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Organizing Amidst The COVID-19 Crisis

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As the 2008 financial crisis unfolded, tens of millions of Americans were hurting and making meaning of what was happening. It was the first time in my life that suddenly, tens of millions of people were significantly more ready to be organized than in the weeks before. To meet the pressing needs of people in crisis, advance overdue structural reforms, and open up people’s sense of what was possible, we began to organize loads of new people. 

Crises expose the inequities and inadequacies of our systems – so they also create moments of incredible opportunity.  Everything is up for questioning. All of it is on the table.

Right now, we are in another moment of crisis – and potential insight – because of COVID-19. With the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the globe, more people are open to organizing than at any time in our lives. The gross inequalities and inadequacies of our systems are being seen in a new light by tens of millions of people. 

I remember during the 2008 financial crisis, people who had lost homes, jobs, and pensions were suddenly ready for action they had never imagined. With more than 25 million now unemployed, there are a lot of people looking for support, meaning, and action. This is a moment that requires organizing. 

But where to start?  We should start where people are at. That is the first organizing maxim I and many others were taught. It made total sense – meeting people where they are is a sign of respect, and respect is a foundation of trust. 

That’s why we have created this video – to meet people where they are, and help them make meaning in this new moment of crisis. Check it out – I think you’ll find it helpful.

This video comes from the political education program we built and run in partnership with Harmony Goldberg and the Grassroots Policy Project.  A big shoutout to Jenn Carrillo, Billie Kirkton, and Harmony for their work on this. 

Mobilizers – who have an important role to play right now – move people who are ready to be moved to action. Organizers build relationships and then move people who didn’t even know they wanted to move to action. It’s an important distinction.

During the financial crisis, people who had no connection to social movements came into organizing through direct service, specific issue campaigns like foreclosure prevention, or needing a place to express anger and simply take it to the banks. 

The COVID-19 context is dramatically more far-reaching in terms of loss of life, loss of livelihood, and loss of social connectivity and normalcy.  People react to things differently and as a result need different things from organizing – and that will certainly be the case now. Some will cope by moving to action, some by building community, and others by going internal and even shutting down. And therefore, what people are likely to join will vary.  The good news is that all of these pathways are valuable, and all can build power.  

As has been well exposed over the last couple of months, there are huge gaps in the left’s reach into working class communities. For all the talk of organizing the multi-racial working class, most are untouched by our organizations. It’s a brutal fact that we have to face. And it raises questions about how much time we spend speaking to the converted, engaging left twitter, or absorbing the existing choir. 

This is a moment that requires us to do better, and opens the possibility of doing just that. Some organizations will galvanize the already converted and that’s important work, and yet I hope most of us look at how we can connect with way more everyday folks who are currently untouched by organizing. 

 Starting where people are at will require us to think about the language we use. Most of the country supports what would have seemed a radical agenda. They support universal basic income, rent suspension, debt cancellation, guaranteed health care, and until now unheard of levels of stimulus investment. And yet, most people are not attracted to or are even alienated by the way the left talks about things that are otherwise wildly popular.  We can start where people are at by using language that people use vs. language designed to show bonafides to the already converted. This doesn’t mean we don’t move people along an analysis continuum, it just means we do it by talking like we did when we were organizers in the neighborhood. 

Tens of millions of people, maybe more, are significantly more ready for organizing than they were just weeks ago. To win the demands needed to sustain people in this period, and to advance big ideas to reorganize our systems for the long haul we will need so many more to join the fight. They are searching to find what they need, we just have to be thoughtful about where and how we engage them.

This blog was originally published at Our Future on April 29, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: George Goehl is the director of People’s Action, a national grassroots organization fighting for economic, racial, gender, and environmental justice. He is commonly credited with moving the field of community organizing to new levels, increasing emphasis on shaping worldview, building political power, and long-term vision and strategy.


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House Democrats plan push to pass PRO Act strengthening workers’ organizing rights

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House Democrats are getting ready to pass another pro-worker bill in the coming weeks, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced Friday, tweeting that “House Democrats are proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with working men and women across the country. I look forward to bringing the PRO Act to the House Floor for a vote prior to the President’s Day district work period to protect the right to organize and bargain collectively.”

The PRO Act would strengthen the right to organize in several ways. It would create real penalties for employers that fire workers for exercising their National Labor Relations Act right to organize, and get those workers their jobs back much more quickly than in the current system. It would streamline the union representation election process, preventing employers from holding captive-audience meetings at which they try to intimidate workers away from union support, forcing companies to disclose the money they spend on anti-union consultants, and “If the employer breaks the law or interferes with a fair election, the PRO Act empowers the NLRB to require the employer to bargain with the union if it had the support of a majority of workers prior to the election,” the Economic Policy Institute explains.

Once workers have a union, employers often drag out and delay the process of negotiating a first contract. The PRO Act cracks down on that, pushing employers into mediation and even binding arbitration if they won’t bargain in good faith. On top of that, it “overrides so-called ‘right-to-work’ laws by establishing that employers and unions in all 50 states may agree upon a “fair share” clause requiring all workers who are covered by—and benefit from—the collective bargaining agreement to contribute a fair share fee towards the cost of bargaining and administering the agreement.” It protects the jobs of striking workers and lifts the prohibition on secondary boycotts. And it cracks down on misclassification of workers as either independent contractors or supervisors to make them ineligible for union representation.

Rep. Mark Pocan and Kenneth Rigmaiden, the president of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, offered an example of workers the PRO Act could help. “[D]uring a construction project in Nashville, Tenn., 120 misclassified drywall finishers were never compensated for overtime work and two weeks of work at the end of the project,” they wrote in The Hill. “The Painters Union and other labor groups are fighting back to win these workers their fair pay. The PRO Act would ensure that employers could no longer dodge wage and hour standards by misclassifying workers.”

As usual, House Democrats will do something good for working people and then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will send it to his legislative graveyard. But when Republicans claim that Democrats are too busy with impeachment to do things for the American people, remember this and so many other bills. Democrats are getting shit done. It’s just that Republicans are determined to keep working people down.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on January 10, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

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Young Union Member Speaks at Large NYC Rally on Global Goals

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Jackie TortoraLast night, hundreds of thousands of people gathered in cities all over the world to stand in solidarity around global goals to alleviate poverty, economic inequality and climate change. Even though people were in separate continents, countries and cities, from Australia to South Korea to the United States, they all gathered “Under One Sky” to come together for these common aspirations.

Lorraine Barcant, a member of AFSCME Local 375, AFL-CIO Next Up and the Young Worker Advisory Council, made the following speech at the Under One Sky rally in New York City last night:

Fifteen years ago, when the U.N. Global Development goals were made, a lot of us were just kids. As we grew up, the inequality around us deepened, dividing us, holding us back. We can’t wait another 15 years to fix the inequality and racial injustice that’s ripping this country apart. What will we tell our kids then? That we didn’t organize, that we didn’t demand action from our leaders? That we’ve only made a little bit of progress?

That’s not enough. It’s not enough to have opportunities, if those opportunities belong to only a few. It’s not enough to have jobs, if those jobs don’t provide security or dignity. It’s not enough to have freedom of speech, if your voice can be drowned out by money.

And that’s why the labor movement is here: To bring people together in solidarity, and demand change. The labor movement says loudly that a little bit of progress is not enough, not here in New York, not anywhere in the world.

Tonight, young workers across the globe demand a future where no one is left behind. We can’t wait, we won’t wait, and starting tonight, things are going to change. Thank you.

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on September 25, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jackie Tortora is the blog editor and social media manager at the AFL-CIO.


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