Bernie Sanders’ big test: Can he learn from his Netroots Nation conflict with Black Lives Matter activists?

The 73-year-old socialist got where he is by sticking to his guns. But his righteousness stunts his political reach

Bernie Sanders’ big test: Can he learn from his Netroots Nation conflict with Black Lives Matter activists?

Desiree Griffiths demonstrates at a Miami protest, Dec. 5, 2014; Bernie Sanders (Credit: AP/Lynne Sladky/Carolyn Kaster)

Sen. Bernie Sanders is who he is: a 73-year-old socialist inured to being told he’s wrong, politically, who’s developed an ironclad hold on the conviction that he’s right. So it’s not surprising that he’s resisting learning lessons from his early campaign stumbles at winning support from African Americans and Latinos.

If you’re a Sanders fan, part of what you like about him is that he sticks to his guns. In fact, Sanders fans are a lot like him: used to being on the political margins, they’ve learned to take refuge in the knowledge of their righteousness, which eases the sting of being perpetually in the political minority.

Unfortunately, the mutually reinforcing self-righteousness of Sanders and his supporters is a liability for his promising presidential campaign. Sanders has a genuine problem with the Democratic Party’s African American and Latino base, and no amount of insisting that class supersedes race will change that. I wrote about it last month, and got a ton of pushback from Sanders backers. Then came the conflict at Netroots Nation on Saturday, where Sanders was heckled by Black Lives Matter protesters.

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Economic Inequality: It’s Far Worse Than You Think

[Illusions like the “American Dream” (and the “Myth of Post-Racial America”) are useful tools for capitalist rule:  “the United States is now the most unequal of all Western nations”….”At the core of the American Dream is the belief that anyone who works hard can move up economically regardless of his or her social circumstances”…..”Our unique brand of optimism prevents us from making any real changes.”  For a long time, and especially now (as the pace of re-proletarianization of the “middle class” and as the disposability and suppression of black and brown workers continues to accelerate), this optimistic illusion has been useful to the capitalist system — useful, in keeping the masses down, “making do”, or blaming themselves for their plight, while dreaming of social mobility, or buying a lottery ticket.  —  Frontlines ed.] 
The great divide between our beliefs, our ideals, and reality
In their 2011 paper, Michael Norton and Dan Ariely analyzed beliefs about wealth inequality. They asked more than 5,000 Americans to guess the percentage of wealth (i.e., savings, property, stocks, etc., minus debts) owned by each fifth of the population. Next, they asked people to construct their ideal distributions. Imagine a pizza of all the wealth in the United States. What percentage of that pizza belongs to the top 20% of Americans? How big of a slice does the bottom 40% have? In an ideal world, how much should they have?
The average American believes that the richest fifth own 59% of the wealth and that the bottom 40% own 9%. The reality is strikingly different. The top 20% of US households own more than 84% of the wealth, and the bottom 40% combine for a paltry 0.3%. The Walton family, for example, has more wealth than 42% of American families combined.

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In the Belly of the Beast, too — Capitalism Sucks

[Once again, reality is a stunning refutation of the claims of the irresistable American Dream, ever-progressing, of US superiority over all others, greatness, a “gold mountain” for migrants running from poverty and oppression elsewhere.   Since most of the statistics cited here come from official sources, which routinely give all such stats a cosmetic “uplifting sheen”, the situation on all fronts is actually many times worse, as the re-proletarianization of the falling middle class becomes the main stream.  — Frontlines ed.]

Sobering New Evidence: at Least Half of Americans are Broke

 

“Happy Monday! S&P 500 now up 10% for year” CNN Money
“Third-quarter U.S. economic growth strongest in 11 years” Reuters
“The U.S. economy is on a tear” —Wall Street Journal

Half of our nation, by all reasonable estimates of human need, is in poverty. The jubilant headlines above speak for people whose view is distorted by growing financial wealth. The argument for a barely surviving half of America has been made before, but important new data is available to strengthen the case.
1. No Money for Unexpected Bills  A recent Bankrate poll found that almost two-thirds of Americans didn’t have savings available to cover a $500 repair bill or a $1,000 emergency room visit.  A related Pew survey concluded that over half of U.S. households have less than one month’s income in readily available savings, and that ALL their savings — including retirement funds — amounted to only about four months of income.  And young adults? A negative savings rate, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. Before the recession their savings rate was a reasonably healthy 5 percent.
2. 40 Percent Collapse in Household Wealth  Over half of Americans have good reason to feel poor. Between 2007 and 2013 median wealth dropped a shocking 40 percent, leaving the poorest half with negative wealth (because of debt), and a full 60% of households owning, in total, about as much as the nation’s 94 richest individuals.  People of color fare the worst, with half of black households owning less than $11,000 in total wealth, and Hispanic households less than $14,000. The median net worth for white households is about $142,000.

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Chris Hedges: Malcolm X Was Right About America

[Journalist Chris Hedges describes his personal views on the life and teachings of Malcolm X, whose life was stolen with his assassination 50 years ago. — Frontlines ed.]

Our refusal to face the truth about empire, our refusal to defy the multitudinous crimes and atrocities of empire, has brought about the nightmare Malcolm predicted.
By Chris Hedges  truthdig.com  February 1, 2015

Malcolm X about two weeks before he was murdered in 1965. AP/Victor Boynton

NEW YORK—Malcolm X, unlike Martin Luther King Jr., did not believe America had a conscience. For him there was no great tension between the lofty ideals of the nation—which he said were a sham—and the failure to deliver justice to blacks. He, perhaps better than King, understood the inner workings of empire. He had no hope that those who managed empire would ever get in touch with their better selves to build a country free of exploitation and injustice. He argued that from the arrival of the first slave ship to the appearance of our vast archipelago of prisons and our squalid, urban internal colonies where the poor are trapped and abused, the American empire was unrelentingly hostile to those Frantz Fanon called “the wretched of the earth.” This, Malcolm knew, would not change until the empire was destroyed.


“It is impossible for capitalism to survive, primarily because the system of capitalism needs some blood to suck,” Malcolm said. “Capitalism used to be like an eagle, but now it’s more like a vulture. It used to be strong enough to go and suck anybody’s blood whether they were strong or not. But now it has become more cowardly, like the vulture, and it can only suck the blood of the helpless. As the nations of the world free themselves, then capitalism has less victims, less to suck, and it becomes weaker and weaker. It’s only a matter of time in my opinion before it will collapse completely.”

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New Release “Let Your Motto Be Resistance: A Handbook on Organizing New Afrikan and Oppressed Communities for Self-Defense”

[We have received the following message from the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, announcing and detailing the release of a new organizing manual for community self-defense.  When many reform activists continue to appeal to oppressive institutions to solve the problems of repression and oppression, the manual charts a different path where matters are taken into the hands of the people, both in response to specific attacks they face from government and reactionary aggression, but also in building the struggle to end those oppressive powers once and for all.  Well worthy of study and broad distribution and active organizing, Frontlines offers it here (see link at end of announcement), encouraging responses.  — Frontlines ed.]

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559790_10152641717070627_1177440510_nOppressed peoples and communities can and will only be secure in this country when they are organized to defend themselves against the aggressions of the government and the forces of white supremacy and capitalist exploitation. “Let Your Motto Be Resistance: A Handbook on Organizing New Afrikan and Oppressed Communities for Self-Defense”, is the latest contribution of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) and the Every 36 Hours Campaign that seeks to strengthen organizing initiatives within Black or New Afrikan communities for self-defense, by presenting these initiatives with a comprehensive analytical framework and practical organizing tools to ground and unite them.

As the extrajudicial killing of Kimani Gray and the more than twenty other Black women and men by the police in the first two months of 2013 clearly illustrate, it is imperative that New Afrikan communities get organized and defend ourselves. As the real economy continues to contract, corporations become more vicious and exploitative, our communities are gentrified and displaced, public goods and services continue to be eliminated or privatized, and the national security state continues to grow and become ever more invasive, the attacks on New Afrikan and other oppressed and exploited people are only going to escalate. We must defend ourselves, and we have every right to do so by any means necessary.

“Let Your Motto Be Resistance” draws on the long history of New Afrikan peoples struggle to realize self-determination and defend our persons, our rights and our dignity from the assaults of the oppressive settler-colonial government and the forces of white supremacy. Building on this history “Let Your Motto Be Resistance” provides in summary form a vision of how we can (re)organize our communities from the ground up to defend ourselves and reassert our fundamental human rights to life, dignity, and self-determination. Continue reading

Pennsylvania: McDonald’s Guest Workers Stage Surprise Strike

Josh Eidelson, The Nation, March 6, 2013


A McDonald’s store in the Philippines. (Flickr)

Alleging unpaid wages and repeated retaliation, McDonald’s workers in central Pennsylvania launched a surprise strike at 11 this morning. The strikers are student guest workers from Latin America and Asia, brought to the United States under the controversial J-1 cultural exchange visa program. Their employer is one of the thousands of McDonald’s franchisees with whom the company contracts to run its ubiquitous stores.

“We are afraid,” striker Jorge Victor Rios told The Nation prior to the work stoppage. “But we are trying to overcome our fear.”

The McDonald’s corporation did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The J-1 visa program is officially intended to promote educational and cultural exchange. But advocates allege that J-1, like the other guest worker programs that collectively bring hundreds of thousands of workers in and out of the United States each year, is rife with abuse. The National Guestworker Alliance (NGA), the organization spearheading today’s strike, charges that such programs—whose future is intimately tied up with the fate of comprehensive immigration reform—offer ample opportunities for employers to intimidate workers, suppress organizing and drive down labor standards.

“McDonald’s is just the latest in a long line of corporations that have hijacked the US guest worker program to get cheap, exploitable labor, and that’s what the students are,” NGA Executive Director Saket Soni told The Nation. “The conditions are horrific, but have become the norm for guest workers.”

The workers are striking over what they charge are rampant abuses at their stores in Harrisburg and nearby Lemoyne and Camp Hill. According to NGA, the visiting students each paid $3,000 or more for the chance to come and work, and were promised full-time employment; most received only a handful of hours a week, while others worked shifts as long as twenty-five hours straight, without being paid overtime. “Their employer is also their landlord,” said Soni. “They’re earning sub-minimum wages, and then paying it back in rent” to share a room with up to seven co-workers. “Their weekly net pay is actually sometimes brought as low as zero.”

“We are living in [a] basement,” said Rios, “cramped together, with no divisions, in bunkbeds which are meant for children.” Continue reading

India: 4,500 anti-nuclear farmers walk out of public hearing

Villagers shout slogans after boycotting a public hearing for a proposed nuclear plant, near Bhavnagar, Gujarat, on Tuesday. Photo: AP Photo/Ajit Solanki

Villagers shout slogans after boycotting a public hearing for a proposed nuclear plant, near Bhavnagar, Gujarat, on Tuesday. Photo: AP Photo/Ajit Solanki

[The proposed nuclear power plant is slated to be constructed by Westinghouse Corporation of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, by contract with the Nuclear Power Corporation of India.  To prevent yet another Bhopal and another Chernobyl and Fukishima, farmers whose lands are in the path of the proposed nuclear plant are acting to stop the project, its nuclear poison and its mass displacement. — Frontlines ed.]

The Times of India, March 5, 2013

RAJKOT: Thousands of farmers walked out from a public hearing in Nana Navagam organized by Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) for the proposed 6000 MW nuclear power plant at Mithi Virdi in Bhavnagar district.  The hearing was held on behalf of Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) that will build the plant. The public hearing was held to discuss the environment impact assessment of the proposed plant prepared by Engineers India Limited (EIL).  The nuclear plant is expected to have six light-water reactors. The public hearing was attended by Bhavnagar collector V P Patel along with officials of GPCB and NPCIL.As soon as the NPCIL officials started their project presentation, about 4,500 farmers from around 28 villages started protesting and demanded they be heard first. “When they refused to address our queries first, all the farmers walked out in protest,” a resident of Jasapara village Khengarsinh Gohil said. The farmers said they will not allow the nuclear power plant to come up here in the area.Environment activist Krishnakant said the hearing was conducted in an illegal manner and the issues raised by farmers were not heard. Continue reading