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New Ground 90

September - October, 2003


  • Get on the Freedom Bus! By Bob Roman
  • Mexican Migrants: Two More Years to Go By Jorge Mújica
  • IUSY Festival 2003 By Mat May and Jessica Shearer
  • Other News Compiled By Bob Roman
    Open University of the Left
    Mother Jones Dinner
    Campaign for Better Health Care
    Job Announcement
    Citizen Action
    Eugene V. Debs Foundation

  • Get on the Freedom Bus!

    By Bob Roman

    At the very beginning of the 1960s, the legal foundations of segregation and Jim Crow were crumbling. But if segregation and discrimination were less and less the law of the land, it was still very much the practice of the land. The progress of the Civil Rights movement was, for many, just about as rewarding as waiting for water to boil. Despite two Supreme Court decisions outlawing segregation in interstate bus service (the Irene Morgan decision in 1946 and the Boynton decision in 1960), it was still not possible for African - Americans to receive equal services. In the South, regardless of the law, they still had to ride in the back of the bus.

    To turn up the heat, activists around the Congress of Racial Equality planned and executed a series of "Freedom Bus Rides" through the South that did nothing more than claim the legal rights then recognized by the Supreme Court. The trail of burning buses and broken bodies may not have seemed encouraging at the time, but it was really old Jim Crow that took a beating. The Freedom Rides have become a part of history and legend, a symbol of speaking truth to fear, hatred and impunity.

    The New Freedom Riders

    Now a new generation of freedom activists is putting this legend in the service of a fight for freedom and equality for immigrants to the United States. With the campaign to make English the "official" and only language, with the exclusion of immigrants from benefits when welfare was "reformed", with various and sundry gratuitous acts of hatred and robbery, with an immigration bureaucracy far more interested in exploiting the numerous "gotchas" in the law than in service, with the paranoia generated by a politically motivated "war" on "terrorism", it is this constituency that has been branded "other", denied access to government services, imprisoned, exploited and expelled.

    Organized by a coalition of community, religious, activist and political groups, but most especially by the union movement, the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride envisions several bus caravans from all across the country converging on Washington, DC, for a day of lobbying then proceeding on to New York for a monster rally. Along the way, each caravan will stop for rallies, photo ops and additional participants.

    Many of these rallies will not be small. The Chicago leg of the Freedom Ride will depart the Federal Plaza at Dearborn and Adams on Saturday, 10 AM, September 27. The kick off rally is expected to draw more than ten thousand. The final rally in New York is expected to draw hundreds of thousands.

    Power Concedes Nothing Without...

    Each member of the coalition brings its own agenda to the table, but as a coalition, the Freedom Ride is organized around essentially three basic demands. The first is for a new amnesty program for undocumented, tax paying workers in the U.S. This has become a particularly urgent issue in the context of the current drive for alien registration. This demand also includes an "improved road" to citizenship. The second is for better family unification laws. The current laws are so restrictive that there is an outrageous backlog of family members waiting to come to the States. The third is for improving the rights of undocumented workers to organize. In particular, the coalition has in mind the recent Supreme Court extraordinary "Hoffman" decision that denied back pay to a worker illegally fired for organizing activities protected under the National Labor Relations Act simply because of his immigration status. The AFL-CIO has filed a complaint with the International Labor Organization over this decision as the Supreme Court appears to have violated a number of agreements to which the U.S. is a party.


    While the Coalition has not promoted any specific legislation, Illinois Congressman Luis Gutierrez has introduced HR440, the "U.S.A. Family Act", that addresses many of the Coalition's concerns. At present, the bill has 17 additional cosponsors, including Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky. The U.S.A. Family Act is much more than just an amnesty program; it seeks to remove many of the "Catch 22" provisions of the current law that make applying for work permits, residency and citizenship a risky business for aliens. As a back up, perhaps, some of the cosponsors, including Gutierrez, have introduced a bill that is more simply an amnesty, HR 152, "The Immigration Adjustment Act of 2003".

    Neither bill addresses labor's concern over the Hoffman decision. Both bills exploit the conservative fetish of judging people as "deserving" and "not deserving"; HR440, for example, requires applicants to demonstrate they have not "received public cash assistance". Neither bill addresses the longer-term questions of immigration policy that make such amnesties desirable.

    Mexican Migrants: Two More Years
    to Go

    By Jorge Mújica

    If Mexican migrants in the US noticed anything in President Fox's State of the Union address, it was his references to them. The first one, his thanks for their contributions to the economy. The second one, his remark on a needed bilateral migration agreement with the United States. The third and last one, his call to Congress to "advance" on the issue of their right to vote from abroad.

    Migrants have "contributed", not very willingly, but much forcibly, with over 9 billion dollars to the Mexican economy this year. At a record setting pace, it is thought that by the end of the year México will have had received over 12 billion dollars from their citizens abroad. Over 1 million families depend on the remesas: money transfers from relatives living abroad.

    Fox's remark, however, fall very short on what migrants feel it should be done by the Mexican government: first, to regulate the money transfers, so companies like Money Gram and Western Union, and their counterpart in México, Elektra (a department store chain owned by former president Carlos Salinas de Gortari), don't steal over 1.5 billion dollars in hidden fees and dollar-peso exchange rates well over international market transactions. Second, migrants have been actively looking for state-sponsored programs to invest part of the money in productive ventures for impoverished regions in México, and the only thing Fox's government has done is to increase federal requirements for investment by migrants.

    On the issue of an immigration accord, migrants have given up on the Mexican government because of the repeated refusals by the US government. At the beginning of September, Mexican' Foreign Relations Secretary Ernesto Derbez toured the United States insisting on a bilateral treaty, only to hear Collin Powell's refusal over and over. Far from confiding in the Mexican government, migrants have turned to efforts like the Freedom Ride, an action organized by US trade unionists to take their issues directly to Washington. Migrants also see as a threat the possibility of Fox's acceptance of the Border Security and Immigration Act of 2003, proposed by congressman Tancredo, which would bring workers as "guests", allow them to work for 9 months and then force them to go back to México to apply for a new job next year.

    Fox seemed to have based his foreign policy on his friendship with George Bush, and therefore put all his eggs in a single basket, basket that broke on September 11, 2001. Ever since, his chance for an immigration agreement has been zero.

    But the most skepticism steams from the third reference to migrants in the State of the Union address: the vote from abroad for over 15 million Mexican citizens living in the United States.

    So far, Fox has not sent an initiative to Congress to advance the issue of voting rights for Mexicans abroad. His reference to the issue at the State of the Union address sounded more like an apology than an intention to move on it.

    And the apology comes at a bad time. Migrants lobbying for the right to vote got two good candidates in the ballots but neither of them won a congressional seat. One of them, Manuel de la Cruz, was declared twice a winner on the July 6th mid-term election, and twice his seat was given to the Workers Party, a political organization sponsored by the Revolutionary Institutional Party to undermine the leftist Party for the Democratic Revolution, PRD.

    At a Bi-national Meeting on Workers Rights held in México City this August, 37 organizations decided to recognize De la Cruz as a "shadow congressman" and give him full support on his effort to give migrants a voice. More than that, migrants called the three main political parties to agree on one basic political point in their agendas: full political right to vote and be voted for by the next federal election, 2006.

    The call reminds the federal Congress that the state of Zacatecas, with 1.5 million citizens living in the United States, already went ahead with a constitutional reform that would give zacatecanos living abroad the right to participate in the state's election for governor in 2004 and to elect two "at large" state legislators.

    If Vicente Fox and his party, the conservative National Action Party, want to keep the seat they won after 71 years of PRI's rule, they would have to do better. Promises, apologies and "thanks for your dollars" won't do. Mexican migrants are awake, and they like taking matters into their own hands.

    The IUSY Festival 2003

    by Mat May and Jessica Shearer

    The YDS delegation to the 2003 International Union of Socialist Youth (IUSY) Festival was a success. The Festival was held July 23 through 29 in Greece and hosted by the PASOK Youth. In order to explain why the festival and more specifically the YDS delegation to the festival was "successful," it will be useful to explain the purpose of our international festivals and why we as democratic socialists in the US participate in them. The festival is designed to provide a place for democratic socialist and social democratic youth to share experiences in an informal setting and, generally speaking, learn from our international comrades about movements for socialism throughout the world. Given the role that the US occupies in international politics, our comrades throughout the world are rather interested in our perspective of the actions of our country. Many folks are amazed that there are socialists in the US.

    In a IUSY context our organization is often in the position of taking leadership on questions of specific policy proposals, and the trends and dynamics of international politics while we provide leadership on questions of how and why to interact with racial justice, feminist, and queer movements. While we know that we still have a lot to learn in all these fields, simply being part of the necessarily dynamic multi-tendency American left we have found we have a lot to offer on these subjects. Specifically our delegation addressed seminars on immigrant organizing, men and feminism, white activists organizing against racism, patriarchy, queer movements, and queer women's rights.

    All in all, we stayed quite busy. We attended and addressed seminars in the morning and in the afternoon, essentially talks given by activists, ranging in topic from "fighting homophobia," "race, youth, and prisons," "expanding the EU," etc. Because Daraka Larimore (formerly of UofC YDS and formerly the YDS National Organizer), our representative to the governing body of IUSY, the Presidium, had primary responsibility for the programming for the human rights and labor tents and because a U.S. perspective both on our government's policies and on our unique relationship with social movement was in high demand, our relatively tiny delegation played a large role in this series of seminars. Every one of our five member delegation moderated or spoke at over 20 seminars. The range of subjects we were able to speak on was greatly increased by the presence of two veritable experts in our delegation. Jill Hickson, former Foreign Policy staffer for the late Senator Wellstone, is fluent in Farsi, currently organizing in Uzbekistan, and generally very knowledgeable on the politics of Central Asia and the Middle East. Kira Brunner, New York based journalist has spent blocks of time in central and eastern Europe, with a focus in the Balkans, a particular asset at this festival where the combined Balkan delegations fell just short of a thousand participants.

    In the early evening, we attended conferences (longer talks) to hear panels of well-known leaders in international politics including among others Shimon Peres (former just about everything Israel Labour), Felipe Gonzales Ex-Spanish Prime Minister), Susan George (Executive Director of ATTAC) and the Constantinos Simitis (Prime Minister of Greece). During the interim time, our delegation held bilateral meetings with delegations from Serbia, France, Germany, Netherlands, Cameroon, and Colombia. We had less formal (because of logistical difficulties on their end) meetings with members of the 300 person strong Fatah Youth delegation from Palestine, the PRD from Mexico, as well as the PRI (the PRI are fighting a dirty game to try and secure IUSY and ultimately SI membership for themselves). Our delegation also organized a meeting with all of the Latin American and Caribbean delegates to discuss the FTAA and the upcoming ministerial meeting in Miami: an opportunity to work with our sister parties in the Americas on an activist project of interest to all of us and many of our important allies in the United States. We started a list serve to generate communication on this topic and several parties are particularly interested to use this event to mobilize their nationals and party members who are currently living in and around Miami.

    Much of our time in the bi-laterals was spent explaining the political system in the US (e.g. the Electoral College, the two-party system, why DSA doesn't run candidates, how we interact with other social movements the history of American socialism) and learning about how our international comrades do politics in their respective countries. All in all, the festival is rather informal. There are no political decisions made in IUSY as an organization; policy is written at the IUSY Congress, not the festival.

    Members of some delegations expressed interest in traveling to the US to organize against Bush's bid for reelection in 2004. Others looked to us for leadership on how to incorporate an anti-Bush rather than an anti-American message into their own ongoing demonstrations against the new US imperialism. We exchanged contact information and will be following up with them.

    Greece is more beautiful than I anticipated. The festival was in Kammena Vourla, a small town on the coast northeast of Athens. We slept in small tents and generally camped out for seven days. There were also organized sporting events including the international socialist football (soccer) championship and intensely competitive beach volleyball. When we were not in meetings or giving talks or attending conferences, we enjoyed the beach and the historic sites in Athens.

    As a final thought, the festival reaffirmed for me the importance of YDS participation in the international struggle for democratic socialism. Over 150 years ago, Marx sounded the tocsin for isolationist workers movements: "[the bourgeois] compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production in one word, it creates a world after its own image." Socialism, as we are becoming more keenly aware, must be international if it is to be at all.

    We understand capitalism as a worldwide system of oppression and exploitation, deterritorializing the structures of stability and democracy throughout the world. Securing prosperity for all of the world's people in the 21st century will require working within, and indeed creating new, international public spheres and democratic institutions. A new ethic of international civic activism is required.

    As a reaffirmation of our dedication to the development of stability, democracy, equality, peace, and more equitable distributions of wealth across the international divisions of labor, our delegation recommends an informal educational campaign to our membership. As a possible research topic, membership may wish to discuss what it means to play a principled role in the international movement for democratic socialism. This suggestion could be taken up by chapters or
    contacts and tailored to fit the needs of its members. Based on its geographic proximity with Mexico, YDS Phoenix, for example, may wish to begin an education campaign about the FTAA and what the Americas Committee within IUSY is doing to prevent the passage of this agreement. To this end they may contact the YDS International Committee for education, contact information, and coalitional organizing possibilities.

    More generally our delegation calls on YDS to further its involvement within IUSY. As the largest political youth organization in the word, IUSY is an important place for socialists in the US interested in working towards an international Left majority. Also, as activists in "the belly of the beast," as it were, we provide a unique and irreplaceable perspective that help form the strategy and policy of the Socialist International.

    Editor's Note: Mat May is the YDS International Secretary. Jessica Shearer is Co-Chair of YDS.

    Other News

    compiled by Bob Roman

    Open University of the Left

    The Open University of the Left is conducting another series of study groups on the American Empire. Beginning on Thursday, September 11, these classes will meet every other Thursday at the New World Resource Center, 1300 N. Western in Chicago, from 7 PM to 9 PM. The topics will include: 9/25: American History as an Imperial Project, 10/9: U.S. Foreign Policy Since WWII: the Empire Asserts Itself, 10/23: Globalization and the American Empire, 11/6: The Empire at Home, 11/20: War on the World as a Military Campaign, 12/4: War on the World: What It Means for the Rest of Us, 12/18: Confronting Empire: How to Respond?

    This series is not the only program planned for the fall. The New World Resource Center has also formed a book club that will be meeting regularly and the Open University of the Left will be cosponsoring many of these sessions. Additional events will be announced as opportunities present themselves.

    For additional information, email oulchicago@yahoo.com or call 312.909.0127.

    Mother Jones Dinner

    The 18th Annual Mother Jones Dinner will feature author Elliot Gorn and actress Margaret Orner. Elliot Gorn recently wrote Mother Jones: the Most Dangerous Woman in America. Margaret Orner will perform the one woman play Mother Jones: My Life and Times. The event will be at the University of Illinois at Springfield Public Affairs Center a 6 PM on Saturday, October 4. Tickets are $25 each and may be obtained from the Mother Jones Foundation, PO Box 20412, Springfield, IL 62708-0412. For more information, call Mettie Funk at 217.544.0555 or Hallie Maynor at 217.522.1182.

    Campaign for Better Health Care

    The Campaign for Better Health Care will be holding its 7th Annual Strategy and Awards Meeting at the Holiday Inn Mart Plaza in Chicago on Thursday, October 30. This is a change of venue from the Congress Hotel as the Congress is currently in the midst of a labor dispute that shows no immediate signs of ending. This particular meeting will especially consider the fate of HB 2268, the Health Care Justice Act (a legislative version of the proposed Bernardine Amendment to the Illinois Constitution, see New Ground 87, Other News). HR2268 passed the Illinois House but has not been voted on in the Senate. It will be up for consideration in the November veto session. The Campaign has designated November 3 as a Health Care Action Day and is organizing call-ins to State Senators' district offices. For more information, call the Campaign at 312.913.9449 or go to http://www.cbhconline.org.

    Job Announcement

    The AFL-CIO Organizing Institute is recruiting potential candidates for its paid job training and placement program for career positions as union organizers. Qualifications include commitment to economic justice, good communication skills, a willingness to work long and irregular hours and ability to do extensive travel or relocate.

    We are accepting applications for the following training dates in Chicago, December 5-7; Minneapolis, October 24-26; and Detroit, November 14-16, 2003. Women, people of color and bilingual applicants are encouraged to apply. To be considered for one of these trainings, please contact Kimberly Roberts at 312.492-6569.

    Chicago Labor for Peace

    In the aftermath of the Iraq war, the Committee for New Priorities has been devoting considerable energy to establishing a new labor coalition named "Chicago Labor for Peace, Prosperity and Justice" (CLPPJ). Its goal is to help "connect the dots" between the interrelated issues of peace, prosperity, justice and security, bringing into focus the economic and social costs to working families of the current U.S. domestic and foreign policies. CLPPJ will be producing educational materials for union members, is planning a series of educational workshops, and will play a role in the National Labor Assembly for Peace (sponsored by US Labor Against the War) to be held in Chicago October 24 - 25. For more information, contact Elena Marcheschi at 312.666.3037 or email clppj@aol.com.

    Citizen Action

    Citizen Action will be holding its annual convention on Saturday, October 25, at the Renaissance Hotel in Springfield.
    This year the convention will focus on "Building a Better Illinois", a program that explores shaping the progressive political strategies for success in 2004 at both the state and federal level. For more information, contact Larisa Morrison at the Citizen Action Chicago office: 312.427.2114.

    Eugene V. Debs Foundation

    The foundation's annual award banquet will honor Molly Ivans, the Texas based syndicated columnist and author, on Saturday, November 1st. For more information, go to http://www.eugenevdebs.com or call 812.232.2163.

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