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Navell Gordon is a Man. Media, #Pointergate & Dehumanization

9 Nov

In case you missed it, Navell Gordon and Anthony Newby of Minnesota Neighborhoods Organization for Change (NOC) were on Melissa Harris Perry’s show on MSNBC Sunday morning.  Gordon is the young man in the now famous photo with Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, the one at the heart of the now national #pointergate story. Watch:

Navell Gordon has face. He has a name. A Voice. A Story.

Thank you, Melissa Harris Perry for introducing the country to the young man whose name, voice and story was blurred and distorted by an irresponsible journalist and the television station backing him.

One of the most frustrating aspects of KSTP’s #pointergate debacle is that the station’s “explanation” for why they ran with the insane accusation that Gordon and Mayor Hodges were flashing gang signs is as bad, as hurtful, as wrong, as the original story itself. In their Friday afternoon statement about #pointergate and their subsequent news followup  to the story, KSTP makes the point that their story was about the “Mayor’s judgment” and not Gordon, telling us that this is why they “blurred the individual’s face and did not name the group he was working for.“ As I wrote in a previous post,

That is not only not a good explanation, that is precisely the problem, KSTP. You ignored the context in order to sell a sensationalist story spoon-fed to you by the Police Federation.  If you had named the organization, explained what they were doing, and given the full context, viewers would have immediately seen how insane was the proposition that the Mayor and Gordon were flashing gang signs.

If you had explained the context, you wold have had to explain that NOC is an organization dedicated to improving the lives of young people of color, including and especially those who have made past mistakes.  If you had named Navell Gordon, you would have had to admit that sensationalizing his story by calling him a “convicted felon” isn’t news — his past, and a desire to rebuild it, is precisely why he’s doing the organizing work he’s doing.[…]

Your newsroom didn’t blur Gordon’s face and fail to name NOC out of some concern for him or the community — you did that because, had you done basic journalism, your story would have fallen apart.

Someone on Twitter later pointed out something I’d missed when I first saw the story. The KSTP newsroom didn’t just blur out Gordon’s face, they blurred out his t-shirt so you can’t read what it says: “VOTE”.Navell Vote

KSTP was so intent on making it look like the Mayor was consorting with a bad, bad man that they erased his name, his identity, and any evidence that he was actually doing something very positive for himself and his community at the very moment that photo was taken.

KSTP still has lots to answer for. They say in that first segment that the person in question, Gordon, has no known gang ties. (If he’ not in a gang, aren’t those just fingers, KSTP?) That evening, however, in an epic twitter meltdown, reporter Jay Kolls called Gordon a “gangbanger.”  While his twitter feed has gone silent, Kolls’ daughter has also called Gordon a gang member in her public twitter feed.  I know that in Kolls’ initial inquiries into the story he unequivocally described the man in the photo as a “known” gang member.  So why, then, did the story air saying that he is not known to have any gang affiliations?  Did the information Kolls was fed by his sources turn out to be so far off base that it could not be corroborated?  If so, why did they run with the story anyway?

Some have speculated that KSTP’s double-down may have to do with bracing for a lawsuit.  If they and their reporter knowingly put out false information about an individual, one can see how admitting a mistake now could be tantamount to admitting slander.

The 1968 Memphis Sanitation Strike MLK stood with the day before he was assassinated.

The 1968 Memphis Sanitation Strike MLK stood with the day before he was assassinated.

KSTP now tries to hide behind their blurring of Gordon’s identify as if to suggest they were doing him some kind of favor when, in fact, it was ignoring him as a human being that allowed them to inflame racist fears of a dangerous black man who (even though their own research suggested otherwise) must be in a gang. By making him no one, he became the Black Everyman who is used to stoke fear.  As a blurred face, Gordon is Willie Horton and every other image ever used to scare white folks about crime.

KSTP simply could not tell the story they wanted to tell, of a white Mayor consorting with danger, if they had actually named Navell Gordon and treated him like a human being  and not an abstract concept.  Because Navell Gordon is not an abstract concept.  He is a man. A man who has made mistakes and admitted to that. A man who was, at that very moment they sensationalized, working to make his community better. Navell Gordon is a man who deserved to be treated like one.

And that is why KSTP must retract their story and apologize.

***

In my previous post, I listed a few actions people can take to express their outrage at KSTP.  Since I wrote that, NOC has started a public petition at pointergate.org.  If you’ve not yet signed it, go there now.

Interview with Chipsterlife

13 Jul
Chipsterlife

Chipsterlife

Chipsterlife – which, by the way, is the best name for a Latino podcast, ever – interviewed me this week. Filiberto is another recovering academic doing social justice work, and his podcast is pretty cool. You can listen to the podcast here.  His synopsis:

Based in Minneapolis, SEIU Local 26 under the leadership of Javier Morillo-Alicea has been at the center of the fight to defend low wage workers against increasing wage disparities in our economy and society. Most recently Mr. Morillo-Alicea was arrested at the Minneapolis Airport,

“13 people, including leaders in the disability rights community, community activists, and SEIU Local 26 President Javier Morillo-Alicea were arrested today at the Minneapolis-St. Paul  (MSP) International Airport in an act of peaceful civil disobedience. The arrestees were highlighting the poor conditions facing passengers with disabilities and elderly travelers, a consequence of the poverty wages and lack of resources provided to the workers sub-contracted by Delta Airlines to provide wheelchair and electric cart service.”

http://seiumn.org/2014/06/16/disability-rights-advocates-among-13-arrested-in-civil-disobedience-at-msp-airport/

Our conversation was a wide ranging one discussing Mr. Morillo-Alicea’s vision for change and the relationship between SEIU and low wage worker center CTUL and the role in general of worker centers in the fight for a better economy. We also discuss his flooded office, as Mr Morillo Alicea describes in his own words, “The river has flooded into the basement at Local 26. Bring your bathing suits everyone!”


He also participates in a podcast, “Wrong About Everything is a fun, irreverent and bipartisan podcast focused on Minnesota politics. “

 

Talking is easier than writing… Or I have a podcast!

2 Jul 20140702-085531-32131345.jpg

20140702-084444-31484150.jpg“Wrong About Everything,” a fun, irreverent and bipartisan look at Minnesota politics, launched a few weeks ago. It features two progressives (me and Denise Cardinal, the founding Executive Director of the Alliance for a Better Minnesota. She crushes Republicans for a living. The two Republicans are Brian McDaniel , a bear Republican lobbyist with a potty mouth and Mike Franklin, a GOP political operative who we settled for when we couldn’t find a funny Republican woman.

In our most recent episode, we talk about President Obama’s visit to Minnesota, the Pew Institute’s poll on political polarization in the country, GOP candidates’ hair, and the group gangs up on me with hateful musical selections.

Comment there or on our Facebook page . Tell is what you think and what topics you’d like us to cover. We have some exciting announcements coming up about the podcast, so stay tuned!

Minimum Wage & Movement Politics: On the Fight For Indexing

22 Mar

This past Thursday the four locals of SEIU in Minnesota held our annual lobby day at the Capitol. The top lobbying priority for SEIU members talked to their elected representatives about is raising the state’s minimum wage and indexing that increase to inflation.  I emceed a rally that capped off our day in Saint Paul and quickly learned it is not easy to come up with a union chant that rhymes with “Index.”  I settled for probably the weirdest and wonkiest chant heard at the Capitol in a while: “What do we want? MINIMUM WAGE! How do we want it? INDEXED!”

On the surface, the fight for indexing the minimum wage —  ensuring that the increase that is passed becomes a base and that future increases match inflation–might seem a bit in the weeds. I have heard suggestions that “most people don’t understand it, so what’s the harm in just passing the $9.50 alone?”

After the rally, I was asked by someone pretty high up in state government if indexing was a line in the sand for the coalition. The person asked, “Can we take a victory and live to fight another day?”  This is actually a really good question.  I am one who often argues that, when it comes to politics, let’s not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Raise the Wage - INDEXEDSo why is the fight for indexing so important that the Raise the Wage Coalition has kept the charge going?  To answer this, it would be helpful to remind ourselves what it is we talk about when we talk about the minimum wage.

No one can dispute that, even if we raise the wage to $9.50, that does not get a full-time worker supporting a family out of poverty according to the federal government’s own definition of poverty.   What we are arguing about, friends, is a floor.

Now think about the effort that has been put together to convince a DFL legislature to pass a bill.  Last year the Senate passed a bill for with a $7.75 an hour wage, which would have put us barely past conforming with the federal minimum wage (right now, Minnesota’s minimum wage is significantly lower than the federal minimum wage). To get them to move to $9.50 Minnesotans across the state mobilized to make their voices heard.  Oh, and the president and governor of the same party as the Senate’s majority set the bar even higher than $9.50.

Some of the best organizing and policy minds in the state are intensely focused right now on passing this minimum wage bill.  The Raise the Wage Coalition has been impressively co-chaired by Shar Knutson of the AFL-CIO, Peggy Flanagan of the Minnesota Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), and Brian Rusche of the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition (JRLC). The people moving phone banks, working at the Capitol and on weekends in districts, generating emails and calls to legislators — these are leaders of some of the most important social justice organizations in the state — non-profits like CDF, the Wilder Foundation, and many more; clergy and faith groups like the JRLC, which unites Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim entities, as well as ISAIAH’s coalition of over 100 churches; community organizations like Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, Take Action Minnesta and many more; unions like Education Minnesota, AFSCME, SEIU, the AFL-CIO’S state and regional federations, and many more.

The best organizers of the social justice movement in Minnesota are working tirelessly for this minimum wage increase, as we must. It is an impressive operation, but we cannot forget what it is we talk about the minimum wage.  The best minds of the social justice movement in Minnesota are immersed in a debate about the floor. Our best organizers, leaders and policy thinkers are debating essentially how poor we as a society are willing to let workers live.

This is not the visionary work a movement for social justice.  Again, this work is essential and we should all be proud of the collective effort, but let’s not kid ourselves about what we are doing here.  The heavy lift everyone is undertaking is to debate a freaking floor.  A Minimum. Can you imagine if all of that effort were directed at rebuilding the wealth of communities that was extracted as a result of the financial crisis?  Can you imagine if we as a movement were focused not on debating minimum wages but instead asking what we are going to do as a society about those making maximum wages, the CEOs whose salaries are so out of whack in this country?  What if we were all focused on offense, on fights that take head-on the growing gap between the richest in the country and the rest of us?  What if we were debating how we bring more prosperity instead of how low we can go?

Now that would be a movement.

Dorkiest Chant Ever. "What do We Want? MINIMUM WAGE! How do we want it? INDEXED!"

Dorkiest Chant Ever. “What do We Want? MINIMUM WAGE! How do we want it? INDEXED!”

THIS IS WHY WE NEED INDEXING. 

So the working poor do not have to see the power of their dollar diminish year after year

So we do not have to keep fighting this battle every few years.

And, for God’s sakes, so our most talented organizers and thousands of grassroots activists don’t have to move heaven and earth to accomplish small vision wins and can instead focus on the transformational victories working people in this country long for and desperately need.

We Can Do This.  We Will Do This.

There are encouraging signs.  We know the grassroots mobilization has had an impact.  We hear it from legislative aides exhausted from taking calls and answering emails.  We hear it from legislators themselves, some of whom are thrilled and some of whom are annoyed and say things like “you’re only hurting yourselves” (pro tip: a sign you’re winning).

The legislature just passed and the governor signed a tax bill that, in addition to reducing taxes on many middle and working class folks, also happens to reduce the amount the very wealthy in our state pay in gift and estate taxes.  The tax bill passed with a lot of urgency and fanfare.

Let’s apply the same urgency to getting this done so we can focus on transformational work.

I know we’re going to win this.  The people who mobilized are going to win this.  Let’s get this done and then harness that energy and move on to truly transformational work.

Minimum Rage: Update & What You Can Do

10 Mar

The Minimum Wage Conference Committee will meet this evening.  Below there is a list of ways you can help keep up the pressure to pass a $9.50 minimum wage, INDEXED to inflation.  But first, a talking point update.

Did the Senate Move? Yes, It Did. But…

We’re hearing that Senators feel like they haven’t been given adequate credit for moving from their original position of $7.75 to the House’s offer of $9.50 an hour.

Here is what is not to say when you call your State Senator, true as it may be

Seriously? Let’s set aside for a second the fact that the bill the Senate passed last year was embarrassing even then.  The $7.75 was barely better than the some Republicans’ position of simply conforming to the federal minimum wage.  What has happened between then and now?

Governor Dayton: "I'll settle for $9.50"

Governor Dayton: “I’ll settle for $9.50″

For one, Governor Dayton has talked about the $9.50 as a floor. “I’d settle for $9.50,” he has said.  Oh, and nationally, the President of the United States made the minimum wage a centerpiece of his State of the Union address, praising Minnesota company Punch Pizza for raising its entry wage to $10 an hour.  And then he signed an Executive Order requiring federal contractors to pay a $10.10 hourly minimum wage, an idea put forward by Minnesota’s own progressive champion Congressman Keith Ellison.

Did the Senate move? Well, yes, if we define “move” as catching up to the rest of the nation and state.

Now that you’ve got that out of your system…

Here is what you should when calling your Senator:

“Thank you for moving to the house’s $9.50.  Now let’s find a compromise that includes indexing the minimum wage to inflation and get this done!”

STATE OF PLAY

The issue holding up a bargain remains the question of indexing the minimum wage to inflation so that (a) the working poor do not see the value of their dollar decrease year after year and (b) we do not have to keep revisiting this political battle.

There has been some movement over in the Senate, with one Senator previously thought to be a hard no on indexing, Melisa Franzen, stating in a public forum that she is open to the idea.  That is a far cry from the line in the sand leadership had drawn, and that is a good sign. We hear there are several other Senators who feel the same way — that indexing is but one part of the final package and they are open to it as part of the solution that gets a deal done.

Senator Chris Eaton (DFL-40) Senate Conference Committee Chair  (651) 296-8869

Senator Chris Eaton (DFL-40) Senate Conference Committee Chair (651) 296-8869

WHAT YOU CAN DO
From 1 to 5pm TODAY (Monday), in advance of this evening’s conference committee, SEIU, TakeAction, ISAIAH, NOC and others will be running a phonebank to reach voters and patch through their calls to Senators. If you can spare a couple hours this afternoon, email Kevin Hippert at khippert@seiumn.org for details about the phonebank.

But you don’t have to go there to call your Senator. It is especially important that conference committee members hear from their own constituents.  Call them and politely ask them to support you, their constituent, and not the official leadership position.  The conferees are important enough to getting this done that even if you do not live in those districts you can stand to give them a call.

Senator Hayden

Senator Jeff Hayden, Asst Majority Leader & Conference Committee Member; (651) 296-4261 sen.jeff.hayden@senate.mnm their constituents. If your State Senator is Chris Eaton (SD-40 Brooklyn Park & Center areas), Senator Jeff Hayden (SD 62 – south Minneapolis), or Senator David Tomassoni (SD-06 Itasica- St. Louis counties), PLEASE CALL THEM. Politely ask that they represent you, their constituent, and not the leadership position on a minimum wage indexed to inflation.

Others Senators should hear principally from their own constituents.  Go here to find your Senator, and then do not forget to update the people’s Whip Count at Bluestem Prairie.

MUCH MORE TO COME!

If the conference committee does not finish its work tonight, there is a lot more fun to come.  DFL Senate District

Senator David Tomassoni, Conference Committee Member,(651) 296-8017; sen.david.tomassoni@senate.mn

Senator David Tomassoni, Conference Committee Member,(651) 296-8017; sen.david.tomassoni@senate.mn

Conventions are coming up, and groups like TakeAction, the AFL-CIO & SEIU and other organizations that do political work are planning to be at those in full force.  Visit the Raise the Wage (the broad coalition of faith, labor, and community groups) page for information on upcoming phonebanks across the state, and if you are a member of an organization supporting the campaign, call them to volunteer.  I know ISAIAH, TakeAction, and Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, SEIU and the state AFL-CIO have a lot of activity planned, but I know there are a lot more organizations kicking it up as well.

Giving Thanks for the Voices of Workers Standing Up

28 Nov 20131128-114529.jpg

Yesterday, at the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Airport, cabin cleaners, wheelchair agents, baggage handlers, and other service workers joined the millions across the country to say enough. They join fast food workers whose employers advise them to supplement their income with welfare, Walmart employees seeing their own stores holding food drives for employees impoverished by their Always Low Wages, and retail janitors who clean Target stores in Minnesota, tired of Target pushing the absurd lie that they have no control over the cleaning subcontractors they hire. We are all asking: shouldn’t a person working 40 or more hours a week expect at a minimum to not live in poverty?

20131128-085658.jpgAt MSP yesterday, workers sought not to make passengers traveling to see family feel guilty. In fact, quite the opposite. They know the average flyer is not traveling first class and is frustrated by airlines so brazenly putting profit over all else. Passengers paying ticket prices kept high by Delta’s virtual monopoly at MSP, paying ever-increasing fees for baggage, some of whom can no longer get free water on a flight, wonder when they’ll start charging us for the air we breathe. We should all also ask where all that money is going when the airlines insist on paying poverty wages to workers who keep airplanes clean and safe, who help disabled passengers get from plane to gate.

And when large, profitable corporations pay poverty wages with no benefits everyone is hurt. Just like that McDonald’s employee urged to go on welfare by his own employer, the companies paying poverty wages at MSP shirk their responsibilities onto the rest of us. At Local 26, the union these airport workers are organizing to join, we did a study of the impact of poverty wages at the MSP Airport.

The combination of low wages and no health coverage means that many of the families of airport workers must rely on taxpayer-funded safety net programs in order to survive. The report estimates that $1.7 million a year is spent on public benefits because these contractors pay poverty wages. The MAC prides itself on being able to raise enough revenue that it does not require general tax support, but in the case of these passenger service workers, taxpayers are subsidizing the contractors through things such as public assistance, medical care, food stamps, and low-income housing.

Today I am thankful for the courage of these workers joining their voices to the chorus of discontent in this country. They have had to fight for the simplest things, like being provided with more than one pair of hygienic gloves while cleaning airplanes. Think about that. Until recently, workers were forced to use the same pair of gloves to clean those often filthy airplane bathrooms when they cleaned the rest of the plane and replaced the pillows and blankets you wrap around your body. Their employers finally began providing more gloves, hoping perhaps that would quell their demand for decent wages and benefits. But they fight on.

20131128-114317.jpg

During today’s holiday and tomorrow’s “Black Friday” shopping frenzy, let us all remember the workers who make holidays happen. Like you, they are being asked to do more and more for less and less. While their employers, like yours, become richer and richer, they live in poverty. And all of us, together, must fight on.

Local News Coverage of the MPS Protest

KSTP: Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Workers Protest for Higher Wages

KARE11: Hundreds of airport workers protest low wages on high travel day

MPR:MSP airport workers rally for higher wages

St Paul Union Advocate: At MSP Airport, workers use heavy travel day to rally for better wages

“Twin Cities Business” Interview

26 Nov 20131126-080316.jpg

20131126-080209.jpg

The current issue if the Twin Cities Business is an “interview issue” where the magazine “goes one-on-one with 28 of the region’s key CEOs, public policy power players, thought leaders, and Fortune 500 execs. The result: an unprecedented collection of candid commentary on the state of Minnesota business and our broader society.” They asked me about immigration reform, SEIU, and the future of the labor movement more generally. Some excerpts below.

An academic-turned-labor-leader, Morillo represents 6,000 janitors and security officers in commercial real estate, and runs one of four SEIU locals in Minnesota. We examine the current long-term crisis in the union movement.

You and several members of Congress were recently arrested during a demonstration pushing for immigration reform legislation. What did you accomplish?

Every day, immigrants in this country are facing a crisis, and the only way we’re going to get legislation passed is for people in Washington to feel the crisis. So we have to escalate. There’s a common wisdom that, because Congress is so dysfunctional and because of the shutdown, immigration could never get done. I actually am quite hopeful. What we’re hearing from Republicans is that there will be a vote. That’s the reason of an escalation, to say, “Those of us who’ve been fighting this fight have certainly not given up.” And that’s how you make things move in Washington, by not giving up even when everyone else says something is dead.

In 2012, union members accounted for 14 percent of Minnesota workers, down from 16 percent in 2011. Have you bucked that trend?

Local 26 represents janitors and security officers in commercial office real estate. In our last contract negotiations we renegotiated for downtown security officers and added about 1,000 new members in suburban security. A year ago we had about 5,000 members, and we added 1,000 more.

How have you defied the trend?

Nationally, we are now less than 7 percent of the private industry work force, union members. When you compare that to a time in the century when 35 or 40 percent of private sector workers were in unions, that is a dramatic fall. We are in a crisis, and we think it’s extremely important for people in the labor movement to not only acknowledge we are in a crisis but act like we are in a crisis. We can’t do the same things we’ve been doing.

What we’ve done in Minnesota is to work differently with a broader set of community organizations—not unions—to put bigger demands on corporations like Target and U.S. Bank. Right now, there’s a worker center organizing retail janitors who are non-union . . . when we win that campaign, those members will be joint members of Local 26 and the worker center. What we all need to be doing in the labor movement is thinking beyond traditional collective bargaining as the only path to worker empowerment.

One of the mistakes that the union movement has made is that, as the economy changed dramatically, unions did not adapt. We’re organized along the exact same structure, the exact same kind of industrial unions and bureaucracies, everything that was established when the U.S. was an industrial power. And that is just illogical. We need to do what capitalism does, which is to adapt, to change.

Is Minnesota on the forefront of change, or are we lagging behind?

I think we’re on the forefront of that change.

[For the full interview and interviews with other Minnesota (mostly business leaders), see the full issue here.]

How have high-profile disputes—Twin Cities orchestras, American Crystal Sugar—affected the environment for organized labor in Minnesota? Is there a need to influence public perception?

I’d say yes, there definitely is. My first instinct is to try to look internally. What can we be doing differently? With, say, the orchestras, I think, “What could the union be doing differently to tell the story differently?”

What is incredibly important for us is that when we are in the newspaper for our contract negotiations, it has largely been stories of victories. It is very important for working people to have victories and to celebrate victories, and to fight on offense. That’s the key thing that our driving mission is, to not be in the paper for a defensive fight. Not that the Crystal Sugar workers or the orchestra musicians could avoid it, they were put into a defensive position, but what we try to look for is something that is or will become a victory and gives people a different sense of what the union is about. Instead of having unions seen as an obstacle to change or progress, to actually be the instigator of change and progress; on an issue like changing from night cleaning to day-shift cleaning, which saves lots of energy and money and could provide workers more family-friendly hours.

What are your largest challenges?

We work in a subcontracting industry, and we are an entirely private sector union. We also organize in very low-wage industries, and when you look at the economy, jobs that were shed during the recession were largely middle-income jobs, and the jobs that have come back in the recovery have been low-wage jobs. What we are trying to figure out is what the country as a whole needs to figure out—we cannot have millions of people working jobs that are 40 hours but have you living in abject poverty.

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