Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Convention Delegate John Laesch Tells Us What We May Have Missed At The Philly Convention


John Laesch, a union carpenter from Illinois and a dedicated Bernie delegate to the Democratic Convention last week explained at the Progressive Fox how he and other Bernie delegates started to change the conversation on the Trans Pacific Partnership in Philadelphia and how the "No TPP" signs became a banner of resistance on the floor of the convention. John's guest post:

I will never forget the rush that swept through me on my first night at the Wells Fargo Center while looking into a sea of “NO TPP” signs that quickly became the banner of resistance to the oligarchy that surrounded us on the convention floor.  I panned the 180 degrees and looked at the thousands of Democratic insiders, wealthy donors, and lobbyists that watched us chant “No T-P-P!” from their seats and VIP boxes above us. We were not supposed to be here-- this was not our party, yet, we were here. Thank you Bernie Sanders! The Democratic Party is still loyal to their corporate donors, but we silenced the pro-TPP voices at the Democratic convention.

Despite the fact that the convention hall was filled with “NO TPP” signs, neither President Obama (who supports the TPP), or Democratic nominee Clinton (who, as of today, opposes the TPP) mentioned the words, “TPP” in their prime-time speeches before the assembly of delegates and party leaders at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last week.

Speaking in favor of the TPP would have caused a loud, “boo” from delegates.

Speaking against the TPP would have caused the wealthy corporate donors hiding in VIP boxes to tightly grip their wallets.

The speakers, just like the Democratic platform, remained silent on the TPP issue.  The real victory is how we used an interruption strategy to help shape the narrative on the convention floor despite the fact that it was a highly orchestrated, four-day charade with endless anti-Trump speeches, very few votes, and zero meaningful discussions or debates.

I link to some MSM and some alternative media below, but the Wall Street Journal headline, Odds Worsen for TPP Trade Deal, and The Nation’s article, Delegates Are Using the Convention to Make the TPP Politically Unacceptable, best highlight the significance of our efforts.

I want to preface my narrative by saying, that while Illinois may have brought the signs, at the core of the organizing effort were Lauren Steiner (CA), Learner Limbach (WA), and Rand Wilson (Labor for Bernie) who organized conference calls and e-mail lists to plan these actions. This is what happened from the perspective of a Local 195 union carpenter, occupier, NIJwJer and proud Bernie Sanders delegate from Illinois’ 11th Congressional District.

California Sanders supporters were the vocal leaders on the floor of the convention-- Great job!

Getting Our TPP Signs to the Convention Floor:

A week before the convention, I called fellow unionist and the former Illinois Bernie Sanders campaign director, Clem Balanoff. “Hey, what do you think about having 'NO TPP' signs for the convention?  We need to make this convention about the TPP.”  After getting unanimous support from the Kane County Berners the night before, I had already started my gofundme page that raised some of the money for printing the signs.

Clem liked the idea and got Labor for Bernie involved over the next 48 hours.  “Labor for Bernie is in,” said Clem. “We need big signs-- as big as we can get them.  My guy says we can get an 18X24 in 100lb text stock paper, folded. They need to be folded so we can sneak them into the convention.” I designed an 18×18 NO TPP sign. We went to printers, checked out the paper, and chased down prices. A minority-owned union printer in Chicago cranked out 2,000 signs. Clem picked up half of the cost. Kane County Berners picked up the other half. This is where I thank the 15 donors who sent money to my Gofundme page-- we couldn’t have done this without you. This is also where I shamelessly tell you that I am still raising money for the next direct action here in Illinois.

Clem picked the signs up and headed to Philadelphia on Thursday. After work on Friday, I went to Union Signs in Joliet, IL and picked up the No TPP stickers and a few business cards before heading out Saturday morning.

On Sunday in Philadelphia we both went to work immediately. We met at the AFL-CIO reception where Clem was already disseminating the signs. The convention first saw the signs during AFL-CIO President Richard Trumpka’s speech when he said, “We don’t want a lame duck vote on the TPP.” A few Illinois and Texas Berners started chanting, “NO TPP – NO TPP – NO TPP!” The whole room joined in and I knew that Monday would be a success.

A pre-convention conference call spearheaded by California organizer and activist, Lauren Steiner had resulted in a Sunday night meeting at the Sheraton Society Hill Hotel to strategize for the action. The Longshoremen, Jeff Engles, Learner Limbach, and Lauren Steiner organized and ran the meeting. We talked through the direct action and everyone took some signs to disseminate.

There was also a NO TPP petition effort organized by Learner Limbach and Russell Greene (both Platform Committee Members) to request that a TPP Minority Report be allowed to be presented on the floor of the convention as part of the Platform Committee Report on Monday. A Minority Report would have allowed ten minutes for each side to speak for or against an amendment to the platform saying that the democratic party opposes the TPP, followed by a vote on the amendment. The petition was to be delivered to the Chair of the Platform Committee along with supporting documents. While there was not an expectation that the petition would result in a Minority Report being presented this was all part of a strategy to further raise awareness about the issue and to build momentum toward the other actions that were being planned. On Saturday morning the Rules Committee squashed any remaining sliver of hope for a Minority Report when they passed a rule preventing any amendments or resolutions from being voted on from the floor. The petition was only to be signed by National Delegates and Platform Committee Members and gathered around 430 signatures prior to the start of the convention.”

The following day, Clem and I were pushing NO TPP signs around the Illinois hotel. Before going over to hear Bernie Sanders speak to the 1,900 delegates at the Pennsylvania Convention Center at 2:00 PM, we loaded up 1800 remaining signs into the hands of Illinois delegates. For the next three hours myself, Clem, Jan Kralovec, Jennifer Rumsey, Ken Franklin, Mary Anne Cummings, John Willard, Daniel Dixon-Hernandez, Hillary Colby, Maggie Wunderly, Juan Hernandez, Edith Vargas, Alison Silagi-Squires, Sharon Sanders, Rand Wilson, Justin Molito, Jeff Engles, Barbara Fetonte and Chau Ngo all worked together to get signs and stickers on all of Bernie’s 1,900 delegates-- they went like hot cakes.

The DNC listed signs as a “banned item” on the convention floor, but the Secret Service was there for security, not censorship-- blunting the first amendment was the DNC’s role. It was relatively easy getting our signs past security because of the lighter-weight, folded paper-- Clem’s idea.

Deciding to Defy Bernie’s Plea:

I took a taxi to the Wells Fargo Center on that humid, 92 degree day.  I had a mile and a half walk from my taxi drop-off to the convention center. During my stroll through protestors, I received a text from Bernie Sanders at 3:27 PM.
“I ask you as a personal courtesy to me to not engage in any kind of protest on the floor.  It’s of utmost importance you explain this to your delegations – Bernie.”
I called Clem. “Was that text for us or the people who planned on holding a sit-in on stage?” Clem responded, “it was for us.” We had one of those, “I don’t know, what do you think?” conversations and hung up without making a decision.

My suit was soaked with sweat by the time I reached Wells Fargo. Over a thousand demonstrators lined the chain link fence surrounding the convention hall and greeted me with, “Bernie, Bernie, Bernie!” I proudly displayed my Bernie sticker on my credentials and they cheered loudly-- their votes had put me on this side of the fence and I was here to represent them. I raised my right hand in the peace sign and walked the next 600 feet alone, they cheered along the way and I drew energy from their voices. I had made my decision-- if these people cared enough to endure hours of an oppressive 102 degree heat index on the outside, I was going to be their voice on the inside. Fortunately, I was not alone-- a majority of Berners felt that way.

Jeff Engels (ILWU Washington State) had the role of kicking off the Mic-check, “No T-P-P” chant on the word, “platform” as Rep. Elijah Cummings took the stage to ask the delegation to vote for the Democratic Platform. For background on Cummings and the platform, you can read my June 30th piece, We Need to Undercut President Obama’s TPP at the Democratic Convention or my  July 10th article, Hillary Clinton fails to unify Democrats on TPP.

California and some of us in Illinois and around the country pre-empted the mic-check by putting our signs up early (California was our floor leader throughout the convention, and we love you for it). Bernie’s text message created a conflict for Jeff also. He writes, “there were a few tense moments on Monday after the text came out from Bernie not to protest where I encountered some resistance from our people when I made my final organizing rounds on the floor to check in with all the whips, but the words just sort of came out of my mouth from somewhere deep in my soul.”

From the floor in Illinois we barely heard, Engels “Mic-Check!” but California and Illinois (probably others) had already started chanting, “No T-P-P.” Before long we were in concert with Washington State and we prevented Rep. Elijah Cummings from speaking for the next five minutes.

Engels apologized to Cummings the next day.  My hypothetical dialogue with Cummings would have gone like this: “Mr. Cummings, why do you want to see President Obama pass the worst piece of legislation in American history, the TPP, that undermines U.S. sovereignty, and workers’ rights across the globe? The TPP is bad for workers. The TPP will permanently solidify President Obama’s corporate-state presidency in history books.  Why would you want President Obama’s legacy blemished forever? The President needs to stop wasting taxpayer money on the TPP. Thank you for your time Representative Cummings.”

... TPP Signs Became the Banner of Resistance Throughout the Convention

Other signs and floor actions targeted fracking, Medicare for All, and DNC e-mails leaked to Wikileaks, but the TPP signs were there every night.

The TPP signs were part of the Tuesday night walkout when over 500 delegates left the convention floor and a hundred or so occupied the media tent. TPP signs were part of the Working Families Party discussion. A Black Lives Matter activist was holding a TPP sign during her interview. TPP signs were part of a Wednesday press conference with Nina Turner and they were there on Wednesday during President Obama’s speech. Those who chose to endure Hillary’s Thursday night speech still stood strong with their TPP signs.

Prior to the convention and after the endorsement of Hillary, I realized that Bernie might actually negotiate away a roll call vote before the convention was over. My primary purpose for attending the convention became the TPP effort, specifically, telling the president of the United States that we were against the TPP. I was not alone.

In addition to 18×18 signs, the National Nurses Union brought their own anti-TPP signs designed to sneak onto the convention floor.  They were placards folded into fans. Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) printed and disseminated anti-TPP stickers. Richard May from Oregon also worked in advance of the convention to deliver leftover, inflatable 2012 DNC convention, “Obama O’s” to each delegate hotel.

Organized labor fought against the Obama O’s in our e-mail string going so far as to suggest that this action was somehow racist. For those who think that protesting the president on the TPP is racist, let me suggest that the TPP itself will hurt minorities more than it will hurt whites. If the lives of sweatshop workers in Vietnam and China do not matter, then perhaps it will matter that the TPP will cause job loss in the United States.  During the last recession, unemployment hit black and Latino workers harder than it hit whites. Historically, workplace discrimination in America has caused higher levels, of unemployment among minorities, but research from the 2008-2010 depression shows that more Black and Latino Americans lost more household wealth (their homes and jobs) than whites. This research publication from Stanford is just one example:
Between 2005 and 2009, Hispanic households lost 66 percent of their wealth and black households lost 53 percent, while white households lost only 16 percent. By 2010, when the overall unemployment rate was around 10 percent, it was 16 percent for blacks and 13 percent for Latinos.
During President Obama’s speech, a handful of Illinois and Iowa delegates (sitting in front of the President) still held the TPP signs high. California, Washington, Texas and Oregon were with us (that I could see from the floor). Even though the last 48 hours had featured heavy intimidation, threats of arrest, and threats of pulling credentials by DNC and Bernie whips, we persisted. The Hillary supporters did all they could to put their signs in front of ours and one woman even tried tearing it out of my hands.

Displaced by non-delegates from Illinois who wanted to see Obama speak, I was sitting in the Iowa section, and a young Iowa woman sitting six seats away stared at me the entire time through teary eyes. I didn’t know what her deal was until the speech was over. She said that she was a Hillary delegate but she thought that it was disgraceful how the DNC and other Hillary delegates were trying to censor our free speech. I gave her my card and told her that we all needed to work together to stop the TPP in a lame duck session.

Chuy Garcia, Jim Hightower and Clem Balanoff

TPP-- The Next Round of organizing actions and politics:

I hope that Lauren Steiner, Learner Limbach, Jeff Engles, Labor for Bernie, the Coalition of 57, and others continue our opposition throughout the lame duck session-- we need to stay unified across the United States.

Even though the Wall Street Journal was predicting a gloomy future for the TPP, I know this: Rich people don’t spend that much time and money putting together a corporate power grab the size of the TPP and walk away from their investment.

From Illinois we will do what we can with whatever you send to hold Democrats and Republicans accountable.

I would suggest that Berners in other states figure out how to carry the banner of resistance (literally and figuratively) into the offices of pro-TPP lawmakers to make them aware of our bi-partisan opposition to this disastrous trade deal. Specifically, at this point we need to focus on U.S. Senators. In the next cycle, we need to take our resistance into polling places to oust corporate democrats and Republicans who supported the TPP.

Fast-tracking the TPP was pushed through the House of Representatives in 2015, but the senate has yet to take it up for a vote. Democratic Senate leaders like Harry Reid bluntly told President Obama that they did not want to vote on the TPP before the November election.

In this election cycle we will focus on US Senator Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican who is up for election in 2016 and currently supports the TPP. After the election, we will focus on both Durbin and Kirk. Senator Dick Durbin’s chief of staff told me that Durbin is opposed to the TPP. Because Durbin is close friends with President Obama and, if Durbin retires after this term, he is vulnerable to capitulate on the TPP.

I am personally hoping that Senator Bernie Sanders filibusters the TPP in a lame duck session and I will be advocating for Senator Durbin to do the same.

In 2016 or 2018 I will be working with those who want to oust Democrat Mike Quigley, the lone Illinois Congressional Democrat who supported the TPP. And, from an organizing perspective, I have not forgotten that President Obama is from Illinois.

We lost the first round in a legislative strategy (lobbying the house against Fast Track). We drew neutral with our political strategy (Bernie Sanders for President). We started to turn the tide with our interruption strategy (Signs and chants at the DNC). What is next? Will you be part of it?

The struggle continues-- on to the next round!

Chicago's Mike Quigley was the only Illinois Democrat to voted with the GOP in favor of TPP Fast Track last year

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At 6:33 PM, Anonymous wjbill said...

Off subject but ..... was really disappointed in Hayes and Sam Seder for validating the Grayson smear about his domestic violence problems .... sometimes it is disappointing to get educated about certain people and things.

At 6:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree - maybe a little investigation by these "progressives" would be in order.

At 9:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's going to be an interesting lame duck session of congress.

John Puma

At 11:10 AM, Blogger Elizabeth Burton said...

Was the reason John had to walk a mile and a half the result of the DNC's giving Uber a monopoly on transportation?

At 12:20 PM, Anonymous AntiSpin said...

"I am personally hoping that Senator Bernie Sanders filibusters the TPP in a lame duck session and I will be advocating for Senator Durbin to do the same.

I don't think that will be possible. The passage of the "Fast Track" bill means there will be no debate. No debate means no filibuster.


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