The March issue of Socialist Worker is out now and available from ISO branches around the country.
The front cover, with the headline “Donald Trump’s cruel war on immigrants,” highlights some the many stories of undocumented immigrants caught in the administration’s dragnet. Inside are several related stories, including, “A declaration of war on immigrants” and “Will Trump get his anti-Muslim ban?”
The back page features the struggle to defend abortion rights, with a roundup of reports about the Planned Parenthood counterprotests and an article on the lessons of...Read more
By Emily Robinson“How do we bring more women to socialism?” is a question I have been asked with increasing frequency in the past several months. At first, I assumed that people were asking me because of my unmatchable feminist cred, but later I realised it was because I was one of only one or two other women in the room. Still, I would try my best, stammering and stuttering my way through the question, because really, who was I to speak for all women? But the fact that I’m so often asked this question speaks to the very nature of the problem: women in politics — not just left politics — are tokenized and asked to be the standard bearers of their entire generation, not simply to be comrades. Young women on the left bear an immense responsibility, they must fight the hard fight not only for socialism, but for socialist feminism, and for women at large. Where men aren’t forced to identify with an identity, they are instead allowed to speak only for themselves on issues, women are asked to speak for all of womankind when they speak out.
On the day this newsletter is sent to readers (March 1), Young Democratic Socialists are having an organizing meeting at the College Park campus of the University of Maryland (see calendar). Ryan Mosgrove, the YDS lead organizer (located in our DC office) reports: "The growth in Young Democratic Socialists that has exploded across the United States is taking shape in DMV as well. George Mason University and the University of Maryland are both meeting regularly to form an official chapter of YDS on their campuses. And [breaking news] on February 28th, YDS Georgetown University was officially recognized as the 33rd Chapter of YDS. For more information on how to get involved with these groups, or to start a chapter of your own contact us at email@example.com or visit bit.ly/StartYDS (link is case sensitive)."
As we see, this Maryland event is part of a cluster of YDS developments at local colleges and universities and represents a real shift in membership in our local, at least, and probably in national DSA as well: a new continuity. Our local’s recent startling growth has been concentrated in a younger, millennial cohort flowing in, often, from the Sanders campaign as well as from the revulsion against the general-election outcome and its tawdry reflection of major-party political degradation.
This means, among many other things, that young people organizing themselves at local universities see a cohort not unlike themselves as the leadership of DSA locally. Yes, that’s happening. It makes it easy to imagine oneself as a socialist and activist in post-educational settings. This will make a huge difference (by the lights of this superannuated writer) in the sustainability of DSA for the long haul. And this is, still, the long haul.
THE MONTH AHEAD
Be sure to check our Meetup site for updates
Wednesday, March 1, 6 p.m., Organizing meeting of Young Democratic Socialists group at University of Maryland, College Park – at Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library (in “The Clarice”) Seminar Room 2515C.
Friday, March 3, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Wilson Bldg., 1350 Penna. Ave. NW DC City Council hearing on Congress Heights housing dispute – flagged by our Racial Justice & Anti-Bigotry committee, with JusticeFirst. More at above link.
Saturday, March 4, 1 p.m. Metro DC DSA Racial Justice & Anti-Bigotry Committee meets, Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Neighborhood Library (WTD Meeting Room), 1630 7th St NW, Washington, DC 20001-- After a review of recent events with ONE DC and Brookland Manor, we will discuss next steps on affordable housing issues, ideas on other opportunities for action and how each attendee can contribute.
Tuesday, March 7, 6 to 7:45 p.m., Metro DC DSA Economic Justice Committee meets, IPS, 1301 Connecticut Ave NW Washington DC 20036. Sam Portnow PhD will give a short presentation about his research on what boost you would expect to see in low-income children's school achievement if you increased their families' income. Marc Elrich, sponsor of the $15 an hour by 2020 bill in Montgomery County, has said that he will frame the continuing debate for $15 with how raising the minimum wage benefits children. Join us in a conversation with Sam as we decide how to hone our analysis to support $15 an hour in Montgomery County.
Sunday, March 12 Metro DC DSA monthly membership meeting, location is TBD so check the Meetup site. The agenda will be set the week before the meeting.
Thursday, March 16 6:30 p.m.Socialist Salon on the topic Socialist Feminism. Yong Chow restaurant, 312 Pennsylvania Ave SE, Washington, DC 20003,
Sunday, March 19 Socialist Book Group Discussion, 3 p.m. National Portrait Gallery’s Kogod Courtyard 8th St NW & F St NW, Washington, DC. Join us for a discussion of Hegemony How-To: A Roadmap for Radicals by Jonathan Smucker. More here.
Tuesday, March 21 6 p.m. DCDSA Economic Justice Committee meeting from 6:00 to 7:45 p.m., 1301 Connecticut Ave NW Washington DC 20036. Talking tactics for work on our campaigns, Fight for 15, One Fair Wage, Paid Sick Leave.
Wednesday March 29 DSA Happy Hour 6:30 p.m. at The Big Hunt, 1345 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC -- Join us as we relax and enjoy some brews with our brothers and sisters of DC DSA. No agenda, no schedule, no topic, just some good conversation and beer.
Tuesday, March 21 The Climate Change and Environmental Justice Committee will be attending a screening together as part of the annual Environmental Film Festival. Please join us for “The Age of Consequences,” which details the impact of climate change on resource scarcity, migration, and conflict, on Tuesday, March 21, 7 p.m. at the Carnegie Institute for Science, 1530 P St NW, Washington, DC 20005. No tickets or registration required!
FUTURES. Brian Doyle of our DCDSA Environmental/Climate Justice committee reports that the local is now officially a partner of the April 29 People’s Climate March here in DC – watch our website and our April issue for further details as the event approaches.
IN THIS ISSUE:
Henrique Calvo explores Fascism and why we are resolutely using that term to describe the perils of the present moment.
The environment and the planet’s future seem as threatened by Trump – or more so – than was feared. Can a popular front approach contest and win on protecting the environment and future? Andy Feeney weighs the odds.
The debate over Putin, and the Russian government’s, role in our election or other problems of the moment shouldn’t obscure the real issues we face. “… we ought to reject any attempt to oppose Trump by falling into the path of looking toward the US military, the CIA or other intelligence agencies as allies,” Kurt Stand states.
Socialists can get isolated from their own comprehensive view of the interlocking of disparate issues in a capitalist framework, Woody Woodruff argues, in part because of the directions our political work takes us.
CLOSE TO HOME
A jammed restaurant full of socialists glued to a discussion of Universal Basic Income is a sign of the times, Evan Ottenfeld asserts in his account of our February Socialist Salon (which you can watch on our website in full)
A bill in the Maryland legislature would retaliate against groups participating in BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions – of Israel due to its human rights abuses in the occupied area. Chip Gibbons describes the conflict.
The short-cuts and trims local governments are likely to make to the best-intentioned affordable housing programs are the current against which activists must push, John Reeder argues from experience as a Northern Virginia housing advocate.
Metro DC DSA sent a strong statement of support to DC government to keep it from wavering on protecting its most vulnerable residents from the Trump administration’s policies. Bill Mosley describes the parlous state of Sanctuary DC.
Metrorail’s need for power can be partly alleviated in a sustainable way by putting solar panels on highway noise barriers, in Daniel Adkins’s ingenious proposal.
CULTURE: The convergent messages of the Oscar-nominated “13th” and the James Baldwin memoir film “I am not your Negro” are analyzed by Kurt Stand in a meditation on the uses of our past.
Reports from Metro DC DSA committees – the latest from the environmental justice, economic justice and communications committees under one heading.
Good Reads for Socialists collects online articles that you may have missed (and some you may have recommended).
You can be writing in the Washington Socialist. In fact, there are very few reasons why you should not be writing in the Washington Socialist -- and access is not among them. Find out more about the Washington Socialist and how you can take part as writer, editor or designer here.
You can read these as well as past articles in the Washington Socialist on our website where they are archived, dsadc.org
By Carole Joffe
Black male judges such as Thurgood Marshall, state legislators, and physicians paved the way for legalized abortion, argued that the poor were hardest hit by restrictions, and made sure that women could get this essential care.Thurgood Marshall
Thurgood Marshall was one of a number of Black men to advocate for the legalization of abortion. He championed an important element of the Roe v. Wade decision.
Tuesday, March 7
Common Good Cafe
(Downstairs at the University Temple United Methodist Church)
1415 NE 43rd St.
Seattle, WA 98105
Amidst stunning attacks on reproductive rights and appaling sexism, homophobia and transphobia emanating from the white house, a new struggle is rising for women’s liberation. In solidarity with the call for a global women’s strike on International Women’s Day on March 8, we are holding a panel discussion about the fight for reproductive justice and how it fits in with a broader vision for women’s liberation.
Speakers will be listed here soon.
Thinking of joining the ISO? Join us for this 4-part introduction to Revolutionary Socialism and organizing with the ISO.
“Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.”
— V.I. Lenin.
The sessions will be held on Tuesdays at 6pm at the Common Good Cafe, 1415 NE 43rd St. The study group is on a rotating schedule, so feel free to join in at any time.
Session 1: The Socialist Alternative
- Reading: p. 1-27 in the Where We Stand Packet
- Optional Reading: Chapters 3, 6, and 7 of Meaning of Marxism
Session 2: Marxism and Oppression
- Reading: p. 28-30 in the Where We Stand Packet
- Reading: The Politics of Identity
- Reading: Why Solidarity Can Trump Hate
- Optional reading: Chapter 11 of Meaning of Marxism
Session 3: The Revolutionary Party
Session 4: How the ISO is Organized
- Reading: Members’ Toolkit p. 2-10
- Bring any outstanding questions you would like addressed before joining
By Enrique Calvo
It came as no surprise to overhear a young Donald Trump supporter assure his friends against accusations of fascism: “We’re obviously not fascists,” he protested as they walked past me. Thousands of peaceful protesters were broadcasting their anguish on Inauguration Day, souring the day for the outnumbered Trump supporters who had poured into Washington for the day’s festivities. One of the most common chants heard in the crowds of protesters marching through the streets demanded, “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist U. S. A.!”
What is fascism and why do we care? Academics give fascism various definitions; some develop litmus tests. For instance, many academics insist that a hypernationalistic regime must be ‘totalitarian’ in order to qualify as fascist, such that the state and the regime’s ethos must reach into every part of an ordinary person’s life. But of course we do not need to concern ourselves with fully developed fascism. We must instead know how fascist regimes develop so that we can stop them before it is too late. Much has been written on the formation of fascist regimes and the tools of their leaders, such as ‘charisma’. I will address the ideological underpinnings of fascism itself because we cannot forget that people come to be fascists out of the logic of certain beliefs and values.
In other words, we must detect proto-fascist beliefs and values. This process of calling out such underpinnings is more of a tool than a science, but I have long believed that you can reduce fascist thought to three broad pillars: a belief in innate superiority, a value placed on order and a value placed on unquestioning obedience.
The core is of course superiority: fascists believe that certain individuals, certain nations, certain countries and (for Nazis with their pseudoscience) certain races are inherently superior to their peers. From this belief in superiority stems everything from a personal dictatorship (since the leader is superior to all others) to might is right politics (encapsulated by the so-called ‘realist’ school of international relations). We know that belief in superiority is a vector that leads straight towards death: hate crimes, state repression and international war as superiority is fought for on the world stage.
Fascists draw the same conclusion and they prepare for war by attempting to mold society into an efficient killing machine. Fascists cultivate a value of order such that totalitarian conformity sweeps the masses, and they demand unquestioning obedience such that neither the press nor even facts stand in their way. As George Orwell terms the result of unquestioning obedience on the common psyche, “Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”
Doublethink, which brings us back to Donald Trump and the “alternative facts” of his supporters. We are not wrong to warn against the dangers of fascism when Trump’s campaign slogan was “Make America great again.” Trump based his entire campaign on ‘American exceptionalism’, on the belief in superiority. His treatment of women and signature slogan before hitting the campaign trail, “You’re fired!”, reeked of a belief in the superiority of some individuals over others. Trump’s racism similarly reeks of a superiority complex. We know that the belief in innate superiority leads inevitably to fascism and death.
We say “no” because we prefer to live in a world where life is valued. Most Trump supporters do not see themselves as fascists, but they have already bought into tenants of fascistic thought. Self-aware fascists choose to live in a dark world with beliefs and values that bring suffering to the doorstep of their fellow humans. We choose to live in the world we live in. “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist U. S. A.!” Life matters and it is our responsibility to let the general public, Trump supporters and fascists know that human suffering is a choice imposed on their compatriots.
Suicide by Climate: Can a Green ‘Popular Front’ Help Block Trump’s Full-Scale Blitzkrieg Against Environmental Laws?
By Andy Feeney
According to the media, astronomers have discovered a string of possibly habitable Earth-sized planets a measly 39 light years from our Sun. This is undoubtedly good news for humanity. To be sure, 39 light years is not especially close, for there are 5.88 trillion miles in a single light year. If you wanted to travel from Earth to the newly named Trappist system to escape Donald Trump’s insane reign in the White House, therefore, you would need to fly approximately 119 trillion miles through the empty bleakness of interstellar space before arrival.
The idea of the Trappist system’s planets serving as a refuge for humans fleeing an increasingly over-cooked Earth, however, is looking a bit less crazy in light of recent news about Trump’s plans for fossil fuel energy development and environmental deregulation as key elements in his program to “make America great again.”
The normally rightwing Washington Examiner, in its Feb. 6 cover story on “Trump’s Energy Agenda,” reports that when it comes to efforts to counter global climate change, “Trump intends to send Obama’s energy regulations to the ash heap within 100 days.”
State-level officials concerned with energy development, the Examiner continues, are “excited by the change at the White House,” and the new head of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC), Robert Powelson of coal-rich Pennsylvania, is hailing Trump’s policies as a turn away from greater federal control over environmental regulations and toward a greater focus on states’ rights.
In an impressively detailed article on the Trump energy agenda, the Examiner’s energy and environment editor John Siciliano writes that with every passing day, it’s becoming clearer that “Climate change priorities, and the regulations and metrics that Obama’s administration used, are finished.” Trump is not merely intent on replacing Obama’s climate change initiatives, Siciliano reports, “but eliminating them.”
This will entail not only eliminating Obama’s Clean Energy Plan (CPP) developed by the EPA (but currently stayed by the federal courts). It also will mean phasing out Department of Energy (DOE) programs to support that plan. Siciliano quotes a Trump advisor for policy changes at the Energy Department, Tom Pyle, as predicting that Trump’s strategy will strip “several agencies” of their climate change initiatives and will “shrink budgets and lay off thousands of staff.”
Similarly Myron Ebell, a long-time official with the climate-denialist Competitive Enterprise Institute, has been widely cited as saying that Trump’s energy policies will “gut” the EPA in particular and reduce its 15,000-member staff by about half. However, the Examiner quotes Ebell as predicting that Trump will keep in place EPA’s long-existing funding programs to help states and localities build and maintain water infrastructure projects, such as sewage treatment plants. Apparently, Trump will still allow EPA to deal with certain kinds of air pollution problems as well.
In this fashion, the Trump team appears to be positioning itself to claim that it is upholding EPA’s “legitimate” functions, the ones established back in the early 1970s, without interfering in any way in the nation’s energy markets or unfairly choosing to emphasize – say, renewable energy development, at the expense of coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear power.
Trump’s newly appointed EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, a former Oklahoma Attorney General who had sued the agency 12 to 14 times before Trump picked him to lead it, emphasized this focus on EPA’s supposedly lawful programs, as opposed to its efforts to rein in greenhouse gas emissions, at his first Senate confirmation hearing.
Also likely to be on the chopping block, judging from Pruitt’s testimony and Siciliano’s story in the Examiner, is EPA’s controversial “Waters of the United States” rule, which was notably strengthened by the Obama administration. As a story in Politico noted some years ago, the revised WOTUS rule establishes “whether antipollution laws are triggered if a farmer blocks a stream to make a pond for livestock, a developer fills in part of a wetland to put up a house or an oil pipeline has to cross a creek.”
The final WOTUS rule, according to Jo-Ellen Darcy, an official with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers which jointly administers certain portions of the Clean Water Act with EPA, ensures environmental protection for tributaries of rivers and lakes that have physical signs of flowing water, even if they do not flow all year round. It also covers drainage ditches that “look and act” like tributaries.
To the Obama administration, it makes sense to protect regulated lakes and rivers from pollution even from these apparently minor sources. However, to Pruitt, the Trump administration and many senators from farm states, such an extension of the federal government’s authority hurts US agricultural production – and, of course, it is certainly annoying to farmers and real estate developers. Hence the WOTUS rule is one the Trump administration is likely to scuttle.
Speaking of the recent discovery of the Trappist system mentioned at the start of this story, there is at least one other major climate-related agency that Trump and Co. will try to defund and eliminate. It involves outer space.
As John Bellamy Foster writes in the February 2017 issue of the independent socialist journal Monthly Review, a Trump aerospace advisor, former Pennsylvania congressman Robert Walker, has said the administration will attempt to defund the Earth-system research now being done by NASA, which has repeatedly reported alarming news about the growing risks of climate change. As an alternative, the Trump team will attempt to force NASA researchers to focus solely on “deep-space exploration”—on keeping its focus on fascinating space phenomena like the Trappist system, perhaps, and not on anything occurring on this planet.
In order to make their extreme anti-environmental program palatable for voters, and clearly in hopes of building a corporate-directed popular hegemony against the idea of democratically elected governments addressing climate change, the Trump team is touting its pro-fossil fuel agenda as an essential element in US economic recovery and the creation of new jobs.
According to Siciliano’s account in the Examiner, Trump envisions a $300 billion increase in US economic output as a result of repealing “strict climate and green regulations,” including the Waters of the US rule.
Additionally, Siciliano writes, the Trump team wants to accelerate US oil and natural gas production and exploit “vast fossil fuel deposits in America’s shale rock.” The Trump energy plan states in part: “We must take advantage of the estimated $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil and natural gas reserves, especially those on federal lands … We will use the revenues from energy production to rebuild our roads, schools, bridges and public infrastructure.”
For more of the details of the Examiner’s coverage of Trump’s energy polices, go to http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/trump-will-burn-obamas-energy-regulations/article/2613873 . John Bellamy Foster’s review of the month, “Trump and Climate Catastrophe,” can be found at https://monthlyreview.org/2017/02/01/mr-068-09-2017-02_0/ .
How bad will the Trump energy agenda, if implemented, be for the environment of the US and the world? What, if anything, can climate activists do to stop it or significantly reduce the damage it does to nature and human society?
In his Monthly Review piece, Foster cites prominent climate researchers to the effect that the Trump agenda could be disastrous. Climate scientist Michael Mann, in his 2016 book The Madhouse Effect, has written that the current global rate of carbon emissions, if continued at present levels, would push the global climate system past a crucial “tipping point” in about 30 years.
To remain with the limits of how much industrial emissions of CO2 and methane can grow without causing irreversible damage to the climate system, Mann argues, global carbon emissions must fall to just one-third of their current levels in 20 years. By 2050, “emissions must approach zero.”
Scientists fear that if such reductions do not occur in this time frame, climate change will go into overdrive – with a warming Arctic region releasing vast quantities of methane from thawing peat bogs, for example, or with a decline in the floating ice cap of the Arctic Ocean greatly reducing the reflectiveness of the planet as brighter, more reflective snow are replaced by darker, less reflective ocean waters, which will absorb more of the sun’s incoming energy.
Then, accelerating methane emissions and/or more heat-absorbent polar waters could ratchet up the rate at which climate change is occurring – effectively putting it beyond human control, and condemning humanity to centuries of drastic sea level rise, ever-hotter summers, ever-more destructive storms, and the like.
To head off virtually uncontrollable accelerations in the current rate of anthropogenic climate change, Foster concludes, it’s conceivable that a very broadly based coalition of environmentalists, social and economic justice activists and other political change agents could unite to keep temperatures and greenhouse gas emissions from moving past the most dangerous climate tipping points.
Such a broad, numerically massive climate activism alliance, as Foster envisions it, might be modeled after the so-called Popular Front that a number of anti-fascist organizations and movements – from Communists and Trotskyists to liberals, who otherwise had little use for each other – formed in the 1930s following the Nazi takeover in Germany.
In the short run, Foster argues, an enormous Green Popular Front of global dimensions might fight for changes to our economy and social system – for “ways of eliminating carbon emissions and economic waste while also promoting social and environmental needs” – which would “not call into question the existence of the capitalist system itself,” but would serve the goals of all the different coalition members.
But Foster contends that in the longer run, “capitalism’s threat to planetary boundaries cannot be solved by stopgap reforms, however radical, that leave the system’s fundamental features intact while simply transcending its relation to fossil fuels.” The end goal of socialists and other radicals in the Green Popular Front would need to be transcending capitalism and replacing it with eco-socialism.
As admirers of liberal economist John Maynard Keynes are fond of noting, of course, “in the long run, we are all dead.” One urgent question today for DSA members, both “eco-socialists” and otherwise, and for the US environmental movement as a whole, is whether in the short term, something like a Popular Front for climate reform can come together quickly enough to block Trump’s suicidally risky energy plans.
On this score, the limited amount of outreach to existing climate action organizations that Metro DC DSA’s new Climate Change & Environmental Justice Committee has done in the past few months is somewhat encouraging.
Although foes of Trump’s fossil fuel agenda have so far failed to block the appointment of Pruitt as EPA administrator, Texas governor Rick Perry as Secretary of Energy, and long-time Exxon/Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as US Secretary of State, there are impressive coalitions of climate activist groups forming, both at the local level and nationally – in fact, even internationally – to contest the Trump program. A host of indigenous tribal groups and supporters from around the world meanwhile continue to fight against Trump’s orders for work to resume on the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL pipeline. At the state and local levels, too, green activists continue to fight for clean energy initiatives that can help to counter – partly -- the damage Trump and the Republicans are doing at the federal level.
And this April 29, here in Washington DC, a wide range of different constituencies hopes to come together in a People’s Climate March that ideally will resemble the huge New York City climate march of a few years ago. Whether the different organizations and movements now working on climate issues can coalesce into a Green Popular Front big enough to turn around Trump’s march toward climate catastrophe remains to be seen. Yet while there’s life -- and while there’s political struggle – there’s still hope. And there’s a lot of political struggle around climate and energy politics now underway.
Portside has recently hosted several discussions of Russia, the way Trump’s apparent or real relationship with Putin illuminates our politics, and the lingering presence of cold-war imagery and emotion in our political discourse (e.g. Norman Soloman, Dan Kovalik). Metro DC DSA member Kurt Stand recently joined others in responding to the first round of discussions in this Portside compilation; his response is reprinted in full below:
By Kurt Stand
Notwithstanding the barrage of news reports concerning the personal nature of Trump's relationship with Russia and the implications of that for his administration's policies, I have very little interest in determining its true nature. That is in part because there is no way of really knowing the truth of various allegations, and in part because the implication of all the coverage is that Russia poses some kind of threat to US democracy. No doubt Trump's relationship is corrupt because virtually every move he has made in business and politics has reeked of corruption. But as to intelligence agency accusations about Trump's Russian ties, the articles that have appeared in Intercept, which have challenged the more extreme claims and resulting speculations absent more substantial and supported evidence, seem more measured and grounded than most. And the framework of contemporary Russian politics is portrayed more usefully in Stephen Cohen's articles in the The Nation then the rehashed fear-laden Cold War narrative that has returned in full force within the media and academia.
More important, however, than trying to understand Russian developments from this distance is trying to meet the challenge that debates over Russia pose for us domestically. That is, how do we carve out an independent politics on issues where Trump's demagoguery speaks with a superficial resemblance to progressive politics (if there was no resemblance his rhetoric would fall on deaf ears). This is the case when he opposes NAFTA and the TPP, or calls for a revival of manufacturing and building infrastructure, just as when he supports a better relationship with Russia or calls into question NATO. We also oppose NAFTA, the TPP, and should oppose NATO and remnants of Cold War anti-Russian politics. But we do so for opposite and more complex reasons than Trump and his supporters, who proclaim such positions based on an "American first" racist nationalism that is dangerous in the extreme.
And, on that score, as with so much else, the similarity between Trump's use of such issues and that of Italian and German fascism is so direct that it has to have been a conscious choice. Both the Nazis and Italian Fascists borrowed economic development and job-creating programs that had been put forward by labor and the left; the Nazis, for all of Hitler's bellicosity, also would proclaim that the buildup of military strength would mean that Germany could gain its goals without war. The Nazis would use Marxist critiques of British colonialism and left-wing critiques of the Versailles Treaty to justify their politics, while visitors to Italy during the early years of Mussolini's rule would be greeted by slogans welcoming them to "Proletarian and Fascist" Italy.
To avoid the trap of allowing misleading rhetoric to dictate our policies, we need to continue to articulate and organize around an alternative world view. And thus we ought to reject any attempt to oppose Trump by falling into the path of looking toward the US military, the CIA or other intelligence agencies as allies. There is something very dangerous to democratic politics when critics of right-wing politics turn in that direction -- no matter how corrupt Trump's ties with Russia may be, it is striking and saddening that this has become the dominant talking point in numerous denunciations of him, rather than (for instance) his choice of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. Trump's illegitimacy as president is defined by his racism, for that explicit racism directly undermines the integrity of our society more than anything else he has said and done. Moreover, the whole anti-Russia rhetoric is used by some to avoid the real reasons for the Democratic loss in November, or to fail to examine the implications of the Wikileaks revelations (the content ignored when the process of revelation becomes a focus), and thus inhibit the renewal of broad-based progressive opposition.
On the other hand Trump's anti-Cold War rhetoric can be used against him -- just as his anti-Free Trade rhetoric can. Indeed labor and the left also oppose business-driven trade deals, but we do so by organizing to assert workers' rights, to increase wages, protect the environment, defend immigrant workers and bring an end to US corporate exploitation of nations beyond our borders. So too, we should strive to have better relations with Russia and yes, we do not need NATO -- but therefore we ought to reduce our arms budget and nuclear arsenal, strengthen the United Nations, cut the military/diplomatic support we give to Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, end our wars and armed actions abroad and stop interfering in other countries' internal affairs.
Finally, we need to develop an understanding of Russia that rejects the dichotomy between demonization and uncritical support (just as we could oppose the demonization of Saddam Hussein without thereby becoming supporters of his brutal domestic policies and aggressions). The mainstream media fail to do so and instead rely on liberal Russian critics who see freedom in neo-liberal terms, supporting free trade and Western models which proved so disastrous to hopes for positive changes in 1991. Interesting in this respect is that Mikhail Gorbachev, Russia’s last Communist leader and someone who clearly opposes Putin on domestic politics, nonetheless supports him on most foreign policy issues (e.g., those on Crimea, the Ukraine, NATO). So too, we can reject the notion that Russian foreign policy seeks to undermine US national security while at the same time standing up as open critics of Putin's domestic repression, to the homophobia and sexism that have become Russian public policy, to growth of inequality and concentrations of wealth there.
More substantive -- and more complex -- is the need as Marxists to look at the dynamics of Soviet history in its positive and negative dimensions, in the meaning of that legacy for Russia today. That way we can best build an historically rooted understanding of socialism (encompassing likewise China and Vietnam), as part of the process of challenging right-wing authoritarianism at home without embracing the "liberal" neo-liberalism that brought us to this point
By Woody Woodruff
Coming to Annapolis to lobby on any given Monday Lobby Night, I’m handed a checklist of priority bills that the organization(s) running the evening’s persuasion hope to see enacted (or squashed).
Each of the priority bills promoted by progressive organizations – economic justice, environment, criminal justice etc. – is solid and valuable. Each is as good in its own way as the proposals on the bullet list that propelled Bernie Sanders’ social-democratic primary campaign to near-victory. But their value is diminished if we don’t see – and explain – the connections among various agendas and the large and less-visible capitalist agenda – already in place – that they are, or should be, comprehensively directed against.
After 35-some years in DSA or its predecessor, DSOC, I don’t think of myself as a conspiracy theorist when I say that environmental, labor and workplace, housing, business, educational, health care, criminal justice and electoral reforms are intimately connected -- and that the widely distributed, tentacular influence of today’s financialized, corporate capitalism is the problem they all address.
Though the intimate connection is quite distinctly masked, we can feel it every day -- we’re pretty well enmeshed in a system in which our “freedom” to consume is both linked to and deformed by our master-servant relationship to the workplace and behind that to the private-sector system that controls most jobs. In the land of the free, the workplace is the most unfree of places. Having a job, or lacking one, affects our self-image, family life and ability to participate in a sound (and sustainable) economy. Our anxieties, family dysfunction, willingness to turn to lawlessness and our incapacity (through educational depletion, skills decay and imposed distraction) to cope with life at breakneck cyber-capitalism speed – all pivot on this major factor. Desperate competition for the declining number of jobs left on the post-automation landscape brings heedless public ruin of the environment; democratic electoral processes are distorted by the legalized monetization of winning office; residual anxieties of race and class become the dividing line between those who can afford to obey the law and those who cannot. Public provision of public goods is eroded by declining tolerance for the taxes that make human society work, and the effect of educational disparities, especially, is deep and generational.
None of these wide-scale dysfunctions in our society is going to be remedied by one single, numbered, HB or SB in the Maryland General Assembly. Many such bills cause modest incremental improvements short-term, but without a vision coordinating them we can take no satisfaction in individual victories because public welfare, the public good, nevertheless is eroded steadily along all these major fronts.
And the rhythm of legislation, which more and more chops up the sensible political ecosystem into individual bills with individual sponsors and distinct constituencies, ensnares us as progressives and particularly as socialists. When we adapt to that rhythm we lose our own, and our intersectional strategy and comprehensive vision wind up on the killing floor, as well.
It’s probably no accident that the systems of representative democracy, especially as electoral politics have become monetized, can sap our progressive energy by degrading the overarching vision that we require in order to keep us going and keep us socialists. It’s no accident that the breakneck pace of stimulus and outrage that brought Trump to the office he has no business holding nevertheless keeps the Left off balance, even as we have grown beyond the measure anyone could have foreseen. In the national legislature as in the states and localities, the single-issue bill (or one-off executive ruling) diffuses our attention again and again.
Oddly, we tend to think of these instances as focusing our attention on the actual issues of governance and social practice so we won’t get distracted by the endless other shiny objects scatter-plotted on our screens in the Society of the Spectacle. But in fact all these specificities, important as they may seem or be, are diffusers of our unique socialist perspective. Without overdoing the personification, capitalism seems designed for that sort of diversion , just as it seems adept at devising new forms of anxiety to replace the ones we thought we had banished.
All this is to say that in a perversely exciting time of accelerated crisis and compounded outrages, we could be in danger of losing that critical, comprehensive socialist perspective in pursuit of the immediate objective – a kind of short-term thinking that is not uncommon and can bring important victories but one that we simply have to be aware of and keep in its proper compartment.
Yes, we need to keep on going to Annapolis or the Wilson Building and conducting the ritual of citizen lobbying. Yes, we need to keep on fighting for Statehood, a $15 minimum wage and paid sick leave across our jurisdictions. But let’s be the ones who propose bigger and more comprehensive programs, programs that encompass many kinds of law and practice and make explicit the web of capitalism that holds together and sustains the ills that our proposals are designed to remedy.
Bigger bills, packages of bills are needed, encompassing major issues that are linked to one another – like post-automation jobs planning, sustainable business-type activities (including public industrial policy), improved education and pro-worker regulation. Like sustainable development, post-automobile transportation, communities diverse in race and class, and affordable housing. Like public financing of elections, equal media access for candidates and regulation/abolition of “slates” and other evasive forms of collusive election finance. Like fair taxation that levels disparities of wealth, discourages overpriced and excessive housing, supports great schools and generally provides the revenue needed for a good society. Like health care as a right, underpinning for workers and families all those other goods and making us capable of enjoying them.
These are the kinds of packages we should be envisioning, formulating and forwarding in the public sphere -- as well as refining them among ourselves.
Maryland, DC or Virginia won’t set the whole nation on a new course just by taking these steps themselves. But many of our local businesses are caught in the same snare as we workers and consumers are – unable to think of any remedy but “more,” unable to break free from their reflexive plea to legislators that business regulation will cause them to close their doors. A more prosperous, inclusive and positive society for all will result from big moves like those described above – and sooner than we think.
Bernie Sanders in his groundbreaking primary campaign did a great service to the US electorate – still afflicted by Cold-War political vocabulary – by decontaminating the S-word “socialism” for a new generation. A socialist perspective, we know, breaks the fetters of capitalist practices placed on not only workers and consumers but management and ownership. A measurable public benefit results from managing “stuff” (from household goods to industrial means of production) democratically, with public good in mind.
Paddling hard in the rapids of the Trump era, we should be resolute not to let the gains that Sanders accomplished slip away through inattention to our own socialist critique and perspective, nor through lack of effort in educating those around us about that perspective. Through solid, concrete examples of the deep and intimate role of capitalist practices and constraints in our lives we can make plain the connections beneath the surface. Even when the individual numbered bills flock to distract us.
Our message is that the capacity to provide a good society on a healthy planet with less work and more leisure – surely the goal of technology – is today in our hands if we use our popular power to seize it. That’s a comprehensive message, and we have to be careful not to let it be obscured by the disaggregated problems that financial-capitalist hegemony throws in our path, even if piecemeal solutions are sometimes apparently on offer – with bill numbers.
By Evan Ottenfeld
On a Thursday night in February, over fifty people crammed into the back of a Capitol Hill Chinese restaurant to listen to a talk on full employment and universal basic income.
Read that again and tell me it’s not a sign of the times.
With DSA in general and metro DC folks in particular riding a wave of publicity and press interest in our growing movement, this makes a lot of sense. People are looking for new ideas— radical to some, common sense to others -- and they’re finding them in democratic socialism.
In this context, Metro DC DSA was proud to host a salon featuring a local economics professor and a widely-known writer on poverty (especially among DSA’s younger, Twitter-savvy members) who offered up concrete examples of what socialist ideas could actually mean for working folks.
Starting things off was Professor Haydar Kurban, of the Howard University Department of Economics, with a discussion on a job program proposal paper authored by the so-called “Chicago Political Economy Group” of economists, in which he is included. Their work is a direct response to the problems of deindustrialization, the weakening of unions and deregulation in the United States that have resulted in privatization and the erosion of middle-class jobs.
He argued that, compared to many others countries, our citizens’ needs, especially with regards to healthcare, elderly care, and child care, are not being met. Why? Because the government is not specifically directing the economy. Instead, the private sector is able to pit the working class against itself through the segmentation of labor.
Therefore, the government should have a jobs program, funded by a financial transaction tax, active in the long term, that results in good jobs. This is a crucial step in addressing people’s needs instead of merely protecting profit for the few.
Next came poverty and welfare writer Matt Bruenig, who made explicit that, though money affects us all, it does not affect us all equally. Capitalists essentially get free money for no work: One out of every three dollars of income goes to the owners of capital as interest, rents and dividends, and is heavily skewed to the top of society.
This state of affairs is obscene, but the obvious question is: What do we do about it?
Instead of paying to capitalists, we must pay to everyone, through a program known as universal basic income (UBI). If money for nothing works for the capitalists, why not the rest of us?
The idea is that the government creates a set of wealth funds, buying up stocks, bonds, real estate and other kinds of income-generating assets to fill up funds with capital. It would be paid for by imposing wealth taxes, including the financial transactions tax that Professor Kurban also mentioned. This would gradually move some, but not all, capital out of private hands. There would be no need for a sudden seizure of assets.
This looks a lot like already-existing practice. The difference is that the funds are publicly owned and publicly paid out to all, versus a very narrow band of wealthy owners. This is not speculative— Alaska is just one real-world example of such a program.
After their opening presentations, the floor was opened to all in attendance, and a great discussion ensued about the merits and challenges posed by both UBI and full employment.
(In the course of things, a very telling story came out, prompted by a kibitzing Emily Bruenig via Facebook, that Chris Hayes actually recorded a piece on UBI that MSNBC refused to let see the light of day.)
DC DSA’s online promotion in advance of the event helped to generate a lot of buzz around the country, with lots of requests to film it. Luckily, we were able to have high-quality Facebook Live stream of the event, thanks to member Brad Herring’s donating his equipment and expertise. (This was especially crucial considering that there was a large spillover crowd of DC DSAers in the next room that could not get a seat to the talk!)
This event represents the exciting future of the Democratic Socialists of America, and especially the Metro DC chapter. People are engaged and looking for answers, and these events offer a great starting off point for people to imagine a different future.
One illustrative exchange took place on Twitter before the event started: A person responded to a DSA tweet about the event saying “UBI isn’t socialist.”
Matt Bruenig chimed in: “Mine is.”
You can watch the whole recording of the salon here.
By Chip Gibbons
As support for Palestinian human rights continues to grow across the United States, opponents of Palestinian human rights who are losing control of the narrative have turned to statehouses in hopes of using repression to blunt a social movement in ascendancy.
Maryland has been a particular focal point in this struggle. For the third time now, legislators are considering a bill aimed at chilling the speech of those involved in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Both previous attempts have been thwarted by popular mobilizations consisting of BDS proponents, civil liberties, peace, human rights, and faith groups.
The bills in question, SB739/HB949, would deny pension fund investment or state contracts to individuals, non-government organizations, or businesses that boycott Israel or “Israeli-controlled territory,” i.e. the Occupied Palestinian territory and Israel’s illegal colonies within. The broad nature of the bill, in that it would apply not just to businesses, but individuals and NGOs, is particularly chilling. A number of churches, trade unions, and other civil society organizations have endorsed some type of boycott of Israel or its illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
To accomplish its ends, the bill, if enacted, would task the Board of Trustees for the State Retirement and Pension System with setting up a blacklist. Using publicly available information the board then would publish the names of online individuals, NGOs, and business that boycott Israel or its illegal settlements. This is reminiscent of the worst practices of the McCarthy era. It is also not difficult to imagine how such a blacklist would chill speech well beyond those who just hope to receive contracts from the state or be invested in by its pension fund. In fact, this is the intent of the bill. Its chief sponsor Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-District 11), was quoted in the Baltimore Jewish Times saying, “I just want to ensure that this ridiculous messenger movement against Israel never sees the light of day in our state.”
The bill is flagrantly unconstitutional. As soon as Maryland General Assembly members announced their intent to pursue such a bill, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee/Defending Dissent Foundation and Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition sent a lengthy letter to every single member of the General Assembly explaining how anti-boycott bills run afoul of the Constitution. Once the bill was introduced, these two groups were joined by the Center for Constitutional Rights, Maryland National Lawyers Guild, and Palestine Legal in sending a second letter outlining how SB739/HB949 violates the First Amendment.
The Supreme Court has ruled that a boycott for political, economic, or social change is political speech protected by the First Amendment. A law that is not viewpoint-neutral, i.e. discriminates against a particular point of view, violates the First Amendment. Furthermore, under the “unconstitutional conditions doctrine” the Supreme Court has held that the state cannot condition receipt of a public benefit on exercise of a constitutional right. The Supreme Court has reasoned that denying individuals a public benefit based on their speech is no less coercive than if the state were to fine them for their speech. This doctrine has been used to find that public employees have free speech rights and later that independent contractors had the same free speech rights as public contractors.
What Is the BDS Movement?
The BDS movement is a response to the 2005 statement “Palestinian Civil Society Calls for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel Until it Complies with International Law and Universal Principles of Human Rights.” The call, as it is commonly referred to, was issued on the one-year anniversary of the International Court of Justice’s opinion that Israel’s wall built in the Occupied West Bank was illegal under international law. As the call noted, in spite of this historic ruling, Israel continued “construction of the colonial Wall with total disregard to the Court's decision.”
It was not just the wall where the international community failed to apply meaningful sanctions to Israel. On a wide range of issues, Israel continuously violated the Palestinians’ human rights with impunity, as no government seemed seriously interested in holding them accountable. The call reasoned that based on the failure of governments to stand for justice for Palestinian people, it was up to civil society and people of conscience to act. The call proposed, as method for holding Israel accountable, that broad-based boycotts, similar to those imposed against Apartheid South Africa, be imposed until Israel complies with the following demands:
- Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall
- Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
- Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.
These demands, rooted in international human rights law, are clearly demands for political change. As such, there is little question that legislation like that being proposed in Maryland clearly violates the First Amendment.
Solidarity and Boycotts
International boycotts like BDS have a rich history of success. The African National Congress and the Worker’s United Center of Chile issued calls for boycotts of Apartheid South Africa and the military junta of General Augusto Pinochet in Chile. Such boycotts helped to build solidarity with activists directly facing repressive regimes with supporters the world over. While an individual’s refusal to buy South African or Chilean produce did not topple a regime, boycotts helped to build the type of solidarity that is needed to build mass movements. These boycotts become the nexus point for organizing in a wide range of civil society groups, including student groups, churches, and labor unions.
Much like the South African or Chilean boycotts, the BDS call stems directly from those impacted by repressive policies. In this case, it is the Palestinian people who have lived through Israel’s policies of apartheid, colonialism, and ethnic cleansing who are calling for boycotts of their oppressor. Israel continues to engage in a brutal military occupation, complete with rapacious colonization of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and a strangling blockade that has reduced Gaza – one of the most densely populated areas on the planet due to that fact that half of its residents are refugees – to an open-air prison. In a policy Israel dubs “mowing the lawn,” it periodically and mercilessly bombs the trapped residents of Gaza. It is, as the call points out, not just within the occupied territories where Palestinians are deprived of basic human rights. There are 50 laws that discriminate against Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. While there are Palestinians with Israeli citizenship who are members of the Israeli Knesset, they are frequently dragged away from the podium when they denounce Israeli war crimes. A new law seeks to empower the Knesset to silence these members for good. In addition to Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian territories and discrimination against its own citizens, there are also over five million Palestinian refugees who are still currently denied the right to return to their homes. BDS seeks to address the oppression of all three sectors of the Palestinian population: those who live in the occupied territory under Israeli military rule and are not granted Israeli citizenship even though they subjected to Israeli rule; those who live with Israel’s “1967 borders” and have citizenship, but face discrimination; and those who are refugees.
Since 2005, BDS has helped the global Palestinian solidarity movement grow. Student governments, churches, trade unions, and academic associations have all debated and endorsed some degree of boycotts against Israel or its illegal settlements. Support for Palestinians is gaining ground. It is for this reasons that opponents of Palestinian human rights are fearful of BDS. The Israeli government has gone so far as to label BDS a “strategic threat.”
Defend Free Speech in the Free State
Maryland lawmakers should not violate the free speech rights of their residents in order to continue a culture of impunity for violating Palestinian human rights. Maryland’s first anti-BDS bill had enough co-sponsors that it should they have all voted in favor of the bill it would have passed. Yet, thanks to popular mobilization a number of co-sponsors, pledged to vote against the bill, and it died in committee. Last session, activists began to mobilize before an announced anti-BDS had even been introduced. As a result, a number of prominent leaders in the Maryland General Assembly announced publicly that such a bill would be dead on arrival and it was never introduced.
This bill can be defeated, as well. Public hearings will be held on the bill on February 28 at the House Health and Government Operations Committee and on March 1 at the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.
Marylanders wishing to keep free speech in the free state can also contact their legislators here. Also, they can check out the Freedom2Boycott Maryland coalition here.
Gibbons is the policy & legislative counsel of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee/Defending Dissent Foundation, a national civil liberties group, which opposes SB739/HB949 solely on First Amendment grounds. The views expressed in this article are representative only of the author and not BORDC/DDF.
By John Reeder
Affordable housing and the struggle to end homelessness are intractable problems in most areas of the U.S. and particularly acute in urban growth areas like the DC Metro. Arlington is representative of what has happened--housing is more expensive and gentrified, and renters spend an ever rising proportion of their incomes on housing (housing cost burden – generally above 30 percent of income for housing is considered a housing cost burden). According to the VA Tech Center for Housing Research, Arlington has the highest median renter cost (median gross rent) of any jurisdiction in the Metro D.C. area of about $2,027 per month in the third quarter 2016; the average in the 3rd quarter 2016 for the Metro D.C. area was $1,730 a month.
I identify three aspects of the local and national affordable housing problem and one short-term solution based on my years of activism at the grass roots level in Arlington:
l. Lack of affordable housing is a manifestation of the ills of capitalism with a lack of planning and a financially squeezed working class.
2. Lack of affordable housing and homelessness have two components—lack of income for those at the bottom rung, and loss of Federal, state and local government funding for the mentally ill, disabled, and those with addiction.
3. The ruling paradigm for most affordable housing programs today is building a few expensive units operated by contractors and crony capitalists, a strategy that can never meet the needs of the millions of housing-cost-burdened Americans.
4. A short-term solution is more direct housing grants funded by local governments for those in need.
Housing affordability is rooted deeply in our capitalist economy.
The real estate industry—whether building commercial or residential space-- is built on finance and tax deals, and meeting the needs of the rich, and is prone to boom and bust. The reason most people cannot afford to pay rent in this environment is that they are low income.
The problem is NOT a lack of supply of housing: in the DC Metro area, thousands of expensive homes and luxury apartments are being built. Many of these will remain unsold and unfilled. The housing industry, with all sorts of tax subsidies and abundant funding, builds for those with high income (who themselves are subsidized through the Federal and state income taxes in the amount of over $175 billion annually). HUD spending for low-income housing assistance is $50 billion a year; thus government subsidies for housing mostly go to the rich and upper income.
Arlington has a glut of McMansions costing well over a $1 million, very few modest detached homes for sale for under $700,000. Virtually no private rental apartments are affordable to anyone in the bottom 50-percent area median income (AMI) -- those in the bottom quarter (in income) of the population. In 2000, there were 20,000 market-rate rental apartments in Arlington affordable to tenants earning 60-percent area median income (AMI). By 2015, there were 80 percent fewer—only 4,000 out of 47,000 total rental units.
Pushed out by rising rents and stagnant incomes, many working and middle class people have been and continue to be forced to leave areas inside the Beltway like Arlington. They move to “ex-urban areas,” and then commute back to jobs in the core area, thus contributing to our sprawl. Gentrification means loss of income and racial diversity in Arlington, and displaces lower income people from good schools and adjacent jobs. The ratio of Latinos in Arlington fell from 19 to 15 percent of residents during the 2000-10 decade as Latinos moved out to Prince William and Loudon counties.
Loss of affordable housing has two components—lack of income and lack of government support for the mentally ill, the disabled and those with addictions
A large portion of those facing the excessive housing-cost burden are working or retired persons whose incomes are too low. There are about 15,000 households in Arlington, Virginia who have incomes below 50-percent AMI; a single person at 50-percent AMI earns $37,000 a year (p. 36).
In 2015, there were (p. 45) exactly 137 private market-rate apartments (out of 47,000) affordable for households earning 50-percent AMI -- who ordinarily should not be paying more than $925 a month for rent (including utilities). The average rent for an apartment in Arlington in 2015 was about $1,800 a month. Thus the gap for affordable rent for a 50-percent AMI single person was about $900 per month for an average apartment in Arlington.
A significant proportion of chronically homeless individuals suffer from mental illness and addiction. Virginia, like DC and Maryland, over the past 35 years nearly emptied most of its mental institutions; Virginia ranked 29th among the 50 states with a $91 per capita mental health spending level in 2010.
Arlington County has funded mostly through local tax revenues a number of group homes for the mentally challenged and mentally ill. It funded an addiction treatment center with about 50 beds, a 50-bed residential center for psychiatrically ill seniors, and a new year-round homeless shelter for adults. However, there are long waiting lists for most facilities; for instance, a group home operated by Arlington County for mentally ill adult women with five beds has a waiting list of about eight years. Arlington’s new homeless shelter (open less than two years) is full many nights. Nearly half of the county jail inmates are mentally ill persons with no long term therapeutic place for placement.
Most affordable housing programs in urban areas are operated by crony contractors and crony capitalists
The ruling paradigm for affordable housing in the United States today is to build new apartments. While it would appear that building new units would reduce the gap of needed affordable units, this supply approach cannot work because these units are simply too expensive to build and operate and too few in number. Political leaders like to cut ribbons on new buildings, and reward political contributors (nonprofits, banks, landowners and construction companies).
Affordable housing programs that engage in building new apartments are a type of public works. However, localities engaged in public works often enter into corrupt relationships with contractors who are the political sponsors of the city council or mayor. The scarce dollars available for housing assistance are captured by insiders and cronies in this form, and these projects do not provide effectively lower rents for the many lower income renters.
Arlington spends about 40 percent of its local housing assistance funds to subsidize production of new units or to rehabilitate existing units. Arlington privatized most of its housing assistance programs, including its homeless shelters, and subsidized housing units. Arlington County spent $38 million of its local revenues in FY 2017 for housing assistance; the main program ($14 million in FY 2017) is the Affordable Housing Investment Fund (AHIF) that finances subsidized units owned by private corporations and nonprofits. The total number of these subsidized committed affordable units (“CAFs”) in Arlington is about 6,500 today.
In the past two years, new CAFs in Arlington have cost around $400,000 each, requiring about $125,000 of local county funds. Because these funds are loans and have to be repaid, and construction and operating costs of private contractors are high, rents charged on the CAFs tend to be excessive, generally around $1,400 a month or higher in Arlington. Most tenants generally have incomes of 60- to 80-percent AMI. For every million dollars spent for new CAFs, only about eight units are built, and the county has been able to add fewer than 280 new units annually. CAF rental units are available for only a contracted period of 30-60 years.
Rents charged for CAFs are below prevailing market rents, and, while the new units are attractive and recent, they are not free to the tenant, and in essence provide a subsidy of less than $400 a month per household. Construction of new units takes three to over five years; adjacent neighborhood groups often oppose new construction for many reasons, including bias and discrimination. Over the past five years, Arlington County has built most new units in the county's lowest income area, furthering housing and public school segregation.
Most of the AHIF funds go to a handful of organizations that have strong political connection with the elected members of the Arlington County Board. The county government does not engage in arms-length bidding for new projects, and, unsurprisingly, new apartment costs turn out to be excessive.
In response to Arlington’s affordable rental problem, the Arlington Green Party advocated establishing a public housing authority through two voters’ referenda that both were defeated by voters on a 2-1 margin. Greens believed that a well-run authority (modeling Fairfax County’s) could have built and run low cost apartments, could have centralized housing programs and cut operating costs, and could have provided more accountability. Unfortunately, Arlington’s political establishment and its cronies were threatened by the referenda, and secured defeat.
The most pragmatic, short-term way to address affordable housing is to directly give tenants housing grants
Arlington County in FY 2017 provided $10 million from its local tax revenues for housing grants to very low income persons earning under 20-percent AMI. In FY 2015, it gave out an average $600 a month grant to about 1,300 households, all of whom were over 65 years old, disabled households or a parent with a minor child. The average income for disabled and senior households was $14,000 a year, and $26,000 for a family with a child. There are also about 1,400 other households earning about 30-percent AMI in Arlington who received a separate Federal HUD housing choice voucher (Section 8). There are no federal funds available to expand HUD grants, and an intolerable waiting list.
The local housing grants are administered by the Arlington Department of Human Services in a cost effective and transparent way—grants go directly to the landlord, and tenants are required to periodically update their incomes. The staff who also administer TANF and SNAP benefits can quickly and efficiently distribute funds to tenants across the county. Tenants are not required to live in CAF units nor are identified.
Providing housing grants is far more effective than building new subsidized units. Every million dollars spent for housing grants funds a $600 monthly grant to 138 households earning less than 20-percent AMI. The total rental reduction for the 138 households is nearly one million dollars (since administrative costs are low). Every million dollars on new construction builds eight new subsidized units for households mostly earning above 60-percent AMI; at about $360 per month lower rent, the total rent reduction for these eight households is $35,000 a year.
Ideally, the burden of financing housing grants should fall to the Federal Government, but this is unlikely under Trump and a Republican Congress. In the meantime, local governments should use their local tax revenue dollars to expand or institute housing grants by both shifting local tax revenue away from futile new construction, and to increasing tax revenues for the grants.
John Reeder is a Green Party housing activist in Northern Virginia.
By Bill Mosley
As President Trump leveled his rhetoric against U.S. cities that sought to protect immigrants from his plans for massive deportations, Metro-DC Democratic Socialists of America moved to stiffen the resolve of DC elected officials to fight back.
On Jan. 31, the local sent a letter to DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and all 13 District councilmembers urging them not to be intimidated by Trump’s threats to withhold federal funds from the “sanctuary” cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities in identifying and handing over suspected undocumented residents. Many U.S. cities have promised varying degrees of resistance, from declining active cooperation, to more aggressive measures that include active assistance to immigrants fighting deportation. Others, like Miami-Dade, Fla., quickly capitulated to Trump’s threats and promised collaboration with the feds.
The District has already taken measures to aid non-citizen immigrants in DC, including a program announced by Mayor Bowser in January to provide $500,000 for legal services such as converting green cards to citizenship, conducting workshops to advise immigrants of their rights, and assisting children whose parents or guardians face deportation. In her reply to DSA’s letter, Ward I Councilmember Brianne Nadeau noted that she would seek additional funding for the program in the upcoming DC budget. One other member responded to the letter: Ward 4 member Brandon Todd, who affirmed his support for the District as a sanctuary city.
Even as cities across the country declare themselves as sanctuaries – including San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York – DC has come under special scrutiny for its policies toward immigrants due to its special status as a ward of Congress. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the House’s appointed overseer of the District, has been threatening the District over its assistance to immigrants, demanding documents related to the program and insisting that it violates federal spending laws, with which other sanctuary cities – whose budgets do not fall under the federal appropriations process – are not obligated to comply. Chaffetz and other GOP members are likely try to use DC’s budget – which will come before Congress for approval this year, the only city or state budget which must do so – to attach riders aimed at undoing DC’s program to aid immigrants. It will then be up to congressional Democrats to attempt to block it the legislation, and to DC elected officials – including Bowser and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton – to mobilize DC residents to fight back.
So far, the “fightback” from DC officials has been a fairly quiet one. Back on January 25 Bowser declared that DC was and would continue to be a sanctuary city, but has largely been silent since then in the face of Congressional attacks against the city’s stance. Norton mentioned the sanctuary issue only in passing in a statement objecting to Congressional interference in a number of areas, including the city’s death-with-dignity bill (it took effect in mid-February when Congress declined to block it), DC’s gun laws, and local programs to provide abortions for poor women. In the end, as DSA’s letter indicated, the critical actors will be “the citizens of the District who can be mobilized to take to the streets, walk the halls of Congress and speak to their friends and relatives – within and without DC – to rally them to the city’s cause.”
DC, Lacking Its Own Members of Congress, Reaches for Statehood
Frustrated by Congress’ continued control over the District’s budget and laws, as well as their lack of voting members to call to complain about Trump’s awful nominations (as discussed in February’s Socialist), dozens of DC residents gathered on Feb. 15 to make a pitch for the only real solution – DC statehood.
The lobby day, organized by a coalition of pro-statehood organizations, had DC citizens walking the halls of Congress to meet with members or members’ staffers (mostly the latter) who did not represent them, making the case for granting the District the same rights as all other taxpaying US citizens.
Even though statehood has zero chance of passage in a government under full Republican control, the message of the lobby day was: We’re here, we will not be silent, and we will be back as often as necessary.
By Daniel C. Adkins
At a time when progress using more renewable energy on the federal level has slowed, there are other options. Local governments may start planning for the use of interstate highways as a photovoltaic resource. Many interstate highways have sound barriers running east to west that might be used for photovoltaic (PV) panels. We need to research this PV resource base and the technical and governmental constraints to realize power from this resource. We need to move our local governments forward so that they can begin the needed feasibility studies.
In the Washington area we have parts of interstate highways of 495 and 66 that might provide a basis for some PV sources. Our Metro subway system often intersects with these interstate systems and does have a need for daytime electricity. Local county governments could potentially partner with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to have Interstate PV resources to supply our subway. Sending electricity directly to WMATA means that we lessen the need to deal with utilities. Local activists will need to convince politicians and energy managers to modify WMATA agreements so that contributions to WMATA can be made in either dollars or electricity. We will also need to get Maryland, Virginia, and District departments of transportation to study and approve highway integration of PV solar. WMATA and local counties will need smart grids to link the variableness of solar energy into the daily energy use.
There may be constraints and blockages to expanding renewables to local transportation. However, it is likely that local citizens will be friendly to deploying clean energy. Dominion Power, which has blocked renewables in Virginia, may not be involved in WMATA planning and therefore not a necessary block. The federal government might not block local planning, which may take years to develop a working plan anyway. Local counties may find that the renewable industry might assist funding for future contracts to supply electricity if long-term contracts can be written. There is a possible block by the state legislatures, but we will be building to fight that influence anyway. It would be better to start that sooner than later.
In the near term this project needs to be examined and researched as to its feasibility, cost, and legal constraints. Local governments and their agencies need to review the factors and relationships involved. If it is not economical now, it may be by the time it is to be deployed, given the rate of technological change. We need to lobby our local politicians and government leaders to start the needed research.
Our needed steps:
- Alert local activists, politicians, and governments to the interstate PV opportunity.
- Get local governments’ energy offices to evaluate the resource base and initial constraints.
- Get VA, MD, and DC department of transportations to examine the possibility of interstate PV power.
- Get WMATA to evaluate the project and the possibility of government payments in electricity as well as dollars.
- Once the legal and governments issues are resolved, deployments can be made as funding allows.
One good point about this proposal is that by the time this project is fully analyzed and agreed to, we may have a new Congress or president. The new solar world will be announced when interstate drivers daily see the new PV panels!
The sun and wind are public resources and will bring in a new era of regionally based power. By directly tying them into local governments and organizations we can be sure that they serve the public. This is especially true when private utilities are resisting renewables and the related climate and health issues. These private utilities are also undermining our democracy by buying our legislators. We need our governments focused on serving the people.
Adkins is a Metro DC DSA member and active in Our Revolution Arlington
After the Ellison Defeat: Continuing the Struggle Against the Neoliberal Democratic Party Establishment
Statement of the National Political Committee of Democratic Socialists of America
February 27, 2016
This weekend the Democratic National Committee (DNC) failed to choose Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN) for Chair of the DNC. Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) backed Ellison’s election as part of a rebellion of progressive Democratic Party activists against a neoliberal Democratic Party national leadership that places corporate interests ahead of the interests of working people.
Tuesday, February 28
Common Good Cafe
(Downstairs at the University Temple United Methodist Church)
1415 NE 43rd St.
Seattle, WA 98105
Over the past several years, the Black Lives Matter movement has shown the need for struggle against the racism built into our system. Just as in many other eras of American history, the fight for Black liberation has helped to support and spark resistance in other areas as well. Join us for a discussion about the role of solidarity in the fight for Black liberation and how we move forward in the Trump era.
Andrew Ryder reports from Washington on protests in defense of a man protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program who is sitting in detention.February 24, 2017
ACTIVISTS IN Seattle and Tacoma, Washington, are organizing to defend Daniel Ramirez Medina, a Dreamer detained at the Northwest Detention Center in the latest example of the Trump administration’s escalating attack on undocumented immigrants.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents swept up more than 600 people in one week in early February, and while the new administration has yet to reverse Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)–the 2012 policy that allows immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children a reprieve from deportation–it has already begun to target those protected by DACA.
Although DACA forestalls deportations, the policy doesn’t go far enough–it allows people to stay and work, but prevents them from experiencing the benefits of citizenship. While Trump hasn’t officially reversed this order, ICE agents now appear prepared to disregard it. This places hundreds of thousands of people in immediate danger.
Ramirez, a DACA recipient who has lived in the U.S. for 16 years since he was 7 years old, was arrested along with his father in Seattle on February 10. Immigration officials claimed that Ramirez was involved in gangs, but provided scant evidence to back up the claim. His lawyers argue it has been falsified.
Although he has yet to be charged with a crime, Ramirez is still being detained in Tacoma, after a federal judge upheld ICE’s action.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
HUNDREDS OF people protested in Seattle in defense of Ramirez on February 17. Socialist City Council member City Kshama Sawant called for “mass nonviolent civil disobedience” to protect immigrants from ICE and other enforcement agents.
“I’m urging Mayor Murray: If this is a sanctuary city, do not use Seattle police against peaceful protesters,” Sawant told the crowd. “Furthermore, deploy Seattle police to block ICE from seizing immigrants.”
On February 19, some 150 people gathered in People’s Park in Tacoma, where the Northwest Detention Center is located, to challenge ICE’s anti-immigrant raids and demand Ramirez’s release.
But this detention center’s role didn’t begin with Donald Trump. It was already a facility in service of former President Barack Obama’s millions of deportations.
Furthermore, the Tacoma detention center is a source of profits for GEO Group, the largest purveyor of such services in the world. As Brian Huseby reported for SocialistWorker.org in 2014:
GEO profits off of detainees in several ways: First, there is a guarantee that the center is kept full. If not, the government must pay a fine to GEO. Additionally, many detainees work at the facility, but are paid just $1 per day, saving GEO money it would have to pay to outside workers.
The protest, which was called by the Washington DREAM Coalition, marched down Martin Luther King Way, with protesters chanting “Freedom for Daniel! Now!”
If there is going to be justice for Daniel Ramirez Medina and freedom from fear of deportation for the more than 750,000 other DACA recipients and the millions more who are undocumented and living in the U.S., we need to continue building these emergency solidarity actions.
Frederick Douglass, 1857.
Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.