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New Ground 50

January - February, 1997

Contents

  • From Bad to Worse by Julie Dworkin
  • Surveying the Damage from the Contract on the Poor By Barbara Otto
  • A New DSA Campaign for Economic Justice: An Overview
  • Meigs vs. McDome: Class War Priorities by Ron Baiman
  • Conversations in the Key of the Left By Marsha Montroy
  • An Interview with Steve De La Rosa by Bob Roman
  • The Founding Convention of the Alliance for Democracy by Ralph Suter
  • The 7th Annual Midwest Radical Scholars and Activists Conference: The New Class War by Ron Baiman
  • A New Program for Democratic Socialism: A Review by Perry Cartwright
  • Debs Foundation Honors Victor Navasky by Bruce Bentley
  • Other News by Bob Roman
  • Economic Reform and Welfare
    IBEW Local 336
    Striking Detroit Newspaper Workers


    From Bad to Worse

    by Julie Dworkin

    After 60 years of providing minimum federal cash assistance to poor families with children, the President has signed a welfare reform bill that ends the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. This legislation will have a devastating affect on thousands of poor families and will certainly increase homelessness. A report by the Urban Institute predicts that the welfare legislation will effect on in five families with children, decreasing their yearly income, on average, by about $1,300. The report also predicts:

    $1,300 is a lot for any family, especially for a family of three on welfare in Illinois making only $4,536 annually. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the annual income required to rent a two bedroom apartment in Illinois is $26,149.

    Under the new rules, families are not only in danger of having benefits reduced, but over time, many will lose benefits entirely. Some will reach newly established time limits. Others will be made ineligible; states are no longer required to provide benefits to anyone. Still others will lose benefits when funds run out during economic downturns. AFDC costs rose by $6 billion during the last recession, three times what is provided for in the new legislation.

    Welfare Reform and Homelessness

    The impact of welfare cuts on homelessness has already been demonstrated in several states that have eliminated or reduced benefits to single adults.

    A study by the Michigan League of Human Services found that six months after Michigan terminated employable single adults from General Assistance (GA), 25% had become homeless. In Ohio, homelessness jumped by approximately 17% within six months of reductions in GA benefits. Families with children, with more bills to pay and more mouths to feed, will be even more vulnerable to homelessness after a loss of benefits.

    In addition, reductions in food stamps will force people to choose between buying food and paying the rent. It is estimated that children of $500 in food stamps in 1998. Single adults will also be hard hit by food stamp cuts; they will only be eligible for three months of stamps over three years if they are unable to find work.

    Compounding the Problems

    In the fiscal year 1996 (FY'96) budget, Congress reduced funding for ten programs that assist the homeless from the 1995 budget. This includes a 23% cut in the emergency food and shelter program and a 27% cut in homeless assistance programs. These allocations are not expected to increase in the FY'97 budget. In addition, Congress is considering public housing reforms that would allow public housing authorities to charge more than 30% of a person's income for rent and set minimum rent levels regardless of income.

    Welfare to Work?

    The purpose of the welfare reform, according to its proponents, is to move families off welfare and into jobs. The bill, however, does not provide the necessary resources to do this. Under the bill, 50% of welfare recipients would be required to work by fiscal year 2002. The Congressional Budget Office projects that over the next six years, states will fall $13 billion short of funds needed for welfare- to- work programs to help people obtain and maintain employment.

    In addition, states no longer have access to open - ended federal funds for child care. Currently, any parent that is on welfare and working part - time or in an education program is entitled to child care. Under the new welfare bill, there is a set amount of federal funds for child care services. The Office of Management and Budget predicts this amount will fall $2.4 billion short of the need.

    Even if there were enough funding for welfare - to - work programs and child care, there is a significant shortage of entry level jobs, particularly those that pay a living wage. A recent study by the University of Illinois at Chicago, Northern Illinois University and the Chicago Urban League showed that there are four workers for every entry level job in Illinois. In Chicago, the ratio is six to one. For jobs that pay a living wage in Illinois, the ratio is 222 to 1. These figures show that requiring people to work is impossible when there are few jobs available, those jobs don't pay a living wage, and there is not enough child care.

    President Clinton has proposed the creation of 1 million new jobs for people who are cut off of welfare. While this is a step in the right direction, it is a long way from becoming a reality. Furthermore, it is estimated that in Illinois alone as many as 80,000 families could lose benefits after the five year time limit. If every state has a comparable number of families who will lose benefits then 1 million jobs nationwide is only a fraction of what is needed.

    Because states lack funding, child care, and available jobs, they will have a difficult time meeting the 50% work requirement. However, a provision of the bill says that simply reducing the public aid caseload can count towards the work requirement, even if the reduction is not caused by people going to work. In other words, a state could change its eligibility requirements to eliminate 10% of the caseload and count the reduction toward the work requirement. Therefore, states will have a powerful incentive to simply cut people off.

    Local Governments Bear the Burden

    As cuts come down from the federal and state levels, city governments will feel the strain on their budgets. Philadelphia is already feeling the impact of the combination of federal cuts in homeless spending and welfare reform. According to a New York Times article (7/30/96), the city announced this month that single adults will now be turned away from shelters as a cost - saving measure. The city had already exceeded its budget for homeless services by $4 million, and the shelters were becoming dangerously overcrowded. The city feared that if they did not limit access, they would be unable to provide shelter in the winter when demand increases.

    The Mayor of Philadelphia cites new state welfare regulations as a direct factor in the need to cut back local services. In June, the legislature eliminated welfare benefits to more than 40,000 single men and medical benefits for as many as 220,000 in Pennsylvania. The Mayor predicts that the homeless population in Philadelphia will increase by 80,000 single adults over the next two years as a result of the state cuts.

    It is difficult to say how a city like Chicago, with an already overburdened shelter system, would respond to a similar increase in demand. When you compare Chicago's corporate spending for homeless programs to that of other large cities, it is clear that Chicago has never committed a tremendous amount of local resources to the problem:

    Boston: $ 4.1 million

    Chicago: $ 5.5 million

    Philadelphia: $ 17.3 million

    San Francisco: $ 38.8 million

    New York: $131.9 million

    It remains to be seen how the states will implement the legislation. The trend in welfare reform in Illinois over the past several years has been to cut people off of benefits. In 1992, Illinois eliminated benefits for 80,000 single adults. In 1995, Illinois passed legislation which set time limits for families and eliminated benefits for children born into a household already on welfare.

    Without a major effort at the local and state level, there is no question that the legislation will increase poverty and homelessness. As New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, chairman of the Mayors Task Force on Hunger and Homelessness, states: "It's hard for anybody to make the case that homelessness is not going to get worse; you can only hope that it does not get dramatically worse."

     

    Reprinted, by permission, from the Fall, 1996 issue of Homeward Bound, newsletter of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, 1325 S. Wabash, Ste 205, Chicago, IL 60605. (312) 435-4548


    Surveying the Damage from the Contract on the Poor

    By Barbara Otto

    Two pieces of legislation signed by President Clinton had significant effects on the SSI program. The welfare reform legislation, signed on August 22, 1996, and the Contract with America Advancement Act of 1996, signed in March of 1996, changed the SSI program and eliminated benefits for many people.

    Immigrants

    Most legal immigrants are no longer eligible for SSI and Food Stamps. The only exceptions are:

    Those currently receiving SSI and food stamps will be notified by the Social Security Administration that their cases are being reviewed and given 90 days to show SSA that they are still eligible. Benefits will not be cut off until July, 1997. In Illinois, up to 21,000 legal immigrants could lose SSI and up to 39,000 legal immigrants could lose food stamps.

    Under the Welfare Act, states are given the option of deciding whether or not to continue Medicaid eligibility to legal immigrants lawfully present in the U.S. prior to August 22, 1996, even if they do not fall into the four categories listed above. It appears that Illinois will continue Medicaid for legal immigrants lawfully here before August 22, 1996. However. legal immigrants who lawfully enter the U.S. on or after August 22, 1996, are ineligible for Medicaid for five years after the date they enter unless they fall into one of the four categories listed above.

    Title 2 benefits (disability insurance and retirement benefits) will be paid to legal immigrants who are lawfully present in the U.S. as determined by the Attorney General and to any person who is eligible for a Title II benefit based on an application filed during or before August, 1996.

    Children's SSI

    Under current law, children are able to establish eligibility for SSI if they have an impairment of comparable severity to that which would render an adult unable to work. Under the law established in the U.S. Supreme Court's Zeblev decision, children have also been able to qualify for SSI based on an Individualized Functional Assessment (IFA). This test determines whether or not they are able to engage in age-appropriate activities of daily life; it is similar to the standard for adults which allows them to establish eligibility if they are "unable to engage in substantial gainful activity".

    The new legislation changes the disability definition, narrowing the eligibility criteria. Now, an individual younger than 18 will be considered disabled if that individual has a medically determinable physical or mental impairment, resulting in marked and severe functional limitations. The IFA is eliminated. Circumstances under which maladaptive behavior can be considered is also limited.

    These changes severely limit a child's ability to qualify for SSI benefits. Up to 15,000 children in Illinois could lose benefits.

    Those children currently receiving SSI benefits that may be affected by these changes have been notified by SSA. SSA can only cut off a child after a review of the case, and not before July, 1997. SSA has not yet issued its regulations for determining disability under the new standard.

    Changes That Affect All

    Some SSI recipients may lose up to one month of SSI benefits at the outset of their SSI eligibility because benefits will not be paid until the first day of the calendar month following the date the SSI application is filed or the date the claimant becomes eligible for SSI benefits.

    Any individual who is "presumptively disabled" and eligible for a case advance as of the date of application will be required to pay back that advance payment through proportionate deductions in six monthly payments.

    Any individual found eligible for past-due monthly SSI benefits totaling more than $5640 (after any withholding for state interim assistance is deducted) will receive installment payments of the past-due benefit in no more than three installments made at six month intervals.

    Anyone convicted in state or federal court of misrepresenting their residence to obtain benefits under the AFDC, Medicaid, or Food Stamp programs in more than one state will be denied SSI for 10 years.

    SSI benefits will be denied for persons fleeing to avoid prosecution or custody or confinement after conviction for a crime or a crime attempt that is a felony under the laws of the state the individual is fleeing or for persons violating a condition of probation or parole imposed under state or federal law.

    Drugs and Alcohol

    The Contract with America Advancement Act of 1996 eliminated drug addiction and alcoholism (DA&A) as a basis for disability in both the Title 2 (SSDI) and Title 16 (SSI) programs. The law required SSA to notify everyone affected by June 28, 1996, that their benefits would be cut off January 1, 1997, unless SSA has determined that they are disabled for some reason other than alcohol or drug addiction. If a recipient appealed within 10 days of receiving the notice, the recipient would have to receive a face - to - face hearing before SSA could cut them off. The SSA reports that just under 50% of the 24,000 affected in Illinois had appealed the termination as of November. Thousands of other recipients who filed timely appeals have been found not disabled under the new standard that excludes DA&A. As many as 17,000 in Illinois could lose benefits on January 1, 1997.

    A version of this article appears in the December issue of SSI Works, the newsletter of the SSI Coalition, 205 W. Monroe, 3rd Floor, Chicago, IL 60606-5013, (312) 223-9600, ssic@claret.org


    A New DSA Campaign for Economic Justice: An Overview

    The 1996 elections are behind us - leaving us with a few surprises, but mainly with business as usual in America. There's still a Republican Congress and a Democratic President - a Congress perhaps more conservative than the last, and a President more eager to be bipartisan. Voter turnout was even lower than in the last few elections. The bright spot in the elections is the Congressional Progressive Caucus. All of its members who ran for reelection won and several new progressives were reelected.

    There are some lessons we can learn from this election, lessons we should have learned from all of the elections of the last decade, including an understanding that progressives running on a platform of economic justice can win. Most of all what we need to learn from this election is that we need a new American politics.

    To advance that new American politics the Campaign for Economic Justice has been launched by the Democratic Socialists of America. To build a new American politics, a politics with a powerful progressive voice, the campaign starts from where Americans are at today. More and more Americans understand that disparities in income and wealth are increasing. They feel insecure about their future economic status and that of their children.

    Americans distrust the government to safeguard their interests, but they distrust corporations to do right even more than they distrust government. Americans feel taken advantage of by corporations, by a wealthy elite and by the 'undeserving poor.'

    Divisions in America based on race and gender sunder our society, encouraged by attacks from the right on affirmative action, welfare, reproductive rights and gay and lesbian rights. These attacks have often been successful in increasing American fears and focusing American anger and insecurity on people of color, feminists and gays and lesbians, rather than on corporate and ruling class America. A new American politics must both appeal to the hopes and dreams of Americans for economic security and justice and heal divisions based on race and gender. It must acknowledge the threats globalization of the economy and the rise of transnational corporations pose for the rights and well-being of American workers, but it cannot excite xenophobic and isolationist fears.

    The Campaign for Economic Justice has three central tenets:

    To win on these issues requires progressive organizations and individuals to work together -victory won't be achieved by any single person or group. The agenda of the campaign is both visionary and concrete.

    Coalition

    For too long organizations on the left of American politics have existed in their own isolated arenas, unwilling or unable to get beyond their specific agendas to a broader progressive agenda. No one part of this left remnant can turn American politics around. Together we can become a powerful force. This does not mean simply one more coalition to increase voter registration or to fight a particular initiative. Nor is it one more marginal electoral effort going nowhere. Groups and individuals to join together to pool resources to plan a serious long term electoral and legislative battle. This must happen at the national level and at the local level.

    Already some national organizations have begun working with the Congressional Progressive Caucus to develop and refine a progressive political agenda. Around the country DSA's economic insecurity hearings of the last two years galvanized local coalitions. We must now build on those coalitions to advance an economic justice agenda at the national and local levels.

    Agenda

    The agenda of the Campaign for Economic Justice is at once visionary and concrete. The Pledge for Economic Justice summarizes the long-term vision of the campaign. The concepts of economic justice and security embodied in the pledge are made real through legislation such as the Corporate Responsibility Act and the Living Wage, Jobs for All Act. These and other measure provide a vehicle for activists to talk with people in their communities and at work, school or church about what economic justice and security would look like. The Fair Pay Act provides a similar vehicle for real change and for public education on economic inequities in our society. And the Stop the Sweatshops Act and the Clearinghouse on Responsible Corporate Practices do the same for issues related to globalization.

    Key issues such as changes in US welfare policy, attacks on affirmative action, health care reform and campaign finance reform are likewise central to the economic justice agenda. These measures (or others agreed upon in coalition) don't address the full spectrum of issues that a new progressive voice in American politics should call for, but they do speak to core issues that can bring people to the new politics.

    Strategy

    Perhaps the biggest failure of the left in American politics has been thinking, planning and acting with an overly short-term mentality. All too often we don't look past the vote in Congress or city council that's happening next week, and we don't start thinking about elections until they are fully upon us.

    We recognize that measures like the Corporate Responsibility Act will not be won in the near term. This Congress, like the last one, will not stand up to corporate greed nor will it reconsider its ill-conceived welfare 'reform' law.

    Through the Campaign for Economic Justice, we can, however, win victories at the local level on issues such as local living wage initiatives. We can also use federal legislation as a means to educate the public about economic insecurity and we can begin to build a base of support for economic justice among public officials in Congress and the states.

    In the coming months DSA will be developing organizing guides, fact sheets, legislative summaries and political analyses for activists to use to build economic justice coalitions in their local communities. This information will give you specific suggestions for activities on economic justice ranging from public hearings to citizen lobbying to media monitoring. We hope also to learn from local DSA leaders about efforts in your area to advance this agenda.

    Through the Campaign for Economic Justice we will start work now to build toward progressive victories in the 1998, 2000 and 2002 elections (and beyond).


    Comments & Opinions:

    Meigs vs. McDome: Class War Priorities

    by Ron Baiman

    On July 8, 1996, I testified at a City Council hearing in favor of the "Chicago Jobs and Living Wage" ordinance (New Ground, Sept./Oct., 1996). The ordinance would require all large profit and non-profit business locations, which receive substantial contract or subsidy money from the city, to pay a minimum "living wage" of $7.60 an hour. The city would be required to defray the extra costs of this for non-profit service agencies. This proposed ordinance, similar to ordinances which have already passed in Milwaukee, New York City, Baltimore, and Santa Clara County, had been supported by a majority of the City Council, but appears now to be facing stiff opposition because the Mayor has come out against it. The Mayor claims that though it's a nice idea, it would cost too much.

    The Mayor and his supporters base this claim on an absurdly inflated city cost estimate of $34.5 million for this ordinance. This estimate included for example, with no detailed itemization, $4.2 million in "administrative costs" for a measure which has been implemented with one part-time clerk in Milwaukee. The hearings also revealed that the city does little if any monitoring of the employment or fiscal impact of existing contracts and over $1 billion of "economic development" subsidies.

    Other claims made by the city, via a report issued by a high priced University of Chicago linked consulting group (RCF Inc.) which it commissioned, regarding job losses, were based on an outrageously biased survey methodology, complete disregard of demand stimulation from higher wages, and a misreading of the empirical evidence which shows no job losses from regional minimum wage increases. My analysis indicated likely job increases.

    Needless to say, none of our testimony received any publicity. Instead news media in the city parroted Finance Chairman Alderman Burke's line that the ordinance would cost too much and would cause job loss.

    In my view, the Living Wage Ordnance reflects community activism and sound economic development policy at its best. It is broadly supported by a wide coalition of community groups and, on paper at least, a majority of Alderman. It is economic development targeted to raising the wages and increasing the employment opportunity through additional spending in the city of the poorest and most needy workers in a city which is having its life blood sucked out from job and wage losses.

    It appears however that the Mayor and a majority of the City Council have other priorities. The Mayor and his City Council lackeys obviously prefer to dole out millions in unmonitored economic development slush funds to companies and fat-cat developers who can provide campaign financing and other support as needed.

    The Mayor and his lackeys claim the roughly $ 30 million which their report estimated for the Living Wage Campaign is much too expensive for the City, but the City can easily afford to destroy an existing asset and potential source of income and economic stimulus (Meigs Field with modest improvements and a much higher rental fee), and shell out $27 million for some kind of quasi-theme park in an area which already includes most of the city's major cultural attractions.

    Priorities to gag on! What about fixing up a few lakeside parks on the South side which might actually be used by city residents who really need better parks? Presumably this too would be way beyond the cities budget. They apparently believe that spending money on poor people is a waste.

    This is a sad day for so-called "democracy" and rule "for the people" in Chicago. We need a new Mayor, a mostly new City Council, and new media in this town. We obviously have our work cut out for us.


    Conversations in the Key of the Left

    By Marsha Montroy

    On October 26, 1996, representatives from five political organizations met in the conference room of the 3411 W. Diversey building. The organizations represented were Networking for Democracy, Solidarity, Committees of Correspondence, Democratic Socialists of America and the New World Resource Center. The meeting was a discussion about the formation of a coalition of leftist political groups. The representatives attending were Carl Davidson for Networking for Democracy; Rod Estvan for Solidarity; Frank Ehrmann, Sandy Patrinos and Christine Call for the Committees of Correspondence; Mark Weinberg, Ralph Suter, Bruce Bentley and Marsha Montroy for DSA; and Rusty Gilbert for the New World Resource Center.

    After introductions, the demographics of each organization were explained and a synopsis of the purpose for the member representatives' attendance was provided. Each organization felt a weakness in their ability to apply active involvement and have an effect on issues. The weakness was due to an aging membership, family involvement, financial survival, overworked core membership, and inevitably, no conversion of this enigma by new or resurgent membership. Though each organization emphasized a different aspect of this listing of the Problem, there was agreement that the aspects described held weight with each group. There was also discussion of the bogging down of activity by the Left (in general) and within groups because of sectarianism and kneaded theoretics.

    The emphasis that this meeting conveyed was that there were issues that each had in common, that a strength and force could be arrived at by a unity over these issues. Consequently, there could be an alternative reference on these issues that would receive new participants of whatever leftist leanings. Young persons could focus their emerging consciousness into an open forum of unity. They could become involved on the basis that there was an alternative to the mainstream offerings. That the emphasis was involvement not club membership. This would not force them to choose between bickering theoretics that would fizzle only to talk. Citizens could have access to information and support due to the ability of combined numbers of the coalition members on issues that concerned them.

    All agreed that the structure of this coalition was to be simple, respect for each member group's integrity must not be compromised, only common purpose on issues would be the attention of this organization. Two board members from each member group must be chosen, start-up funds must be donated, and a name of the coalition must be chosen by the board. All the legal aspects of a bank account, tax-filing status would be worked upon at future meetings. Meetings would occur as Board business meetings monthly and broader topic meeting scheduled in alternate months.

    This was the first meeting of three to be held before the New Ground's January - February issue. At the subsequent meeting on November 24th, new member groups were asked to attend. They were Art Kazar and Bill Pelz from the Socialist Party USA and Bernice Bild from the Committee for New Priorities. The Socialist Party has agreed to membership. The Committee for New Priorities at this time has not. Freedom Road will be asked to attend and join. Membership by minority groups was agreed as vital.

    At the December 8th meeting, there were no new member groups attending. The name for the coalition was chosen to be the Chicago Center for Studies on the Left (CCSL). The structure would be a board from which committees would be organized to work in two areas: Education and Action. There would be hosted from a pool of combined funds and labor in the Education area: teach-ins, speakers, study groups, book parties, debates, forums, single issue discussion; in the Action area there would be: boycott support, strike support, local issue response, electoral response, single issue support. The ability to receive academic accreditation for attendance at the educational forums is to be arranged in the future.

    The next meeting will be January 12, 1997, Noon, at 3411 W. Diversey.

    The Executive Committee has agreed to the donation of the start-up funds and the two board members from DSA are Mark Weinberg and Marsha Montroy. Response, suggestions, volunteers and criticism by the membership of DSA is requested. Please call Marsha Montroy @ 847/869-9676 (evenings), Mark Weinberg @ 773/267-8030, or the CDSA office @ 773/384-0327.


    An Interview with Steve De La Rosa

    by Bob Roman

    It's been well over a year since Steve De La Rosa, a member of West Suburban DSA, announced his candidacy for Congress in Illinois' 6th Congressional District. The 6th District encompasses about 40% of DuPage County and a portion of northwestern Cook County near O'Hare Airport. The incumbent Congressman is the notorious Republican hack, Henry Hyde. It was no surprise that Henry Hyde won re-election, but we wanted to know what Steve had to share about his experience. New Ground's Editor, Bob Roman, interviewed Steve shortly before Christmas.

    NG: Why did you decide to run for Congress?

    DeLaRosa: I started thinking about running for Congress back in August of 1995. Through asking questions and talking with various Democratic organizational people I was able to confirm that there would be no regular Democratic effort to stop Hyde. The Democratic party in DuPage and Cook counties did not believe that it would be in their best interests to expend energy to battle the eleven term incumbent Henry Hyde.

    Needless to say, I felt otherwise. I believe we give up our humanity with silence and inactivity. We must bring attention to the misery that this system brings to our neighborhoods, communities and states. We must work to organize precinct activities so that people that represent us are allowed to succeed at every level of our government.

    I believed that much could be accomplished organizationally by creating structure where there was only a shell organization previously and creating an effective citizen action structure based upon democratic goals such as Universal Health Care, Livable Wage Jobs, Environmental Protection, protecting fixed income people like single parent families and senior citizens and not retreating from protecting the rights of women seemed to make sense as a package of ideas that could be presented to the historically conservative population of this area. Our campaign platform was one that they could wrap their arms around and talk to their neighbors about and, most importantly, support.

    The mechanics of getting on the ballot and running a full fledged campaign with little money to support it and presenting a platform that articulated views that were not controlled by anyone except by our campaign staff and the constraints of our constituency was a victory. Ordinary people proved that it is still possible to shape an agenda and to disseminate it without the necessity of a major political party. We articulated a platform that would not have seen the light of day if we had chosen to be intimidated by the burden of work necessary to gain ballot access.

    NG: Given that this was your first time running for public office, how was your experience different from what you had expected? What did you learn?

    DeLaRosa: What did I learn? I learned people may have good intentions, but come moving day, you're there by yourself, moving the piano. You better have a Plan B lined up. Still, my campaign earned almost 34% of the total vote. We raised just over $10,000 and spent about $11,000 to get the word out about our program. Henry "Clyde" Hyde began his campaign with over $360,000 as of December of 1994.

    The campaign demonstrated the virtual lock on information that the powers of government, via the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, have at its disposal. I learned that to be effective, our message had to be piggybacked with others because there are few souls willing to take on the powers of a sitting Congressman or the power of the commercial press.

    NG: What advice would you give to a DSA member, or average citizen, who might be thinking of running for Congress or other public office?

    DeLaRosa: Be independently wealthy and the stamina of a mountain goat. No, sorry, I don't want to be negative. I was trying to be a good citizen while working, raising two teenagers, and paying the bills. It can be done. If I can do it, everybody can do it. I don't want people to lose hope in their ability to make a difference. Having people speculate on doing the impossible can make a difference. It boils down to time.

    And I don't want to leave here without saying thanks to the folks in West Suburban DSA. Donn and Karl Schneider, Gene Birmingham, Robert Pechacek, among others: they all did a lot for me.


    The 7th Annual Midwest Radical Scholars and Activists Conference: The New Class War

    by Ron Baiman

    After steadily deteriorating attendance, the organizing committee of Midwest Radical Scholars and Activists Conference moved the annual conference to Roosevelt University in Downtown Chicago. The result was a more compact venue with some lively sessions, some new faces, and a slight increaese in attendence. Organizers generally deemed the new venue a success and intend to build on it in the future.

    Chicago DSA, through an donation of seed money and paying for the travel of a key panelist (David Laibman - who is not a DSA member), recriuting another panelist and "pinch hit" key noter (Ron Aronson of the DSA network think-tank the "Center for Democratic Values") and through two regulars on the organizing committee: Ralph Suter, and Ron Baiman, played an important role in supporting the conference.

    At an organizing assessment meeting held after the conference the general consensus was critically upbeat. Organizers intend to start work on next year's conference at the same venue in January. Funds raising for part time staff is also being contemplated.

    Though the key note speaking left a little to be desired, several of the panels were first-rate. The following is a short synopsis of this participant's experience.

    One workshop in particular was a spectacular success. Organized by the Chicago Civic Media Project with Steve Sewall, it drew in inner-city high school kids from Chicago and Gary with a radio "personality" Cliff Kelly. The kids were videoed talking about problems in community with schools what to do about it etc. with moderator Sewall who seemed to have a great knack for this. I was told this would be aired on radio and Cable TV.

    I thought the Friday afternoon panel on Critical Thoery (with Aronson and others) was excellent and got similar feedback from several attendees and participants -again it combined first-rate academic analysis with excellent questions and discussion by activists and others.

    Ditto for the Panel on Socialist Alternatives (with Laibman - a well known Marxist economist from Brooklyn College)- I just wish we had had more time ! was some of the feedback I got though some people WERE tired of theory by the time we finished - but if we had taken a break and continued they could have gone to other panels.

    The MRSAC is a critical part of left culture in Chicago and one of the central missions of Chicago DSA at this time. As Gramsci emphasized the fight for cultural hedgemony may be crucial to the struggle (and may take generations!) - we need to work on building a bigger and better conference as many organizers want - but there is no doubt that what we have is important.

    This year's conference finished with only a small deficit, better than the 1995 conference. If you would like to contribute toward retiring the debt and help build 1997's event, make your check payable to Networking for Democracy, 3411 W. Diversey, Ste 1, Chicago, IL 60647


    The Founding Convention of the Alliance for Democracy

    by Ralph Suter

    A year ago, in the January-February 1996 issue of New Ground, I described the formation of a new "progressive/populist" organization provisionally named "The Alliance," stating that it "could change everything for DSA activists and other progressives."

    The official name is now "Alliance for Democracy," adopted on the final day of the organization's November 21-24 founding convention at Mo-Ranch, a Presbyterian conference center in the Texas hill country northwest of San Antonio, near where the original Populist movement began a little over century ago. The approximately 250 convention attendees also adopted a provisional constitution and bylaws and the following mission statement:

    The mission of The Alliance for Democracy is to free all people from corporate domination of politics, economics, the environment, culture and information; to establish true democracy; and to create a just society with a sustainable, equitable economy.

    Whether the Alliance for Democracy (AFD) will indeed "change everything" is far from certain at this point, and its long-term success is far from assured. Nevertheless, I'm as hopeful now as I was a year ago.

    AFD's founding members have committed themselves, above all, to building a mass democratic movement capable of permanently ending the domination of human society by large for-profit corporations. To the extent it succeeds in making corporate domination a major public issue, AFD should also greatly benefit democratic socialists by opening up more public space to challenge conventional economic and political ideas and to advocate alternative ideas.

    I'm particularly impressed by the commitment of AFD members to building an organization that is both highly democratic internally and strongly committed to building a truly democratic society and world. Indeed, AFD's commitment to and conscious pursuit of internal democracy is greater than DSA's right now, I regret to say.

    I'm also impressed by the extent that leadership and responsibility have been widely shared in AFD. Although Ronnie Dugger launched AFD with his "Call to Citizens" in the August 14/21, 1995 issue of the Nation, it would be a mistake to call it "Dugger's organization." I've met and talked with Dugger on several occasions and am convinced that he has no desire to become a dominant leader comparable to Jesse Jackson or Ralph Nader. Dugger, who is in his mid-60's, has spent most of his life as a journalist (founder and former editor of the Texas Observer), not as an activist. So getting an organization like AFD off the ground is as new to him as it is to most of the rest of us. The fact that Dugger is only one of many strong leaders in AFD is one of the main reason's I'm so hopeful about it.

    Nevertheless, AFD is still very much in its formative stages. Because the constitution and bylaws were adopted only provisionally (there was little time at the convention to debate their provisions), they are likely to be amended significantly at next year's convention. Even the name may yet be changed, because some people feel "Alliance for Democracy" is too bland. Many who are dissatisfied with the name would prefer a name that includes "Populist," despite that word's unfortunate association with racism, nationalism, anti-intellectualism, and government bashing in the minds of people who are not familiar with the 19th century Populist movement. This question may finally be decided by a mail referendum among the current national members.

    More importantly, AFD is very far from having developed a well-thought-out strategy, either an action strategy or a strategy for organizational development. There was much sentiment at the convention for making campaign finance reform a major action focus. But there were also many other promising strategy proposals, ranging from proposals to reign in corporate power through federal chartering or a constitutional amendment to eliminate corporate "personhood" rights, to a proposal for a campaign to reassert public ownership and control of the airwaves (e.g., mandating a new "fairness rule," prohibiting or limiting paid political advertising, and requiring broadcasters to provide free air time for all political candidates and for the ongoing discussion of important public issues).

    In addition, nine national "task forces" have been formed to address the following issue areas: alternative economics, education, the media, food and agriculture, environment, health care, economic insecurity, electoral reform, and constitutional issues. Other task forces will likely be formed in the future, including one devoted to strategy development.

    As for organizational development, most present thinking is focused on the formation of an extensive network of local AFD affiliates. Presently, there are about 40 affiliates, though they vary greatly in size and activity. Proposals for expanding membership range from a direct mail program similar to the one DSA relies on to the formation of a large speakers' network similar to that of the old National Farmers Alliance and Industrial Union, which at its peak in the 1890's is reputed to have had over 40,000 lecturers, some of whom traveled extensively. One thing AFD particularly needs is a good newsletter to keep members informed about organizational matters and to enable members to share information and ideas.

    Finally, it is still very unclear how the Alliance for Democracy will relate to other organizations. Some members would like to see AFD focus on unifying the broad "left/progressive community" by seeking affiliation with progressive organizations of all kinds that are willing to endorse AFD's mission statement. But whether it will adopt that focus is still very uncertain, especially given the fact that the present bylaws allow only for "organizational co-sponsors of activities and projects," not formal organizational affiliation.

    For additional information about the Alliance for Democracy, either phone the voice mail number of the Chicago Alliance, 773-714-7333, or write, phone, fax, or email the national office at P.O. Box 1011, North Cambridge, MA 02140, 617-491-4221, fax-617-259-0404, peoplesall@aol.com. National membership requirements consist of dues of $15 plus the completion and signing of a membership form which includes an endorsement of AFD's mission statement (see above). The Chicago Alliance does not yet have a formal membership policy.


    A New Program for Democratic Socialism: A Review

    by Perry Cartwright

    A New Program for Democratic Socialism: Lessons from the Market - Planning Experience in Austria by Leland Stauber, IL: Four Willows Press (208 S. Pine Ln, Carbondale, IL 62901), 412 Pages, $35 Hardcover

    The biggest political question in the world today is how to restructure socialism. With the collapse of "communism" in the East and the stagnation of social democracy in the West, nobody knows what "socialism" stands for anymore. Unless it can propose a new economic structure that is both efficient and fair, socialism, as a political movement, can never revive.

    The restructuring must somehow combine the socialist ideals of justice and opportunity with capitalist dynamism and productivity. Leland Stauber offers a synthesis which is somewhat startling. It will anger both capitalists and traditional Marxists. That's a good start because so far neither side has come up with an adequate answer.

    His plan would work like this. Nationalize the stock of all corporations. Redistribute this stock to state, county and municipal governments. They, in turn, would be required to put the stock in special publicly owned investment banks. There would thus be hundreds of these "funds" across the country. They would be locally owned and administered, thus avoiding the over centralization which ruined the "command" economies of the Soviet bloc.

    The dividends from this stock, over and above what would be retained for investment in new production, would come back - 50% to the local treasuries and 50% to all adult citizens in the local jurisdiction which owned the stock. The citizens could either spend or save their portion. The local treasuries could spend theirs for local government expenses, building new public facilities, lowering taxes or any other purpose which did not violate national law. Both politicians and ordinary citizens would have a tremendous stake in the success of the plan.

    All the above is socialistic. Now comes the capitalistic part.

    These local "funds" would be managed by experienced portfolio managers recruited from the existing private sector. Their pay would be based, in part, upon how profitably they manage buying and selling the stock. The book suggests a number of safeguards to protect them from local political pressures.

    The corporations of the country would continue to be managed by professional managers. Their pay, as now, would be partly based upon profit performance. Of course, the socialist government would limit the outrageous bonuses presently being paid. Stauber rejects as utopian the notion that a whole nation of workers or managers could be motivated to top efficiency by a selfless altruism.

    Consumer demand would determine both type and quantity of production in the area of consumer products. In great national projects like nuclear research, space, some public utilities, education and medical care, environmentally sensitive matters, etc., national planning and national ownership would be more efficient and fair. Stauber's plan incorporates a large amount of planning. In the competitive consumer goods part of the economy, corporate policy plus the hiring and firing of top management, would be set at regular stockholder meetings. But the stockholders would now be representatives from the publicly owned local banks. All the tried and tested capitalist procedures for maximizing profits would remain essentially intact.

    Here's the big difference. The profits would revert entirely to society, i.e., to the hundreds of local banks and the millions of local citizens.

    Why would stock owners allow their stock to be nationalized? The book proposes that the confiscated private stocks be compensated for with bonds to minimize any legitimate reason for counter-revolution. Then he proposes a high progressive tax on bond interest in order to reduce wealth differentials, although Stauber allows for a wider range of income levels than some equalitarians might like.

    But the author offers, as a corollary, numerous safeguards for worker and minority rights, for environmental protection and clean up, for subsidized investment in new technology and for social justice in general.

    All this presupposes the coming to power of a socialist government, but the book does not deal with the method by which it might come to power.

    Only a few years ago, socialists of all sorts would have scorned such a proposal for "market socialism". But after the market economy of the West won the cold war basically by out producing the planned economies of the East, we socialists simply must learn the lesson that the market mechanism (not the capitalist market but the socialist market) is much more efficient in producing consumer goods.

    Not to learn it will condemn us to our present degraded role of shining the shoes of Clinton and Daley. If our movement can produce a layout for an economic system which seems logical and efficient, and at the same time remain committed to a vision of an equalitarian community, then we can again grow into a mass force.


    Debs Foundation Honors Victor Navasky

    by Bruce Bentley

    On November 9, 1996, the Debs Foundation in Terre Haute, Indiana, held its annual awards banquet at Indiana State University. This year's event honored Victor Navasky, editor of The Nation. Approximately 200 unionists, activists and socialists attended the event. Chicago DSA and Central Indiana DSA had an active literature table during the evening.

    Navasky premised his speech on Debs' famous quote: "While there is a lower class; I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."

    First, Navasky contended, it is critical for the progressive Left to identify with the lower class because in the past 20 years, despite the rise in GNP, Dow Jones index and salaries of CEO's, the disparity in wealth has continued to widen. Today the top 2% of the populace's wealth is equal with the bottom 90 per cent.

    Second, we need to identify with the underclass. For while the media focuses on urban crime, it fails to address corporate crime. Navasky pointed out that tax payers will be paying for the Savings and Loan debacle until the year 2020. The fact is that while there were 21,000 murders in 1995, there were 31,000 suicides FY '95; hence a more accurate social barometer on social despair and alienation.

    Third, we must identify with prisoners and immigrants who become the scapegoats of society's problems while such crucial issues as the defense budget, universal health care and NAFTA-GATT get pushed to the back pages. The reason for this false social construction of reality is the concentration of media ownership which leads to homogeneity of information. One half of all information outlets are dominated by 20 corporations.

    The underlying theme in Navasky's speech was that we need a Debs type leader today to organize and agitate and address these real issues against the media and privileged upper class who obfuscate social reality. Navasky argued that Debs was also a journalist, so likewise the masses today need a Debs - ian messenger to speak to the commoner in the commoner's language. Navasky suggested that labor unions establish a nonsectarian daily newspaper for the worker to address worker issues such as globalization of labor, health care, just as the Wall Street Journal promotes business interests. This newspaper would be a true opposition paper which is common in Europe.

    Membership to the Debs Foundation is only $10.00 (student/limited income $5.00). The Foundation owns and maintains the Debs Home and offers a number of educational and cultural programs. It is a voluntary organization with no paid officers or staff. Dues and contributions are tax deductible. You may visit the Debs Home Wednesday through Sunday, 1-4 PM. Make checks payable to:

    The Debs Foundation
    PO Box 843
    Terre Haute, IN 47808


    Other News

    by Bob Roman

    Economic Reform and Welfare.

    This issue of New Ground is focused on the consequences of welfare reform. The picture is not pretty. And the changes discussed in these articles are only part of the picture because the laws are now written in a way that eliminates all standards of service except cost. What we have here is a system carefully designed to encourage a race to the bottom.

    The March - April 1995 issue of New Ground also focused on the issue of welfare reform, with an article by Kurt Anderson, "It Is But Equity: Economic Reform and Welfare". In that article, Anderson argued that welfare reform was mostly beside the point; what we needed was political and economic reforms that shift the balance of power to the poor. His proposals are worth revisiting:

     

    IBEW Local 336

    is presently organizing Time Warner DuPage, a cable TV provider in the western suburbs. 24 of the 25 employees signed a petition asking the company to voluntarily recognize the union without going through the election process. On December 12, 20 of them walked into the bosses' office to present the petition. You'll not be surprised that management has decided, instead, that it wants an election and the whole affair is headed toward the NLRB. They could use your help. Informational pickets are out every morning, 7:30 am to 8 am at Lake St and Medinah Rd in Addison. Or you can write to Ron Murray, Regional Manager, Time Warner Cable and "encourage" him to do the right thing": 7720 West 98th St. Hickory Hills, IL. 60457. The fax number is 708.430.1870. The telephone number is 708.430.4840.

     

    Striking Detroit newspaper workers

    are pushing the idea of having "Solidarity Day III" in Detroit. The first two Solidarity Days brought hundreds of thousands of people to Washington, DC, to demonstrate against the conservative agendas of Reagan and Bush; why not another in support of a major labor struggle? Apparently, the AFL-CIO Executive Board expressed some sympathy for the idea last year; now the Detroit workers would like people to encourage President John Sweeney to go with the idea. Write him at the AFL-CIO, 815 16th St. NW, Washington, DC 20006.


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