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New Ground 151.1 -- 12.02.2013
New Ground 151.2 -- 12.17.2013
New Ground 151.3 -- 01.02.2014
by Tom Broderick
"Call the vote! Call the vote! Call the vote!" was loudly chanted in the capitol rotunda, outside at the rally and during the March On Springfield for Marriage Equality on October 22nd. The rainbow was ubiquitous: flags, banners, home-made and commercially produced signs, clothing, stickers, dyed hair, face paint. Music flowed from the stage at the outdoor rally. The Lakeside Pride Freedom Marching Band led the march. This was a celebration and a political statement.
Grey skies, intermittent falling rain and chilly winds did not stop people traveling from across Illinois to tell our State Representatives to reject inequality and pass SB 10, the "Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act." The Illinois Senate passed it and Governor Pat Quinn, with pen in hand, told us that he will sign it when it comes to his desk. Some unknown number of legislators impeded expanding human rights by abolishing injustice based on gender identity.
The rally, march and lobbying took place on the first day of the veto session. During this short period, our legislators can take up bills that weren't acted on before the last session ended, providing an opportunity to clear the slate. When a veto session occurs just prior to an election period, as is the case now, calling for a vote on any issue considered controversial is risky.
Tired of bigotry, marriage equality supporters want to know who will vote for and against SB 10. Unless Representative Greg Harris, the prime sponsor of SB 10, is certain he has the votes to pass the bill, it's unlikely to come to a vote during this veto session. In his dealings with fellow legislators, he has no doubt been told by some that they will vote for SB 10 only if he has enough votes to pass it. By the time you read this, the veto session will have ended and we'll know.
I traveled to Springfield on a bus sponsored by Berwyn Mayor Robert Lovero, Cook County Commissioner Jeff Tobolski, Berwyn Alderman Marge Paul and BUNGALO (Berwyn United Neighborhood Gay And Lesbian Organization). My thanks. The bus was full and several religious collars were clearly visible. There were at least four young children, one of whom handed out candy during our trip. Another shared sign making material.
Near the corner where we exited the bus, there was a dour faced sentinel holding a tall black banner with white type that exhorted us to repent. Standing next to him was a young man who smiled and welcomed us. He distributed small blue and white placards that read "MARRIAGE EQUALITY" on one side and "LOVE IS LOVE" on the other.
Several Berwyners went into the capitol to lobby their three legislators. Representatives La Shawn K. Ford and Elizabeth Hernandez were already publicly committed to voting for SB 10, so those two meetings were expressions of thanks and photo opportunities. On the way to Springfield, we were told that Representative Michael J. Zalewski's position was unclear. He voted for civil unions and was considered a likely "yes" vote, but there was uncertainty. During our meeting with Rep. Zalewski, several gay and lesbian couples introduced themselves and made personal cases for passage of the bill. He declared his support.
At least three buses came from Oak Park. Oak Park Area Lesbian and Gay Association (OPALGA) sponsored one bus, Oak Park Temple sponsored another and Unity Temple Unitarian Universalist Church sent a bus with members from various Unitarian congregations. Some 300 Unitarians from more than 20 congregations took part. During the rally, someone on the stage read a list of Faith groups represented at the march and when she called out "Unitarians," she got the loudest shout back. She also announced that among others, Catholics and Buddhists were with us. One of the event's field organizers I spoke with noted that the Muslim faith was not mentioned.
Chicago Teachers Union scheduled a bus, but I didn't see them. Someone said they were there, wearing red hats. UNITE-HERE! Local 1 sent a bus full of members and staff. They were very visible inside and outside the capitol building. Many wore their red t-shirts and carried their distinctive round UNITE-HERE signs. They broke up into teams and spent much of the afternoon lobbying legislators.
Students from several high schools added their voices. I saw groups of students from Latin High School, Rudy Lozano Leadership Academy and Francis Parker School, and heard there were others.
The bus ride back was uneventful. Oddly there was no story swapping or wrap up. One thoughtful person provided beer that was chilling on ice while we lobbied, rallied and marched. That gesture was absolutely appreciated.
CELEBRATORY UPDATE: On Tuesday, November 5th, Rep. Greg Harris did call the vote. It passed 61 to 54 with two Representatives voting "Present" and one absent. All three legislators representing Berwyn voted in support. Same-sex marriage licenses will become available in Illinois on June 1, 2014. Yes we can can!
by Duane Campbell
The 2013 Democratic Socialists of America DSA Convention was held in Emeryville, California on October 25-27. It brought together socialists from all areas of the country to build mutual support, solidarity and motivation to continue the activism needed in these difficult times.
The Friday convention plenary began with reports from Maria Svart, our national director, as well as members of the National Political Committee and co-chairs of the Young Democratic Socialists. It included presentations on the politics of the current situation by Honorary Chair Gus Newport and Michael Lighty, political director of National Nurses United and former DSA national director.
The East Bay local chapter hosted a public event for delegates and Bay Area supporters. The packed house heard rousing speeches by writer John Nichols, organizer Steve Williams and Catherine Tactaquin, executive director of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, followed by the local hip-hop artist Mario de Mira aka Nomi of Power Struggle. The Saturday banquet was addressed by David Bacon, author of The Right to Stay Home: How U.S. Policy Drives Mexican Migration (2013); SDS founder and prolific author Tom Hayden; and political comedian Nato Green.
The NPC had set as a goal for the convention to initiate a two-year, grassroots member discussion of an updated political strategy for DSA, including revising or replacing Building the Next Left: The Political Perspective of the Democratic Socialists of America.
Delegates and observers benefited from an impressive and diverse series of speakers and workshop leaders, including former national YDS chair Angie Fa; immigrant rights activist Alma Lopez; director of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute Clayborne Carson; worker-owner and cooperative association board member Jenn Shepard, and many in the volunteer leadership of DSA. The speakers, along with dialogue in workshops, hallways and the usually malfunctioning elevators enriched the delegates' discussion.
Personal sharing and exchanges at the convention strengthened our work by humanizing our activism. We learn from each other. Email, internet exchanges, and those painful conference calls can at times lead to divisions, while working together provides needed support for community building and to keep our energy and enthusiasm for the long haul to advance democracy and socialism in the U.S.
Resolutions on our national priorities for the next two years and on the need to defend voting rights were passed after some healthy debate, and will soon be posted on at www.dsausa.org. Finally, the new 16 member National Political Committee was elected.
Editor's Note: a version of the article first appeared at Democratic Left.
by Bill Barclay and Peg Strobel
This was an outstanding Convention the best we have been to over the past decade. As delegates we began by ditching Chicago's 20-degrees-below-normal temperatures for balmy California. Tough job, but someone's got to do the work of setting priorities for the next two years.
We were excited by the enthusiasm and insights of young people at the convention, members of Young Democratic Socialists. Many of them are creating new DSA chapters and/or taking on leadership positions in established chapters.
The convention furthered this dynamic through sessions designed to help DSA do what we must do to thrive going forward: engage and recruit a broader demographic than our current membership. A recent member survey indicated that DSA that 76% of respondents were male, two-thirds were between the ages of 52 and 84, and 92% were non-Hispanic whites. This is just a sample, not necessarily representative, but our sense, having given workshops at a number of established DSA chapters, suggests these numbers are not far off. However, it did not represent who was at the Convention.
During lunch break, some of us joined a picket line at a Ford dealership where workers were beginning their second week off the job. We, wearing our DSA T-shirts, were welcomed.
Peg was re-elected to a second term on the governing body, the National Political Committee. She joins 8 other long serving NPC members and 5 new NPC members who are under 40.
by Bob Roman
Those of you who receive the email editions of New Ground know that Gene Birmingham passed away on October 2 of 2013. We had a brief note about it in New Ground 150.2. When I attempted to write about Gene for that issue, I wrote one lame paragraph then quickly realized that everything I knew about him was in fragments that really did not make a narrative. The only thing for it was to bring Gene back on stage to speak for himself. I could do that because he wrote for New Ground now and then. You'll find titles and links to his articles at www.chicagodsa.org/ngarchive/ng150.html.
Now, more than a month later, I'm giving it a second try. Writing about Gene hasn't gotten easier.
Gene was a retired minister from the United Church of Christ, having been the pastor at West Chicago's St. Michael's Church until the end of the 1990s. He hadn't begun his calling in that denomination; he spoke of his education at Wheaton College as something he had recovered from. The only obvious personal manifestation of his profession seemed to be a talent for listening and a knack for catching green lights in traffic. He also had an interest in the intersection between politics and religion: How the values and sentiments of religion find expression in public policy.
Just what led him to DSA, I don't recall. He joined sometime in 1990. In September of 1993, he became treasurer of Chicago DSA, elected at a special election to fill an unexpected vacancy. He finished the term but then spent the next few years concentrating on Chicago DSA's West Suburban (DuPage, Will, and Kane counties) branch. In 1996, he was back on the Chicago DSA Executive Committee, this time as secretary. He remained secretary until 2011.
His service on the Executive Committee would have been a great gift even if Gene had only been the diligent and accurate scribe of meeting minutes that he was. But he also served as the master of ceremonies for some of our Debs Thomas Harrington Dinners. He did it well and did it graciously. Gene was also skilled in office administration. This may not sound like much, but mailings seemed to magically self-assemble with his assistance.
Gene had other political affiliations besides DSA. He was for many years a Democratic precinct captain in Addison Township. Outside of Cook County, fyi, precinct captain is an elected position. He was active in the West Suburban Faith-Based Peace Coalition. As retired clergy, he remained active with his denomination, substituting at services during vacations, presiding over an occasional wedding, and helping with other tasks. Just a few months ago, he was proud to have presided at a "gay" wedding. They asked for him specifically.
As a former Southsider, he was a big White Sox fan. He was also a big fan of Bruce Springsteen. In fact, I don't believe I'll ever hear a Springsteen cut again without thinking of Gene Birmingham. Pardon me while I go and spin some vinyl.
compiled by Bob Roman
"The Feminine Mystique" at 50
Episode 33 of Talkin' Socialism features DSA National Vice Chair Chris Riddiough who, interviewed by Peg Strobel, takes a retrospective look at Betty Friedan's book, The Feminine Mystique. How does the book read today? What did it mean to the women who read it then? The conversation ranges from the National Organization for Women to the Chicago Women's Liberation Union, from consciousness raising groups to the Equal Rights Amendment, and more. Hear it at www.chicagodsa.org /audarch6.html.
Socialist Reading Group
This really should have a better title. As is, it could be so boring. Or it could be a heck of a lot of fun. It's like this: People often like to talk about the stuff they're reading if only because the added perspectives give added dimensions to the text. In fact, one of the projects to come out of the 2013 DSA National Convention is a national reading group conducted as a webinar.
But nothing really substitutes for person to person conversation. When Peg Strobel, back from the convention, mentioned this new national project, she found some enthusiasm for having a monthly reading group here in Chicago for DSA members and friends.
Would you like to be part of the conversation? Then we'd like to hear from you. We're looking for suggestions regarding topics and reading material and venue. And the material doesn't need to be nonfiction. Back in 1995, for example, we did a summer series on "Ideology and Utopia" with readings from fiction.
We intend to start this reading group in January or February of 2014. Please contact Dan Hamilton at 847.431.4569 with your interest and ideas.
After something like 28 years in the same building, Chicago DSA is moving. Chicago DSA staffer Mark Davidson found the Northwest Tower Building when it was a nearly empty shell in the process of being rehabbed. The neighborhood was neglected, sometimes dangerous, and gritty. The landlord was politically friendly. The rent was cheap. We moved in.
It hasn't been all 28 years in the same office. The first few years we moved just about every year, dodging the rising drywall. But we have been in 403 since 1988. Come the 21st century, we took over the office next door so we could have meetings in the office, and we added an air conditioner, mostly to cut down on the noise and dirt from outside.
Built in 1929, the Northwest Tower (sometimes called the "Coyote Tower") is a gently art deco 12 story (190') masonry clad structure (architect: Perkins, Chatten, & Hammond). Its construction was financed by the long defunct Noel State Bank whose gorgeous headquarters still stands (as a Walgreens today) right across the street. The capital, it is said, came from the alternative pharmaceutical trade.
Even after having been rehabbed, the Northwest Tower building was not in the greatest of shape. And the quarter century since has not been kind to the structure. The neighborhood, however, has become an expensive part of Chicago's party district. Judging by the number of bars, bistros and restaurants, it's not clear that anyone actually cooks at home in Wicker Park / Bucktown except to entertain and maybe not even then. Or that they go home sober on a weekend evening.
The property has gone through two bankruptcies in the years we've been here. This last was rumored to be a saga of fiscal chicanery that involved ten different banks. But now that's all settled. The building (and the "fireproof" warehouse next door) is to become a boutique hotel.
We need to be gone by the end of January, 2014. Where are we going? At press time, we don't know. But if you'd like to help, give the office a call at 773.384.0327.
The New National Political Committee
Elected at the 2013 DSA National Convention:
Alexandra Deane and Matthew Porter, Young Democratic Socialists Co-chairs
Gender, Socialism, and Sports
The Blackhawks, Masculinity Studies and Socialism
At Democratic Left, Chicago DSA member Judith Kegan Gardiner began the conversation:
Socialism and Sports
Also at Democratic Left, Lee Levin responded:
Are Sports the Great Equalizer?
At Waging Nonviolence, Frida Berrigan made this contribution:
Grim No Matter How You Look At It
At Democratic Left, Ron Baiman (of Chicago DSA and the Chicago Political Economy Group) writes about the BLS October Jobs Report:
by Tom Suhrbur
In an interview for this article, I asked him whether it was a union job? He responded, "No but they paid the union rate." What about benefits? He stated that he had health insurance, a (defined benefit) pension and other benefits that union workers received. Much has changed since then!
Why has the U.S. economy been so slow
to recover from the financial collapse of 2008?
After WWII, wages were steadily improving for the working class. By the mid-1950s, unions represented over 1/3 of the labor force. Americans enjoyed the highest standard of living in the world. As Edward Kennedy said this rising tide of prosperity lifted "all boats, not just the yachts." Unions set the wages for non-union employees creating a broad "middle-class." Recessions in 1958 and 1960-61 lasted less than one year and were followed by eight years of rapid economic growth. Income gains as a result of increased productivity were fairly evenly distributed across all income groups until the mid-1970s.
Subsequent recessions varied in intensity but the economy generally rebounded in a robust manner until 2008. The Great Recession has been the longest and deepest recession since WWII. To address the 2008 financial collapse, the government enacted a $700 billion banking bailout and $767 billion stimulus package. Technically, the economy was no longer in recession by 2010 but job growth has been very slow. For millions of Americans, it was and still is a depression. So what is different about 2008?
Since the late 1970's, there has been a slow but steady erosion of income among the working class and lower middle class. Wages have not keep up with inflation. When factored into inflation, the minimum wage today for the low-income earners is 28% less than it was in 1968. Not only do the working poor have less to spend but so do many others. Unions, which had previously set the level of compensation for all workers, have been undermined. "Free trade" policies have resulted in a huge transfer of manufacturing to low wage economies. Even the threat of shifting jobs overseas has weakened unions. Since the 1981 PATCO Strike, it has been very difficult to win strikes. Employers aggressively fight union organizing campaigns in the private sector. They often violate the law knowing that the legal and political consequences for such acts are minimal. Today, unions represent only 11.3% of the labor force.
In a labor market flooded with unorganized
low-wage labor, power has shifted to the employers in collective
bargaining. Concession bargaining has increased dramatically
since 2008. And now, since the 2010 right-wing election victories
in Midwestern state governments, open shop law have been enacted
and stripped public sector unions of their bargaining rights
in traditionally union strongholds. A weakened labor movement
means lower wages for all.
As high paying manufacturing jobs have left the U.S., many workers ended up working for lower paid service sector employment. To keep up, many people are working longer hours than they did 20 years ago. Since 1973, there has been a 92% increase in people working second jobs. Besides second jobs and having both spouses working, private debt in the form of credit cards increased tremendously in response to declining wages in the labor market. For many Americans, keeping up or getting ahead in a low wage service economy is to work longer hours and to go deeper into debt via easy access to credit cards. To maximize their profit, corporations are increasingly relying on part-time and full-time temporary jobs, which are now 19.3% of the U.S. employment. Many wage earners cannot even find full-time employment today.
In other words, many Americans were in a very precarious position when the economy crashed in 2008. Their standard of living rested largely on debt credit cards and refinanced mortgages. When the housing market bubble collapsed and unemployment soared, workers no longer had the means to spend the economy out of recession let alone pay their mortgages. The U.S. economy, built upon the concentration of wealth among the upper class, cannot recover quickly, if at all, from the Great Recession. A rising tide of prosperity for the rich only lifts their yachts.
If it were not for social programs inspired by the New Deal (Social Security, unemployment insurance, food stamps, worker's compensation, etc.), we would have soup kitchens, breadlines and social revolution. This would be the Second Great Depression. And yet, the "free market'' policies of the political right are intended to undermine the safety net created since 1932.
by Ruth Kovacs
Simply put: Racism in the USA is alive and well.
There are those who might believe that we have eliminated our racist ways. Black folks are free, can vote, attend colleges, enter high paid professions, live in integrated neighborhoods, be seen in public holding hands and even married to white folks without being stared at, and as final proof -- even become President of the United States.
All of the above is true. But is it enough? Can we really say that Americans have finally become color blind and agree that "all men are created equal"?
For instance - The world has seen the election of a President who is a person of color as finally a possible lack of racism in the USA. But do they realize how many folks voted for Obama because they desperately wanted anyone but another Bush -- even if he was black.
The first evidence of racism that comes to my mind is the all too frequent number of unarmed young black men (boys!) who have been shot in the back while being pursed by zealous white police officers. Or perhaps being shot by a self-appointed law enforcer (whose name starts with Z) and having it go down in history that he was killed in self defense -- even though it is believed the victim had no weapon.
And what about the statistics of folks on welfare, food stamps and living at poverty level? Although the majority of welfare recipients are white, the per cent of our minority population is far less than the per cent of black folks going to bed hungry. Why are so many folks in minority groups poor? We know: equal education and employment opportunities do not exist.
Our prisons are overflowing. The injustice system has incarcerated thousands of folks for minor crimes. Thanks to the Illinois Governor who paid attention to a study done by college students, a review of folks on death row led to the release of prisoners wrongly convicted--by the way most of them were black. Mandatory sentencing in various states has been used to send youths to prison for long terms that are glaringly inappropriate. Once again, studies show "when in doubt--if he or she is black--lock them up".
Another obvious flaw in the conviction and sentencing injustice system, is that folks with lots of money seem to get better deals than poor folks. Guess what color the poor folks brought to court are?
Women fought for their rights -- especially to vote, and blacks have fought for voting rights. Good for the success women have had -- but just for comparison, many blacks in the south are still struggling to get to the polls. In fact, in recent years we've seen legislature passed that makes it even more difficult for black wannabe voters.
Numbers, statistics, documentation, etc. are often very convincing, but personally, I don't trust most of the surveys and data available to prove or disprove any of the above. Just like I never quite trusted the vote counting that got George Bush elected for a second term. I've tried to remind you, dear readers, about things that we can observe just by paying attention.
Do you still see some white folks shudder when a black person takes the seat next to them on the bus? Have you noticed how many events should be equally appealing to people of all ages and races, but the attendance is not racially proportionate? Are some of the high prices in restaurants, music events, airline tickets, etc. devices for segregation?
Without a doubt, "we've come a long way" in our efforts to end racism. But it isn't just about black folks and race. Much of the above applies equally to other minority groups and people who are "different" like handicapped or GLBT folks. In fact folks who are too fat or too short are often overlooked or ostracized. We need to include "biased" or "prejudiced" in our discussions and efforts about the lesson that we are all brothers and sisters. We are all members of humanity.
I'm glad I'm white and privileged and
can speak out about these things. I hope you'll look in the mirror
and see what you can do to help bring about the changes.
Upcoming Events of Interest
Events listed here are not necessarily endorsed by Chicago DSA but should be of interest to DSA members, friends and other lefties.
at the Mall
What do the clothing chain Wet Seal and Russian constructivist artist Alexander Rodchenko have in common? At Working-Class Perspectives, Kathy Newman discovers something uncanny. CLICK HERE.
Last Laugh at Safeway
Events listed here are not necessarily endorsed by Chicago DSA but should be of interest to DSA members, friends and other lefties.