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OJB hopes that those of you who enjoy Easter are doing so in good spirits today. My Easter post from two years ago has been getting a lot of of hits these past few days, and especially today, so I refer you there to discuss the holiday. Up here, I’ll define “mordant” for you: “having or showing a sharp, critical, or biting quality.” (You’ll see why I use the term in a moment.)
For your Easter reading, I offer you two juxtapositions. The first involves what it means to be a “pro-Labor” (and, thus implicitly, an “anti-Labor”) Democrat. That one may leave you shaking your head. The other involves a prosecution of a non-violent protester for reflexively elbowing a cop who had grabbed her breast hard enough to leave a hand-shaped bruise. That one may just leave you shaking.
1. Democrats and Labor
North and west of our fair county, Los Angeles has a good progressive alt-Weekly itself called “LA Progressive,” for which one of my friends occasionally writes. And they published a doozy of an article today, The Myth of the Pro-Labor Democrat.
For the most part, it’s the kind of thing that our friends (well, Vern’s friends; my occasional allies) Duane Roberts, Gabriel San Roman, John Earl, the Fullerton Rag-amuffins, etc. write when they want to slag Democrats. In this case, it’s not about being too pro-police, but too anti-Labor. Curiously, they are not talking about Democrats refusing to support large spending projects as the litmus test for being pro-Labor.
As the standard of living of working people continues its four-decades-long steady decline, the number of people who classify themselves as “middle class” has correspondingly dropped, including by almost 10 percent in the past six years alone. Under the circumstances one might assume that leaders of organized labor are furiously rethinking their single-minded, long-held strategy of “defending” working people by simply electing Democrats to office. Surely, the disastrous track record of this strategy has given rise to a pause. Unfortunately, there are few encouraging signs on the horizon that top union officials are engaged in any serious contemplation of a dramatic new strategic departure.
Instead, labor leaders have chosen to refine this dead-end approach by narrowing its focus: elect “labor Democrats,” not “business Democrats.” At the recent California state Democratic Party convention, San Francisco Labor Council Executive Director Tim Paulson drew cheers when he declared: “We want Labor Democrats, not business Democrats. We’re talking about the fact that there’s more wealth in this nation and state than there’s ever been…. I don’t care if (Democrats) have a supermajority, if people aren’t voting for the values of the American dream.”
I completely agree with Tim Paulson on this point, by the way. Most of the people whom I oppose within the Democratic Party are self-styled “Business Democrats,” who will explain with a wink and a sigh that, sadly. the only way to succeed in Orange County is to suck up to developers and corporate interests wherever possible (and at whatever political price) and to offer no criticism of police and prisons.
If you’re an OJB reader who is not in the Labor movement, but the name “Tim Paulson” still sounds familiar to you, he’s the person whom DPOC Chair Henry Vandermeir wrote a couple of months ago to try to keep Orange County Labor Federation Executive Director Julio Perez from becoming Vice-Chair of the California Democratic Party’s Labor Caucus. At the DPOC Central Committee meeting in March, Vandermeir — who contritely (or fake-contritely, whichever) wore a slogan supporting Julio to the Labor Caucus meeting where Julio was unanimously approved — held a public reconciliation with Julio, followed by Julio giving an excellent (and also conciliatory speech.)
Thus satisfied with the “photo-op,” a few minutes after Julio’s speech Vandermeir walked to the back of the room and took Resolutions Committee Chair Jeff LeTourneau into the back office for a chat. Vandermier announced that he was removing LeTourneau — who is, with my fellow Vice-Chair Gloria Alvarado, one of Julio’s two most important allies on the DPOC’s Executive Board — from that position. (I can’t argue that Henry has no sense of timing.) Julio, Jeff, Gloria, and I, among others, left the meeting in protest.
We later learned that LeTourneau was being replaced with Ray Cordova, who was drummed out of the AFL-CIO a couple of years ago for falsely representing himself as an ACLU official. Cordova apparently has big changes in mind for that committee — which over the past 2½ years has taken strong stands on issues including Anaheim Districting and the LGBT inclusion in the Tet Parade. In so doing, they have been entirely in line with the community organizing and interest group activation work of the Labor Fed itself — which challenges the take on Democratic Labor Politics in the story.
So: back to the LA Progressive story (which you really should, please, go read.) After spending many paragraphs lambasting the Democratic Party for what it alleges is its failure to support working people, it says:
[N]one of this is to say that Democrats never do anything for working people. They must toss some crumbs from time to time; otherwise their game would be too transparent. However, they do far less than they say they will do, and pretend to do more than they actually do. If these Democrats were consistently defenders of the working class, corporations would organize to ensure their defeat in the next elections by heavily funding their opponents.
Truly pro-labor individuals would divorce themselves from the Democratic Party and explain to their constituents that this party is above all controlled by one sector of the 1%, and they would help lead in the creation of a massive grassroots movement that would base its power on its numbers. Truly huge demonstrations can not only change the political discourse, as the Occupy movement did, but they can change social policy, as demonstrations of millions of people in Brazil succeeded in doing last summer. And these grassroots movements can serve as the basis for creating a new political party that would exclusively represent the interests of working people.
Far from taking the initiative in creating such a movement, “pro-labor” Democrats will put in an appearance at an Occupy demonstration, for example, again to give the impression they are “with” the masses. But they only stay long enough to be seen and then quietly slip away to go vote for another tax break for corporations. They are counting on most people not reading the papers carefully so that these votes will go unnoticed.
For those who argue that turning away from the Democratic Party represents “pie in the sky” politics and that voting for a Democrat rather than a Republican surely makes sense as the lesser evil, it is necessary to look at where we are going as a society. Inequalities continue to grow at an accelerating speed. This could not be taking place without the complicity of the Democratic Party. The distance between the 1% and the working class is being stretched to the breaking point. As wealth continues to be concentrated more and more in the hands of the few while ever-more people struggle just to get by, this dynamic will eventually lead to a societal breakdown, followed by explosive upheavals. Voting for a Democrat rather than a Republican will at best mean flying over the cliff at 20 mph rather than 40 mph. But in either case, we are in for a hard landing if this is the course we pursue.
I know what they’re talking about when they discuss politicians taking progressive positions for show. Yes, it happens — but it’s not all that happens. And because “turning away from the Democratic Party” usually does represent “pie in the sky” politics — sorry, but look at the track record of third parties on the Left — due to the construction and operation of our political system, we should be looking critically at the usefulness of the Democratic Party for social change rather than just suggesting that amputation is the best route to cure.
I offer myself as the less important of the two examples I’ll raise. I didn’t just stop by Occupy Orange County for photos; I spent most of five months of my life volunteering for it pretty much full-time, and played a major role in crafting and maintaining its nationally recognized policy of non-violence, pushing our themes of fairness and reform while preventing even one confrontation with police leading to arrest until I had set down my role. (That Occupy OC got less press than its peers who were facing off against police and getting stomped, which somehow did not lead to society-wide proletarian revolution, is something for the media to consider. One of my most irritating memories from Occupy Orange County is when, during a day of protest outside of the Federal Building in Santa Ana, OC Weekly‘s generally astute Brandon Ferguson asked disdainfully why we weren’t storming the Federal Building by force. My recollection is that, aside from trying to stare a hole into his forehead, I explained that (1) it was because we weren’t idiots and (2) that that’s exactly what they wanted us to do, because they were prepared for violence but not for non-violence. I’m no fan of armchair revolutionaries who can slink off to safety once things get rough.
But, like I said, I’m the lesser example here. Forces within the Democratic Party and the Labor movement are trying to push the Democratic party in a progressive direction — and the leadership in that effort is largely found in the Labor Fed, in grassroots cultural and religious organizations, and in government reformist types (such as myself.) I know that this is hard to believe, but libertarian-conservative-Bircher Orange County is one of the top areas in the country for the progressive labor movement — as is attested to by the fact that Tefere Gebre, the previous leader of the OC Labor Fed, went directly from his successes in that position here to become Vice-President of the national AFL-CIO. (Vandermier’s predecessor as DPOC Chair, Frank Barbaro, famously stated to the Register the he HATED Tefere — which should help anyone keeping score tell who is in what faction.)
OC’s prominence in progressive Labor makes sense. First, we’re a particularly wealthy and well-educated county, so we have a core of activists who can devote plenty of volunteer time to these causes. (And many other activists who don’t have money or advanced education still benefit from the contributions of those around them.) Second, we’re a county that is becoming “browner” every day; that will bring political benefits to progressive Labor, but also raises the risk that people with power will try to lock in their advantages and preclude future progressive policies by “mortgaging the future” so that future governments will be penniless and hamstrung — which is the underlying battle underlying all of the battles in Anaheim (with which I’m proud to be involved — and no less proud to be joined by so many honest conservatives who value social order and justice over neo-feudalism.) Third, our Democratic Party is small enough — a curse in most respects, but a benefit in this one — that we are usually spared the sorts of internecine primary battles that rack politics in Long Beach, Los Angeles, and other urban cities. We can focus on issues — if we want to.
So, however appropriate the attacks on the Democratic Party as a progressive supporter of Labor may be elsewhere, in Orange County the track record is pretty good — even if it still hasn’t been enough to push Julio Perez past Business Democrat (and endorser of my opponent Tony Rackauckas) Tom Daly into the Assembly or to push one of the progressive barons of the Santa Ana City Council into the Mayor’s seat instead of Miguel Pulido. I understand why the authors of that article think otherwise — but I think that we have created a powerful counterargument. (Of course, a conservative faction of the Labor Fed wants to oust a progressive party official — whom they call “anti-Labor” for opposing projects over government corruption — soon, so things may change…. I’ll let you click the link to find out who that is. Like I said: it’s mordantly funny.)
2. Two Government Responses to Violence Against Law Enforcement
Even if you don’t read the article I suggest above, you really ought to read this: Cop Testifies Against Woman He Assaulted, by my virtual friend Katie Halper. As you do, please think about the government’s reaction — prudent, although disappointing, especially for its emboldening domestic terrorists — to the Thievin’ Cliven Bundy standoff in Nevada.
This was a big week in the trial against Cecily McMillan. You may have heard about this case before: A cop grabbed the Occupier’s breast hard enough to leave a hand print and then shoved her strongly enough to leave her in a seizure for which she would be hospitalized. And she, not the police officer, is the one on trial.
This morning, NYPD officer Grantley Bovell wrapped up his week-long testimony against McMillan. McMillan, now 25, an Occupy Wall Street activist committed to non-violence, is on trial for assaulting Bovell on March 17, 2012 as he and other police forced protesters out of the square. Bovell and the prosecution consider the officer to be the victim and McMillan the aggressor: according to their version, McMillan elbowed Bovell near the eye, causing the officer pain and swelling. McMillan claims she did indeed elbow Bovell, but as a reflex after he grabbed her right breast and lifted her off the ground.
I’ve wavered on whether to publish her hospital photo showing the large hand-shaped bruise on her breast, so this is my compromise attempt at making it seem less prurient than might be.
I knew the organizers of the anti-Scott Walker protesters online; they were an excellent and admirable bunch, committed to non-violent protest for the same reasons that I mention above with Occupy. That Cecily McMillan was among them speaks well of her. That she was also part of Occupy means that she was probably non-violent — our female commenters may want to let us know the natural reflex reaction one might have to being picked off the ground by one’s breast, but flinging an elbow out of surprise and pain and shock seems well within the ballpark to me. A video showing the confrontation between McMillan and officer Grantley Bovell, showing the seizure he that said he thought she was faking, appears at the linked site.
Do I need to say it? OK: as District Attorney, I would not stand for this treatment of non-violent protesters. Why? In part it’s because I don’t want to see them — or others citing their example — become violent protesters. And anyone who wants to try to reconcile the treatment of Cecily McMillan and her colleagues with the treatment of Thievin’ Cliven Bundy as fair, please go ahead. You’re going to make a fool out of yourself, but I’m not going to stop you. (This offer not available to suspended commenters.)