An occasional message from Peter Dreier

Dear Friends and Colleagues,
An occasional message from Peter Dreier  
Ideas and Issues for the New Year…

25 Best Progressive Victories of 2012.  After soliciting recommendations from activists around the country, I compiled this list of key progressive accomplishments during the past year, just published byTruthout. The list includes the election of progressive candidates, passage of  ballot measures, court rulings,  legislation, and new waves of grassroots mobilization.  I know I left out many important victories, but this list shows that there’s lots to celebrate, and – of course – more work to do in 2013 and beyond.

My DC/Baltimore Book Tour.   I’ll be speaking in the DC/Baltimore area during the last week of January about my book, The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame.  I’ve lined up three speaking gigs so far and expect a few more. I hope to see my DC/Baltimore friends at one of these events. Harold Meyerson wrote a thoughtful review of the book for American Prospect.

Battling the NRAWhen it comes to the epidemic of mass shootings in the U.S., the National Rifle Assn., especially its CEO Wayne LaPierre is Public Enemy #1.  He has blood on his hands for the deaths of many innocent people, as I wrote in this article for CommonDreams. The Newtown, Connecticut massacre put the NRA in the public spotlight and catalyzed a growing grassroots movement for tougher gun laws. Contrary to its own self-promotion, the NRA doesn’t speak for most gun owners, and even most NRA members disagree with the organization’s stance on gun control laws. As I wrote in an article for Huffington Post, NRA is primarily a front group for gun manufacturers.  The Obama administration has pledged quick action to push strong restrictions through Congress, but we’ll need a strong movement to overcome the NRA’s influence and to use the hearings on Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s bill to keep the heat on the gun manufacturers, gun retailers, especially Walmart (the largest seller of guns and ammo) ,  the Wall Street financiers who back the gun industry, and the NRA. The voices that need to be heard include: (1) law enforcement officials, (2) families of victims of gun violence; (3) survivors of gun violence, (4) gun owners and NRA members who support tough gun restrictions;  (5) clergy and faith-based organizations; and (5) celebrities, athletes, and rappers. Our entire society is a victim of the epidemic of violence in America, but poor black Americans are disproportionately the victims of gun violence, as David Cole points out in this New York Times op-ed column, “Who Pays for the Right to Bear Arms?” .  It turns out that, like most bullies, the NRA is a paper tiger. The candidates endorsed by NRA mostly lost in November. They can be beaten if Americans mobilize.

The Phony Debt Crisis.   Pete Peterson and his Wall Street friends have spent millions of dollars to manufacture a phony fiscal crisis, as Slate reported in this recent article.  The lastest incarnation is the influential corporate-backed lobby group called  Fix-the-Debt.  It is pushing an agenda that emphasizes cuts in government social programs and lower taxes on business.  This would mean “austerity” for most Americans but higher incomes and profits for the rich and corporate America. The mainstream media and many politicians have swallowed their propaganda, including  a fawning profile in the New York, as I point out in this column for Huffington Post, which also offers an alternative way of framing the so-called "debt crisis"  Bob Kuttner exposed Fix-the-Debt, which he calls the "austerity lobby," in this great article in American Prospect.

Divestment Movement Against Fossil Fuel Industry.  One of the more exciting new movements is a growing campaign to challenge the fossil fuel industry. Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn agreed to divest municipal funds from fossil fuel corporations.  Other cities, universities, and union pension funds should follow Seattle's lead. This is an important movement with a simple but effective strategy.  As The Nation reports, student-led campaigns to get  colleges and universities to divest from the fossil fuel industry have spread to almost 200 campuses. Several colleges have already purged their endowments from fossil fuels. At Harvard, 72 percent of students endorsed a resolution supporting divestment. Students at many other colleges have persuaded their administrations to explore divestment.

Eleanor – the Radical Roosevelt. Most Americans know little about Eleanor Roosevelt, who was a bold progressive and a powerful influence on her husband and own her own.  Unfortunately, none of the films made about FDR and Eleanor, including the most recent one, “Hyde Park on Hudson," do justice to Eleanor’s activism. So I wrote this profile of Mrs. Roosevelt for Truthout, an expanded version of the chapter on her in my book, The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame.

Walmart’s Death Traps. New York Times reporters Steve Greenhouse and Jim Yardley exposed Walmart’s complicity in a  recent fire at a Bangladesh sweatshop that killed 112 works. Walmart knew about the dangerous conditions but decided not to fix them because they didn’t want to spend the money. Walmart is on the defensive on several fronts, including the Timesexpose of Walmart's widespread bribery of Mexican officials and its role as the nation’s largest retailer of guns and ammo, including the Bushmaster assault-weapon that killed 26 people in Newtown, Conn. The first-ever strike by Walmart workers that began in October in a few California stores – and spread to over 100 cities around the country by the day after Thanksgiving, the nation’s biggest shopping day – indicates that the effort to organize Walmart employees if finally gaining ground.

How Right-Wingers Go Over the Sanity Cliff.  The ultra-conservative Club for Growth opposes government relief for victims of Hurricane Sandy.   Even conservative Republicans like NJ Gov. Chris Christie and Cong. Peter King aren’t that stupid.

Beating the Billionaires.  Among the biggest losers in November’s election were the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Koch brothers, the National Rifle Association, and Karl Rove.  According to a great study by the Sunlight Foundation, outside groups spent more than $1.3 billion in independent expenditures to influence the outcome of the November elections. The most visible conservative groups, however, had a terrible “return” on their investment – meaning, most of the candidates they backed lost.  

America’s Most Honest Politician.  After the Republican-controlled Michigan legislature passed its anti-union "right-to-work" law in December,  Brandon Dillon, a Michigan legislator, gave a remarkable speech on the floor of the legislature attacking the law" as "freedom to freeload." He said  "this is where democracy goes to die," attacking the Republicans' failure to hold any hearings. Watch this incredible speech here.  We need more politicians like Dillon.

“The Central Park Five.”  This powerful documentary by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, and David McMahon tells the story of the Central Park jogger controversy, revealing how the racism within our criminal justice system – and media – convicted five innocent black and Latino youths (age 14 to 16) of raping a white middle-class jogger in New York in 1989.  The five youths ended up serving between seven and 13 years in prison before they were exonerated in 2002 as a result of a jailhouse confession by the actual rapist. The film interviews all five victims and their families, the prosecutors and detectives, reporters, and Mayor Ed Koch, who comes off as a self-serving bigot.  The documentary is an incredible indictment of racism and a great teaching tool. Michele Alexander’s extraordinary book, The New Jim Crow, about racism within the criminal justice system, is great background reading to put the film in broader context.  

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.