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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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, email@example.com
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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'
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).
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
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.
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
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
The next meeting will be January 12, 1997, Noon, at 3411 W.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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,
firstname.lastname@example.org. 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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
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:
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.
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.