accumulated evils of political bosses, banking trusts, railroad greed/overcharging, unjust taxation, millionaire senators, yellow-dog journalism, and cities filled with pollution and tenements. A nationwide multi-party political movement of mostly middle class working people emerged that sought political reform, increased governmental regulation, city sanitation, and objective media. The movement was closely tied into women suffrage and the formation of the NAACP.
Progressives in the 21st century continue in this tradition of democracy building and open transparency of corporate and political power. Progressive values are rooted in the American traditions of equality, fairness, due process, and democratic decision making at the deepest level possible. Progressives recognize that institutional power, both public and private, has created inequalities of race, class and gender, and that democratic governmental regulation is needed to make necessary social justice corrections for humanity worldwide. Progressives believe in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Bill of Rights, open access to corporate and governmental information, democratic media and individual human freedom. Progressives believe that human freedom includes the freedom from hunger, homelessness, unemployment, environmental pollution, discrimination based on physical attributes and long imprisonment for non-violent crimes.
Progressives encourage socio-economic/political systems that maximize individual participation, self-actualization, loving interpersonal relationships and healthy environments.
Progressives are a diversified bunch, who come from all political parties with a full range of human characteristics.
More importantly, progressives seek personal life styles that reflect their core values. Simplicity is highly valued through a life of slower natural foods, sustainable consumption, efficient living spaces, and a daily consciousness of striving for human betterment through social action.
Social action based on progressive values is possible locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. It is action emerging from real internalized values that lead people to self-actualization and right livelihood. One step at a time can lead us to a progressive future.
Imagine a society with regionally sustainable economies, self-actualizing people, crimelessness, and general equality. Such a life is possible, not just for us but for the world.
The author, Professor of Sociology at Sonoma State University, is Director of Project Censored, a media research group at www.projectcensored.org
We are witness to a step in the development of a new Aboriginal polity, a moment for meditations on social and economic justice, a step towards changing the ways indigenous people have lived in the years since the invasion of their lands by the English.
The Australian nation is founded on the myth of an uninhabited continent, "terra nullius," and basic recognition of Aboriginal human rights has come only in the last few decades.
… we should keep an eye out for news of Aboriginal Australia. Certainly their struggle for justice is our own
Garma 2005: arts, justice, and a new Aboriginal polity
By GABRIEL SOLIS
It’s a perfect late-Winter afternoon at Gulkula in the far north of Australia, warm, dry, brilliant blue sky with a dotting of puffy white clouds, red earth sprouting a thick covering of stringybark eucalyptus, and off in the distance, the soft waves of the gulf of Carpentaria splashing up on a soft sand beach. This is often called remote country; we’re more than 200 miles from Darwin; the nearest town of any size is Nhulunbuy, a bauxite mine, hundreds of trailers brought in to house miners, a church, a few shops, a school and a bar. But for a week, for those of us lucky enough to have been invited in by the Yolngu people who are the traditional owners of this land, Gulkula is the center of the world, and it is the rest of it, Nhulunbuy, Darwin, and even further, Sydney are remote.
Now we are sitting at the center of Gulkula, in an oval cleared of trees and brush, ringed by shelters, and adorned in the center and at one end by ceremonial carvings. We are in the Bunggul ground, a space for music and dance that occupies a primary place in Yolngu life. Slowly the Gumatj mob, a group of families from around Yirrkala some 30 miles away, come into the oval from the far end. They are led by musicians, a group of distinguished older men, one playing the yidaki (commonly known as didjeridu), two beating bilma (a pair of percussion sticks) and four singing.
After playing slow songs for the morning star, which burns with a kind of restrained intensity, the musicians move to the end of the oval where we are and seat themselves in a place of honor. Now come the dancers, first a group of forty-odd men, all dressed in red loin cloths and painted with symbols of the emu, whose spirit ancestor is being celebrated today, then a group of fifty or more women, all in long skirts and red, flowered shirts of every description, carrying stringybark branches made to look like emu feathers. They sing and play and dance for an hour, a long series of variations telling part of the story of the emu spirits journeys around this country in the creation era. These are powerful songs, believed to be the songs Emu sang as he traveled, songs that created the physical world as we know it. There is a spirit of fun and informality to the proceedings, but also of great seriousness and purpose.
I am one of a few hundred non-indigenous people from around the world who was privileged to attend this event, the Garma festival 2005, a celebration of Australian Aboriginal music, dance, and art hosted by the Yothu Yindi Foundation, a leading Aboriginal NGO. There are at least 500 Aboriginal participants, mostly from the Yolngu clans in the area, who have come for a dance competition. In addition to the festival and competition, there are workshops on Yolngu women’s’ traditional knowledge, Yidaki lessons, a conference on Aboriginal small business focused on opportunities in the tourism industry, and a meeting of scholars involved in a national recording project for indigenous Australian music and dance.
We are witness to a step in the development of a new Aboriginal polity, a moment for meditations on social and economic justice, a step towards changing the ways indigenous people have lived in the years since the invasion of their lands by the English.
How can a cultural festival, a celebration of the arts have such a significant, wide-ranging effect? In fact, this seems precisely the place to begin, and the key is contained in festival organizer and Yothu Yindi Foundation leader Galarrwuy Yunupingus’ regular exhortations on Garma’s theme of developing "Real livelihoods" for indigenous people. Music, dance, and visual art are fundamentally connected, through the idea of real livelihoods to social justice, economic justice, and Aboriginal self-determination. Real livelihoods, as Yunupingu reminds us at intervals, means the development of structures for local economic development that do not require government intervention. It means finding ways to retain traditional lifeways while interacting on an equal footing with modern Australia. It means ethical relations between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.
The arts are fundamental to Real livelihoods because they are basic components of traditional law, economics, and political culture, rather than detached aesthetic endeavors. Tjukurrpa, often translated "Dreaming" or "Dream Time," literally means "Law," and is the fundamental concept in Aboriginal culture. It is a broad framework that links all the arts with kinship, relations between clans, land rights, contemporary animist belief systems and the creation. Songs, stories, dance, body painting, and visual art all relate to very specific bits of country, and can only be sung, told, danced, or painted by the rightful owners of that country. As a result, the arts have always functioned in spiritual, political, and legal dealings among Aborigines.
In recent years, in the wake of landmark legislation and court decisions granting Aboriginal people limited ownership of their traditional lands, the arts have been important in establishing land claims with the Anglo government. As important as this may be, perhaps even more important is the shared witness that in this modern world, Aboriginal lives and Aboriginal culture is as important as the cosmopolitan lives and cultures most of us inhabit most of the time. In Australia this has been a long time in coming.
One of the great highlights of the festival was the nightly performance by Aboriginal kids bands. Remote schools are important institutions in community life, and education is vitally important to the health of Aboriginal communities into the future, but it can be hard to keep kids in school. Music programs, far from the American model, are often the most important part of remote elementary schools. Kids learn drum set, bass, guitar, keyboards, and horns, and model themselves after their favorite local pop bands; Yothu Yindi, The Soft Sands Band, Blek Bala Mujik and others. Every night they played, each trying to best the others, with a volume and energy I seldom hear in U.S. school-based music groups. Their peers are vocal and energetic in their support, cheering, whistling, and getting up to dance. The kids have developed a style (they call it booty dancing) that is a seamless blend of steps and attitude from their parent’s dances earlier in the evening and the latest hip-hop moves on MTV. Their pleasure is infectious.
Life in Aboriginal Australia, in urban, rural, and remote communities is hard. They are often referred to as the fourth world nation within a nation. The Australian nation is founded on the myth of an uninhabited continent, "terra nullius," and basic recognition of Aboriginal human rights has come only in the last few decades. Not surprisingly, economic life is limited and social problems are endemic. In cities and towns alcoholism is rampant and, on reserve lands where alcohol is banned, petrol sniffing is devastating multiple generations. Domestic abuse, child sexual abuse, and pervasive factional violence rock communities. Not surprisingly, the image of a culture mired in dysfunction and on the verge of collapse dominates reporting on Aboriginal life in the national media.
There are bright spots, however, and though they seldom punch through the media’s representation of Aboriginal life, they hold the possibility of a long-term, large-scale shift from a dispossessed, dependent, subjugated people to self-determination, self-reliance, and ultimately self-sufficiency. Americans seldom hear about the work of a small group of people struggling to be heard and to have two centuries of wrongs redressed; but we should keep an eye out for news of Aboriginal Australia. Certainly their struggle for justice is our own.
The author, a professor of musicology at the University of Illinois, is studying Aboriginal music this fall, The Modesto native’s family is with him in Australia, including his wife, Ellen, children, Coleman and Isabella, and parents, George and Elise Osner.
— An excerpt from Teaching Amidst the Neon Palm Trees
— By LEE RYAN MILLER
At the beginning of my 8:00 a.m. class one Monday at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), I cheerfully asked my students how their weekend had been. One young man said that his weekend had not been very good. He’d had his wisdom teeth extracted. The young man then proceeded to ask me why I always seemed to be so cheerful.
His question reminded me of something I'd read somewhere before: “Every morning when you get up, you have a choice about how you want to approach life that day,” I said to the young man. “I choose to be cheerful."
“Let me give you an example,” I continued. The other sixty students in the class ceased their chatter and began to listen to our conversation. “In addition to teaching here at UNLV, I also teach out at the community college in Henderson, about seventeen miles down the freeway from where I live. One day a few weeks ago I drove those seventeen miles to Henderson. I exited the freeway and turned onto College Drive. I only had to drive another quarter-mile down the road to the college. But just then my car died. I tried to start it again, but the engine wouldn’t turn over. So I put my flashers on, grabbed my books, and marched down the road to the college."
As soon as I got there I called AAA and asked them to send a tow truck. The secretary in the Provost's office asked me what had happened. ‘This is my lucky day," I replied, smiling.
“Your car breaks down and today is your lucky day?" She was puzzled. "What do you mean?"
“I live seventeen miles from here.” I replied. “My car could have broken down anywhere along the freeway. It didn't. Instead, it broke down in the perfect place: off the freeway, within walking distance of here. I'm still able to teach my class, and I've been able to arrange for the tow truck to meet me after class. If my car was meant to break down today, it couldn't have been arranged in a more convenient fashion.”
“The secretary's eyes opened wide, and then she smiled. I smiled back and headed for class.” So ended my story to the students in my economics class at UNLV.
I scanned the sixty faces in the lecture hall. Despite the early hour, no one seemed to be asleep. Somehow, my story had touched them. Or maybe it wasn't the story at all. In fact, it had all started with a student's observation that I was cheerful.
A wise man once said, “Who you are speaks louder to me than anything you can say.” I suppose it must be so.
You can read more stories by Lee Ryan Miller on his website, www.LeeRyanMiller.com.
The citizens of Albuquerque saw a close race that ended in a 1% lead against raising the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.50 an hour. The initiative, which could have lifted 40,000 families out of poverty, was defeated by a margin of 1481 votes.
The “Living Wage Initiative” made the ballot last spring, with a polled 82% support rate, but this support dropped dramatically to 54% one week before the election, largely due to the opposition’s negative propaganda. At this point California ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), my employer, requested I take a week off battling the Schwarzenegger agenda here and sent me to help the New Mexican’s “Get Out the Vote” campaign.
Organizers from California, Florida and Arizona where flown in at the most critical time of the campaign. Prime time television ads fueled by big money, namely the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, were calling the initiative “the deception initiative.” They spoke of several “small-print” hidden clauses that would allow strangers to invade schools and access medical records, and invade job sites. Of course, these claims were illogical and false.
The actual clauses of the Living Wage initiative called for 1) waiters’ and waitresses’ wages, currently $2.85 an hour, to be increased to $4.50 an hour, 2) an annual adjustment of the minimum wage based on inflation, 3) the initiative not to apply to businesses employing less than 10 personnel, and 4) workers to be allowed to receive information regarding this new right.
The campaign received an air of hope early in the week when Comcast Cable Co. decided that the “deception initiative” ads where fraudulent and could not be aired. That same day Living Wage ads were picked up by Comcast.
The Albuquerque Living Wage Committee, largely fueled by ACORN staff and members, made great leaps in informing the public through precinct walking and phone banking. In just 3 short days crew of 12 grew to an army of 50 underemployed college students, parents, and even grandparents and became fired up social justice fighters.
As a crew manager, I trained and delivered crews to their respective turfs. I observed how, by taking an active role in politics, they broke from the standard “rap” provided to them and spoke of their own life and experience with the minimum wage with the people they visited. It became apparent that everyday-workers are aware of their condition as oppressed, not because of a lecture or a dusty textbook but because they live oppression day to day. Many, who came in to work for some extra money to pay their bills, would forget about clocking out at the end of the workday and instead discuss and share their day’s stories and new experiences.
As organizers, we realized that campaigns against large corporate money cannot be won in a week and should be persistently run for weeks or months in advance. Another shortcoming was the lack of information provided to the crew members on the actual wording on the ballot. A “need to know basis” strategy when dealing with employed crew creates an unnecessary barrier between the crew and the organizers. It creates efficiency during a campaign, but can alienate the employee from the significance of social work in the future.
The unfortunate outcome of the election, therefore, cannot be viewed as a defeat when so many new workers joined the political conversation and made visible in their own neighborhoods the presence of real political work by the People for the People. In the long run, we know our tears today will make victory taste much sweeter tomorrow.
The author is organizing Get-Out-the-Vote in Stockton under the direction of ACORN/Project Vote to defeat the corporate propositions on the November 8th election ballot. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (916) 698-0227.
Tenth of each month. Submit peace, justice and environmentally friendly event notices to P.O. Box 134, Modesto, CA, 95353, or call 522-4967 or 575-4299, or email to Jim Costello. Free listings subject to space, availability and editing.