Progressives Can Win-- But It Takes Clear Heads And Hard Work
Schumer and Trump are both authoritarian assholes and the NY Post report Sunday claiming Trump prefers Schumer to Mitch McConnell or Paul Ryan shouldn’t surprise anyone. Schumer and Trump speak the same language and have a certain outer-borough sensibility in common. Ryan, from Wisconsin, and McConnell, from Kentucky, might as well be from Uranus. No doubt each is trying to figure out how to best use the other in the upcoming Beltway drama starting too unfold.
Apparently Schumer, who has a problem with self-control, told someone about a private phone conversation he had with Trump in which Trump disparaged McConnell and Ryan. Schumer’s interpretation was that Trump likes him more than McConnell and Ryan “because, according to “a source, ”they both wanted him to lose. They are Republicans and Trump knows they didn’t support him… These two fellas are both New Yorkers. Washington is like a cafeteria table. You sit where you know."
Trump and Schumer, one an unruly ne’er-do-well who flunked out of schools and the other a straight A goodie-two-shoes who made it to Harvard, both “took on” the Manhattan Establishment… and won. Trump and Schumer have world views with more in common than Trump would have with backwater political hacks like McConnell, know for sneaking around in the middle of the night and blowing strange men in Louisville’s pickle park, and Ryan, who was manufactured by a bunch of wealthy, dedicated Ayn Rand devotees.
While none of the 4 political leaders would have any way to authentically relate to the problems discussed in Steve Early’s new book, Refinery Town: Big Oil, Big Money, and the Remaking of an American City, which includes a forward by Bernie Sanders, Trump and Schumer are both skilled enough to appear to get it and turn the book’s thesis, if need be, into a stepping stone. Mike Miller’s review at Counterpunch Friday is down right celebratory about the sustained, 15-year success in the Bay Area of the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) and calls the story “a good antidote for the despair that now runs rampant among many American progressives. RPA,” he wrote, “was built by people on the left. In its politics, it departed from much of what has been the more mainstream progressivism.”
• It is multi-issue, not single issue.
• It raises money from individuals and organizations like unions; it isn’t foundation dependent, and it accepts no funds from corporations.
• It is multi-ethnic and racial; its members are young and old, and they come from a variety of backgrounds: environmental groups, unions, interest and “identity” organizations, senior clubs and more; it is thus forced to deal with ‘contradictions among the people’ in its internal deliberations, candidate selection and policy formulations.
• Its focus is on economic justice and environment issues, not identify politics.
• While its focus is electoral, it joins issue campaign coalitions with a variety of organizations, including the Saul Alinsky/Fred Ross-tradition Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) (heir to ACORN) and the Alinsky-tradition Contra Costa [county] Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO), a local affiliate of the PICO National Network, unions (particularly the Steel Workers local at Chevron and public employee unions like AFSCME and SEIU, interest and constituency organizations (environment, human rights, GLBTQ), and others—thus giving it a more-than-election time relationship with organizations whose members include the voters it wants to reach.
As well, Early describes the transformation of what was a Chevron company town to one that now talks back to its patron, and forces it to become more accountable—particularly on local tax, pollution/health and safety issues that in past uncontested Chevron formulations denied resources to the city and threatened the well-being of both residents and workers.Let’s consider that RPA could and should be the model for local electoral mobilizing against Big Carbon and thus climate disruption. And if you’re not familiar with the Bay Area, remember that Richmond is nearly the last chance to preserve any substantial amount of affordable housing (and low income electorate) in the Bay Area. They have much undeveloped land that would become even more desirable if Chevron refinery emissions were further reduced. RPA's recently achieved 5/7 super-majority on the city council enables them to vote through more cool things, such as using eminent domain to acquire securities on underwater home loans, a project from a few years ago that might be less logical in view of surging property values -- unless that surge is stopped by voters' recent passage of rent control.
Because he is a member of RPA, Early is also able to give an insider’s view of an important change in the composition of the organization’s leadership—from older to mixed young-and-old, from “Anglo” to multi-ethnic and racial, and from left politicos to a more eclectic body whose roots are in a variety of experiences and left-of-center points of view.
…The politics of RPA’s growing influence and displacement of the city’s old guard is another of Early’s themes. An older African-American community leadership made its accommodation with Chevron, and was the beneficiary of its plantation economy paternalism: money for community-based nonprofits, and for black politicians who had the view, epitomized by veteran council member Nat Bates, that Richmond should be thankful for Chevron’s presence and not challenge any of its prerogatives.
…Early deals with the broad range of issues that are part of RPA’s agenda, including environment, taxation and public services, immigration, public health (a defeated soda tax campaign), the loss of a nearby public hospital, poverty and more, and, of course, the arrogance and power of Chevron. In this review, I want to focus on affordable housing and police, and RPA’s internal governance discussion, and comment on some strategic questions that, from my perspective, are unfortunately not part of the book.
That Chevron arrogance and power, by the way, had an interesting positive to it: RPA could make the environment a mass-based issue because Chevron was shitting on everybody, without regard to race, ethnicity, class, age or gender.
…Early takes us on an important digression—a look at the limits of urban reform in a hostile state government environment. Specially, he looks at the battles between New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo, the former a progressive Democrat, the latter a corporate Democrat. He notes, “Amid continuing academic and journalistic celebration of municipal innovation and mayoral leadership, the Cuomo-de Blasio rift provides a good reality check on the constraints faced by elected leaders in cities large and small.” He’s right. For Richmond, the situation is even worse because it doesn’t even control its schools (they’re part of a larger school district) or its public health delivery system. And the problem in the Trump era will expand exponentially!
The book’s epilogue vividly portrays the financial squeeze Richmond faces, and the dilemmas faced by reformers who want to preserve and extend public services, pay adequate wages and benefits to their employees, and implement progressive taxes. Whether RPA can wend its way through these contradictions remains to be seen. In the meantime, Early properly warns, “[A]s RPA’s experience in Richmond demonstrates, even successful electoral work conducted at the local level over many years does not by itself build year-round, multi-issue political organization. That takes an unconventional approach to politics, before, during, and after any election.”