Foxconn and fish fries: Political life in small town and big city Wisconsin

This is a very late post, please forgive us! We were in Wisconsin October 5th through 8th.

Our first stop in Wisconsin was Milwaukee, a highly segregated city where black communities moved after black unionism was big in the Midwest, and therefore didn’t have a chance to build as much wealth. The city is surrounded by white, conservative suburbs, some of which are in Paul Ryan’s district, and its county was until recently represented by extremely conservative Sheriff David Clarke, who presided over incredibly abusive police and carceral systems. Milwaukee had a powerful Socialist party in the first half of the 20th century, which prioritized political integrity and boosted public systems in economically responsible ways, achieving both the best health outcomes of any American city – and zero debt. In 1936, Time magazine called it “perhaps the best-governed city in the US.”

In Milwaukee, we stayed with Katie’s friend and organizer with the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) local affiliate Common Ground, Allie Gardner. We caught up on the campaign for public safety that Allie is working on with three large Latino parishes on the South Side of the city. Common Ground is an inter-racial, multi-faith network of congregations and community groups in the city and some surrounding suburbs.

This year Allie has been working with leaders in the Latino community around issues of immigration and safety. Like everyone who is concerned about changes in federal immigration policy, the leaders in Common Ground are watching the changes closely  and crafting campaigns to address issues that their communities face on a daily basis that are exacerbated by the realities of being undocumented. One of their major questions is: what happens to issues of crime and safety on the local level? In the city of Milwaukee police have said they won’t collaborate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when they work with someone who is a victim of a crime – but that doesn’t mean they don’t collaborate in other ways. This summer, core teams at the three Latino parishes collected more than 500 surveys from community members asking people to share their experiences with crime, safety, and the police. The majority of respondents had experienced, or knew someone who had experienced, a crime in their neighborhood, and at the same time did not feel comfortable asking the police for help.

Continue reading Foxconn and fish fries: Political life in small town and big city Wisconsin


Somali refugee leader Abdi Daisane on organizing in white, small-city Minnesota

In St Cloud, Minnesota, we were fortunate to sit down with Abdi Daisane, a Somali refugee, community leader and recent city council candidate. St Cloud is a city of 67,000 that was profiled on its race relations last year by This American Life, after its residents called for a [Somali] refugee ban before Trump did. A local newspaper called the city “the worst place in Minnesota to be a Somali” (Daisane says the worst place to be Somali is Somalia).

Next month, a city councilor plans to propose a resolution “temporarily” banning refugees from St Cloud – though the mayor and other city councilors oppose it. There’s going to be a hearing tonight (Monday, Oct 23rd), that activists plan to pack in opposition.

We met Abdi in a modest storefront building where he’s building a new childcare business. Here’s part one of our interview, on some of his life story, and the state of Somali and ally organizing against white nationalism (our words, not his) in St Cloud.

How did you end up in St Cloud?

Well I was born in Somalia. When I was about two years old, we fled, because of the civil war in Somalia. I was in a refugee camp in Kenya. I lived there for 18 years before I got resettled to the United States. So I was in Omaha, Nebraska, and then I kept moving around. I went to a little town in Nebraska, it’s about two hours away from Mount Rushmore and Black Hills, and stuff like that. So I spent there almost ten months, got my GED and business diploma.

That’s fast!

It was kind of a boarding school; they call it Job Corps. So I finished that, then I got to college in Grand Island, Nebraska. Then when I was still in college, I transferred here [to St Cloud University] as a student. My intention was to stay here – it wasn’t just that I came to be a college student; I moved with my whole family, my mom and my sister.

I visited during the spring break, and I liked it. I had a lot of childhood friends that already lived here, so I thought, “this is really nice.” It’s not like Nebraska, where you don’t have a lot of community members that you know. Where I went in high school was basically white, no immigrant communities and all that. I was new to that place, and sometimes you like to see community members that you can associate with, that you can relate to.

Continue reading Somali refugee leader Abdi Daisane on organizing in white, small-city Minnesota

“It’s not going to be pretty”: Single-payment and other predictions on health care from a Ohio hospital director

In this part of our interview, Phil talks about why it’s rational for many welfare recipients to choose not to work, why Medicare for all would be financially problematic for his hospital right now, why single-payment will probably come before single-payer (and what that is!), why the ACA is flawed even for hospital employees, and how the health care system might get “really, really ugly” before it gets better.

While we don’t agree with everything Phil Ennen says in this interview, we think it’s important to get his perspective as a leader in his field and someone who’s trying to do the right thing. If “statesman” was still a thing, Phil would be it.

This is Part 2 of our interview with Phil Ennen, president and CEO of Community Hospitals and Wellness Centers’ Bryan (Ohio) Hospital, and former chair of the board of trustees of the Ohio Hospital Association. Ennen is also on a statewide task force on the opioid epidemic. See part 1 here. A shorter part 3 is still to come.

Read on!

What kind of stories do you tell [about Medicaid]?

I’ll give you my usual spiel. So I’ll go to a local service club, like a rotary or something like that. I’ll say, “Over 60% of our business is Medicare and Medicaid, so if you’re opposed to socialized medicine… too late?” And they kinda look at me, because I know they don’t see Medicare as socialized medicine. They just don’t. They see Medicaid as socialized medicine, but they don’t see Medicare as socialized medicine. So they’re fibbing, right? They’re not being honest because, “Don’t mess with that – don’t mess with my Medicare.”

I don’t know if this is true or not, but something that got popular during the election was a guy from Florida saying something like, “Get your government hands off of my Medicare.”

When Clinton was president and they made the attempt to change the system, I went to meetings where they said, “Tell the government to get out of my Medicare.” And I’d have to say, “That actually is the government in your Medicare. So the health care program that you guys like more than any other health care program we have is a governmental socialized medicine program.” “Oh well that can’t be.” 

So then what I say to them is, “You guys have this expectation for people to behave in a certain way, to have a certain set of values. To feel this drive to work, this drive to contribute. I deal with people with multi-multi-generational Medicaid families. “Well, why don’t they want to work?” “Well that’s where they’re actually making a really really rational decision. Quite honestly, you got a crappy, ten dollar an hour job out here, with no health care tied to it. So they sit there and they say, “I gotta go show up, five days a week, I gotta clock in at a certain time, I gotta stay a certain amount of time and then I get to go home.”

Work a shitty job, kinda be humiliated…

And I get this amount of money in my paycheck. And then I look at what I could’ve made if I just stayed on the welfare programs, and it ain’t that much of a difference. I might do a little bit better if I went to work, but I can do everything on my own time. And 98% of the world makes that same decision. So, don’t knock these people. They’re making a really rational decision.

Continue reading “It’s not going to be pretty”: Single-payment and other predictions on health care from a Ohio hospital director

Post-Maytag politics in Galesburg, Illinois

On our way up to Milwaukee from St. Louis (on Oct 5th) we stopped in Galesburg, Illinois (pop: 31k). One of our hosts in Toledo grew up in Galesburg and said that we needed to stop in his hometown on our tour of Rust Belt cities.

Galesburg has a rich industrial and artistic history. It was the halfway point on the railroad between Chicago and St. Louis, making it a cultural hub. Touring artists would stop and perform in town, and they still do – some of the headlining artists at Chicago’s jazz festivals headline Knox College’s Rootabega Festival in Galesburg. In fact, Galesburg is where the Marx Brothers got their name. More recently Galesburg made national news because the Maytag factory that was the biggest employer in town closed in 2004. Obama made Galesburg the site for a number of his major economic speeches and visited the town eight or nine times during his campaigns for the Senate and the White House.

Before visiting Galesburg, Katie spoke with Dave Bevard, former union president with the machinists and now an organizer with Illinois Federation of Teachers. Dave was a leader with the union throughout the Maytag closure and the attempt of many workers to re-train and find new work. He summed up the decline in town by saying: “Obama didn’t change. NAFTA didn’t go away. Things didn’t get better.”

Through our friend we connected with Walt Mcallister – a local cafe owner who ran for mayor this spring – and stopped in to talk with him and his son Stephen.

Continue reading Post-Maytag politics in Galesburg, Illinois

Who’s taking action? Hoosier Action! Organizing the Heartland in Bloomington, Indiana

“I’m going to give you a hypothetical mission statement,” Jesse Myerson says to a room full of new Hoosier Action members:

We are America’s first political party created by and for working families. Our mission is defending family and folk against the politicians and oligarchs who are running America into the ground. We intend to achieve that goal by building a nationwide network of grassroots, local leaders who will lead Americans to a peaceful and prosperous future, free from economic exploitation and tyranny.

“Raise your hand if that sounds like something you might want to get involved in.”

Hands shoot up in the room, and people cheer and whoop.

“This actually isn’t a hypothetical group,” Jesse continues, “it’s an actual mission statement, with a couple of key redactions – from the Traditionalist Workers Party. The redactions are ‘faith,’ ‘federal tyranny,’ and ‘anti-Christian degeneracy.’

“This is a major white supremacist sect operating an hour south of Bloomington,” Jesse says, “going for the same people we’re going for, trying to organize the same people we’re trying to organize. The difference between them and us is they’re organizing on the basis of scarcity – they’re saying there’s not enough, so we white people have gotta stick together. The Mexicans are coming for your jobs, and the black people are coming for your tax dollars, and the Muslims are coming for your churches – and we gotta keep them out, ’cause we gotta look out for us.

“They’re organizing the same people we’re organizing – on the basis of scarcity. And it’s our job, if we wanna defeat them, to out-organize them: to go to the same constituencies that they’re trying to organize, with a beautiful vision of abundance, and say: ‘There is enough to go around, it’s just that these few people on Wall Street are hoarding it, and they’re the ones that are screwing you over.’

“And I want to make it clear that this racist politics of scarcity, as I call it, is not exclusive to just neo-Nazi militias and sects – it goes straight to the top. When Ronald Reagan was talking about ‘welfare queens,’ he was trying to make white people scared that black women were taking their hard-earned tax dollars, and the reason he was doing that was to gut welfare. And that hurt lots of white people! And black people, and brown people, and women and men, and people who are neither of those – especially children and the elderly.”

One of Hoosier Action’s axioms (see all of them at the end of the post) is: “Our job is to move people from scarcity to abundance, from isolation to community, and from despair into action.”

“We can have all of the things we want,” Jesse says, “if we get enough power… Advancing our vision of abundance is in direct conflict with the forces of racism and hatred, and a path forward to a society based on equality and justice.”

Continue reading Who’s taking action? Hoosier Action! Organizing the Heartland in Bloomington, Indiana

Dialogue According to a Dictator

Amid the many stories of healthy dialogue emanating from our dear leader, we thought this would be a timely image to post. It’s from Pittsburgh’s refugee artist/writer outpost, City of Asylum, and says:

Dialogue According to a Dictator

ORIGINAL VERSION: When I engage in dialogue I don’t want to be interrupted.

SECOND VERSION: I’ll engage in dialogue, but I warn you I won’t give up my position.

THIRD VERSION: In a dialogue, those who contradict me should recognize their mistake ahead of time.

FOURTH VERSION: Having thought about it, I humbly opine that dialogue is unnecessary.

-Rafael Cadenas
Venezuelan poet

“That’s a 20th century question”: Wrestling with transformative organizing in Detroit

Our trip to Detroit was brief and intense. Our first morning, we drove to a diner on the east side of the city. At our host’s recommendation we stayed off the highways and drove through residential communities on our way across the city. For two people coming out of DC – where the real estate market is booming and displacement has turned Chocolate City into the Latte City – the number of vacant and ivy-engulfed buildings of all sizes was astonishing. We later learned roughly 30% of the city’s land is vacant or abandoned – and that the city could be fully fed if just 20% of that land were farmed.

We got lunch at Rose’s Fine Foods, along a stretch of somewhat desolate freeway, which used to be a black diner and now has more of a hipster aesthetic, but pays its workers $15/hr. We sat at the counter, and struck up a conversation with a man sitting next to us. After a few minutes of small talk, Sam told him we’re community organizers, and asked if he was involved in local politics at all. The cook behind the counter looked over and chuckled.

It turned out we were talking to George Cushingberry, the president pro tempore of the Detroit City Council. He told us about his days fighting police brutality in the civil rights movement, and said one of his top priorities now is expanding literacy, without which people can’t move ahead in life. He was very friendly and charismatic, but we started to get a sense he had lost his radical edge. He said “there is no water crisis,” because people can just come to his office to get their problems solved (to which an organizer friend later rolled her eyes). Without much caveat, he talked about how “some gentrification” is needed in Detroit (of course some development would be helpful, but does it have to include displacement?). And one of his touted accomplishments was helping create the QLine, a streetcar that every local organizer we met there strongly criticized (as organizers and low-income folks universally do regarding DC’s streetcar, an inefficient and expensive transit tool that brought nothing but hyper-displacing development to H St NE).

A brief rant: Detroit’s 3.3-mile QLine was named after investor and QLine Board Vice Chairman Dan Gilbert’s bank, Quicken Loans. Gilbert (of Lebron James – Comic Sans letter fame) has acquired more than 95 properties near the QLine’s route, which is confined to an already developing neighborhood and does nothing to improve transit equity in the expansive city. Studies are inconclusive on whether a streetcar alone even boosts economic development, which is usually its poorly disguised raison d’etre. Additionally, Gilbert positioned Quicken Loans to be the automatic lender for homes residents acquire through Detroit’s Rehabbed and Ready program, in which the Detroit Land Bank is renovating and auctioning off homes in less economically prosperous neighborhoods. His fingerprints are everywhere in efforts to profit from middle-upper class Rust Belt economic development.

Continue reading “That’s a 20th century question”: Wrestling with transformative organizing in Detroit