An occasional message from Peter Dreier

Dear Friends and Colleagues,
An occasional message from Peter Dreier  
The election is over. Now the hard but exciting work continues  -- building a movement to push elected officials to create good jobs and fix the economy, help homeowners, lift people out of poverty, reduce student debt, address global warming, enact comprehensive immigration reform, and expand funding for education, among other issues. Here is some food for thought for how to do that, and some hopeful signs that the movement-building is already gaining momentum.

Obama Won. Now Let's Change the System - In the new (December 3) issue of The Nation, Donald Cohen and I suggest that progressives should do battle both on immediate issues like housing, student debt, and taxes but also push for three "mobilizing" reforms that will "change the system" to weaken the influence of the corporate plutocracy and give ordinary Americans a stronger voice in our society. A longer version also appeared in Huffington Post.

My Interviews with Bill Moyers and Tavis Smiley --  Bill Moyers interviewed me about my new book at an event in New York City sponsored by Demos, available via this link.  Tavis Smiley interviewed me on his PBS television program, which can be seen here.  My book, The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame, published by Nation Books, just went into its third printing.

The Wit, Wisdom, and Compassion of Mitt Romney --  Throughout his campaign, Romney kept reminding us of his basic YOYO (you're on your own) philosophy of life and government. But even after his embarrassing and devastating loss, Romney couldn't keep his foot out of his mouth, telling big donors in a conference call that Obama won because he gave away "gifts" to key constituencies. I compiled some of Romney's most revealing statements in this Huffington Post piece.

Big Enviro and Labor Victory in Los Angeles -- The LA Times headline, "LA Council Approves New Trash Collection Plan," doesn't do justice to the historic victory that a broad coalition of environmentalists, unions, and community activist won on Wednesday after a three-year campaign. The "Don't Waste LA" plan will clean the environment, improve public health, and improve working conditions for garbage workers. Kudos to my friends at LAANE who built the coalition that beat opposition from the Chamber of Commerce, the landlords association, and the sanitation companies. Martin Luther King, who was murdered in Memphis while supporting that city's sanitation workers' strike, would be pleased.

Minimum Wage Victories in Long Beach, San Jose, and Albuquerque -- The "Don't Waste LA" victory was LAANE's second big success in a week.  On November 6, the voters in Long Beach approved an historic living wage law for the 2,000 workers who clean the rooms and serve the food at hotels in that city of 500,000 residents adjacent to Los Angeles. The new law, the result of a months-long campaign by workers and their community and faith-based allies, establishes a minimum wage of $13/hr (about $2,000 a month) in Long Beach’s hotels employing 100 or more, guarantees workers can earn five sick days a year, and protects their tips. The coalition also included many small business owners, who realized that hotel workers with higher pay will spend more money in Long Beach stores.  LAANE organizers helped build the Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs and a Healthy Economy. On that same day, voters in San Jose vote to raise the citywide minimum from $8 per hour ( the current minimum wage in California) to $10 per hour, which will adjust automatically in future years to keep pace with the rising cost of living.  Voters in Albuquerque approved an increase in the citywide minimum wage from $7.50 to $8.50 per hour, which will also automatically adjust with inflation.

Walmart Workers on the Move --  The longest road begins with a single step.  As Black Friday approaches, Walmart workers and warehouse workers walked off the job Wednesday and Thursday in protest of the company’s attempts to silence workers who speak out for better jobs. These strikes are the first of 1000 protests, including more strikes, rallies and online actions, at Walmart stores leading up to and on Black Friday. Workers announced upcoming strikes and protests in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, Washington DC, as well as workers walking off the job in Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana and Minnesota. With 2.1 million employees (1.4 million of them in the U.S.), Walmart is the world's large private employer. It pays poverty wages, provides few benefits, and is viciously anti-union. Six members of the Walton family -- heirs to Walmart founder Sam Walton -- have more wealth than the bottom half of the American population combined and donate generously to right-wing causes and candidates.  Raising wages and working conditions will not only improve the lives of Walmart workers and their families, but also have dramatic ripple effects throughout the entire economy.  Please tell Walmart Chairman Rob Walton: Meet with Walmart workers about their demands for better pay and working conditions. Click here to sign the petition.

Republicans' Voter Suppression Efforts Backfired -This new report from Demos says that the GOP's voter suppression efforts backfired, energizing more people to vote. Karl Rove was the "brains" behind many of these efforts, just as he was the "genius" behind raising billions of dollars for his Republican Super-PAC to elect conservatives to Congress.  On both fronts, Rove failed. In fact, Rove was the biggest loser in this election cycle.  He's now lost all credibility as a political guru, but Fox News and the Wall Street Journal keep paying him as a pundit nevertheless.

Oxy Student Wins Nation Essay Contest --  Occidental College student Guido Girgenti -- an Urban & Environmental Policy major -- was selected as a finalist in The Nation magazine's college student essay contest.  I encourage you to read his provocative essay,  "A Democracy for Sale is No Democracy At All."  Guido is a remarkable organizer who has been involved in Occupy Wall Street and student activism.

Oxy Students Return Exhausted But Excited by Campaign Semester --  The New York Times published a great November 6 article, "Politics 101, Without the Classroom," about Occidental's Campaign Semester one-of-a-kind program, which gives students a full semester credit for working full-time as interns in a political campaign.  Thirty-two Oxy students justed returned from their campaign experience and are now participating in a seminar with Professor Regina Freer and me. The students worked in Presidential and U.S. Senate races in nine "swing" states -- Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Missouri, Florida, Wisconsin, Virginia, and Hawaii. They got a baptism-of-fire doing all kinds of tasks, working harder than they ever worked before, learning new skills, and gaining self-confidence. It was a pleasure reading their weekly emails and now meeting with them three times a week to help them put their campaign experience in broader context.

Full Employment Is More Important Than Deficit Reduction --  The media mania about the budget deficit contributes to misguided priorities.  As the Economic Policy Institute notes in this new report, the focus should be on full employment. It includes recommendations for specific actions regarding both the impending so-called fiscal cliff and future projected budget deficits.

How You Can Say "No" To Sweatshops --  Your college, nonprofit group, and congregation can order t-shirts and sweatshirts from a "fair trade" company that treats its workers with respect and pays them a living wage. My article in YES magazine describes the Alta Gracia factory in the Dominican Republic, which has worked closely with the Workers Rights Consortium and United Students Against Sweatshops to market their apparel to students and other conscience consumers.
The opinions expressed are mine alone and do not reflect the opinions of Occidental College or its employees. Occidental College is not responsible for the content of this communication.