ANNALS OF POLITICS IN AMERICA : THE NEXT PHASE

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^ the new unionism : SEIU members raising up

 

The first significant signs of a new alignment of American politics are already apparent.

Even as the Tea Party and its corporate enablers roar through many “red” states, and even as marriage equality takes hold as the law of all states, new civil rights battles are coming to the fore as well as new economic urgencies.

Free-for-all banking is crashing to the ground as huge financial institutions rely, almost always unsuccessfully, on low level staffs with huge turnover that precludes learning the intricacies of customer service in the age of investment by hedge fund pools and pass-throiugh securities. The future of banking is “go small” : no big bank of today comes close to matching the efficiency and customer service smartness of medium-sized and community banks.

The needs of high-tech and cutting-edge employers for entry-level hires fluent in the basics of programming, math, and reading are pressuring public education to sacrifice common ground for small-unit specialization. This is the motive force behind charter schools, and also the inspiration for opposing common core curriculum standards. Supporters of small, experimental eduction don;t want common standards or a one size fits all school. they want individualized schooling.

 

that entirely individualized schooling cuts children off from the other great educative principle — citizenship in a common community, Horace Mann’s ideal — is less important to these folks, entirely fixated on securing their children a good career.

I oppose their single mindedness, as do many other Americans in the new politics. It’s a battle that will divide old alliances and is already creating new ones. Witness the coalition that opposes “common core” : right wing Republicans and teachers’ unions.

Income inequality in America has reached a level where it threatens the sustainability of the entire economy. Many states are already taking steps tp remedy this imbalance. Some are raising the minimum wage radically; proposals to raise the minimum wage even higher are taking hold in the most progressive cities. Unions, too — until recently dubbed “obsolete” by some “conservatives” — are finding themselves newly popular and powerful. in the service work world, unions are winning huge wage increases — with more to come — and new unions are being organized for the most basic of worker demands : a living wage and basic benefits.

At the same time, many public sector unions are losing popular support, as more such unions are seen to protect wage packages that bust city budgets, packages for six-figure earnings that look to fall on the tycoon side of income inequality.

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^ SEIU leaders : economic power AND women power

Nor does it help public sector unions that they often stand in the way of system reforms. Big changes are coming in how public education is delivered. Many teachers unions are fighting all these changes rather than getting aboard them; and the larger public — much the same public that supports service worker unions — is noticing and not liking.

American living arrangements are shifting radically. Millerites want to work, live, shop, and play in the downtowns of big cities, and in many cases to do so without cars. Almost all the well-paid young techies live this way; few if any have any interest at all in living in suburbs enduring hour to two-hour commutes to work. Meanwhile the less well paid have no choice bit to move away from Downtown — the farther away, the cheaper the housing — and to endure commutes, while shopping in malls along Interstate highways and socializing via online social media. Meanwhile, within the big cities, neighborhoods are reshaping as mini Downtowns, complete with boutiques, nightclubs, leafy restaurants, and young activists, many of them members of education/commerce co-operatives.

In all of these new living arrangements, personal diversity is the norm. Gay, lesbian, transgender people participate as regularly as anyone else; for millennials, personal lifestyle is no more an issue than one’s hair color or choice of beverage.

These changes read like “blue state America,” but they are also occurring in “red’ states. The difference — if it is one — is religion. In most of “blue” America, religion embraces, or tolerates, people’s choices rather than condemn them; the churches of big cities mostly look outward to the whole world as much as, or more than, they look inward into the individual soul. This orientation has big consequences, and a large future. The same, more or less, is true of churches in “blue’ state suburbs. But even if the churches of “red” stares orient opposite, the economies , education, and living arrangements of “red” states are changing in much the same direction as they are in “blue’ states. nd this too has consequences.

One consequence is that the “angry, old, straight white man” who has embodied right wing populism is fading from the scene, like the hippies of 40 years ago. In his place we find nerdy think tankers, big-stomach gun toters, and — ba-da-bing ! — women and people of color. Because, yes, even the South is becoming less nativist, less male dominant, less white.
The Hispanic population of practically every deep Southern state is growing fast. Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana, even Alabama will be 20 percent Hispanic soon — or higher than that. Texas will be majority Hispanic by 2030 at the latest. The populations of these states will be younger, too. And more female, because women are the glue that holds immigrant families together.

Thus we arrive at the biggest change of all : America is rapidly moving toward having a majority of its people being of color. This matters in every way, but right now it most matters because the rights of people of color, and of women, have not been achieved as thoroughly as lifestyle civil rights. After all, gay, lesbian, and transgender people are just as likely to be Caucasian as not. Identity civil rights are this mot a matter of skin color or immigrant status.

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the voice & face of change in the Democratic party : Senator Elizabeth Warren

The rights of people of color, and the rights of immigrants, continue to be an issue. But these will be solved by the change in our population. As for the rights of women, these too may well be secured, finally, as women become more powerful politically by way of their primacy in the newly powerful service worker unions. By far the majority of service workers are women; and as service worker women acquire higher pay and greater political power thereby, so will they — as women and as union leaders — secure the personal, body rights that men take for granted.

It was noted that Hobby Lobby, while denying to its women employees health insurance coverage from some contraception, made no such detail for men’s Viagra. In the new era of financially and union empowered women, that kind of discrimination will become unlawful no matter what the excuse.

Our two political parties are only now beginning to adjust to the new America. The Democratic party has adjusted more quickly ; the new unionism unifies Democratic politics in some places, even as the huge change in education is dividing it. The GOP has changed less ; yet even in the GOP, new voices are working out new responses to the change in education, income inequality, and population shifts. The difference is that change in the Democratic party arises from activists and large interest groups, whereas so far in the GOP it is coming mostly from think tanks. Curious, the asymmetry. We live in a democracy, where voters rule. the Democratic party operates on this principle; the GOP doesn’t — yet. My guess is that the GOP will have to change its ways as radically as the nation is changing — will have to start acting like a party of voters, not of researchers; and to trust the voters, not disdain them — or its recipe will fade from the new America.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

BOSTON SCHOOLS : ASSERTIONS AT BOSTON TRUTH

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^ “Reclaiming the Promise” table discussions at Boston tTruth’s schools-reform meeting last night

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Truth is a risky word for an organization to name itself. Who knows the truth ? At best we can approximate — maybe. So there I was, last night, at Madison Park High school, where a new “Boston Truth” coalition, with at least 200 people on hand — held its first “discussion session” on how to achieve its stated objectives as set forth in a four-page brochure from which I will quote from time to time as I write this report.

200 people meeting on a wintry night made an impressive beginning. As one of “Boston Truth”s key organizers is a dear friend, I was glad for her, proud of her part in the accomplishment. On hand were many Boston Teachers Union activists, students, retired teachers, union organizers, some members of the press, and two political figures at least : Eric Esteves of the Boston NAACP, who intends a candidacy for State representative from the 7th Suffolk District (in which the meeting was held), and Marty Keogh, who ran for Boston City Council this year and finished seventh.

The meeting began with several public school students advocating — from scripts provided them — one or other of Boston Truth’s stated goals. “Public schools are public institutions,” for example; “Our voices matter,” spoke another. A third pupil recited : “strong public schools create strong communities.”

It seemed odd to watch students speaking mission statements scripted, but there they were. They very much enjoyed themselves. One after another they spoke, were applauded; then all took stage together, holding their placards, applauded by all, photos snapped.

The meeting divided into discussion groups of six or seven to a table; I joined the group that included Marty Keogh — he seemed the most likely to say something quotable. This proved not easy to get to, however; it wasn’t made clear what we were to discuss, or what conclusions our “discussion group” was to come to — there wasn’t an agenda, and the table monitor of my group did not impose one. People were reluctant to speak. Two women offered school-parent and teacher experiences; everyone asserted approval of the brochure’s goals. We were getting nowhere fast.

So I decided to speak up. “There isn’t a thing in these stated goals that anybody would disagree with,” I said. “What the City is arguing about right now is, how do we get there ?” A lady sitting two to my right responded. “We need equity,’ she said. “Schools shouldn’t have to compete against one another.”

“In that case,” I asked her, “How are parents to tell if their kids are receiving the education they need ?”

“Oh they can tell,” the lady answered me. “they get a feel for what the climate is. A rigorous curriculum. Parents can tell.”

In other words, parents DO judge schlools competitively.

I then opined that (1) the biggest issue facing schools — the acculuration that kids receive, or don’t receive, at home — is beyond the power of any school to control and (2) one way to encourage the parents of school age kids to focus on home preparation is to have strong PTAs — these were Boston Schools’ glory, back 50 years ago : now, hardly at all. At this assertion Marty Keogh finally spoke up and spoke well : “school assignment designations need to change,” said Keogh. “You can’t have a PTA if kids are transported all, over the city, parents can’t drive such distances to do PTA. Need neighborhood schools !”

Keogh even addressed the issue whence arises school competition — exactly as I had hoped. “Testing ? Yes, testing,” he said. “we need some way of deciding if a school is performing.” He and I discussed the matter — we were getting somewhere, at last.

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^ agenda scripts at Boston Truth schools-reform rally last night

Other than Keogh’s unscripted discussion, the meeting, as far as I could tell, dedicated almost all of its words and energy to assertion, not discussion. it was more a rally of the already convinced than a session for persuasion. Everywhere in the room were “BTU” campaign buttions, BTU literature, workers’ rights handouts, organizing fliers. That’s fine if you treat school reform issues as a job action, not a policy debate. But a job action will not do anything to move the debate toward even a partial consensus. It doesn’t seem to me, from last night’s talk, that the BTU, especially, has moved one inch off its insistence on its own program of school future: no competition among schools, no change in evaluation systems, no change in work rules, less testing of kids, of teachers, of principals; and full funding for all schools regardless. All it has done is to gain allies, mostly from union organizings and union-friendly school parents.

Tonight Mayor-elect Marty Walsh holds HIS Schools reform town hall meeting, at English High School in Jamaica Plain. it will be interesting to hear what his transition task force on eduaction has in mind that can move the discussion beyond stand-pat.

— Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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^ Marty Keogh spoke well, indeed, best in show. (with Angela Cristiani and Jacqui davis)

BOSTON MAYOR FINAL : BOTH MEN WIN 1ST DEBATE

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^ John Connolly — Marty Walsh : first face off of three

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Boston’s first face to face between John Connolly and Marty Walsh was a winner for both men. John Connolly was the clear winner on presentation and policy discussion. Walsh, however, also won, by simply showing up and holding his own, most of the night, and occasionally on top. He benefited by being the lesser known of the two. It’s always that way in a first debate. the underdog always wins; and with 18 to 23 percent of Boston’s voters undecided — so say the recent polls — Walsh almost couldn’t lose. and as he was always articulate and quite knowledgeable during the Forums held before Primary day, it was pretty clear that he WOULDN’T lose.

That Walsh won last night we see by twitter follower numbers. Since the debate began, Walsh has picked up 64 new twitter follows, Connolly 40. (Numbers as of 10.40 AM today.) Small evidence, but palpable. Last night Walsh increased his support more than Connolly did.

Still, Connolly did gain. He stayed reasonably close to Walsh only because his policy presentation commanded the night. The first five questions were about education, Connolly’s issue; education came up again later, and often. He also dominated Walsh on city finances and budget issues. How could he not ? It gave him the opportunity to raise “the union issue,” Walsh’s riskiest attribute, in a context that emphasized its risk. But there was more. Walsh exhibited a lack of understanding of admittedly technical finance matters. He tried to attack Connolly for not being present during a certain city union contract negotiation ; Connolly pointed out that by law he was not allowed to be there, in the negotiating room. Responding to a question about raising City revenue, Walsh talked about bringing in new businesses — but on a regional basis. How would bringing new businesses to Somerville — a city that he specifically cited — add revenue to Boston ? The question was not asked of him.

My observers pointed out that, in discussion of the bill that Walsh has filed to remove City Council review power over arbitrators’ union contract awards, when pressed on its effect, he said “no comment.” It was the big talking point for most journos. Myself, I found it a proper answer. That hill, House 2467, is one that hangs over Walsh’s campaign like a storm of belfry bats. Far better to shut up than to talk of it.

That bill will come up again, though. two debaters remain. Walsh will no longer be the lesser known man. Unless Walsh quickly finds a way to master the details of city finances, and to deflect the effect on them of higher city worker pay awards, and to explain away House 2467, the contradictions in his campaign will stand out for all viewers to grasp, much to his detriment.

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^ Pastor Bruce Wall, Meg Connolly, John Connolly, Pastor Minyard Culpeper, Pastor William Dickerson

Meanwhile, Connolly is deepening his connection to Boston’s Black community and widening it, to people not often reached by anyone, and in ways I haven’t seen since John Sears ran for Mayor in 1967. That was before the huge social and political split that took place during the fight over Boston school segregation and school busing, a crisis whose passions took almost two generations to abate. Connolly’s achievement — worked at over many, many years — seems to me to have entirely swamped Walsh’s endorsement by Charlotte Golar-Richie. In campaigns as serious as this one, years and years of hard won trust and connection, on a very personal level too, can not be turned aside by a two-month embrace, no matter how noble and sincere the outreach.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere