Poverty Is Capitalism’s Great Crime / by Eugene Debs

Labor organizers address striking coal miners in Ludlow, Colorado, during the 1913–14 Colorado Coalfield War. (Wikimedia Commons)

Originally published in Jacobin, https://jacobin.com/

Eugene Debs was famous for excoriating the barbarities of capitalism, including the right-wing notion of the “unworthy poor.” As Debs writes in the following 1915 article, republished here for the first time, every human deserves to be free from poverty.

he warnings which have recently issued from both the pulpit and the press in [Terre Haute] against the “unworthy poor” prompt me to ask these Christian gentleman if the great Teacher they profess to follow ever made any discrimination between the “worthy” poor and the “unworthy” poor. The poor were the poor to him, because he was of their number. Born in direst poverty, he knew their suffering and heartache, and when he ministered to their wants it did not occur to him to smell their breath to see if they, or possibly their grandsires, had not in some evil hour taken a drink of liquor as an excuse for branding them as “unworthy poor,” and turning them away to starve. Indeed, so completely and consistently did he love the poor, from whom he sprang and among whom he spent all the days of his sad and tragic life, that when he made any distinctions among them it was wholly in favor of the “unworthy” poor, by forgiving them much because they had suffered much. He did not condemn them to starvation and suicide upon the hypocritical pretext that they were “unworthy,” but they did apply the lash of scorpions without mercy to those self-righteous and “eminently respectable” gentlemen who robbed the poor and then despised them for their poverty; who made long prayers, where they could be seen of men, while they devoured widows’ houses and bound burdens upon the backs of their victims that crushed them to the earth.

Who and where are the “unworthy” poor and who dare in the name of Christ to judge them? I have seen the innumerable poor in all their agonizing poverty and hopeless despair, but I have yet to see an “unworthy” poor. They are all God’s creatures and they are all human beings, and how any one professing to be a Christian can warn the community not to give them a mouthful of food, but to turn them away to starve and die can only be reconciled with that whited sepulcher, which so often passes for “Christian charity.” A human being with a heart in him, unless it be of stone, would feed a hungry dog, to say nothing of a famishing fellow-being.

Do not tell me as an excuse that all these men could have work if they but wanted it. That is not true. On the contrary, it is palpably false. In the city of New York alone, according to the abstract recently issued by the national bureau of labor, there are nearly four hundred thousand of workingmen and women in enforced idleness and in the country at large there are literally millions for whom there is no employment. Here is where to place the blame instead of upon the helpless victims, the “unworthy” poor; and here, too, is where to apply the remedy.

But I do not blame even those who become hoboes and tramps, rather than spend their lives in slavish tasks for the benefit of others who look down upon them with scorn as beasts of burden. I would rather be branded as belonging to the “unworthy” poor than to be insulted by being classed with the “worthy” poor.

The “worthy” poor! Think of that! It is society’s inadvertent confession of its own crime. It is precisely as if we said “innocent convicts,” and yet made no pretension to setting the innocent victims free.

Bernard Shaw is right. Poverty is civilization’s greatest crime. And this crime cannot be atoned for by “charity.” Rockefeller’s Sunday school will count for no more than a brothel when the babies murdered at Ludlow confront him in the day of judgment.

Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple (1568) by El Greco. (National Gallery of Art)

Rockefeller’s income is a hundred million dollars a year. It is pure robbery. Not a dollar of it does he produce. It is all taken from those in whose sweat and agony it is produced, and that is the reason they are poor and tired and discouraged and get drunk and recruit the ranks of the “unworthy” poor. If I had to exist as many of those poor wretches do — and we have them at our very doors — I, too, would probably get drunk as often as I had the chance.

There is a cause for poverty, and that cause can be removed, and when it is removed there will be few, if any poor, “worthy” or “unworthy.” The very fact that a poor wretch is “unworthy” pleads most accusingly and irresistibly in his behalf. The cause of his “unworthiness” may be found in his heredity or environment, and in any event outside of and beyond himself, and he should no more be punished for it than if he were the victim of cancer or epilepsy.

A vast amount of fraud, hypocrisy, and false pretense parades as “charity” for the purpose of diverting attention from the cause of the poverty it affects to relieve.

It is not “charity” that the poor want, or that will change their unfortunate condition. It is justice, and to obtain that the whole modern world is in a state of increasingly intelligent and portentous agitation.

As long as the few own the sources of wealth, the machinery of production and the means of life, the many will be condemned to work for them as the miners of Colorado and Montana work for Rockefeller, with the result that the few pile up millions and billions and rot in luxury and self-indulgence, while the millions that are robbed riot and rot in poverty and filth. The exploitation of the many by the few is now on trial before the world, and when that trial is ended and the exploitation of man by man ceases and society is organized upon the basis of the enlightened mutual interests of all, democracy will dawn, men will be brothers, war will cease, poverty will be a hideous nightmare of the past, and the sun of a new civilization will light the world.

Eugene V. Debs (1855-1926) was a union leader and socialist.

Student Loan Debt Is an American Malignancy Born of Ronald Reagan / by Thom Hartmann

Former President Ronald Reagan addressing the audience at the White House News Photographers Association dinner on May 18, 1983. (Photo: Bettmann/Contributor/via Getty images)

Originally published in Common Dreams, https://www.commondreams.org/

Forgiving student debt is not a slap at anybody; it’s righting a moral wrong inflicted on millions by Reagan and his morbidly rich Republican buddies.

President Joe Biden just made good on his campaign promise to forgive billions in student debt. Republicans, predictably, have gone nuts.

When you search on the phrase “student debt forgiveness” one of the top hits that comes up is a Fox “News” article by a woman who paid off her loans in full. 

“There are millions of Americans like me,” the author writes, “for whom debt forgiveness is an infuriating slap in the face after years of hard work and sacrifice. Those used to be qualities we encouraged as an American culture, and if Biden gets his way, we’ll be sending a very different message to the next generation.”

This is, to be charitable, bullsh*t. Forgiving student debt is not a slap at anybody; it’s righting a moral wrong inflicted on millions of Americans by Ronald Reagan and his morbidly rich Republican buddies.

When you invest in your young people, you’re investing in your nation.

Student debt is evil. It’s a crime against our nation, hobbling opportunity and weakening our intellectual infrastructure. Any nation’s single biggest asset is a well-educated populace, and student debt diminishes that. It hurts America.

Student debt at the scale we have in America doesn’t exist anywhere else in the rest of the developed world.

American students, in fact, are going to college for free right now in Germany, Iceland, France, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic, because pretty much anybody can go to college for free in those countries—and dozens of others.

Student debt? The rest of the developed world doesn’t know what you’re talking about.

Student debt largely didn’t exist here in America before the Reagan Revolution. It was created here in the 1980s, intentionally, and we can intentionally end it here and join the rest of the world in again celebrating higher education.

Forty years on from the Reagan Revolution, student debt has crippled three generations of young Americans: over 44 million people carry the burden, totaling a $1.8 trillion drag on our economy that benefits nobody except the banks earning interest on the debt and the politicians they pay off.

But that doesn’t begin to describe the damage student debt has done to America since Reagan, in his first year as governor of California, ended free tuition at the University of California and cut state aid to that college system by 20 percent across-the-board. 

After having destroyed low-income Californians’ ability to get an education in the 1970s, he then took his anti-education program national as president in 1981. 

When asked why he’d taken a meat-axe to higher education and was pricing college out of the reach of most Americans, he said—much like Ron DeSantis might today—that college students were “too liberal” and America “should not subsidize intellectual curiosity.” {empahsis added}

Four days before the Kent State Massacre of May 5, 1970, Governor Reagan called students protesting the Vietnam war across America “brats,” “freaks,” and “cowardly fascists.” As The New York Times noted at the time, he then added: {emphasis added}

“If it takes a bloodbath, let’s get it over with. No more appeasement!”

Before Reagan became president, states paid 65 percent of the costs of colleges, and federal aid covered another 15 or so percent, leaving students to cover the remaining 20 percent with their tuition payments.

That’s how it works—at a minimum—in many developed nations; in many northern European countries college is not only free, but the government pays students a stipend to cover books and rent.

Here in America, though, the numbers are pretty much reversed from pre-1980, with students now covering about 80 percent of the costs. Thus the need for student loans here in the USA. 

As soon as he became president, Reagan went after federal aid to students with fervor. Devin Fergus documented for The Washington Post how, as a result, student debt first became a widespread thing across the United States during the early ‘80s:

“No federal program suffered deeper cuts than student aid. Spending on higher education was slashed by some 25 percent between 1980 and 1985. … Students eligible for grant assistance freshmen year had to take out student loans to cover their second year.”

It became a mantra for conservatives, particularly in Reagan’s cabinet. Let the kids pay for their own damn “liberal” education. 

Reagan’s Director of the Office of Management and Budget, David Stockman, told a reporter in 1981:

“I don’t accept the notion that the federal government has an obligation to fund generous grants to anybody that wants to go to college.  It seems to me that if people want to go to college bad enough then there is opportunity and responsibility on their part to finance their way through the best way they can. … I would suggest that we could probably cut it a lot more.”

After all, cutting taxes for the morbidly rich was Reagan’s first and main priority, a position the GOP holds to this day. Cutting education could “reduce the cost of government” and thus justify more tax cuts.

Reagan’s first Education Secretary, Terrel Bell, wrote in his memoir:

“Stockman and all the true believers identified all the drag and drain on the economy with the ‘tax-eaters’: people on welfare, those drawing unemployment insurance, students on loans and grants, the elderly bleeding the public purse with Medicare, the poor exploiting Medicaid.”

Reagan’s next Education Secretary, William Bennett, was even more blunt about how America should deal with the “problem” of uneducated people who can’t afford college, particularly if they were African American:

“I do know that it’s true that if you wanted to reduce crime,” Bennett said, “you could—if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down.”

These various perspectives became an article of faith across the GOP. Reagan’s OMB Director David Stockman told Congress that students were “tax eaters … [and] a drain and drag on the American economy.” Student aid, he said, “isn’t a proper obligation of the taxpayer.”

This was where, when, and how today’s student debt crisis was kicked off in 1981. 

Before Reagan, though, America had a different perspective. 

Both my father and my wife Louise’s father served in the military during World War II and both went to college on the GI Bill. My dad dropped out after two years and went to work in a steel plant because mom got pregnant with me; Louise’s dad, who’d grown up dirt poor, went all the way for his law degree and ended up as an Assistant Attorney General for the State of Michigan.

They were two among almost 8 million young men and women who not only got free tuition from the 1944 GI Bill but also received a stipend to pay for room, board, and books. And the result—the return on our government’s investment in those 8 million educations—was substantial. 

The best book on that time and subject is Edward Humes’ Over Here: How the GI Bill Transformed the American Dreamsummarized by Mary Paulsell for the Columbia Daily Tribune:

[That] groundbreaking legislation gave our nation 14 Nobel Prize winners, three Supreme Court justices, three presidents, 12 senators, 24 Pulitzer Prize winners, 238,000 teachers, 91,000 scientists, 67,000 doctors, 450,000 engineers, 240,000 accountants, 17,000 journalists, 22,000 dentists and millions of lawyers, nurses, artists, actors, writers, pilots and entrepreneurs.

When people have an education, they not only raise the competence and vitality of a nation; they also earn more money, which stimulates the economy.  Because they earn more, they pay more in taxes, which helps pay back the government for the cost of that education. 

Republican policies of starving education and cranking up student debt have made U.S. banks a lot of money, but they’ve cut America’s scientific leadership in the world and stopped three generations of young people from starting businesses, having families, and buying homes.  

In 1952 dollars, the GI Bill’s educational benefit cost the nation $7 billion. The increased economic output over the next 40 years that could be traced directly to that educational cost was $35.6 billion, and the extra taxes received from those higher-wage-earners was $12.8 billion.

In other words, the U.S. government invested $7 billion and got a $48.4 billion return on that investment, about a $7 return for every $1 invested. 

In addition, that educated workforce made it possible for America to lead the world in innovation, R&D, and new business development for three generations.  We invented the transistor, the integrated circuit, the internet, new generations of miracle drugs, sent men to the moon, and reshaped science.

Presidents Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln knew this simple concept that was so hard for Reagan and generations of Republicans since to understand: when you invest in your young people, you’re investing in your nation.

Jefferson founded the University of Virginia as a 100% tuition-free school; it was one of his three proudest achievements, ranking higher on the epitaph he wrote for his own tombstone than his having been both president and vice president.

Lincoln was equally proud of the free and low-tuition colleges he started. As the state of North Dakota notes:

Lincoln signed the Morrill Act on July 2, 1862, giving each state a minimum of 90,000 acres of land to sell, to establish colleges of engineering, agriculture, and military science. … Proceeds from the sale of these lands were to be invested in a perpetual endowment fund which would provide support for colleges of agriculture and mechanical arts in each of the states.

Fully 76 free or very-low-tuition state colleges were started because of Lincoln’s effort and since have educated millions of Americans including my mom, who graduated from land-grant Michigan State University in the 1940s, having easily paid her minimal tuition working as a summer lifeguard in Charlevoix. 

Every other developed country in the world knows this, too: student debt is a rare or even nonexistent thing in most western democracies. Not only is college free or close to free around much of the world; many countries even offer a stipend for monthly expenses like our GI Bill did back in the day.  

Thousands of American students are currently studying in Germany at the moment, for example, for free. Hundreds of thousands of American students are also getting free college educations right now in Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic, among others. 

Republican policies of starving education and cranking up student debt have made U.S. banks a lot of money, but they’ve cut America’s scientific leadership in the world and stopped three generations of young people from starting businesses, having families, and buying homes.  

The damage to the working class and poor Americans, both in economic and human terms, is devastating. It’s a double challenge for minorities.

And now President Biden has eliminated $10,000 of student debt for low-income people and up to $20,000 for those who qualified for Pell Grants.

The official Republican response came instantly, as USA Today reporter Joey Garrison noted on Twitter:

“The @RNC on Biden’s student loan debt cancellation: ‘This is Biden’s bailout for the wealthy. As hardworking Americans struggle with soaring costs and a recession, Biden is giving a handout to the rich.’”

Which is particularly bizarre. “Wealthy” and “rich” people—by definition—don’t need student loan forgiveness because they don’t have student loans. How gullible do Republicans think their voters are?

Just like for-profit health insurance, student loans are a malignancy attached to our republic by Republicans

Marjorie Taylor Greene wrote on Twitter that student loan forgiveness was “completely unfair.” That’s the same Republican congresswoman who just had $183,504 in PPP loans forgiven, and happily banked the money without a complaint.

Republican members of Congress, in fact, seem to be among those in the front of the debt-forgiveness line with their hands out, even as billionaires bankroll their campaigns and backstop their lifestyles.

As the Center for American Progress noted on Twitter in response to a GOP tweet whining that “If you take out a loan, you pay it back”:

Member —— Amount in PPP Loans Forgiven
Matt Gaetz (R-FL) – $476,000
Greg Pence (R-IN) – $79,441
Vern Buchanan (R-FL) – $2,800,000
Kevin Hern (R-OK) $1,070,000
Roger Williams (R-TX) $1,430,000
Brett Guthrie (R-KY) $4,300,000
Ralph Norman (R-SC) $306,250
Ralph Abraham (R-AL) $38,000
Mike Kelly (R-PA) $974,100
Vicki Hartzler (R-MO) $451,200
Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) $988,700
Carol Miller (R-WV) $3,100,000

So, yeah, Republicans are complete hypocrites about forgiving loan debt, in addition to pushing policies that actually hurt our nation (not to mention the generation coming up).

Ten thousand dollars in debt forgiveness is a start, but if we really want America to soar, we need to go away beyond that.

Just like for-profit health insurance, student loans are a malignancy attached to our republic by Republicans trying to increase profits for their donors while extracting more and more cash from working-class families.

Congress should not only zero-out existing student debt across our nation but revive the post-war government support for education—from Jefferson and Lincoln to the GI Bill and college subsidies—that the Reagan, Bush, Bush II, and the Trump administrations have destroyed. 

Then, and only then, can the true “making America great again” begin.

Thom Hartmann is a talk-show host and the author of “The Hidden History of Monopolies: How Big Business Destroyed the American Dream” (2020); “The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America” (2019); and more than 25 other books in print.

Maine Opinion: LePage’s hateful plot to undermine public education in Maine

Top photo: Former Gov. Paul LePage | Beacon 

Originally published in the Beacon, https://mainebeacon.com/

It’s no secret that Paul LePage is no fan of public education. As governor he called Maine teachers “a dime a dozen” and told an audience of business people that “if you want a good education, go to private schools. If you can’t afford it, tough luck — you can go to the public school.” 

LePage has always been upfront about his obsession with privatizing and defunding public schools. He has called for vouchers that would allow for education funding to be diverted to subsidize private religious schools, home schooling and for-profit online education.

As governor, he ignored the 2004 voter-mandated law to fund the state’s share of education at 55% (Gov. Janet Mills has finally honored that commitment) and shifted millions of dollars in costs onto local school districts. The former governor also applauded a recent Supreme Court decision to strike down Maine’s law banning public funding for religious schools, stating that it was “time to let the parents decide their child’s future, not educational bureaucrats.”

The former governor’s fondness for private religious schools is rooted in his own experience attending parochial school in Lewiston, where he claims the combination of strict discipline and corporal punishment made him a better person.

“We don’t have that in public schools. So faith-based schools have a different way of teaching, and it worked for me,” he once said in a radio interview in 2012. 

“It wasn’t the religious part of it that was good; it was the brothers being stern and — look at my knuckles — they still show that they were hit a few times,” LePage added.

Rather than addressing the key factors that worsen academic performance — like social and economic conditions, poverty, unequal school funding and lack of early childhood education — LePage and his fellow school privatizers are more interested in putting all of the blame solely on teachers, school boards and administrators for low student achievement. Instead of improving public schools, LePage seeks to punish them by diverting public education money to private schools. This further reduces the amount of funding available for local public schools and disadvantages low-income students and children with disabilities and higher needs. As disability advocates point out, private and religious schools can legally reject students with special needs and voucher programs don’t cover expenses like transportation and other services those students need.

The racist roots of the school choice movement

Having more educational options sounds like a positive thing, but in reality studies show that this doesn’t improve student achievement overall. Instead, it further balkanizes and segregates the student body by allowing more elite schools to cherry pick the most privileged and highest achieving students who have more resources to supplement private school educations. This is no accident.

As Duke University historian Nancy MacLean has documented, the “school choice” movement was a direct reaction to the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision that struck down racial segregation in public schools in 1954. School vouchers were developed by Southern states to avoid court-ordered racial integration and allow white parents to send their children to private schools known as “segregation academies” that could discriminate based on the color of one’s skin.

Based on extensive archival research, MacLean has exposed how the conservative economist Milton Friedman “taught white supremacists a more sophisticated…court-proof way to preserve Jim Crow” by providing a justification grounded in the free market ideology. Friedman argued that breaking the “government monopoly” over education would promote “competition.”

The school choice movement was later picked up by well-funded conservative think tanks and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate-funded bill mill that creates “model legislation” for Republican state legislators. LePage, who was deeply involved with ALEC as governor, described himself as a fan of Friedman and even once declared July 31 to be “Milton Friedman Day” in Maine, citing the economist’s support for “school choice.”

Creative Commons via Allison Shelley, The Verbatim Agency for EDUimages

But despite a decades-long corporate-funded effort to undermine public education, polls consistently show Americans broadly support it and overwhelmingly reject school privatization schemes. That’s why school privatizers have been diligently working to erode confidence in public education by demonizing teachers and stoking fear and paranoia about the teaching of LGBTQ content and “critical race theory,” or “CRT,” an academic concept addressing institutional racism that is generally not taught in K-12 schools.

This latest manufactured moral panic can be traced to a right-wing propagandist named Christopher Rufo of the conservative Manhattan Institute, who launched the war against CRT and supposed “grooming” of students by sexually predatory public school teachers. Rufo uses CRT as a catch-all term to describe any lessons that include studies of race relations and racial equity that make white people uncomfortable. In capitalizing on white racial anxiety in reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement, Rufo says he purposely uses the term “critical race theory” because it’s the “perfect villain” and comes off as “hostile, academic, divisive, race-obsessed, poisonous, elitist [and] anti-American” to average white middle-class Americans.

LePage and the bigoted anti-CRT mob

In his campaign appearances, LePage has made it clear that he will continue the war on public education by putting gag rules on teachers and censoring what students can read. As he told an audience last year, “I can’t wait to attack the school system, because man, this critical race theory. They’re taking down statues, burning down buildings, killing Americans.”

Earlier this month LePage echoed calls from the far-right when he said he wanted to remove “pornography” from school — a label anti-public school crusaders have used to describe books that contain LGBTQ subject matter — and hinted at pushing legislation to support efforts by parents to ban books.

“I’ve heard it. I’ve seen one here in Hampden and one down south in Bonny Eagle, where people were threatened to be arrested, thrown out of meetings. That is inappropriate,” he told an audience at Husson University. “So, the governor’s office’s role is to pass legislation that allows school boards to hear from the parents, and the parents and the school board should determine what goes into the libraries.”

LePage is apparently referring to the antics of a far-right agitator named Shawn McBreairty, who has been repeatedly banned from entering a number of schools across the state after spending the past two years harassing teachers and school boards over CRT and books containing LGBTQ subject matter. McBreairty first received national notoriety after receiving a criminal trespass order from SAD 51 schools — which encompasses schools in Cumberland and North Yarmouth — for repeatedly violating district rules. 

In 2020, McBreairty became convinced that the school was calling residents of Cumberland “white supremacists” and teaching “critical race theory” after it released a statement denouncing white supremacy and committing to racial equity in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. In violation of school rules, McBreairty padlocked a sign to a school fence, disrupted numerous school board meetings and distributed flyers denouncing school officials to Greely High School students. At one point he even put a billboard-sized sign of a school board member’s face on his lawn that he claimed was surrounded by rat traps.

McBreairty cast himself as a free speech martyr in an appearance on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show, implying, falsely, that he was prohibited from attending his daughter’s graduation for battling with the school for holding what he described as “anti-white training.”

After that appearance, McBreairty rocketed to right-wing stardom and became a chapter leader of the “No Left Turn Education,” one of the largest organizations fear mongering about racial equity in schools. The group and its founder have compared educators to Pol Pot, Vladimir Lenin and Adolf Hitler and claimed that “black bigotry towards whites” is a “very real problem.” But McBreairty was too much of a loose cannon even for that group. No Left Turn later fired him in 2021 after he pled guilty to improperly influencing a Cumberland school official by threatening to release a recording of the deceased father of a school board member if they didn’t resign.

McBreairty on Fox News | Image via video

Since then, McBreairty has been working as the special projects director for former state Rep. Larry Lockman’s white supremacist organization, known as the Maine First Project. Lockman has spent the past 40 years attacking LGBTQ rights and people of color. Lockman, who once wrote a homophobic book titled “The Aids Epidemic: A Citizens’ Guide To Protecting Your Family And Community From The Gay Plague,” regularly promotes white supremacist “Great Replacement” conspiracy theories and accuses pro-immigrant lawmakers of waging a “war on whites.” LePage has long supported Lockman and his hateful agenda, having endorsed him for state senate and stood beside him during his campaign roll out in 2019.

Most disturbingly, McBreairty and Lockman frequently name individual teachers in their defamatory accusations on conservative radio shows, podcasts, newsletters and on social media. One of McBreairty’s favorite targets is 2022 “Maine Teacher of the Year” Kelsey Stoyanova, an eighth grade teacher at Reeds Brook Middle School in Hampden. Students have described Stoyanova as passionate about instilling a love of learning and making all students feel valued and accepted. 

“In Ms. Stoyanova’s classroom, you feel seen, you feel heard, you feel loved,” former student Roz O’Reilly told the Bangor Daily News. 

However, McBreairty, who doesn’t have any children in Hampden schools (or in any K-12 schools), has accused Stoyanova of “hyper-sexualizing” students and promoting CRT because she released a reading list for students that included Black and LGBTQ authors.

Ironically, McBreairty and Maine First Project actually promoted a child sex offender whose  transphobic positions they agreed with. Last spring, Maine First Project platformed a self-described “ex-transgender woman” who is a convicted child sex offender and a life time registrant on the sex offender registry.

Fighting back against the anti-teacher witch hunt

Fortunately, McBreairty and Lockman have been generally unsuccessful in taking over school boards, as right-wing cranks who oppose diversity, equity and inclusion have fared poorly in Maine. As one recent poll shows, most parents like their public schools and teachers and support them by wide margins.

However, the fury and fearmongering of a vocal right-wing minority is having a meaningful impact with conservative voters. One recent poll found that while Democratic support for public schools has increased during the pandemic, Republican confidence in public schools has plummeted to an all-time low. Last spring, Maine Republican Party convention delegates even passed McBreairty’s “Don’t Say Gay” resolution to ban CRT and sex education in schools and limit what school staff can say about gender and sexuality. 

Free public education is one of our most valuable institutions and a cornerstone of our democracy. Its mission is to provide every young person in the nation with an equitable, inclusive and quality education that fosters a life-long love of learning and gives students the knowledge they need to be active, informed participants in the democratic process. While public education may not completely live up to its ideals, we need to continue working to strengthen and improve it for future generations of young learners.

Our educators pursue teaching not to get rich but because they have a passion to shape young minds. It’s not an easy job, though. It involves providing differentiated instruction for diverse learners, endless paperwork, early mornings and late nights preparing lessons, disciplining students, dealing with bullying and problems at home, and spending money out of one’s own pocket for classroom materials due to lack of funding.

The stress of working through the pandemic along with the constant smears, personal attacks and demonization of their profession is driving good teachers out, with more than a half-million leaving the profession since the beginning of 2020. Although these far-right activists are small in number, they have become very influential in our politics and it’s clear that if LePage is elected governor, he will continue to empower them and legitimize their bigoted grievances. 

If you value public education, racial justice, LGBTQ rights and the separation of church and state, sitting back and rolling your eyes at these antics is no longer an option. We need to organize and fight back against this elitist, hateful agenda and send LePage back to Florida in November.

Andy O’Brien is the communications director for the Maine AFL-CIO, a statewide federation of 160 local unions representing 40,000 workers. However, his opinions are his own and don’t represent the views of his employer. He is also a member of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1445.

Maine News: Here’s how your state legislator voted on environmental issues this year / by Evan Popp

Photo: A climate justice rally in Augusta | Courtesy of 350 Maine

Originally published in the Beacon, https://mainebeacon.com/

Maine Conservation Voters on Tuesday released its legislative scorecard for 2022, calling this year’s session “a banner year for Maine’s environment, climate and democracy” but acknowledging that “in the same moment, much of what we value is at risk.”

The group scored how Maine lawmakers voted on seven bills this year, including a measure to provide access to safe drinking water for the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Sipayik and a bill to close a loophole that allows out-of-state waste to end up in Juniper Ridge Landfill. 

The group also scored a bill meant to increase accountability standards for utilities and facilitate grid planning, a measure to ban the application of PFAS-contaminated sludge in order to protect Maine farmlands, legislation to upgrade water quality standards for Maine rivers and streams, a bill to increase opportunities for climate education in schools, and legislation to ensure Maine elections are transparent and secure. 

Each of those bills passed the legislature and became law with support from Gov. Janet Mills. The path to getting the measures approved wasn’t always smooth, though. Mills originally expressed opposition to the Passamaquoddy water rights bill before eventually negotiating a deal and signing the legislation. On the utility accountability measure, public power proponents had concerns that the legislation didn’t do enough to hold Central Maine Power and Versant accountable but ultimately reached an agreement that included further performance standards for the utility companies. 

“Together with Governor Janet Mills, the Maine Legislature passed significant policies that equitably tackle climate change, invest in healthy communities, protect our environment and democracy, and advance environmental justice,” Maine Conservation Voters wrote as part of the scorecard. 

In total, 84 lawmakers received a 100% score from the group, meaning they supported each of the bills Maine Conservation Voters pushed for. No Republicans received a perfect score from the organization. The highest mark for a GOP legislator was given to Sen. Rick Bennett (R-Oxford), who received a score of 86%. The only priority bill that Bennett opposed was the climate education measure. 

To look up your legislators’ scores, click here.

Dozens of Democratic lawmakers received perfect marks, including Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook), Majority Leader Eloise Vitelli (D-Sagadahoc), and Assistant Majority Leader Mattie Daughtry (D-Cumberland). The party’s House leadership team — Speaker Ryan Fecteau (D-Biddeford), Majority Leader Michelle Dunphy (D-Old Town) and Assistant Majority Leader Rachel Talbot Ross (D-Portland) — also received 100% scores.  

Five Republican lawmakers were given a score of zero, meaning they didn’t vote for any of Maine Conservation Voters’ priority bills. Those legislators were Richard Cebra (R-Naples), Josanne Dolloff (R-Milton Township), David Haggan (R-Hampden), Frances Head (R-Bethel) and Dwayne Prescott (R-Waterboro). These scores combined anti-environmental votes with absences, which the scorecard weighed the same as a vote against a priority bill. 

Rep. Braden Sharpe (D-Durham) and Rep. Chad Grignon (R-Athens) also received scores of zero on account of being absent for each of the votes on the environmental measures included in the scorecard. 

While the Maine Conservation Voters’ scorecard shows that environmental advocates got many of their priorities over the finish line in the 2022 session, some activists were disappointed by what they felt were missed opportunities to combat climate change and protect the state’s ecosystem during the first session of the 130th Legislature in 2021. 

One area of frustration was Mills’ veto of a bill to replace CMP and Versant with a consumer-owned utility — a measure proponents argued would help spur Maine’s transition to clean electricity. Environmental advocates have also criticized the governor’s veto of a bill to ban aerial spraying of hazardous herbicides such as glyphosate and Mills’ opposition to a measure that would reinforce the sovereignty of the Wabanaki and affirm the tribes’ right to regulate natural resources and land use on their territory. 

But while activists and green groups have had their disagreements with Mills — a Democrat — Maine Conservation Voters Action Fund warned that the progress made in the last couple of years would be put at risk if her Republican opponent, former governor Paul LePage, is elected this November.  

Criticizing LePage’s anti-environment legacy when he was governor, the group recently endorsed Mills for reelection. 

Evan Popp studied journalism at Ithaca College and interned at the Progressive magazine, ThinkProgress and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. He then worked for the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper before joining Beacon. Evan can be reached at evan@mainebeacon.com.

Fidel’s guidance in all of Cuba’s struggles / by Alejandra Garcia

Originally published: Resumen English on August 11, 2022

These days Cuba is recovering from an unprecedented fire, which has kept Matanzas, the whole island, and especially rescuers, firefighters, and authorities on full alert since the night of August 5. The continuous explosions in one of the main oil storage facilities in the country left a trail of thick black smoke that covered the Havana sky for five days. It also left so far two deaths, 14 people missing, and over a hundred people injured. Now that the flames have been extinguished the next phase of clean up will begin and it will start with finding the remains of those brave firefighters who threw themselves immediately into battle for their homeland.

However, amid pain and agony, Cuba has one great consolation: since 1959, the people have never been alone in struggles, accidents, or catastrophes of any kind. Fidel never permitted it. Today, when the island is just 2 days away from remembering the 96th anniversary of his birth, the 6th that has passed without his physical presence, the people proved once again that his ideas and his example do not abandon them.

In the most uncertain moments of the fight to put out the fire, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermudez mentioned, again and again, a phrase well known to Cubans: “The protection of our citizens will always occupy the first place in our efforts. Nothing will have priority over this.”

Fidel repeated those same words in March 2003, a few months after two powerful hurricanes, Lili and Isidore, crossed the island in September 2002, both of which had an almost identical path, coming barely 11 days between one another.

“In the face of climate changes, the environmental damage caused by humankind, economic crises, epidemics and cyclones, our material, scientific and technical resources are increasingly abundant,” he added.

Cuba had already lived through other extreme experiences at that time. Hurricane Flora, for example, passed over the island in October 1963 and is remembered for its heavy rains, which overflowed rivers, ruined crops, and destroyed houses. More than 1,150 people died during that violent five-day storm, as well as thousands of animals.

According to Bohemia, Fidel directed the relief operations and moved from one province to another. First Santa Clara, then Camagüey, and even into the most dangerous area of the Cauto River.

“The Commander-in-Chief of the Revolution was, as always, in the front line. It was not uncommon to see him personally organizing rescue brigades, attending to the victims, sharing the pain of the people,” the magazine reported.

Fidel Castro was on the front line of the catastrophe, even during the battering of the winds and waters, even though the historic hurricane had not yet left the eastern province within which it performed several loops while trapped by the mountains.

The leader of the Revolution moved there with amphibious tanks of the Rebel Army and he personally saved many victims who remained on the roofs, the top of trees, or those who were trapped in the floodwaters. The helicopters fought against the heavy winds, taking advantage of every space of calm to save entire families.

All the victims received material assistance. The enormous damage was mitigated and everything was rebuilt. No family was left behind.

Since 2016, the year Fidel died, Cuba has faced other situations of great pain: Hurricane Irma (2016), the plane crash at José Martí International Airport (2018), and the tornado that destroyed hundreds of houses in Havana (2019), an unprecedented pandemic, a raging fire…

But Cuban leaders continue Fidel’s legacy. From the checkpoint stationed a few kilometers from the fire, after it was made known that the flames were already under control, Díaz-Canel took a few minutes to recall – as he does every day – some words of the man who remains and will remain present in each of our struggles: “Our people will be able to overcome any obstacle, any difficulty; our people will be able to march forward unstoppable, and they will be able to overcome their own weaknesses.”

In commemoration of Fidel’s  birthday on August 13 we present Estela Bravo’s extraordinary documentary, Fidel the Untold Story

MR Online, August 14, 2022, https://mronline.org/

Colombia’s First Leftist President Will Bring Historic Change, if the US Lets Him / by Daniel Kovalik

Colombia is the latest Latin American country to turn from the right, and possibly stand up to Washington, with the inauguration of Gustavo Petro.

It’s a historic day in Colombia, as the country inaugurates former guerrilla Gustavo Petro as its first leftist president, and Francia Marquez as its first vice president of African descent. This was unthinkable not long ago, and before this unlikely team now lie the combined challenges of standing up to US domination and fixing decades of social injustice.

The last time it appeared Colombia would have a leftist president was in 1948 with the candidacy of the fiery and popular Liberal Party leader Jorge Gaitan. Tragically, Gaitan was assassinated before the election, leading to the period of ‘La Violencia’, in which between 200,000 and 300,000 Colombians were killed over the following decade. In the melee which immediately followed Gaitan’s assassination, a young Fidel Castro and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who would later become life-long friends, would briefly encounter each other in the streets of Bogota. It is uncertain who was behind the assassination of Gaitan, though one of the main versions, and certainly my belief, is that it was the newly-created CIA, which became the US’ regime-change instrument for decades to come.

RELATED CONTENT: Colombia’s President Petro: Guaidó’s Presidency is Non-Existent

Even after La Violencia, Colombia has continued to be marked by gruesome political violence, even to the present time, with over 220,000 killed in such violence since 1958. In recent years, this violence has mostly been carried out by US-backed military and paramilitary death squads closely aligned with the right-wing governments which have seamlessly governed Colombia since 2002. The state violence since 2002 has been staggering, with the military murdering at least 6,400 and possibly 10,000 people from 2002 to 2008 alone. Meanwhile, over 92,000 Colombians have been disappeared, and over 5 million Colombians are internally displaced, amounting to one of the largest numbers of internally-displaced people in the world.

Given this landscape and the numerous death threats both Petro and Marquez received during the presidential campaign, and for years before, many have feared they could suffer the same fate as Gaitan. Indeed, the two campaigned behind bullet-proof shields to protect them from the very real threat of assassination. This threat has not abated simply because they have been elected, and just surviving their full term in office will be a very real feat.

The threat Petro and Marquez pose to the system and powers-that-be, both in Colombia and Washington, is their promise to break the hold that the rich oligarchs have had over Colombia for centuries and to redistribute wealth by shifting the tax burden and boosting the social safety net in order to benefit the poor and the disenfranchised indigenous and black population. Colombia is, by design, one of the most unequal societies on Earth, and those on the top will not cede their wealth, land, or power easily, and the US, which dominates Colombia through this elite, will not allow this to easily happen. In addition, Colombia, the only NATO partner in this hemisphere outside of North America, is the US’ closest ally in Latin America and the base of operations to dominate the region. The US, still wedded to the Monroe Doctrine, will resist mightily any attempt of Petro and Marquez to change this.

RELATED CONTENT: Petro Reveals Timetable for Resumption of Diplomatic Relations with Venezuela (+Monómeros)

Washington is already panicking at the fact that, with the election of the two, five of the largest economies in Latin America are now being led by leftist presidents, and this may soon become six if Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the current frontrunner in Brazil, is re-elected this year. US officials are open about the fact that they wish to maintain control over the region’s vast resources, and these leftist presidents, who wish to use their countries’ resources for the benefit of their own people, stand in the way of this control. The head of US Southern Command, General Laura Richardson, made it clear recently that the focus of US operations in the region is to maintain control of the region’s “off the charts” resources. As she explained, “60% of the world’s lithium is in the region; you have heavy crude, you have light sweet crude, you have rare earth elements, you have the Amazon…”  The US has no intention of letting these resources slip through its fingers.

In short, the real threat of regime change looms over the new Petro/Marquez administration in Colombia, and it will take vigilance and international solidarity to ensure that this threat is not realized. Latin America desperately needs the type of social change that Petro and Marquez promise, and we must ensure that there is no repeat of the fate which befell others like Gaitan, or President Salvador Allende in Chile, who promised the same.

Dan Kovalik is a US labor and human rights lawyer, writer and activist. He has been a peace activist throughout his life and has been deeply involved in the movement for peace and social justice in Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and other countries in the Global South. He has taught International Human Rights at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law since 2012.

Orinoco Tribune, August 16, 2022, https://orinocotribune.com/

Opinion: A long history of collective struggle in Maine’s restaurant industry / by Andy O’Brien

Photo: Corey Templeton | Creative Commons via Flickr

Originally published in the Beacon: https://mainebeacon.com/

High staff turnover rates in restaurants also make it difficult to maintain worker power to establish organizing committees and maintain it through the long drawn out process of getting workers to sign union cards, winning the secret ballot election and negotiating a contract, as employers often drag their feet until a year passes and they can run a decertification campaign. Employers will also exploit divisions between dining room and kitchen staff.

It has been deeply inspiring to witness the efforts of workers at Starbucks in Biddeford and Chipotle in Augusta to organize their workplaces in an industry that is notorious for low wages and a difficult work environment. But as these union drives have shown, corporations will go to extreme lengths to stop employees from organizing, including firing organizers and closing the business in blatant violation of our weak labor laws.

As of 2020, the food service industry had one of the lowest unionization rates of any sector in the US — just 1.2%, compared to 10.8% of all wage and salary workers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That’s why it’s so impressive that food service workers in Maine and across the country are winning union elections against all odds. But this isn’t the first time restaurant workers in Maine have risen up and organized and it certainly won’t be the last.

A History of Struggle

As early as the 1890s, Maine restaurant and hotel workers began organizing and forming worker organizations known as “labor and benefit” orders, according to labor historian Charlie Scontras. In 1919, members of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees’ International Alliance and Bartenders’ International League of America (HERE) established locals in Augusta and Portland. Then in 1928, the Portland local brought HERE’s international president, Edward Flore, and an organizer to the city where they were reportedly “met with good success, adding several new houses to the fair list and strengthening the Local.”

Two years later, in 1930, the Portland Central Labor Union, a precursor to the Southern Maine Labor Council, funded an organizer to help establish a HERE local, but it failed to survive “due to the lack of interest in this class of workers.”

However, union activity in Maine dramatically increased with the passage of the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, which created the fundamental right of workers to organize, and the Maine State Federation of Labor (MSFL), a precursor to the Maine AFL-CIO, successfully convinced HERE to send another organizer. The Teamsters in Portland even passed a resolution at that time refusing to patronize non-union restaurants in the city.

The main driving force for organizing efforts in the 1930s was that wages were incredibly low and Maine still didn’t have a minimum wage law. Jesse W. Taylor, Maine’s Commissioner for Labor and Industry, observed in 1939 that many workers in restaurants and other female-dominated industries in Maine earned just $5 a week ($106 adjusted for inflation) for 54 to 64 hours of work. At the very least, Taylor argued that the state should establish a 25-cent per hour minimum wage law for women and minors.

The Federal Fair Labor Standards Act didn’t cover restaurant workers, and Maine was one of the last states in New England to pass a minimum wage law in 1959, but it still didn’t cover restaurant servers.

Just like today, wage theft and blacklisting were very common in the restaurant industry. Taylor pointed to one case where a restaurant owner refused to pay a young woman who worked 72 hours in one week because, the employer argued, she was leaving the job.

“We had proof she had worked over time. The books at the restaurant can be checked,” said Taylor. “She went in court and testified. It cost the employer $36 in court and she was blacklisted and could not get a job anywhere in the city. Violations have been going on elsewhere. They would like to go to court, but do not dare to.”

Speaking to the MSFL Convention in 1954, Maine’s Labor Commissioner lamented the state’s failure to pass minimum wage legislation and said that workers didn’t come out and testify in support of it in great numbers because they were likely afraid of losing their jobs.

HERE continued to support union organizing drives throughout the 1950s, but the anti-union legal system unfortunately chilled the momentum. In 1954, workers established HERE Local 390 at Theodore’s Lobster House in Portland (later DiMillo’s Lobster House) which led to a court injunction banning picketing of the establishment that was later upheld by the Maine Supreme Court. This blatant suppression of free speech ignited the labor movement to demand a state level Labor Relations Act to protect restaurant, hotel and retail workers, who were not covered under federal labor laws.

At the 1954 MSFL convention, workers claimed that the Portland Chamber of Commerce had even sent letters “asking all restaurants apparently to keep labor organizations away from their doors.” The convention voted to drop Portland from its list of recommended convention sites in 1956 in solidarity with restaurant workers.

One HERE worker organizer in Portland noted that restaurant workers earned as low as 22 cents an hour and that the Eastland Hotel even imposed “fines” on workers that “sometimes completely consumes the weekly pay.” In a letter to a state legislator in 1965, the organizer wrote:

“The State of Maine is called ‘Vacationland.’ A vacationland needs tourists and these tourists need accommodations. We, the workers of the Hotel and Restaurant Industry provide the services needed for these accommodations. Yet, we are the most sorely neglected citizens of this state. We work a 54-hour week for as little as $.25, $.35, and $.50 cents an hour.

Are we not as good citizens of our country as they are? Must we receive less pay because we work in Maine? Because of a few who have the financial power … must we remain 65 years behind the rest of the country?”

In the late 1970s, there was another resurgence of organizing in the restaurant industry. As one supporter of the unionization effort wrote in Maine Labor News:

“Would you like to work for exactly one half the legal minimum wage? Would you like overtime being at 46 rather than 40 hours per week? Would you like to work on a piecework system largely at the mercy of supervisors who play favorites?

Would you like to be sent home without pay because there isn’t ‘enough work’ on your shift without compensation? Would you like to have no pension plan, no medical benefits, no paid holidays or sick pay? If you enjoy the terms of such employment you could work for a job as a waitress or waiter anywhere in the state.

Would you like to sink hundreds of dollars into an education at a trade school in culinary arts only to find that you are not making enough money on the Job after graduation to pay for your education?

Would you like to wash dishes, clean motel rooms, scour pots, or bus tables for $2.30 an hour? If you have answered ‘Yes’ to any of these questions, you, too, could qualify for work in the hotel or restaurant business.”

The most successful union drive of the 1970s was on August 3, 1977 when servers, bartenders and kitchen staff at the Roundhouse Motor Inn in Auburn voted to form a union with HERE. In the 1980s, it was sole unionized restaurant in the state and union workers often patronized it, including holding meetings there during the International Paper Strike of ’87-88.

However, workers trying to organize the Portland Red Coach Grille and Convention Center in 1976 faced much more difficult odds after the business fired a lead organizer, setting off a year of unfair labor practice complaints, appeals, staff turnover and rampant union busting that culminated in a defeat for the union. With the anti-union climate of the 1980s and 90s, it wasn’t until the 21st century that restaurant workers briefly began organizing again with the establishment of the Southern Maine Workers Center in the mid 2000s.

But given the increasing passion of restaurant workers for collective action in the 2020s, perhaps we can look forward to patronizing more unionized restaurants and hotels in Maine in the near future!

Editor’s Note: This post first appeared on the Maine AFL-CIO’s blog. Most of the information in this article was gathered from the book “Maine Labor in the Age of Deindustrialization and Global Markets: 1955 – 2005” by Charles Scontras. 

Andy O’Brien is the communications director for the Maine AFL-CIO, a statewide federation of 160 local unions representing 40,000 workers. However, his opinions are his own and don’t represent the views of his employer. He is also a member of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1445.

Beacon, August 11, 2022, https://mainebeacon.com/

Report highlights mental health struggles of Maine’s kids by Maine News Service

Photo: Etienne | Creative Commons via Flickr

Originally published in the Beacon: https://mainebeacon.com/

Children’s advocacy groups are sounding the alarm about the mental health challenges of Maine’s kids.

The 2022 Kids Count Data Book, released last week, highlights how children are struggling with anxiety and depression at unprecedented levels, about one-in-nine nationally.

Helen Hemminger, research associate with Maine’s Children Alliance, said about one-in-six kids experienced these challenges in Maine.

“We know that the pandemic contributed to stress and isolation for almost all youth,” said Hemminger. “And children have the best chance of thriving when they can learn skills to manage anxiety and access quality mental health care without stigma.”

The report comes on the heels of a Department of Justice finding that Maine violated the Americans with Disabilities Act for not providing adequate community-based mental health services for children.

Hemminger said it’s all the more reason for the state to expand investments to identify kids who are struggling and improve access to services, especially in rural areas.

The Data Book report ranked Maine 12th among states for overall child well-being.

Hemminger said improvement is needed in the education domain, where Maine ranked 22nd. She explained that greater investments are needed given the learning disruptions that occurred during the pandemic.

“Evidence shows that young brains are running quite fast, and what they learn early on can influence the whole trajectory of their school and even into their adult careers,” said Hemminger. “So it’s really important to put some attention into helping kids perform as best they can.”

Meanwhile, Leslie Boissiere — vice president for external affairs with the Casey Foundation — said data over the past decade reveals encouraging trends in child well-being nationally.

“Children today have better access to early education,” said Boissiere. “Children have better access or more access to health insurance. And there’s a tremendous sense of optimism among young people in terms of their ability and their desire to make this country better than it already is.”

Boissiere said policymakers should seize on that optimism and enact policies so that all children and young people can thrive.

Maine Beacon, August 16, 2022, https://mainebeacon.com/

80% of US Voters Across Party Lines Support Expanding Social Security / by Jessica Corbett

Activists participate in a rally urging the expansion of Social Security benefits in front of the White House on July 13, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Originally published in Common Dreams

“With Republicans threatening to cut benefits—and worse, eliminate the program entirely—Dems need to make clear they’re fighting to protect and expand benefits.”

As progressive lawmakers renewed calls for protecting Social Security from GOP attacks, Data for Progress on Monday pointed to polling that shows about 80% of U.S. voters across partisan divides support boosting benefits.

“While Democrats have a plan to protect and enhance Social Security, Republicans have shared their plans to privatize, cut, and even end this program!”

As a recent Social Security Administration report explains, “The Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) program makes monthly income available to insured workers and their families at retirement, death, or disability.”

The program traces back to the Social Security Act, signed into law on August 14, 1935 by then-U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Marking the 87th anniversary Sunday, the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) warned that the program is “under attack from Republicans,” despite its popularity among voters.

Data for Progress highlighted Monday that 86% of voters surveyed in June said they are “very” or “somewhat” concerned that the U.S. government will reduce Social Security benefits for those who currently receive them.

In July, the progressive think tank found that 70% of all voters—including 76% of Independents, 71% of Republicans, and 64% of Democrats—said they had heard “nothing at all” about GOP proposals to “sunset” the program.

Data for Progress also found last month that 81% of all likely voters—including 88% of Democrats, 79% of Independents, and 75% of Republicans—support legislation to raise Social Security benefits to match the cost of living.

“Moreover, voters strongly support the pay-fors introduced in new legislation that would increase the solvency of Social Security and pay for new, expanded benefits,” the group noted in a blog post. “We find that 76% of voters support imposing a payroll tax on Americans making more than $400,000 annually, including 88% of Democrats, 76% of Independents, and 65% of Republicans.”

The July polling further showed that 79% of all voters—including 89% of Democrats, 72% of Independents, and 72% of Republicans—believe Congress “should vote to expand Social Security benefits now, even though Democratic proposals only expand benefits for five years and would raise taxes on Americans earning more than $400,000 per year.”

As Democrats worry about losing control of Congress this November, the think tank pointed out that polls from this year suggest candidates would do better in elections if voters knew they want to expand Social Security.

Carly Berke, the strategic partnerships coordinator at Data for Progress and co-author of the new blog post, tweeted that amid GOP attacks on Social Security, Democrats “need to make clear they’re fighting to protect and expand benefits.”

U.S. Rep Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the CPC’s chair, and other members of Congress made that message clear in a Monday afternoon event hosted by .
Jayapal urged those benefiting from the program to share their stories and pressure lawmakers to pass Social Security 2100: A Sacred Trust, legislation introduced by Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.).

“Social Security has provided our nation with the most comprehensive retirement, disability, and survivors benefits for 87 years,” Larson said in a statement. “Democrats are fighting to expand and protect it, yet my Republican colleagues have plans to cut benefits and even end the program as a whole.”

“Congress has not acted in 50 years to enhance benefits,” he noted. “The American people have made clear they want to protect the program they pay into with each and every paycheck so they can retire with dignity. With the Covid-19 pandemic still impacting our country and Republicans revealing their plans to end benefits, there is a fierce urgency to protect and enhance Social Security now.”

Advocating for his bill, Larson said that “alongside commemorating 87 years of this program, Congress must pass Social Security 2100: A Sacred Trust to make much-needed benefit improvements and ensure this program can serve our nation for years to come. Congress must vote!”

Some progressive lawmakers—including Jayapal—also support the Social Security Expansion Act, legislation introduced in June by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

“A lot has changed in 87 years, but Americans’ reliance on Social Security has not,” DeFazio said Monday. “My bill, the Social Security Expansion Act (SSEA) would enhance monthly benefits and keep the program solvent through 2096.”

Common Dreams, August 15, 2022, https://www.commondreams.org/

Party youth and our political moment / by Carol Widom

This article was adapted from a speech presented at the opening of the 2022 Little Red School House, in New York City.

Good morning comrades!

I am really excited and honored to be able to welcome you this morning to the opening of the 2022 national Communist Party youth school! I also want to extend these welcoming remarks on behalf of our NY State District and our National Board and National leadership, our co-chairs Joe and Rosanna.

Welcome also to this building, our revolutionary space, that houses the national headquarters of the Communist Party and that for the next week will be your space where you are encouraged to discuss, plan, debate, learn, form new and deeper friendships and feel it is your safe space to think and talk about building the future.

I want to congratulate you on acceptance to the youth school. It is a testament to your commitment to participate in the movement, to your leadership and your sincere, undoubting working-class outlook: a better world is possible.

Let me just tell you a little about my background to begin. I was an early childhood teacher for about 25 years in the NYC public school system. I was active in my union, the UFT, as a member of the rank and file. In this most recent period, the rank and file, due in part to the work of our Communist Party Educators’ Club, has been organizing, fighting, and winning against the UFT’s attempts to privatize our healthcare, as well as that of 250,000 NYC retirees. A coalition of rank-and-file caucuses ran the United For Change slate against the class collaborationist UFT head, and, as a result, one of our comrades won a seat on the executive board, where he’ll be pushing progressive demands for changes in the school system.

I worked several years at People’s World when it was a print edition as editor of the Spanish language pages, Nuestro Mundo, and throughout my life had various other jobs. In the early ’80s, I joined the Communist Party in Brooklyn. I can tell you that it was the best decision of my life in that through Party work I was able to turn my socialistic leanings into relevant, purposeful, meaningful action. And I’ve never stopped learning and trying to deepen my understanding of Marxism or had any reason to look back. So that’s a little about me.

The task of the youth in general, and of the Young Communist Leagues … might be summed up in a single word: learn.

I wanted to highlight a quote from Lenin on the occasion of the beginning of the 2022 Little Red Schoolhouse that particularly struck me:

“I must say that the task of the youth in general, and of the Young Communist Leagues and all other organizations in particular, might be summed up in a single word: learn.”

For the wisdom of these words to be fully realized, the thinking and experiences of everyone must be shared. This means making room in the conversation for all to express their ideas in camaraderie, thoughtfulness, and consideration of the value that everyone’s ideas and questions bring to the table. We should be vigilant against any instances where some comrades might tend to dominate the conversation, keeping in mind other comrades who might be quieter or more shy. We have to provide a space where everyone has a chance to feel comfortable. We must be mindful of the diversity of the collective and ensure that all are heard, in order for the conversations to be fair, substantial, and consequential.

Communist youth in action

When I think about our Communist youth and the things they are doing throughout the country, as we used to say back in the day, it “blows my mind.”

Our youth are engaged in bold actions that respond to the needs of our working class. They work in and build coalitions, always playing a unifying role, organizing around common struggles and leading in many. They play leadership roles with veteran comrades in Party Clubs and committees, write powerful pieces in the People’s World, and meet regularly and collectively with the Party membership to exchange ideas that advance the democratic struggles for equality, social and economic justice, and peace, and against white supremacy and the current fascist danger.

Early on, here in New York City, the YCL Organizing Collective formed a book club to delve into the classics, historical and movement literature. When the pandemic hit, Communist youth formed mutual aid groups in various cities; they organized tenant rights groups, anti-war and anti-imperialist collectives; they led a rally to protest the embargo against Cuba. They were at the front lines in union organizing at Amazon and Starbucks, and joined solidarity picket lines against Black Stone. They mobilized for criminal justice and prison abolition with banners and posters, the Party flag waving high in marches for Black Lives, for reproductive rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and at the Pride March. They organized on college campuses, set up tables to register voters and distribute PW articles and literature on voting rights, immigrant rights, Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ rights, Rural Workers, Bill of Rights Socialism. And the list goes on and on.

Communist youth are organizing in cities and districts throughout the country. There are YCL collectives in Boston, Chicago, Colorado, Columbus, D.C., Indiana, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia; they are firmly integrated into Party clubs and often take the lead in carrying out work and actions. I know in our club and district we would not be able to carry out the work of the Party anywhere near as successfully without the YCL. Youth leaders participate in district and club meetings, taking the kinds of initiatives that speak to their energy, enthusiasm, and solid political roots in the Party and Marxist thought. They elevate the socialist agenda in the mass movements.

The youth movement throughout the U.S. has led in the struggles against police murders, climate destruction, union-busting, for fair wages and union organizing, with a majority expressing favorable opinions of socialism over capitalism. This is part of the background of what Joe has termed our socialist moment. In 2020, the youth vote increased by 11% from 2016, from 39% to 50%. Young people are committed to political engagement and action.

We can just look at the 400-strong Communist contingent at the Poor People’s Campaign rally in DC. The red T-shirts, flags, and banners that stood out so strikingly—it could not have been accomplished without the tremendous organizing work of the YCL in the Party districts, in particular in doing footwork in DC and NY. It was a terrific example of applying our Communist plus to our mass work, and the Poor People’s Campaign expressed their appreciation for our organizing work and participation.

In today’s political moment, the path to socialism is paved by the battle for democracy.

Our full participation in mass struggle builds the revolutionary movement. The fight to defend and expand democracy and democratic rights is the correct course on the path to socialism. In today’s political moment, the path to socialism is paved by the battle for democracy.

We also need to analyze, to assess and hone our tactics, to update our work and approaches based on our science, adjust what needs to be adjusted, considering the advances in technology, social media, and other factors that are part of the culture and the times.

We also face challenges that arise from the rapid growth of the YCL and of the Party.  We must find ways to best organize and consolidate a growing membership.

The tremendous surge in union organizing, in trade union and working-class consciousness among the youth and among workers in general presents challenges. How can we best mobilize emerging new forces, and grow class consciousness, unions and union solidarity? How can we galvanize the outrage that people feel at the assaults on the working class—physical assaults, economic, ideological assaults? How do we cast the widest net possible to unify for working-class and democratic victories against these assaults and fascist threats?

Our political moment

American families are overwhelmed by inflation, and lines are growing at food banks all over the country, with the rapid rise of rents and an end to COVID-19 relief. Price gouging by oil and food corporations forces people to turn to food lines to feed their families.

Republicans and wrecking-ball Manchin, loyal to oil and other corporate interests, have derailed the Build Back Better agenda that would begin to address climate change as well. All this as the world literally melts around us, with temperatures reaching well over 100 degrees, fires raging in the West Coast and globally, people dying from the effects of extreme heat. Yet, Republican deniers reiterate comments like, “It’s summer, and it’s normal to have hot days.” There is nothing normal about what’s happening to our environment.

In front of the Supreme Court, dozens of activists, joined last week by legislators—among them AOC, Ilhan Omar, Barbara Lee, Carolyn Maloney, and Cori Booker—were arrested, protesting and sitting down in the middle of the street chanting, “We Won’t Go Back!” This was days before the House passed two bills aimed at protecting women’s autonomy and the right to an abortion. One would codify Roe into law, and the other would protect the right to interstate travel to seek an abortion.

Despite the legislative roadblocks, people keep struggling to find ways to protect all the fundamental rights that are under threat, putting Republicans on record opposing them.

Masses of people are engaging in “good trouble, necessary trouble.”

In a sign of growing public pressure, earlier this week the Respect for Marriage Act to codify same-sex marriage seemed more likely to get the votes needed to break a filibuster. Forty-seven Republicans voted in the House to pass the bill that would enshrine protections for same-sex marriage into federal law.

A club in Arizona has engaged in weekly rallies to demand an end to the filibuster. Let’s remember that the tremendous movement around the Poor People’s Campaign grew out of Rev. William Barber’s initiative in bringing people together in North Carolina at the church steps, speaking to the issues during Moral Mondays.

Communist youth are organizing collectives to help women travel across states to obtain an abortion.

Abortion rights organizations collected hundreds of thousands of signatures for the Reproductive Freedom for All campaign in Michigan. The overturning of Roe v. Wade by the far-right Republican-dominated Court is not only widely unpopular, it’s galvanizing women and reproductive rights allies across the country. Millions refuse to accept the decision and are fighting on multiple fronts, including the ballot box.

Outraged voters could make the difference in defeating Republican candidates in state and congressional elections.

The Supreme Court ruling criminalizing abortion means that, for the time being, the battlefront to defend abortion and reproductive freedom centers on states and the 2022 elections. The outcome could depend on whether voters amend state constitutions to protect these rights and whether pro-choice Democratic legislative majorities and governors can be elected, including in red states, to preserve and expand reproductive freedom.

The ruling is also an assault on the right to privacy, the foundation of a broad range of other democratic rights, including private sexual conduct and interracial marriage.

Demands grow that Biden expand the court. We know that, except for a relatively short time in history, during the civil rights movement, the Supreme Court was not a political apparatus for progressive change. Now the extreme right majority poses an existential threat to democracy.

The attack on reproductive freedom and voting rights, along with Supreme Court rulings undermining the ability of the EPA to regulate pollution and broadly expanding gun rights, and the Congressional hearings on the Jan. 6 insurrection, are all creating a new political framework for the 2022 election.

Like we say at rallies, when the people’s rights are under attack what do we do?  “Stand Up! Fight Back!”

For the first time in almost 20 years, when the federal assault weapons ban expired back in 2004, the House Judiciary committee is marking up a bill that would ban assault weapons. It can go to the House floor.

It’s not just a question of what the Democrats can do with the limited power they have to get things passed. The power of the people is not limited to the Democrats’ agenda, but it’s important to move on these key issues and democratic demands. Some say that because of today’s legislature composition, legislative actions are symbolic. But people’s power mobilized, organized, and massive is not symbolic—it’s very real and powerful.

We set the agenda, and the standard is not what the political pundits say will pass. The standard for our demands is what the people and families need to live and to thrive.

November and the fight against the right

Contrary to the assumption that 2022 will be a “done deal” election for the GOP, the latest polls show Democratic and anti-MAGA voter sentiment intensifying, and all the critical battleground races are now competitive. Some are now predicting that a big voter turnout in defense of constitutional democracy could result in a larger Democratic Senate caucus, including a pro-abortion, anti-filibuster majority.

This is the new framework we live in, and it shows where we can win.

The explosive testimonies in the Jan. 6th hearings, watched by tens of millions, has shifted public opinion. The compelling testimony by Trump’s own Republican allies, staffers, aides—and even his own family—has delivered a powerful blow to the Trump gang’s schemes, exposing their lies and criminality.

In public opinion polls, 60% now say that Trump is responsible for the insurrection and 65% believe that his election lies were, in fact, lies.

The fake electors are now facing criminal prosecution and the pressure is on the Department of Justice to indict Trump, who thinks that declaring his intention to run in 2024 can shield him from prosecution. Just last week, Trump asked the Wisconsin Assembly speaker to overturn the 2020 election results! So, he’s still at it—the only thing that will stop him is to throw him in jail!

Yet, the machinations to install Trump Republicans as heads of election committees, the nefarious attempt to strip state legislatures of oversight—actions like these show why we need to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the For the People Act.

The extreme right is desperate because the outcome of the midterms is not preordained. The times we are in are extraordinary, continually punctuated with mass protests, civil disobedience, and marches. If taken to the ballot box, people’s movements can win in the midterms and deal heavy blows against the extreme right, fascist movement.

The plot for a fascist coup hatched by Trump and his gang—e.g., the hair-dye-dripping Giuliani, Eastman, Sydney Powell, and various corporate backers—is now clear to millions of voters. The attempt to have the military seize voting machines—in effect a declaration of martial law — the attempt to pressure state election officials to declare election fraud by “finding” votes; the attempt to install fake electors; to have the Justice Department “just say” there was some fraud suspected so he and his minions would “take care of the rest”; to keep Pence from certifying the electoral count, even if by literally lynching him; the physical and racist threats to legislators and election workers that refused to go along with Trump’s big lie that the election was stolen; and the last-ditch move to have the insurrectionist mob overthrow the government in a fascist coup have all been placed before the public, moving us closer to Trump’s criminal indictment. Yet, his core cult-like base is still under the hypnotic spell of his manipulative personality. The number 11,780 should be emblazoned on his prison clothes—the votes he said “I just want to ‘find’” to overturn the election.

This is a moment for bold action—to rally together coalition partners, to make clear the connection between voting and fighting the fascist movement. In response to a report from Joe Sims to our Party’s National Committee, Comrade Chris and others in the New York district  are exploring initiatives to expose the corporate connections and supporters of the fascist coup. There are 147 GOP members of Congress who voted, in league with the coup plotters, to overturn the 2020 election. What you don’t hear in the big business press is that the members of this so-called Sedition Caucus have received corporate funding, now surpassing $21.5 million. In coalition with our partners in the people’s movements, along with the progressive press and media, our YCL and Party clubs can help organize actions to expose the financial feeders of the fascist coup caucus, while building the movement and the Party.

We know that under capitalism, we go from one crisis to another crisis. It’s in the nature of a system that is based on exploitation of the working class by the capitalist class. Capital is never satiated. Legislatures pass bills to give away billions in corporate welfare— the chip industry is the latest one—but capital will never solve the problems that besiege and oppress the working class. Capital will eat up the wealth labor creates and be back soon like pigs at the trough asking for more.

In the endless quest for increased profits, capitalism is a system that gives legal cover to the ruling class to commit murder.

Inhumane conditions in prisons, where people are incarcerated for years waiting to have cases heard, many without even being charged; the prison labor system; racist police killings; gun violence and horrific massacres with assault weapons, now the number one cause of death of children—all are the result of a racist, capitalist system, where corporate profits in the gun and other industries are valued above human life.

In the Uvalde investigation report, it was concluded that numerous measures could have been taken to prevent the massacre of 19 children and 2 teachers.  However, an important contributing factor was that there was “no legal impediment to the gunman buying [the assault weapons].”

Under tremendous public pressure, the House has just advanced a bill to ban assault weapons for the first time in almost 20 years. In California, a new state law makes it possible to sue and hold gun manufacturers and dealers responsible when they don’t follow the strict gun laws and their products cause harm.

Young people across the U.S. are leading in the struggle against gun violence, and Communist youth are taking action in YCL collectives to end police murder, advance criminal justice reform, and fight against endless wars and the bloated military budget.

Marxism applied

We know that the understanding and implementation of the science of Marxism has liberated the working class of socialist societies, and has revealed how beautiful life can be.

During this week you will collectively assess the conditions and needs of the people, the balance of forces, and the steps needed to build a massive people’s movement
on the path to socialism. We can deepen the discussion around the struggles for preservation and expansion of democratic rights, of victories for the movements against racism, chauvinism, never-ending wars, voter suppression, for healthcare, housing and education, women’s rights and broader civil rights, and the very preservation of the planet.

We know you are on the right side of history! You can use our science not only as a source of deeper study and knowledge, but also as a source of inspiration for what is possible in the future. A future that belongs to you.

Solidarity and on to a better world, a beautiful life and Socialism!

Images: Young CPUSA / YCL members at the June 18 Poor People’s Campaign rally in the nation’s capital, DC Communist Party (Twitter); NYC Queer Liberation march (CPUSA); Little Red Schoolhouse participants in Washington Square Park (CPUSA); Anti-displacement demonstration at City Hall (CPUSA).

Communist Party USA, August 11, 2022, https://www.cpusa.org/