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Paid sick leave has been a major policy issue in our city since 2011. This policy fight emerged from a high-profile work place struggle that goes back to 2005. Now, 10 years later, we are as close to passing paid sick leave legislation as we ever have been.

On Tuesday, January 27th, Councilman Bill Greenlee will introduce paid sick leave legislation for the third time.

If you stand with the 200,000 Philadelphians who don’t have any paid sick leave, please joins us in City Council Chambers, Room 400 at 10 a.m., Tuesday (weather permitting). POWER Interfaith will be there, represented by Reverend Greg Holston of New Vision United Methodist Church.

For some back ground on the origins of this policy fight for paid sick days, continue reading to learn how ten years ago, hundreds of non-union security officers kicked off the fight for paid sick leave and won many work place improvements on the way.

I began organizing with security officers at the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University and the Community College of Philadelphia in 2004. After several meetings with the security officers to talk about their problems, we had a strategy meeting in early 2005.

The purpose of the meeting was to “cut the issue.”

This is organizer jargon that means that we will look at all of the problems that a community is facing to find THE ISSUE that we think has the most promise of providing a much needed win.

Back then, I was the Executive Director of Jobs with Justice and I was assisted by the enormously talented staff organizers, Eduardo Soriano and sometimes, Dorian Lam.

At this point, these security officers didn’t have the option of joining a union (Security officers are restricted under the law to join unions that only have other security officers as their members. There were no “security officer only” unions interested in us or that we were interested in joining). People who are in unions have the benefit of a legal structure (the National Labor Relations Board), which requires an employer to at least discuss all of workers problems. However, since we didn’t have the benefit of being able to join a union, the security officers (most of them were employed by Allied Barton security company) had to find another way to improve their work lives.

They faced so many problems. This video lays out some of the problems that they faced-

Of course they wanted to improve their wages. They wanted to get health care. The security officers needed better training. They wanted better equipment and an improved call-out policy. They needed paid sick leave. They wanted to be treated with dignity.

With all of these problems, problems that caused so much personal pain for these workers, it was difficult to prioritize them. There was an urgent need to address all of them. An organizer will not tell a community that any of their desires for change are impossible. No, we ask: “what will it take for us to win?”

That first win, and sequencing the victories that follow, is “strategy.”

So, the questions changes from “what are the problems we face?” to “which ‘problem’ can we turn into an ‘issue’ that the person in power/company/elected official is forced to take action on?”

Turning “problems” into “issues” = “cutting the issue.”

Of the long list of things that we needed to change, we decide that the most strategic issue to raise, on the long path to improving the lives of 16,000 mostly African-American security officers, was paid sick leave.

Paid sick leave was a problem that was broadly felt (by every security officer we spoke with, regardless of the company they worked for). It was also an issue that was deeply felt. Many security officers had been fired or had seen friends fired for missing work when they were sick, whether they “called out” or not.

Many of our leaders were single mothers, and many of them had stories of having to miss work because their children were too sick to be left alone. Due to this, we found that single mothers were more than twice as likely to be fired within the first year of employment than their male counterparts.

We thought that paid sick leave was the issue to campaign for.

I would like to put this campaign into better context.

At this point (2005), social justice groups around the country were trying to figure out how to improve the working conditions of sub-contracted workers. This type of employment arrangement was growing rapidly.

In fact, security officers at Penn, Temple and the Museum of Art used to be direct employees of those institutions. Back when that was the case, they were treated much better. For example, security officers at the universities use to be able to take free classes and also send their children there for free. Security officers at the museum were members of the union AFSCME and had pensions, living wages, fully-paid health care, generous paid vacations, and paid sick leave, not to mention they were protected from unjust firings by a standard discipline procedure and paid-for union lawyers and volunteer shop-stewards.

However, in the 1990s, all of this began to unravel.

The universities fired the security officers and handed that function over to Barton Security (later to merge with Allied Security, a company owned by Ron Perelman, to form Allied Barton). Barton Security hired back many of the same employees, but at a cut rate. One old-time security officer told me that they were offered their jobs back at $2 less per hour, and year after year their benefits were cut further.

Likewise, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art then-Mayor Ed Rendell fired all of the security officers and sub-contracted to Barton Security. Paid sick days, their living wages, all benefits, and their union all disappeared over night.

Fast forward to 2005 when we launched our campaign for paid sick leave in 2005 at Penn and Temple University.

The company was, by this time, Allied Barton. Allied Barton is owned by MacAndrews and Forbes, the private equity fund owned by Ron Perelman. The President of MacAndrews and Forbes was Howard Gittis.

If those names ring a bell, it might be because Mr. Perelman, his family’s and Mr. Gittis’ names are emblazoned upon buildings at all three sites, to which they have been major donors, and at which, their company, AlliedBarton, has had huge security contracts.

In short, we were really fighting against the tide. We had not a sympathetic ear at any of these institutions. To add to the impossibility of our efforts, our nation would soon get dropped kicked into the Great Recession, a difficult time to extract any economic improvements from large corporations.

City Democrats had endorsed the first cut, the universities enjoyed the “generosity” of Mr. Perelman and Gittis’, and had awarded them with huge contracts. The museum, also was in the back pocket (deep pockets, indeed) of Mr. Perelman and had just opened the Perelman Annex (Mr. Perelman’s parents made a huge contribution to make that happen), and our little crew had no union backing us.

Finally, in Philadelphia, Allied Barton enjoyed an near union-free monopoly, bringing more than 10% of its total national revenue from Philadelphia alone, a profitable market that the company was not likely to relinquish with out a fight.

That said, we felt that we had a solid issue to run on. Not only would many security officers be motivated to join our cause, so would many in the general public when they heard that these workers didn’t have the barest protection of paid sick days.

So, we launched our campaign for paid sick leave in 2005 at the University of Pennsylvania. The movement was lead by workers from Presbyterian Hospital, Penn Dorm workers like Thomas Robinson and many security officers from “Penn Rovers” (aka Penn Walk, or the officers that are on bikes and on foot in the periphery of Penn) and students from Penn.

After several protests, our group was approached by Reverend Beverly Dale from the Penn Christian Association. She told us that she was morally disturbed by learning that the security officers had no sick leave. Rev. Dale offered to support us and introduce us to other clergy.

By 2006, we were having meetings with security officers from more than 5 different companies, all of which wanted to support the movement for paid sick leave, because they too lacked it.

We had protest actions on at least a monthly basis which either targeted the president of Penn or Temple, but we saw little advancement.

In 2007, Rev. Jay Broadnax and Rev. Beverly Dale staged a brief sit-in in the office of Penn President Amy Gutmann.

Finally, due to the courage of the clergy, we proved that we could gain benefits for sub-contractors by putting pressure on the client. This was a major break through, and this has informed the actions of dozens of campaigns around the nation since. The video shows us marching away from the office after we gained the promise to meet and negotiate for paid sick days and other issues.

Penn Administrators refused to negotiate directly with our worker leaders.

Rev. Dale served as our proxy and brought security officers our first victory of 5 days of paid sick leave!

This victory increased the pressure on the administrations at Temple.

As Daily News Columnist, Ronnie Polaneczky points out in her 2007 column: “For Guards, Workplace Insecurity,”

“YOU’D THINK that, after working 16 years for the same company, Clarence Berry might be afforded the dignity of being able to call in sick from work, just once, and not have it deflate his paycheck.

But Berry, 50, works for King of Prussia-based AlliedBarton Security Services, the country’s largest provider of private security personnel. One of its contracts is with Temple University, which pays AlliedBarton about $6 million per year for 300 security guards to cover Temple’s dorms, buildings and kiosks.

The guards don’t get paid when they’re sick. Not one day, no matter how beloved, respected and entrenched they are in the Temple community

Winning paid sick leave at Temple was extremely difficult. They just would not budge.

Students and security officers kept the pressure up, going monthly to the Board of Trustees meetings.

This monthly ritual soon became disheartening. We spoke at one meeting, then the next month we were disallowed to do that. We then held up signs in the meeting in silent protest, the next month, we were banned from the meeting altogether. The next month, we protested in the hallway during the meeting, the following month, we were banned from the building.

Finally, On December 10, 2008, our clergy supporters, students, security officer and labor activists had a prayer vigil on the steps of President Ann Weaver Hart’s office.

After having been ousted for months, our clergy stood up and demanded justice.

The last speaker at the vigil was Rev. Dwayne Royster (now Bishop Dwayne Royster and the Executive Director of POWER)

Pastor Dwayne stood with the police barricading the doors behind him and told us how a “holy disruption” was required in times of injustice.

He told us how Mary, Mother of Jesus, had to disrupt her life to bring her son, Jesus, in to the world. He spoke about how the prophets disrupted their lives to make the world a better place.

After his short sermon, Rev. Royster told us that we were being asked to disrupt the meeting, the meeting going on behind him, blocked by armed police officers.

With that, Rev. Royster turned and walked to the doors and we all began to follow.

I was amazed when the police officer opened the door for us and walked away as more than one hundred of us streamed in and up the stairs.

We occupied the stairwell and sang for some minutes before we left, empty handed, but empowered (the photo on the banner of my blog was taken as I addressed our supporters after we left the building).

A few weeks later Eduardo Soriano, Thomas Robinson, and two other security officers returned to Temple and infiltrated President Weaver Hart’s Christmas party (so many big $ donors in the room!).

We did this-

30 days later, Temple announced that they too would change the paid sick leave policy for sub-contracted, AlliedBarton security officers.

Our support network was growing. By 2009 the Great Recession had hit our nation and Jobs with Justice, too, felt its punch. For a period in this year, we were all laid off. Thankfully, despite our embarrassment, the faith community sprang into compassionate action. Members of our clergy sub-committee, such as Rev. Dwayne Royster, Rev. Schaunel Steinnagel, Rev. Jay Broadnax, Rev. Beverly Dale, Rabbi Rav Soloff, Rev. Rene McKenzie, Rev. Andrew Plotcher and Linda Lotz stepped up and supported us by hosting meetings, attending actions, donating, and even putting money and bags of groceries directing into our hands to keep us organizing. My girlfriend at the time, Emily Randle, also supported me…six years later, we are very happily married :) .

Our campaign expanded and took on more sites, including the Philadelphia Housing Authority, the Philadelphia Museum of Art ,and the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, with mixed success.

At Penn, our leaders, via Rev. Dale, raised wages from $9.80/hour to $15/hour.

We won paid sick leave for the security officers at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2009.

At this point, though winning paid sick leave for everyone in Philadelphia was still one of our long-term goals, the movement thought that we were organized enough to start our own independent union.

The security officers at the Philadelphia Museum of Art won an election establishing the independent Philadelphia Security Officers Union (PSOU) in 2010, and though the focus of the PSOU naturally shifted to starting their own union from scratch at that point, I am certain that their high profile campaign for paid sick leave played a role in inspiring what has grown into a powerful movement for paid sick leave in our city today.

As the union moved toward other business, the city-wide movement of paid sick leave began to evolve out of the offices of SEIU in 2010. The original proposal was loosely coordinated with Councilman Darrell Clarke’s office.

That effort didn’t get much traction at that time and sort of dwindled away.

The charge was taken up by Marianne Bellasorte from Pathways PA and the legislative sponsorship shifted from Councilman Clarke to the then-newly elected Councilman William (Bill) Greenlee.

By 2011 (I had since left Jobs with Justice to found the Philadelphia Security Officers Union and then the Philadelphia chapter of the Restaurant Opportunities Center), the coalition, then known as the Coalition for Healthy Families and Workplaces passed he legislation through city council with the powerful advocacy of Councilman Greenlee and Councilman Wilson Goode Jr.

This legislation allowed every worker employed for a business with more than 5 employees to earn one hour of paid sick leave per 40 hours worked, up to 5 days of paid sick leave.

Sadly, Mayor Micheal Nutter vetoed the bill.

Again, Marianne Bellasorte and the rest of us passed the legislation through council in 2013.

Meanwhile, in New York City, Council Speaker, Christine Quinn, lost her bid to run to be the next mayor of NYC after the unions dropped her for not supporting paid sick leave. Current-Mayor Bill DeBlasio ran with paid sick leave s one of his main issue.

However, here in Philadelphia in 2013, Mayor Nutter vetoed it once more.

A year later, Mayor Michael Nutter formed the Task force on Paid Sick Leave to study the issue. He recruited advocates such and Ms. Bellasorte and Teo Reyes from the Restaurant Opportunities Center (I had moved on once again to organize for POWER), along with business leaders.

Meanwhile, Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild (POWER), SEIU, the Working Families Party, UNITE HERE and others chalked up the first city policy victory for paid sick leave by overwhelmingly passing a city charter change in May of 2014, which included living wages and paid sick leave for all airport workers.

In December, the Task force recommended the policy for businesses with 15 or more employees.

This Tuesday, January 27th, (weather permitting) Councilman Bill Greenlee will introduce legislation granting the benefit for employees who work at businesses with 10 or more workers.

With the mayor’s study out and an election coming up, this Spring we have the best chance we have ever had to pass (and keep) this bill.

Join us on Tuesday, at 10 a.m. In City Hall Chambers to show our City Council that 2015 is the year to make this happen. Ten years is long enough to wait!

Paid Sick Leave Time Line-

February 2005- POWR (Philadelphia Officers and Workers Rising, worker center of security officers that evolved into the independent Philadelphia Security Officers Union) launched their campaign to win paid sick leave for Philadelphia (starting with security officers at the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, Community College of Philadelphia, and at the Philadelphia Housing Authority).

2007- POWR Wins Paid Sick Leave for security officers at the University of Pennsylvania, SEIU convenes coalition to win paid sick leave for the city. The initiative was being led by Councilman Darrell Clark.

2009- POWR wins paid sick leave for security officers at Temple University. City-wide coalition disbands.

2010- POWR (which soon won their union election at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and became the independent Philadelphia Security Officers Union) Wins paid sick leave for security officers at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. New city-wide coalition forms under the auspices of Pathways PA under the leadership of Marianne Bellasorte. The legislation was transferred from Councilman Darrell Clarke to Councilman Bill Greenlee.

2011- The Pathways PA administered Coalition for Health Families and Workplaces passes earned sick leave legislation through city council. Mayor Nutter announces that he will veto the legislation from the office of the Chamber of Commerce. Councilman Wilson Goode Jr. adds paid sick leave to the 21st Century Minimum Wage and Benefits Standard ordinance.

2011- Earned Sick Leave passes city council. Legislation would have provided paid sick leave for workplaces with more than 5 employees. Mayor Nutter vetoes the legislation.

2013- Paid sick leave passes by a vote of city council again. Once again it is vetoed by Mayor Nutter.

2013- NYC Speaker of the Council, Christine Quinn, loses the support of NYC Labor Unions in her bid to run for mayor against candidate Bill DeBlasio due to her lack of support of paid sick leave.

2014- Mayor Nutter creates the Mayor’s Task Force on Paid Sick Leave. The task force recommends that the Mayor pass an Earned Sick Leave policy for the city for businesses with more than 15 employees. POWER and friends pass living wage and paid sick leave for airport workers during the May mid-term election.

2015, January 27th- Councilman Bill Greenlee will introduce earned sick leave legislation for work places with more than 10 employees.

#ReclaimMLK Day rally from the stage at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia

#ReclaimMLK Day rally from the stage at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia

I was helping to stage manage the #ReclaimMLK Day rally today in Philadelphia. It was an amazing event. Media estimates are between 7,000 and 10,000 participants. Honestly, I don’t know that it matter. What is clear is that it was the largest protest in Philadelphia in probably a decade.

The energy was great for the march and held up for most of the event. People started to drain away in the last hour when it started to get really cold.

The MLK DARE Coalition announced our demands which are to end Stop and Frisk policing in Philadelphia, a full, fair funding formula for schools and some local democratic control of our school district and a city-wide $15 minimum wage.

Rev. Nickolas O'Rourke, Living Water UCC

Rev. Nickolas O’Rourke, Living Water UCC

The coalition has called on all who want to build the movement for racial and economic justice to convene at Mother Bethel AME at 6th and Lombard ST, on Saturday, January 24 at 1:30 pm.

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VIDEO:

 

All across the country, people are out in the streets protesting, waving signs that say “Black Lives Matter,” in response the the killing of unarmed black men by police.

In Philadelphia, we will march and “Reclaim MLK Day” on Monday, Jan 19 starting at 2 pm at 44 N. Broad St and over to Independence Hall at around 3:30.

During this upheaval, I have seen friends and relatives on Facebook questioning “why” people are protesting. Most of the time, people share the sense of injustice with the protesters, but often they question the method.

People don’t understand “how are protests, screaming and yelling and having die-ins, going to change anything?”

Often, people point out how few people were voting in Ferguson before Michael Brown was shot (despite the fact that in other parts of the country in which voting rates are higher, we see the same murders and lack of police accountability).

I have some insight since my profession is to incite (move people into action).

On or around January 19th, Martin Luther King Day, we will take to the streets in protest to Reclaim MLK Day.

Find out whats happening near you here- http://fergusonresponse.tumblr.com/

MLK Day has become synonymous with being a “day of service.”

On that day, hundreds of thousands of well-meaning people gather at churches, school and parks and do good stuff, like feed the hungry, clothe the poor, clean up the neighborhood and repaint football uprights (that is what I was asked to do one year when I was the Student Body Service Coordinator of Mesa Community College).

There is nothing wrong with those actions.

However, we (Reclaim MLK people) contend that these actions don’t actually speak to the legacy of Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.

Reverend King was not known for feeding the poor. He was known for demanding the right to vote, desegregating the bus system in Montgomery and for confronting powerful people to change society in a permanent way.

He used a method of social change that he saw as a birth right to all people, called “direct-action.”

“Direct-Action” is a little spoken of dimension of our democracy (If you are saying, “we can’t be a democracy as long as racism exists.” I concede your point, but work with me to get through this explanation about how direct-action seeks to build the democracy we claim to be).

CLICK THE IMAGE TO ENLARGE

three dimensions of democratic action cropped

In our democracy, there are a few ways to make social change.

Traditionally, on MLK Day, we volunteer. Volunteering to address the immediate needs of people, such as feeding the hungry, addresses the problem for a little while. But, unfortunately, when we return to our lives, those people will likely be hungry once again. Direct-service, does not address the root cause of hunger but address a real, short-term, material need or problem.

Many people are hungry because they don’t have jobs. One remedy, feeding them, answers that issue without looking deeper to ask, “Why, in the wealthiest nation in the history the world, do we have so many hungry people?” ‘What can we do, as a society, to end hunger?”

In my diagram, I call direct-service, the “height” of our citizenship (I use “citizenship” for the lack of a better word. I know many non-citizens and undocumented immigrants are involved in all of these methods).

Another method of social change is voting. I call voting the “breadth” of our citizenship because it requires a lot of research and diligence to make a good choice in the voting booth. Voting lacks much, however. Take a look at our Congress.

Those in office are almost universally white, male and wealthy. Can we really hope that they will make the needs of the powerless a high priority? How do their lives as mostly white, male millionaires give them any understanding of the needs of regular, much less, extremely marginalized communities? When you vote for them, you are voting for their values and agenda, not necessarily your agenda or that of your community.

Direct-Action, the sacred, third dimension of our (world?) citizenship has always been essential to making progress for regular and marginalized people in our nation.

Direct-Action, often recognized by non-agitators by the “street protest,” is a powerful tool.

Direct-Action, is social change created BY the people affected by the problem. These people are calling the shots and they confront the powerful to permanently change their relationship with the powerful people.

When they gain some power, they enact changes that have a direct and material change for those people (think: “the right to vote” or “higher wages”).

Direct-action is how we reset the agenda. We demand that the issues that would never be considered by our government or by an employer or by the police or by anyone who has power over us, be taken seriously. Why? Because, suddenly, they see that we (There are so many of them out there chanting! And…oh god! Giant puppets!) are a threat to their power.

CLICK ON THE “SPECTRUM OF SOCIAL CHANGE” TO ENLARGE

1 social change action spectrum

Though I have never heard of Dr. King filling soup bowls, I don’t doubt that he did. I assume he voted (I could find no definitive evidence). However, as a “practitioner-of-social-change” I believe that he did both of those things, as they are 1. good and 2. serve as tools to move people toward that sacred, third dimension, which is direct-action.

We need all three modes, but what we (Reclaim MLK Day people) are saying, (as would Reverend King) is that we need a lot more of that confronting-power-type-of-action going on!

As an example, the film, “Selma” is in theaters now.

In the trailer, you will see a couple of hallmarks of direct-action.

1. It wasn’t just Dr. King. It was thousands of black people who couldn’t vote who were protesting. This is different than paying a lawyer or lobbyist (usually also wealthy and white) to hob-nob with other powerful politicians for change. Lobbying re-affirms the existing power relations between the wealthy, white and educated vs. the poor, disheveled masses (hiccup).

2. They were peaceful. The marches themselves instigated a savage response from their opponents. The reaction was as much of the progress as the marches because…

3. “Peace,” “justice,” “fairness,” “courage,” and “dignity” are transcribed into the DNA of the actions that the protesters took. What did the actions that the brutal, counter-protesters take say about their values? If you could list, side by side, the values of each, which side would you choose?

4. This moral action, agitated the broader community, demanding that those people in Selma, and our nation, make a choice. When you see the die-ins and the protests, what side are you choosing (HINT: “Not taking a side” is actually taking a side…the side of the status quo, the side of those who would rather things stay just as they are).

5. Their demands were considered “too much” by the powerful people in charge. In the clip, President Lyndon B. Johnson says, “This thing is just going to have to wait.” Again, referring to the agenda setting power of direct-action, the movement doesn’t allow those in power to determine what is reasonable nor the time frame. Direct-action is the act of changing the agenda and the time frame…and therefore history.

That is why we march.

We are reclaiming the legacy of Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., a legacy of direct-action (both Dr. King and Rosa Parks were trained in the practice of direct-action at the Highlander School. It was here that Mrs. Parks learned the tactic of the “sit-down strike” which she preformed that fateful day on the bus).

We demand change. We demand it now.

Demands here- http://www.prlog.org/12409590-black-lives-matter-protesters-in-philly-plan-reclaimmlk-day-march-for-justice-jobs-education.html

Hundreds of black men have been killed by police with no consequence in our country over the last few decades by police (they supposedly work for us, right?). Racism is a pervasive and over-arching reality of our lives in America. Mostly this problem is ignored. If the agenda is to deal with racism, how likely are the powerful (mind you, they arrived at their high spot and benefited in THESE conditions) to take up these issues? It seems like we need to reset the agenda, right? See:Direct-Action

Finally, I will address the question of, “How do protests accomplish anything?”

Part of this bias against protesters is because people generally don’t like conflict and look poorly on rebels. But, rebellion is how progress has always been made. In fact, if you believe the bible, we only became human because Eve rebelled against the word of God and ate the forbidden fruit. Before that moment Adam and Eve were in a child-like state, with no free-will. The rebellion actually made us into PEOPLE (as we understand the concept).

Rebellion so much a part of being human. It is our birth right.

Do protests work? Honestly, sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. We won (in a previous movement) paid sick days for 180 security officers when we held a “anointing of the hands” ceremony on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in June 2008. We heard of the victory during the event. That is a rare thing. Making that boast also takes for granted that we held dozens of actions, protests and occupations before that.

Rev. Jay Broadnax blessing the hands of activist Brian at the even where we learned that we won the paid sick leave benefit at the museum

Rev. Jay Broadnax blessing the hands of activist Brian at the even where we learned that we won the paid sick leave benefit at the museum

Did we win it that day? Yes. Because of that single action? No. Did THE protest work? No. Do constant, increasingly militant protests work? YES!

So, I would say that 99% of the time a single protest doesn’t change anything. But, only a person who didn’t really want to change things would quit after one protest. It takes many actions, of which public protests are only one option, to win a campaign.

(SIDE NOTE: If you’ve never joined a protest movement (in the crowd or as a donor), ask yourself, “Is it because you don’t want to be weird like those people regardless of their cause or because you really don’t care that much if things actually change? What if you went to the gym just one time, would you expect to be in great shape?”)

It takes a multitude of creative tactics, often including direct-service and voting to win a direct-action campaign (those are not tactics of direct-action, but things we may have to do to get people to the courageous point of taking direct-action). I have always likened it to packing a snowball, a change-maker must apply steady, increasing pressure from all sides of the target to force the powerful person to accept your agenda as one that must be dealt with.

That said, do not mistake the work of lawyers and politicians for the work of direct-action. They may be standing there when the agreement is signed, shaking hands in the picture in the newspaper, and they play a critical role, however, they are rarely the people that catalyze the change (many awesome attorneys are a part of movements, integrated and interdependent with the rest of us).

Are you ready to make history? Join us, in Philadelphia on January 19th.

Resources-

Read about Reverend Dr. Martin Luther Kings Radical Legacy here- http://socialchangenyu.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/radical-king.pdf

Join Reclaim MLK and #Black Lives Matter here- http://www.powerphiladelphia.org/

If you want to learn more about becoming a direct-action agitator check out Bread and Roses Fund here- http://breadrosesfund.org/

If you don’t believe racism exists or don’t understand the concept (welcome to earth)- http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/05/the-case-for-reparations/361631/

 

MLK Day 2015 Should Be A General Strike

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2014 was a year in which the contradictions inherent in our democracy became too obvious to ignore any longer. Systemic racism against African-Americas and other people-of-color has intensified. Can we call ourselves a democracy at all or are we now, in fact, an apartheid state? The wealthy have nearly completely captured our political system making it possible for them to constantly award themselves more breaks and access while we, the people, see our rights to even cast a vote whittled away, election by election. We have reached a tipping point. That is why Martin Luther King Day, January 19, 2015, should not be the typical day of service, but one of rebellion. It should be a general strike by all people who want an end to systemic racism and rule by the wealthy.

The recent killings of several innocent black men and women, followed by grand jury failures to indict any of the police resulted in riots and mass protests. People are tired of the injustice and the devaluing of African-American people. The constant reports of these killings and the prison system swollen with people-of-color on one hand, and the lack of funding for schools, especially schools with high concentrations of poor and black youth, on the other, show us not a democratic nation in which all people are created equal.

No, rather, what we see is a nation that targets African-America children for failure, hard lives with few good options. We see a political system that endorses the killing of black people. We see a system that, nearly since its founding, has sought to abuse, destroy and exploit black people.

I am tired of it.

We cannot live with these contradictions any longer. We have to either fight to become a true democracy by destroying racism in all its forms, or we have to hang it up and abandon even the claim to be a democracy any longer.

Organizers all around the city of Philadelphia are organizing a march on MLK Day next year. I will support that and organize with them, however, I think we need something even more powerful.

We need to shake this system to its foundation and use this moment to strike at the roots of what ails us as a nation.

Martin Luther King Day, January 19th, 2015 should be a General Strike!

Don’t go to work. Don’t go to school. Go on strike.

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Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.

Last night, Emily and our friends Jared and Tasha went to go and listen to Anna Crusis Women’s Choir. It was an amazing experience. To be honest, I was really going to support my colleague, Cecily Harwitt as I am not really into choir music. I was happily surprised by these astonishing women for not only their talent but their selection of multi-cultural songs spanning African music and even a song in Arabic. The choir also acknowledged the current protests about racism in our country before launching into a couple civil rights era songs.

The concert also featured Melanie Demore, who has one of the richest, most resonate voices I have ever heard. They play again today at 2, catch it if you can. Meanwhile, check out Mrs. Demore’s haunting rendition of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot here http://youtu.be/tY_22UhpEdQ

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Kshama Sawant at $15 Now rally
Al-Jazeera reports that the movement for the rights of fast food workers and for a $15 minimum are gaining a lot of momentum. Strikes are expected to happen all across the country on December 4th, 2014.

The facebook page of Fight for $15 PA declares a “Fast Food STRIKE for $15, supported by airport and home care workers” will take place tomorrow at 11:30 at Arch Street Methodist Church.

The $15 Now movement got a big bounce last year after the election of Kshama Sawany, a socialist and activist from Seattle, who made a $15 minimum wage a key pillar in her platform. Seattle, now has the highest minimum wage in the country. The first raise of $11/hr. will come in April 2015 for large employers, jump to $13/hr. in January 2016, and again to $15/hr in January 2017.

Likewise, Philadelphia activists have heard some good news from local attorneys who speculate that Philadelphia may be able to get a city only minimum wage increase past our regressive state legislature. The question of whether Philadelphia could pass a separate minimum wage, different from the rest state, has been in contention since the last time the minimum wage was increased in 2006. At that time, the PA Legislature also passed a “preemption law,” to seemingly prevent progressive Philadelphian’s from getting ahead of the rest of the state for workers.

With the recent announcement of recommendations for paid sick leave, 2015 could be a big year for economic justice in Philadelphia. That would be a relief after years of watching other large cities breaking new ground with progressive experiments while we were stuck trying to keep school and libraries open.

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sick server

Mayor Nutter’s Task Force on Paid Sick Leave issued their recommendations today. If Mayor Nutter followed this groups recommendations, he and would move to bring into existence a law that would mainly effect large, low-waged corporations but would exempt at least 84% of the workers in the city who work for employers with fewer than 15 employees. The committee which included many Earned Sick Leave advocates including Marianne Bellasorte (Pathways PA), Teo Reyes (ROC) and Pete Ellis (El Fuego Restaurant). I also worked on this issue for about the last 10 years and the issue was the fulcrum for helping security officer for the independent Philadelphia Security Officers Union.

It is difficult to say exactly how many workers this will ultimately affect (if any since it is just a proposal). However, from my estimates from the last time Mayor Nutter vetoed similar legislation approximately 75% of the workers without paid sick leave are restaurant workers. Many of them work in restaurants that have 15 or fewer restaurants (I will check the 2011 Philadelphia Behind the Kitchen Door Report later to confirm). Those restaurants will be exempt. On the upside, though, employers such as McDonalds, Wal-Mart, hotels (non-union), private security officers, hair dressers (corporate chains), grocery store and retail workers (corporate and local chains) would all benefit.

I am not trying to take away from this achievement. However, here are a couple notable problems.

1. Most of the top 10 employers give their workers paid sick leave but not to their growing sub-contractor and temp work-force. (Though “Temp-Workers” are defined as “>90 days” in the report)
2. Adjunct employees, like those who teach classes at local colleges and universities, are in danger of being cut out of getting and paid sick days unless you organize to be included or form a union to bargain for such a benefit.
3. If enacted as written, workers will be exempt for 90 days after they were hired. The tenuous position of a new employee will not be helped by this law. Do not plan on getting sick for at least 3 months, though and you can start saving up!
4. Part-Time workers earning less than 15 hours per week on average during a 90 day period.
5. You will begin “saving up” paid sick time upon the date of your hire (over more than 15 hours per week on average per 90 days) but you will not be able to access it until 90 days after you were hired (NOT 90 DAYS WORKED).
6. You can save up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year.
7. You can use your sick days to take care of close family members if they are sick.
8. Your employer can request “appropriate” documentation of your being sick…you had better buy some Obamacare!
9. You can use your paid sick days if you are a victim of domestic violence.
10. You will not be paid out for any unused leave and it will not roll over (Don’t be stupid, using everyday is not “abusing” it. Better safe and healed than sorry. Stay home!).
11. Employers who are found to violate this ordinance, IF it passes as these recommendations are written, will be assessed “substantial fines” (no more specific data available).

Great work paid sick leave leaders! Now, let’s get ready to pass this beyond a Mayoral order and make it law!

Download the report here- https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1wJ2QYhGq5YdjZFc3VFRGVSbDQ/view?usp=sharing

 

Honor “The Navajo Way”

Not Columbus’ “Discovery”

Navajo women in traditional dress.  Photo by Sam Lowe

Navajo women in traditional dress. Photo by Sam Lowe

About a month ago, I was given the honor of co-teaching a class at the University of Pennsylvania as a guest lecturer of Andy Lamas Ph.D. and with Anthony Montiero, Ph.D.

The class, on “Liberation and Ownership” is an exciting look at the concepts of racial, gender identity, and class through a critical and radical lens. It is a profound experience to teach and learn in the shadows of these two brilliant scholars.

A few weeks back, Dr. Lamas asked me to share a story about my Navajo grandparents as a lead-in to a guest lecture by Dr. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz who just published the The Indigenous People’s History of the United States.”

Check out the book trailer here-

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eDHilbmRJVo

I rarely talk about this part of my life, and it was not easy to do.

However, as Dr. Dubar-Ortiz declares, in order to transform our society into a more just one, a society that lives up to the values that we claim, we have to dispel the lies that we have all comfortably accepted.

Acknowledging that our nation was built on slavery, genocide, and land theft makes many people – specifically many white people – uncomfortable. It also makes many non-white people uncomfortable.

It makes me uncomfortable.

One dismisses these perspectives as “revisionist history,” as if all histories must not be “revised” when new information is gathered.

I get no righteous joy out of the fact that my indigenous roots, family, and culture have almost vanished from the earth.

In class, I shared the following remembrance of my Grandma and Grandpa. I share it with you as well, my reader, on this Columbus Day, not to honor one man’s “discovery,” but to honor my ancestors and the historic resistance of a people.

The Navajo Way

When I was a kid, we would occasionally visit my grandmother and grandfather on the reservation. I remember driving for hours and hours through dusty desert. My brother David and I would be playing games with my mom, hanging over the front seat of the Ford Granada as we traveled for miles and laughed while my dad drove in silence.

We would arrive in the tiny village of Greasewood, Arizona, usually at dusk. We lived in Grants, New Mexico, which was also a small town that now, somehow, seemed huge in comparison. Greasewood claimed perhaps a couple hundred people. It may as well have been on another planet.

Once the sun had set, the desert would turn freezing cold. The sky would explode with a million stars and the village would be almost completely dark and silent.

You could hear a distant neighbor’s TV from blocks away.

In Grants, due to the abundance of street lights and video games, my brother and I could keep playing with friends often until 9 pm if our parents let us, which they often did, since most of the families on my block knew each other.

In Greasewood, though, it was dark and quiet and the children were all indoors.

At the foot of the bed where my parents slept, my brother and I shivered in sleeping bags, scared to death by the sound of coyotes howling somewhere off in the distance.

During the days, though, we would run around and play with other kids. The whole desert was our playground. We would run from house to house with a pack of little boys and girls, our light brown faces smiled among the Navajo kids with straight black hair and rich brown complexions.

The town was small and strange. It was like an outpost only partially completed. I recall many houses that lacked windows and doors. Navajo rugs hung by nails over door frames.

Unlike back in Grants, we didn’t have Nintendos to play with out there. Instead we chased lambs around, sometimes straight though a family’s home, dozens of us storming past the blankets in the front and out the open back door, hopping over piles of fire wood, all of us screaming and laughing.

My Grandmother Elizabeth and Grandpa Mercede were as strange to me as this town in the middle of nowhere.

They would talk to each other in Diné, their native language that sounds swishy and like the words bounce off the back of their throats.

Grandma was always boisterous with a huge laugh. My mother was like her, always playing mischievous games with the world. They would laugh at each other, and at punch-lines that no one else could understand. Grandma was what my 7 Indian aunts used to call “Res to the max.” They would laugh (lovingly) behind her back.

My aunts were city Navajos who lived in Albuquerque. I would think of their words when we would visit. I wasn’t sure what they meant by the slight they muttered, just that it was some sort of joke about my grandparents.

Grandma was very traditional. She wore 3 or 4 layers of Navajo dresses. They were beautiful, rich blues, and reds, a velvet dress on top of a satin one, on top of royal velvet cascades of fabric. She wrapped her wrists in silver and turquoise. She had a belt of leather, beads of bone and coral. Grandma’s thick, black braid went all the way down her back.

Grandpa was quiet. He didn’t speak much English. He always wore a black Stetson Cowboy hat and a thick leather belt with a big silver and turquoise buckle. Grandpa was skinny and bowlegged. He used to put us on his knee and bounce us up and down. He would have us pretend that we were riding a pony.

After a few days we would go back to Grants. I would smell like mutton, the greasy meat of the full grown sheep, for days after we returned.

We wouldn’t hear from my grandparents after we came back. They had no phone and the rare phone call from them from a gas station pay phone usually signaled bad things.

But once in a while, every summer or two, they would…just appear.

I remember how exciting it was to wake up and find their black and silver Ford F-150 parked in front of our house.

I remember my father waking me up and telling me to go and wake up my grandparents.

David and I would run out and open up the camper shell on the truck to find them sleeping in the back of the pickup, on top of layer and layers of blankets, holding each other in the cold New Mexico mornings.

One time, David and I opened the camper to find Grandma cuddling a small lamb. The young ewe woke before she did, swinging up her furry little head before my grandmother moved to the joyful shrieks of my brother and me.

We played with the little creature for a few days before Dad and Grandpa strung her up by her back legs on the clothesline post and slit her throat.

I was saddened by the slaughter, but I had also been taught that it was natural. Grandma prayed and thanked the small sheep, thanking her for her life and her sacrifice. She burned sage and rubbed the smoke into the ewe’s wool, calming her before her death.

Later, when it was time to go, my parents enacted the faux drama of begging them to stay inside with for us for a few days.

Grandma would always claim that they were on their way somewhere else to visit one of our other relations somewhere in the sprawling desert or in the city.

Nevertheless, they would always move inside with us and stay for a few days, until they ultimately departed.

My Grandma’s ways were a mystery to me.

She called her wanderings: “going the Navajo way.”

In hindsight, 30 years later, I realize it was probably because she and my grandfather were suffering hard times.

When they got low on food or money, they would take their last resources and head out on the road, boarding with us, my aunts and uncles, or with some friends off in the distance, real or invented.

Nonetheless, in her mind, my grandmother was doing as our ancestors had for thousands of years before: moving, following the resources as the seasons changed and fortunes went dim.

Whether she was chasing the herds, free beneath the bright blue skies, or whether she and Grandpa were running from poverty and hunger with their belongings tied up in shopping bags, eating cold vegetables out of tin cans, is a difference that now pains me to distinguish.

They would stay for just a few days.

Grandma. in her other-worldly ways, would wake up before the dawn and wander the alleyways of our town picking up junk. She would erect a pile of little things that she hoped to sell in a corner of our backyard: hubcaps, aluminum cans, bottles that she thought looked pretty or useful.

Then, one day, we would wake up and she would be gone.

Disappeared. Kind of like the Navajo to most of us today.

She lived the Navajo way.

In our modern context, that means that she lived on “The Res.” One with her people, strong in her traditions, but in utter poverty.

Or, she would wander, feeling a connection to our ancestors, an alien in the white man’s world, out of context. Living in spiritual death.

The same dilemma for what is left of traditional indigenous people this nation.

Still, I look back and admire that she had within her, to her last breath, the desire to resist. to exist outside of the place that our society had prescribed for her.

She could not be held back by the parcels. She would not be forgotten. She wandered freely.

Looking back, I learned from her that I should never be proscribed a role or resigned to disappear. I stand with others who refuse to be ignored. “Columbus Day” is a day to condemn the dehumanization of other people. It is a day to celebrate those who demand freedom and a dignified life.

To me, this is the true meaning of this day.

WATCH: John Oliver Asks, “Columbus Day, How Is That Still A Thing?”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eKEwL-10s7E

 

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gunYesterday, I attended a meeting in North Philadelphia in which community leaders expressed their desperate desire to intervene in the recent rash of violence in the region.

It was a sad meeting.  It was clear that the ministers that were leading it sincerely wanted to stop the gun violence.  The community is in pain.  It has been for a while.  Decades of neglect and under-investment are now only acknowledged when women, children or an innocent, pregnant woman are caught in the crossfire.

The meeting was filled with rage and frustration.

Though I don’t doubt that the intentions of the conveners, I left feeling more frustrated than when I arrived.

The ministers that ran the meeting made it clear that we were not there to debate what was to be done.  We were there to plan a march and a cook-out as a means to discourage the drug dealers in the community to stop killing other people.

I am not trying to make fun of these leaders.  Of course I understand that no one at the meeting thought that the march itself, which is to take place on October 4th at 12 noon starting at Germantown and Allegheny, is not going to stop the violence.  Our hosts did say that this was the first step and that the real work will take place after that march.  The march is supposed to bring people together and then after that, we will figure out what would come next.

Nonetheless, I left feeling tense about the main suggestion that did come forward- the Gun Buy Back scheme.

I have heard of these programs and I have always thought that they sounded nonsensical.

READ: GUN BUYBACK MOSTLY A WASTE OF TIME AND MONEY

If you had to use a gun to protect your “turf” or to kill your competition (as drug dealers apparently do), and that is how this trade works, why would you ever swap your gun for a bag of groceries?  The gun is probably worth more in cash to other drug dealers than the grocerys you would be swapping them for.

Other city’s that have conducted these have found that most of the guns that were turned in were already non-operational.

I offer you this illustrative example; in my neighborhood we have a problem with illegal scrapers.  These thieves break into empty houses and steal all of the pipes and wiring and sell them for scrap.  Does it make sense to offer to buy all of their hammers and crowbars?

I don’t mean to over simplify the problem of gun violence either.  Violence is extremely complicated and I wouldn’t even pretend to offer solutions.  I don’t understand it.  I would never use violence and don’t know any one who would.

However, it feels instinctive to me to at least look at the fact that North Philadelphia lacks dignified labor as a major problem.  From this problem many bad symptoms arise from drug and substance abuse, prostitution, drug dealing, illegal guns and violence.

Even if there were good jobs for all, there would still be elements of all of those things but probably far fewer incidents.

Sadly, we didn’t get into any deeper issues at this meeting.

In fact, the last band-aid solution posed as we left was to partner with Temple Hospital to give the community free “First Responder” classes specifically for gun shot victims. Talk about about dealing with symptoms.

I cross my fingers that the next meeting goes a different direction.

 

 

 

 

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“Organizing,” or the act of bri

morals

nging people together to improve their conditions, is a delicate balance of ingredients.  ”Anger” is a common well spring for action.  Have you ever noticed how common it is to see this displayed at union rallys?  Union leaders stand at  the podium and bellow hoarsely into the bullhorn and wrap it up with a chant.

“Anger,” as Zach Dela Rocha put it, “is a gift.

LISTEN TO RATM “Freedom” HERE:

It is true that anger motivates people to make change.  However, I have always found that anger is a heavy emotion to carry.  It does motivate, but if anger is not turned toward hope then it will wear you out.

Emerging from hope, that energy can inspire us if we can embedded it in a set of “values.”

If their is one thing I attribute my longevity to as an organizer it is that I am motivated now by a set of principles and not solely by anger.

I had a great discussion about this switch one day with the well-respected Journalist, Randy Lobasso.

Mr. Lobasso wanted to meet up and discuss my recent switch from the Restaurant Opportunity Center and how I found myself at POWER.

I attributed most my desire to move to POWER because of the organizations focus on values as a frame for action.

POWER is under the leadership of Bishop Dwayne Royster, “We’re really trying to change politics,” he says. “People’s politics aren’t translating to City Council, much less Harrisburg, in the way people live. Putting [issues] in a moral framework actually brings people together in ways that hasn’t been done in Philly in a while. I think that’s reflected in the [minimum wage] vote.”

Read more: http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/news-and-opinion/The_Moral_Imperative-263547841.html#ixzz3CkYiBDE2

In any case, it is a great article and Mr. Lobasso spells out how important moral framing is in organizing and how different it is compared to the approach of most progressive groups.

It is a great article and it gives POWER a lot of deserved credit for the huge living wage victory in May.  This effort could not have succeeded without the work of  SEIU 32 BJ, the Working Families Party, Action United and UNITE HERE.

Sadly, I have to be careful of sharing this article with people who are new to POWER though.  The Editor, thought it would be funny to give the article a splashy title- “Hey, liberal activists—try arguing basic morality instead of wonky bullshit.”

Due to the curse word, I can’t refer new folks to it as they are often offended by, “bullshit.”  I work around this by only giving it out as a print out and by blacking out the offending word with a marker.

Mr. Lobasso did a great job title non-withstanding.


 

 

 

 

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