Saturday Apr 30
Written by Wade Rathke
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Another year for Social Policy begins with another Spring, and, wow, what a wild and wacky election season we’re seeing in the United States, and, as I know from colleagues and correspondents’ questions from around the globe, something that is causing sleepless nights and screams in the dark worldwide. Something is unraveling. Tectonic plates seem to be grinding. We need to look more closely at the points of friction as well as the fundamentals, and that’s what we have done with this issue.

We lead with a thoughtful piece on the impact and threat of secession in Los Angeles which also prompts some philosophical and policy recommendations from Moshe ben Asher and Khulda bat Sarah. Maggie Calmes offers insight into the wealth and race driven effort to split Baton Rouge in more than half along similar lines. While the topline argument is increasingly the question of how to decrease inequality, the bottom line argument in many, too many, communities is how to make inequality de facto.

To say that organizers, especially community and labor organizers, are little known is simply to state the obvious. The only difference between this trade and so many others is that being behind-the-scenes is for most traditional organizers part of the craft itself, so we hardly can register as a complaint. Nonetheless, it’s past time that Fred Ross at least got his due for his legendary contributions to social change, grassroots organizing, and empowering workers. In that vein when longtime tenant organizer, Randy Shaw, reached out to me and asked if he could review the new book by Gabriel Thompson, Social Arsonist, not only did I welcome his review, but immediately seized the opportunity and his assistance to create a special feature on Ross. Our Social Policy feature not only includes three excerpts from the book (with special thanks to the University of California Press) on Ross’s Community Service Organization (CSO) voter registration highlight reel that elected the first Mexican-American to the Los Angeles city council, on Ross’s experience running the famous – and controversial – Syracuse Community Action Training Center (CATC), and, finally, a piece that offers some perspective on Ross as a trainer of organizers. Snuggled in and around the excerpts is an interview with Bill Pastreich, who was one of the trainees in Syracuse, and worked with Ross on the grape boycott in Brooklyn as well, offering an on-the-ground perspective. Shaw’s comprehensive review of both the book and Ross’s career triggered this feature and finishes the focus of this issue, solely because if it had led, readers might have tried to skip over the other pieces, which we just couldn’t allow to be that easy.
We also include an excerpt from CUNY Professor Immanuel Ness’s new book, Southern Insurgency, which makes the case for new unions emerging and growing in the Global South as a possible hope for the labor movement worldwide. The election is on our mind and veteran contributor, Mike Miller, looks at the Presidential Primaries and the prospects for using them for protest and progressive politics.

Of course we have our usual columns with Phil Mattera offering some points on corporate suicides and what they say about the lack of corporate accountability. Noorin Ladhini takes a look at Apple in its surprising role as consumer and privacy advocate, and John Anderson reminds us of the devastating daily crimes of predatory lenders and the plethora of ways that they seek to fleece low and moderate income families. In the spirit of Fred Ross in this issue, I look at another call to organizing from a fellow named Barack Obama in the last century.

Reading Social Arsonist there was a throwaway line about Fred Ross, Jr. and David Alinsky, the sons of Fred and Saul respectively, having an argument years ago about whose father was the better organizer. It’s not necessary to know who won between them then, but with this issue hopefully the reader will have a better grasp of how important understanding the claims might be to understanding what organizing is today. The debts are great and are only paid by the work we do day to day and as Ross told Chavez, “forever.”

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