SDUSA ENDORSES THE DYNAMIC DUO FROM UPSTATE NEW YORK – DOMINIQUE CALHOUN & MYLES CARTER

By Michael Mottern

From left to right: Myles Carter, Michael Mottern, Dominique Calhoun

An ultimate check on racism and police brutality in Erie County New York is long overdue. This is the county that once jailed Jack London and just recently pummeled Western New York peace activist Martin Gugino with no mercy and will be remembered for the actions of Buffalo police officer Cariol Horne, who was fired by the department after saving the life of a man being beaten by a fellow police officer.. All this has happened in the 9th most liberal city, the 8th most racially segregated city and the 4th poorest city in the country.

Without a doubt, African Americans have dealt with systemic racism since the Inception of our country. The issues of race and class are such contentious topics that one Civil War was fought over them. America had its own apartheid called the Jim Crow Era, precipitating the civil rights movement of the Sixties. In the wake of George Floyd’s death, the nation – black and white, brown and red – arose in protest. In fact, when it comes to race and class, the health problems of the country are so bad that police brutality is a public health crisis for all black and brown people.

Can we remedy this with social democracy and a check on racism and police brutality in the County of Erie in New York State, an arguably liberal state? New York State in particular is very blue in the cities. Buffalo is the 8th most racially segregated city in America with ethnic neighborhoods that are only mixed in a few sections. Redlining didn’t begin in Moscow; it began in Portland, Oregon and in Western New York.

Should we trust the police that live in the deep red areas of New York State and commute to the blue city for a great job in the police department, yet know nothing about these working-class neighborhoods? The police departments all over the country have been infiltrated by the alt right and fringe groups that want another civil war, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Groups like the Proud Boys, the Ku Klux Klan and the neo-Nazi skinheads are very active here yet usually stay underground. Kenmore, New York (a suburb of Buffalo where I live) has a reputation for traffic stops of African-Americans drivers who go over 40 miles per hour in white neighborhoods

It’s time for a change, both in the county of Erie and in the police department of the City of Buffalo. That is why Social Democrats USA, who helped pioneer social justice and anti-racism work in the late 1950s and early 60s, is hearkening back to those roots. And we  are not going to stop anytime soon as long as there is police brutality and racism both here and elsewhere in America.

In the Erie County Sheriff’s race, candidate Myles Carter was brought to national attention by his arrest during the George Floyd protests in Buffalo  He is a jail pastor who lives in a working-class area that is predominantly African-American and where the medium income is $30,000 a year. He wants to close the Erie County Holding Center and any Erie County jail that houses minor offenders. His goal is to create a new facility focused on mental health services for poor people who fall between the cracks in our capitalist system, and who are the victims of racial profiling by the questionable people Erie County Sheriff’s Office and the Buffalo Police Department hire as deputies and police officers. In Erie County Legislative District 1, in the County Legislature in Buffalo, running for County Representative as a Democrat and a progressive is Dominique Calhoun. She stresses providing better services for poor people in low-income areas and will work on building a progressive caucus in the County Legislature. Both Calhoun and Carter represent an insurgent voice for County Government.

For too long now, the County Representatives have been very chummy with the local Democratic committee and the big money politics that come with it. It costs $4,000 just to run and get endorsed by the Erie County Democrats. Neither candidate is backed by the Erie County Democratic committee nor even by the supposedly progressive Working Families Party of Western New York. As the ‘teaching hospital’ of the Democratic Left. Social Democrats USA makes these targeted endorsements to educate the local body politic on the benefits of electing a group of committed reformers with fire in their belly! 

Michael Mottern is Vice-Chair of Social Democrats USA.

FOOD WORKERS ARE FAST…AND FURIOUS!

By Jason Sibert

Fast food workers and their allies gathered at McDonalds on North Tucker Street in St. Louis on Jan. 15 to fight for the causes of $15/hr and union representation. The Fight For 15 organization, which fights for both, staged a strike in 15 cities around the country on that day. “(First,) I’m fighting for my family, we need to survive,” said Monique Jamison, a St. Louis fast food worker, who attended the demonstration. “There are many people in my family who work in fast food. The second is for my community, we need this union. We need someone who will be behind us. If we push forward, our voices will be heard.” 

The workers and their supporters gathered around McDonalds, where they and their cars donned signs that said “Fight for 15,” “Jobs with Justice,” “Unions for All,” “Respect Us, Protect Us, Pay Us,” and “Faith/Labor Alliance.” After the initial gathering, demonstrators drove their cars through the McDonalds parking lot for a more visible display. They also honked their horns.  

Caprice Nevils, an organizer for the Service Employees International Union, attended the demonstration on behalf of the union. She spoke of the growth of the Fight for 15 movement. “Fight for 15 started for fast food workers,” she said. “As it grew, it started to include hospital and nursing home workers. We came out here in solidarity with other unions. We believe in higher wages, and we don’t want these workers to be in poverty wages.”

In front of the restaurant, a list of speakers spoke in favor of the cause. Rev. David Gerth of St. Louis Metropolitan Congregations was among the speakers. He referred to the demonstration as a “place where workers are fighting for their lives,” and he called on the crowd to ”scour out the racism and the sexism.” After Gerth, fast food workers spoke of how hard it was to survive on the low wages they were paid. Some spoke of the hardships of raising a family on their wages. Others chanted “What do we want? We want 15 an hour and a union!”

Fast food workers went on strike on Jan. 15 in memory of Martin Luther King’s birthday 92 years ago. The group, which is backed by the Service Employees International Union, has a petition on its website (Tell Biden/Harris: A $15/hr minimum wage in the first 100 days! | Fight for $15) urging President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to prioritize minimum wage in their first 100 days in office. The petition demands a $15/hr federal minimum wage, easier rules to join a union, a focus on racial justice, affordable health care, and holding companies accountable for “their failure to protect essential workers on the frontlines of the pandemic.”

Jason Sibert is Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project.

THE BEER BELLY PUTSCH

By Patty Friend and Jason Sibert

The American people have witnessed an attack on our democratic republic in recent days with the storming of Washington D.C. by some who believed the election was stolen for President-Elect Joe Biden via illegal voting.

Several arrests have been made and media reports indicate many of the insurgents who stormed the Capitol with the express purpose of overturning the election were members of various law enforcement units and the military. The Joint Chiefs of Staff – the most senior members of the Pentagon – issued a force-wide statement condemning the riots as a “direct assault on Congress” and confirming that Biden will be our next president. House Democrats have impeached President Trump for the second time, this time for inciting the riots. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he feels Trump committed impeachable offenses.

This anti-democratic movement isn’t monolithic. This movement has been organizing itself for almost 40 years. It includes neo-Nazis, white supremacists, QAnon believers, militia members, end-timers, and radicalized former members of law enforcement and the military. Conspiracy theories are at the heart of this movement, many of which Joseph Goebbels would be proud. These people have been radicalized by right wing media and (right wing) social media and opportunistic politicians. Where once they could be depended upon just to vote for Republicans, they have now become manipulated to overthrow the elected governments in the United States. They are armed, well- funded, and incredibly dangerous. In addition, they see themselves as being at war with Democrats and democratically elected officials.  What happened to the United States of America on January 6, 2021 is a horrifying event like nothing we’ve ever seen before. This was not just a riot gone wrong. The mob was incited by Trump and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and some Republican congresspeople. After the insurrection was quelled, 129 Republican congresspeople voted to overturn the fair and free election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Trump must be impeached and convicted, never allowed to run for office in the U.S. again, and those senators and congresspeople should resign. It has come to light that certain congresspeople provided tours to certain insurgents in the days before the event, giving them even more reason to resign or be expelled. Anyone who takes the oath of office and breaks that oath should be expelled!    

Social democrats must remember their support for the democratic republic at a time like this. We have traditionally extended democracy into the economic realm by support for social insurance, the right to unionize, affordable housing, higher minimum wages, and a slew of other economic reforms. An attack on our democratic system is, by extension, an attack on social democracy.  

This attack is a violent manifestation of an anti-democratic trend in American politics. The mere refusal to acknowledge Biden’s win is a less violent part of this trend. Even after Trump’s Presidency, this anti-democratic trend will continue. To be fair, Republicans do not have a monopoly on this trend: the legalistic chicanery employed by the Democratic caucus in the Kansas State House of Representatives to overturn the free and fair election of social democrat (and SDUSA member) Rep. Aaron Coleman is testimony to this.

Social democrats must ally themselves with pro-democracy conservatives, libertarians, moderates, and anyone else who believes in the democratic form of government. This is a battle that will be fought amongst legislators, in all forms of media, and perhaps in the streets. When it comes to the streets, this battle must be fought with non-violent demonstrations. As the fight for democracy continues, social democrats must continue their fight for people in the lower-to-middle end of the income spectrum.

A more vibrant social democracy means a more vibrant democracy for most in the population and less alienation from our political system. While the battle for democracy calls for a broad coalition, the battle for social democracy requires a partisan form or organization, as this form of organization is what elected two Democratic senators in Arizona and in Georgia. Hopefully, our republic – which has become more democratic in time- will survive and grow even more democratic in the future. However, we can’t forget the fight it will take to arrive at our desired destination.

Patty Friend is the National Chair of Social Democrats USA.

Jason Sibert is Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project.

LOOKING BACK AT A HOLIDAY CLASSIC

By Michael Mottern

Movie Review: “It’s a Wonderful Life,” an anti-capitalist 1947 holiday film for the Social Democratic Christmas spirit, made when Norman Thomas was around. Directed by Frank Capra and starring Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed and a host of other well-known stars of the late 1940s. Rated G as a family drama. 

As a disabled American suffering from bipolar disorder, I don’t think there is an individual that hasn’t, in rough times, contemplated suicide. In these times, most holiday films – especially Hallmark ones – want to make us do just that, because that’s how bad these films are! Other holiday films like “A Christmas Story” or “Jim Henson’s Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas” truly capture the essence of the holidays and give us a great story – like comedy and puppetry. However, there is one holiday film in particular that is both anti-capitalist and puts me in tears every time I see it. The movie is “It’s a Wonderful Life”. 

One of the most critically acclaimed holiday films of all time, it made its debut after World War II and incorporates powerful drama with laughs in some scenes. It centers on the life of George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), who is at odds with a horrible banking and real estate tycoon, Mr Potter, a rich corporate fat cat “Monopoly Man” who tries to buy up the town George lives in, Bedford Falls. After making a name for himself in the town, George realizes being on top is not all it’s cracked up to be.

Some parts of the film seem very cliched, like a bad sexist joke. There is the part when Mary, George Bailey’s wife, is referred to as an “old maid”, as if a woman librarian truly needed a man in her life to be successful. But the dominant theme emerges when George, the savior of the town, falls on rough times and is literally touched by an angel by the name of Clarence when George tries to commit suicide. (Fortunately, the tone of sorrow and despair is leavened with comedy).  

The movie’s spooky but very realistic final half hour shows George getting to finally see what the world would be like without him. The town he lives in is no longer called Bedford Falls but Pottersville, filled with speakeasies and “girls’ clubs” – not at all the town in which George hoped he would wake up. In the George Bailey saga, his wonderful life proved to be a true Christmas miracle. It exemplifies the butterfly effect that says everything in life has repercussions. The film itself inspired me to think what would the world be like without…me. How the true character of a man or woman can be tested in hard times, and how reality as bitter as today’s can make us rethink what a wonderful life we truly have.

The movie is about an hour and a half long. It is a truly remarkable film that is thought provoking and poignant, on a par with “Mr Smith goes to Washington.”  I give it five stars for being a great family drama that tried to be inclusive of women and African Americans. Given the overt racism of the Jim Crow era, that says something. Note: in the early 1990s there was a Christmas movie very similar to this one with George Bailey’s character depicted as a woman. While not as good a movie as the original, it does help us understand how characters in films, especially old classics, can switch gender roles.

Michael Mottern is Vice Chair of Social Democrats USA.

DEVELOPING THE GRASSROOTS

By Jason Sibert and Patty Friend

Since the victory of Joe Biden in the 2020 election, the Biden cabinet has drawn much of the media’s attention.  However, if the Biden/Harris administration is going to make any real progress, the Democratic Party must build a voter base that will force the party to deliver on its promises. There are many challenges when it comes to this, one is the right-wing media infrastructure that spreads disinformation to millions. The answer is to create an alternative infrastructure to spread a social-democratic message.  

There is more progressive media than there was two decades ago. The Thom Hartmann Program and XM Radio Left, Chris Hayes on MSNBC, Real Time with Bill Maher, Background Briefing and Ian Master’s daily show on KPFK and The Young Turks are good examples of this trend. These programs are professionally produced. However, it will take much more than a few progressive programs to build a consolidated message and a larger voting base.  

Indeed, there is much work that needs to be done if we are going to build a force that can make a difference in the long run. It is worth remembering that the Roosevelt-to-Johnson Democratic Party had membership-based organizations like labor unions and farm organizations, as well as big city bosses, to communicate a message to their constituents and to rally voters to the polls. Party structures were also a lot stronger back then. Those who favor a social-democratic vision need to be proactive in releasing a message. They need to use information technology to work for a more social-democratic America. In an age of declining volunteerism, we need to be more involved in the Democratic Party and Working Families Party.  

We also need to build more powerful service sector unions (although SEIU is already at work on this one). Workers in the retail, restaurant, healthcare, and hotel/motel sector need a social-democratic message and a reason to go to the polls. What about a united message of stronger service sector unions, a higher minimum wage, expanded healthcare, affordable housing, and affordable education? Social democrats also need to run for local office and build a modern, updated version of “sewer socialism.” Quality local public services and municipal wi-fi would be a great place to start. They should develop grassroots organizations around their candidacies, always working on deep organizing. If they are liked well enough, they can run for other offices.

It’s time for the Democratic Party and AFL/CIO to develop an intern corps of youth and retirees to send thousands into Alabama, Mississippi, Ohio, Arizona, Nevada, Georgia, and Pennsylvania to spread the Democratic/social-democratic message.  The Democratic Party also must make the case that the Democrats bring security and the good life to Americans while the Republicans don’t care about anyone but themselves, their power and their money. The Party’s base must hear that Republicans are using you and me for their narcissistic and evil ends – they don’t care one bit about democracy!   

The right-wing media infrastructure is funded by certain sectors of corporate America and by certain wealthy families who are not interested in America being democratic. The labor press needs to intensify its efforts like never before for a democratic America. Liberals and leftists need to commit resources, money, volunteers, social media acumen, and anything else in this struggle. We live in a country where the wide variety of media makes it possible for our citizens to invest their efforts into any reality that they wish to live in. We need to bring the reality of a social-democratic America to the people who need a more social-democratic America.  

Sociologist Lane Kenworthy’s book Social Democratic America provides a blueprint for a social-democratic America. Richard Wolff, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Andrew Yang and even Kamala Harris have championed the social-democratic architecture that we need. We can’t let right-wing media and their insane tendencies (Quanon, anybody?) win. Will we succeed in this struggle? Only time will tell. If we fail, America will surely become a darker place.

Jason Sibert is the executive director of the Peace Economy Project.

Patty Friend is the National Chair of Social Democrats USA.