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This Brown Guy Quits KSTP. You Can Do Something, Too.

8 Nov

In light of KSTP’s doubling down on their absurd report slandering a community group, a young organizer, and Mayor Hodges of Minneapolis– a report for which they have been ridiculed by local and national media and called “extremely racist” by the Southern Poverty Law Center–concerned Minnesotans have to kick up their game.  Until the station apologizes for their offensive news coverage and engages deeply with the community they have insulted, we should all do everything in our power to reject KSTP.

Here is the little I can do. For the past few years, I have had the opportunity to be an occasional political commentator on local TV and radio.  I love doing it.  I have been for the past several years part of the stable of commentators rotated on KSTP’s Sunday morning political talk show, “At Issue with Tom Hauser.” I have deep respect for Tom Hauser, he has always been very welcoming me to his show, and he is not a part of the news team that brought us #pointergate. That notwithstanding, after the station has chosen to blame the public for “missing the point” –get it? isn’t that cute?–I simply cannot in good conscience have anything more to do with KSTP.

Look, I’m not fooling myself. I’m not that big of a deal.  When I let “At Issue” know yesterday that I no longer felt comfortable or welcome on their station, the show’s producer was quick to respond: “We agree that it’s the best move for all of us.” (I may not be a big deal, but at least I know they read my tweets!)

I've been a regular guest of the "Face Off" segment "At Issue."

I’ve been a regular guest of the “Face Off” segment “At Issue.”

This is not a sacrifice for me. I don’t get paid to do any political punditry and I don’t do it that much.  (I was scheduled to be on At Issue twice this month.) Here is the only thing that truly bothers me about this.  If you watch At Issue regularly, you may have noticed one thing.  This light-skinned Puerto Rican is diversity on that show. And not just on that show.  Politics and political commentary, as well as news reporting, is simply not as diverse as Minnesota has become.

The thing I have wondered incessantly since Jay Kolls’ inflammatory piece first aired is, how many eyes looked at that story and saw no red flags?  Or, as one twitter use replied to me, “how many saw the red flags, but didn’t feel able to voice their concern?” I don’t know how many people of color are in the KSTP newsroom.  Anecdotally, after years of going into the studio fairly regularly, my guess is not a lot.

And so it is no small deal for me to make the KSTP news operation even less diverse, but there are times when we all have to do what little we can.  Some may be wondering, what can we all do together? Just as social media has brought national attention and derision to this travesty of journalism, we can use our collective power to let KSTP know that the public rejects their newsroom’s double-down.

What we can all do

First, let KSTP know of your outrage.  You can find their comment page here or you can call their newsroom phone at 612-588-6397. As always, please be civil but firm.

Also, continue tweeting at them your outrage, letting them know you refuse to watch their show and will  not patronize their advertisers.  Tell them to stop standing by the shoddy reporting of Jay Kolls.  He is damaging their brand, and maybe eventually they will realize the problem he is for them.

A twitter user calling her/himself @kstpadwatcher has begun tweeting the names of companies advertising on KSTP news.  The account was just created and doesn’t have many followers, but watch there to see if this develops into a full-fledged campaign.  With advertisers, let them know why you object to their sponsorship of a TV station that displays such an appalling disregard for journalistic ethics.

Let’s not let the Minneapolis Police Federation off the hook.  The Federation’s president, John Delmonico, chose to pursue a vendetta against Mayor Hodges because she dared assert that, while the overwhelming number of cops are good men and women doing their jobs, there are a few who damage the reputation of the whole force.  In response to Hodges’ “Open Letter” to the community of Minneapolis, Delmonico wrote his own open letter stating that the problem in the Minneapolis Police Department is too many officers are being disciplined. After his role in #pointergate, it is clear that John Delmonico himself is one of those cops damaging the reputation of the corps.  The Federation’s email address is info@mpdfederation.com and their phone number is 612.788.8444. Remember again, civil but firm. The twitter handle for the police department is @MPD_PIO. It is important to make a distinction between the action of Delmonico and the force as a whole.  It is the opinion of many that there is a cultural problem within the department; one role the public can play in improving that culture is highlighting the difference between cops who are building community and those who are damaging it.

(Let me point out that taking on the Police Federation and pushing for reform in the MPD is something that white allies can in particular play a big role in.  People of color, especially African-American men, have reason to be concerned that speaking out could lead to police harassment. One of the things that has been missed in a lot of the reporting on #pointergate –and that KSTP, of course, completely ignored–is that the young organizer in that photo with Mayor Hodges, Navell Gordon, had recently caused some bad press for the police department when he was featured in news stories alleging police harassment of Get-Out-The-Vote canvassers on the North Side. A question Jay Kolls didn’t think to ask the cops who spoon-fed him the pointergate story is, did this very recent bad press have anything to do with why cops were trolling his Facebook page photos to begin with?)

Finally, you can do something proactive.  Minnesota Neighborhoods Organizing for Change is the community organization that was slandered by KSTP and Jay Kolls.  They are a youth and people of color-led organization that is doing amazing work focused on the North Side of Minneapolis.  Support their work.  Throw a few bucks their way. You can also follow their work on Facebook.

About that KSTP “explanation” and Who is Missing the Point

I don’t at this point need to summarize for anyone the scandal of ethics and journalism that has become “Pointergate.” If you want to get caught up, some of the best things to read or listen to include the interview MPR News did with Anthony Newby, the Executive Director of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change; University of St. Thomas Law Professor Nekima Levy-Pounds’ brilliant, “Dear White People: Mayor Hodges is Not in a Gang”; and the first blogger to bring national attention to #pointergate, Shaun King, “Pointergate may be the most racist news story of 2014”.

Here I’d like to just speak a little to KSTP’s follow-up story, where they double down on their original reporting, re-interview the same retired cop and continue to ignore the outraged community (the only person of color featured in any of their news stories about pointergate is the blurred face of organizer Navell Gordon.

In their Friday afternoon statement about #pointergate and their subsequent news followup story, KSTP makes the point that their story was about the “Mayor’s judgment” and not Navell Gordon, telling us that this is why they “blurred the individual’s face and did not name the group he was working for.

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.  How do we know?  He says it in this video,which also happens to capture the exact moment the pointergate photo was taken:

If you’d named the organization, you would have had to admit that, despite what reporter Kolls claimed in his first story, NOC did reach out to your newsroom to correct your interpretation before the first story aired.  I know this for a fact.  I have worked with NOC for years and have been in regular communication with Anthony Newby since Kolls first started digging around about this story.  I know, for example, that upon learning from KSTP what they planned to say about that photograph, NOC sent the newsroom many more photos of the event, including those showing Police Chief Janee Harteau right by Mayor Hodges when she canvassed with Gordon (and just out of frame of the camera of the #pointergate photo). 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.

And the mendacity continues.  Friday night’s rehashed argument on KSTP still makes no mention of the above video, which debunks the story’s entire premise.  As of Friday afternoon Jay Kolls said on Joe Soucheray’s radio show “Garage Logic,” that he still had not seen the above video! (By the way, when Joe Soucheray and Twin Cities progressives are agreeing that your story was horse manure, you’ve got a problem).

Poor Jay Kolls must have been so busy sending angry tweets the night his story first aired (he has since stopped tweeting) he just didn’t have time to click on a video that has now been viewed over 160,000 times. He obviously still wasn’t able to get to it before the Friday night newscast.  Research is hard.

#Pointergate is about more than KSTP

Yes, we should focus a lot of organizing attention on a station as irresponsible as KSTP, but there are deeper issues that the community conversation must consider.  The next time talking heads on TV wonder why the relationship between police departments and the communities they serve, remember John Delmonico’s role in this and remember #pointergate. The next time journalists of color call out the lack of diversity in newsrooms and the effect that has on coverage, remember #pointergate. The next time a black kid gets shot because someone thought something he was doing with his hands — a gesture, reaching in his pocket, putting his hands up in the air — gets misinterpreted, remember #pointergate.

Minneapolis School Board Race. Some Thoughts Before You Vote.

3 Nov

In Minneapolis this year, the race for the at-large school board seats has become one of the nastiest and divisive elections in recent memory. Trying to carve not even a middle path in this fight between the union and reformers, let alone a conversation, seems impossible, especially during the heightened tensions of an election. I’ll have a much longer post-mortem after election that will go into detail my frustrations with certain segments of both the reform and union crowds, but here I’ll just stick to my pre-election day thoughts that I hope some Minneapolis voters will find useful.

Let me begin by acknowledging that everyone running is seeking what is essentially a volunteer job, paying around ten thousand dollars a year (insane when you consider they manage a budget of almost 800 million dollars). It is also a thankless job with a ton of work, very little if any staff support, and the job description consists of trying to chart a way forward for kids in the midst of lots of adults yelling at you that you are not doing your job right. Kudos to all willing to put up with the current electoral vitriol they are sustaining only to win and accept that job.

Iris Strib Editorial EndorsementAnyone who knows me knows I am not unbiased in this race. Iris Altamirano is not only SEIU-endorsed, she is a good friend and someone who worked as political director and internal organizing lead at Local 26. She has been on strike lines, is extremely smart, and her story is the one of so many Minneapolis Public Schools students. There are three viable campaigns for two at-large spots: Altamirano, Don Samuels, and Rebecca Gagnon. Ira Jourdain is also vying for a spot, but his campaign has been lackluster, though he has a base of support in the hardcore left of the teachers’ union. Samuels is the darling of education reformers and Gagnon the darling of the mainstream of labor and the teachers’ union. Altamirano’s is the only campaign that has actively sought to build a conversation across groups and differences of opinion. That is what we need in a new school board – as she says, a new conversation, led by people willing to challenge all sides to do better and focus on kids.

Minneapolis kids are in crisis, especially kids of color. We have the greatest racial disparities in outcomes in the entire United States. Let that sink in. Worse than Mississippi, worse than Alabama, worse than Texas, where Iris Altamirano grew up.

Iris knows the plight of Minneapolis kids; she too was expected not to succeed. She is the proud daughter of a janitor who worked at her high school. When the superintendent of that school found out that Iris had been accepted to Cornell University, he did not celebrate her as the first student of any race to be accepted to an Ivy League from his district. No, he pulled her mother aside in the hall she cleaned every day and asked her, “Why your daughter?” Iris’s mom replied in her accented English, “Why not my daughter?” Iris and her mom cracked the code. They figured out a way for her to be successful in a system stacked against her. She has since then dedicated her life to changing that system. She will be the first Latina elected to the School Board and the only member with a direct connection to the largest community of immigrants in the city.

If Samuels and Gagnon get elected together, the school board will be bitterly divided, polarized—and the polarized debate has helped no one, especially kids. (More on that in the post-mortem).

DFL-endorsed Altamirano came in a strong third in the primary, but there are only two spots open on the board, and she is clearly the underdog. She is up against former City Council Member Samuels, who last year ran for mayor and won the highest number of second third choice votes and support across the city. He had a network of donors ready to go and the passionate support of some key stakeholders, including former Mayor Rybak. As soon as he announced, electing Samuels became the top priority of the “reform” crowd.

Then you have the incumbent, Gagnon, for whom the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation re-wrote the rules of endorsement in order to support her, choosing for the first time not to screen candidates and instead support the “DFL ticket.” That meant labor could put hundreds of thousands of dollars into the DFL while she could say she is not beholden to labor. (That is literally why it happened; it’s how she wanted it). It is abundantly clear that, if the rules of the game are re-written to fit one person, that person is your priority. Having been a strong supporter of labor, especially the teachers, on the board, re-electing Gagnon is the top priority of most the “union” crowd.

Coming out of the gate, Altamirano was neither group’s top priority. Unlike Gagnon, she is not wealthy enough to feed her campaign with thousands of dollars. Unlike Samuels, she is not known citywide. Although she comes out of the labor movement, organized strike lines and helped thousands of workers in the Twin Cities make their jobs better, no one has rewritten any rules to support her. The DFL endorsement was valuable; that and Altamirano’s tireless work got her a decent close third in the primary. Third place doesn’t get you on the school board.

Post-primary Altamirano continued a strategy of talking to everyone and began gaining their support. Reformers who donated to her did not give in as high quantities as they did to Samuels, and although she does not agree with them on all issues, they have seen in her someone who will at least listen and talk. Likewise, teachers and other union folks have invested in her campaign. She has run on her organizing experience, even when many in labor have attacked her viciously (and I do mean viciously) simply because she does not believe that being pro-labor means you have to close off communication with everyone else and be open to ideas wherever they come from.

Her work to engage people across groups has garnered her high praise. Just today, the 2014 Educator of the Year, Tom Rademacher, endorsed Iris, writing: “The conversation needs to change. I respect Iris Altamirano for her willingness to talk to everyone working to make schools better. Iris seems to understand that our biggest problems need allies more than they need enemies, and has refused to take the easy way out of picking a side in an argument and scoring easy points attacking others. Again and again, she has refocused the conversation through this campaign on finding solutions and staying centered on our students. She has my vote for Minneapolis School Board.”

In a surprise to the establishment, newcomer Altamirano also received the endorsement of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Are there also people supporting her candidacy financially—principally through independent expenditures that she legally has no control over—who progressives disagree with on a whole host of issues? Absolutely. Why should you support her anyway? Because, in a world where money flows into elections to absurd degrees, Altamirano has been upfront about the fact that she is talking to everyone. If any of her critics who also cannot afford to self-finance their campaigns would care to run for office in the current campaign finance climate, I look forward to watch their learning curve.

In sum, whoever of the other two frontrunners you like, Samuels or Gagnon, Altamirano should be your other choice. If you want someone who will lead a new conversation, vote for Iris. If you are passionate about Rebecca Gagnon, you should also support Iris. If you are passionate for Don Samuels, you should also support Iris.

This race has been hard on everyone involved. Both the reform and the union side have engaged in tactics I find deplorable (more on that later). If the each group’s work gets Gagnon and Samuels elected, each will have elected the candidate they really wanted and the opponent each deserves. Minneapolis will have the most divided and divisive school board in memory, and we will have a much more difficult time healing from this election and focusing on kids.

Aren’t Dinosaurs Just Jesus Ponies?

21 Jul

logo smallThat was the question of the week on the Wrong About Everything podcast, asked by Denise Cardinal when talking about crazy Minnesota House candidate Bob Frey‘s even crazier theories about evolution and the coexistence of humans (to the present!). If you haven’t followed the story, get your patoot over to Bluestem Prairie.  The blogger who runs that site insists she’s a crabby old hag, but we think she should at least add “researcher extraordinaire” to that title somewhere. She has all kinds of good stuff up about not just Frey’s crazy theories about evolution and the origin of AIDS but also how he screwed over homeowners for a living. What a guy!

MNGOP House Candidate with his Jesus Pony femur

MNGOP House Candidate with his Jesus Pony femur

Also on the podcast, we talk about Hillary’s book tour, Elizabeth Warren at Netroots, the Republican boys blather on about coal (ie., they explain why they hate the Earth), and we do a Know Your Government segment that uncovers the deep dark secrets of the Met Council (GOP panelist Brian McDaniel is a former black-booted thug appointee to the unelected SuperGovernment Council under Governor Pawlenty).

Wrong About Everything, Episode 7

14 Jul

20140702-085531-32131345.jpgIn this week’s episode, we get serious about the border crisis and then very unserious about the Ghost of Sexting Presidents Past, Minnesota Republican Candidates Gone Wilde & much more.

Download the latest edition of Wrong About Everthing here.

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. “

 

Wrong About Everything is now on iTunes

8 Jul

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We either made it, or their standards are really really low.  Who cares ?  We’re on iTunes!  You can download it there.

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.