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Category: General

This Day in Labor History: May 21, 1968

[ 9 ] May 21, 2015 |

On May 21, 1968, the Poor People’s Campaign began setting up its encampment in Washington, D.C., called Resurrection City. Attempting to go on after the assassination of Martin Luther King while he marched with the Memphis sanitation workers’ strike, this last goal of King’s would tell Americans just how tough the poor had it in this country. But it ultimately failed without his leadership, demonstrating both the limited commitment of civil rights leaders to labor issues and the increasing impatience both the Johnson administration and the public had with grassroots movements demanding continued civil rights and economic reforms by 1968.

By 1967, Martin Luther King had largely broken with the Johnson administration, first on Vietnam and then on the War on Poverty. With Johnson now consumed by the war, the War on Poverty staggered. King, deeply affected by his Chicago urban housing campaign of 1966, saw the common interests of the poor across the nation and wanted to transition into combining the civil rights and poverty movements. In doing so, he continued distancing himself from much of the rest of the middle-class minister-led wing of the civil rights movement that largely saw their goal post-1965 as consolidating their recent legal gains and working with the president who had pushed for those laws.

King announced the Poor People’s Campaign at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference staff retreat in November 1967 and it received a public announcement on December 4. For King, this was a way to continue his nonviolent campaigns with a more direct action feel in the era of black power and urban riots. It intended to bring at least 2000 poor people of all races from around the nation to Washington, DC to demand federal anti-poverty programs. That included African-Americans from the South and from northern cities, Chicanos from the Southwest, Puerto Ricans from New York, Native Americans, and white Appalachians. King called it “the beginning of a new co-operation, understanding, and a determination by poor people of all colors and backgrounds to assert and win their right to a decent life and respect for their culture and dignity.” At the core of it was that African-Americans and other poor people would never have dignity in this nation without economic security.


The immediate goal of the campaign was to secure a full employment bill. The march itself was intended to begin on April 22, 1968. But King was assassinated on April 4.

After King’s assassination, the SCLC decided to go through with the campaign in King’s honor, with Ralph Abernathy leading it. An impressive array of social movement leaders participated. That was especially true in the Mexican-American community as Chicano pioneers Reies Lopez Tijerina, fresh off the shootout at Tierra Amarilla, and Corky Gonzalez led around 1000 Latinos from the Southwest. Unfortunately Tijerina and Abernathy really took an extremely strong dislike to one another and that helped lead to some fairly significant racial tension in the camp. Native Americans came and protested at the Supreme Court for fishing rights, where Tijerina supported an aggressive protest that smashed some of the building’s windows, which Abernathy despised. White Appalachian residents brought a specific class-based critique to the movement as they were white yet still isolated from dominant society. The camp tried to revive the cultural protest of the early 60s through song. Folk singers like Pete Seeger and Guy Carawan were there, as were Native American chanters, singers of Mexican-American folk songs, old-timey Appalachian singers and others. But the conditions were not really right for a successful protest and with the Johnson Administration largely ignoring the protests and the absence of King looming, the campaign struggled.


It didn’t help that conditions in the camp were not good, not so surprising given that Washington DC is a wet city built on a swamp. Ben Gilbert of the Washington Post:

The grassy parkland turned to trampled mud, ankle-deep, with some puddles of water hip-deep. The plywood homes were soaked. Washed clothes would not dry. Dampness and surprisingly low temperatures for May and June chilled the nights. Mud seeped in everywhere. Moving from place to place meant sloshing around in water and mud. Trash, rotting food, discarded clothing, packing boxes, cans, and liquor bottles slowly sank into the mud throughout the encampment. Huge oil drums, crammed with refuse, burned day and night. Their smoky stench carried all the way downtown and through the surrounding parkland and Mall area.

Without King’s vision, the movement really lacked the power to create change. But it certainly was the greatest attempt to create a truly multiracial coalition for economic justice during the civil rights era. The media largely criticized Abernathy for the movement’s failure, but the reality is that even if King lived, the white middle-class liberals who had provided the political support in northern states necessary to pass legislation were declining in influence, distracted by Vietnam and other issues of the late 60s, and disturbed by the demands African-Americans were making of them, such as jobs programs and the end of de facto segregation at work and in schools.

Certainly the AFL-CIO largely sitting the Poor People’s Campaign out did not help. All too typically of the Meany-era federation, organized labor did not do enough to support anti-poverty movements. Some union leaders were helpful, particularly Walter Reuther of the United Auto Workers. The United Steelworkers of America also actively supported the campaign. But by and large the AFL-CIO did not take the full employment goals seriously, even though doing so would have made all the sense in the world. As King had rejected Vietnam and based this campaign in part on how the expense of Vietnam was undermining the War on Poverty, George Meany just could not really support it as he refused to acknowledge that Vietnam had any negative domestic consequences. This is a moment where a full commitment from organized labor could have made a real difference in expanding the welfare state and improving the lives of the nation’s poor. But unfortunately that was not the fundamental interest of AFL-CIO leadership in 1968.

The protests ended in failure on June 24. Resurrection City itself was dismantled on June 19. There has never been a coordinated multiracial alliance of the poor to descend on the capital since.

This is the 144th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.


[ 70 ] May 21, 2015 |

Knowing that this will age me even further in the eyes of the reader, I was a big fan for a long time. He was influential enough that there was no way the show could have stayed fresh even if the execution remained the same, which it generally didn’t. Like many, I slowly drifted away from the show and its anachronistic format. But every once and I while it was comforting to tune in — the pre-Christmas show, with Shaffer’s Cher impression and Darlene Love, always reminded me of flying out as a college student and being home for the holidays and having access to cable. I’ve watched the show some in its final weeks, and while I can’t claim it’s great comedy at this late date I felt the same reassuring vibe. And the understated finale tonight was well-turned. Enjoy every sandwich.

On not saving the princess

[ 282 ] May 20, 2015 |

This post contains spoilers for Game of Thrones.

When something is upsetting in a work of art, two kinds of responses are these: one is an expression of the private experience of unease, pain, or disgust; the other is an argument in the public sphere of ethics that the work isn’t just shocking to our sensibilities, but harmful. Everyone has a right to their private emotional reaction, which by its nature isn’t going to be very amenable to change through argument, though that doesn’t mean it’s not worth examining. And every work of art is subject to critique about how and what it teaches us. We learn how to think about the world in part from fiction, and art has ethical responsibilities that are worth considering and debating.

There are any number of reasons why a viewer might have found the last episode of Game of Thrones too intense to take. But the ethical complaints that I have read are totally incoherent, if we are to understand those ethical complaints as uniquely, or at least particularly, relevant to Sansa’s rape by Ramsay Bolton, as contrasted with every other thing that ever has happened on Game of Thrones. GoT is orgiastically violent. Much of the time, it treats its violence pretty gleefully. The camera lingers lovingly as a man sticks his thumbs into another man’s eye sockets and crushes his skull into the ground. There is a point in the season-long torture of Theon by Ramsay when we cut to Ramsay eating a sausage, making the viewer believe for a moment that the sausage is Theon’s severed penis. I distinctly remember my gorge rising. Anyone who watches this program knows this list could go on and on. It is bizarre to single out either Sansa’s rape, or violence against women more generally, as marking Game of Thrones as exploitative of its characters, more so than the rest of the plot.

What can it possibly mean to say that “rape is not a necessary plot device,” as Jill Pantozzi at The Mary Sue thinks we should understand? Sansa’s presence at Winterfell and engagement to Ramsay are arguably insufficiently motivated, but if we grant that these plot points make sense, Sansa’s rape is an inevitability. It’s unclear how, absent some last-minute rescue, it could even be written around. The Mary Sue piece seems to think that fiction is bound by some economy of suffering rule — nothing bad should happen in excess of what’s necessary for character development. And they’d have a case for that rule, but it certainly hasn’t been the rule Game of Thrones has been operating with. I don’t think it makes for good or ethical art when characters are tortured far in excess of the value of any point the creators are making, and GoT has a sadistic relationship with its audience. But there is no reason why sexual violence (though apparently not against men, since there was no storm of outrage when Theon lost his penis!) should be elevated as uniquely horrible, above every other form of violence GoT portrays. Somehow we have looped around from “rape is violence, and is just as serious as other forms of violence” to “rape is the worst form of violence.” All this does is feed the ideology of women’s fragility, and of the locus of their worth in their unspoiled genitalia.

Pantozzi suggests that the story would be better if Sansa had killed Ramsay before this scene, making it an attempted rape. If we are to ask for plot consistent with characters’ established motivations, rather than clumsy devices, it seems likely that Sansa would be executed by Roose Bolton shortly after. Her rape is the consequence of her situation, and more broadly, of the logic of the GoT universe. Sansa’s improbable escape by dagger, permitted only for her because we identify with her and want her to win, would instead make her a Mary Sue!

One likely reason the attempted rape trope is so popular is that TV writers believe that the audience wouldn’t be able to tolerate the victims afterward, wouldn’t look them in the eye. But here in the real world, rape is both serious and common, one among many ways to suffer at the hand of another person. It is something everyone faces, as an element of their own history or of the history of someone they care about — whether they know it or not. And it’s something both women and men can heal from. (Sansa herself understands this; she must know she’s in danger by the time of her talk with Myranda, but she doesn’t light a candle in the window to request rescue; she is playing a longer game.) If you are going to write a television show all about how man is wolf to man, it does not make sense to shy away from rape as a plot element, and that shyness would only promote the attitude that rape, compared to every other form of victimization, is too shameful and degrading to confront.

In a very intelligent critical review, Sarah Mesle captures some of what might be especially painful about watching Sansa suffer. We know her; we saw her grow up. The scene might feel more relatable and personal than seeing, say, boy kings sport-executing prostitutes by crossbow or psychopaths releasing the hounds on their ex-girlfriends. Part of what distinguishes Mesle’s essay from the rest of the internetical rage is that she does not attempt to elevate rape as a somehow privileged evil, compared to war, slavery, execution, assassination, torture, and everything else that moves the plot in Game of Thrones, but instead broadens the conversation to consider the show’s ethics more generally. There are good arguments to be made against it: it portrays brutality and suffering as inevitable, and it makes a point to serve up violence to its audience as pornographically as possible, while, as Mesle rightly argues, inviting us to fantasize that we are bravely facing some grim reality (I have an acquaintance who loves how “Game of Thrones shows us how things really were back then,” in, um, historical Westeros). But it would not make the show more ethical to preserve a single virgin fair-skinned noble, while letting the prostitutes be strangled by their ex-lovers (who get to remain sympathetic characters!), or making the common forest folk bear their father’s children and abandon every baby boy. The show in fact treats Sansa relatively gently in this scene, respectfully cutting away from her body, compared to its approach to men, non-virgin women, dark-skinned people, or poor people. And even though Senator McCaskill and anyone else is absolutely entitled to their visceral responses to one rape scene, if it’s okay to see so many other lives and bodies treated so cheaply, if it feels on some level satisfying to see the the naked, arrow-pierced bodies of two dead prostitutes draped over a bedframe, but the fade-to-black groans of one young woman you care for are too horrifying to face, then Game of Thrones is holding up a mirror to the world by holding it to its audience, and is perhaps not failing you in quite the way you think.

Today In Great Hatchet Jobs (In the Non-Pejorative Sense)

[ 82 ] May 20, 2015 |

I have observed before that Pete Wells’s negative reviews are, in themselves, a dispositive argument against smarmy critiques of negative reviews.  They’re useful as consumer service, but they’re also just outstanding writing in themselves.  Today’s might be his best yet:

How anybody gets drunk enough to act this way is one of several fun Javelina mysteries to keep you entertained. Fresh or frozen, the margaritas have a slight chemical taste that I was thankful for because it tended to keep my own alcohol intake to near-Mormon levels. I also stayed alert and sober when faced with the Tijuana Manhattan, made with tequila in the place of whiskey and served in a rocks glass with no ice at all, even though it was the temperature of a freshly killed snake. While bartenders elsewhere have become insufferable bores on the subjects of ice and proper shaking techniques, the ones at Javelina are refreshingly free of such pretension. Even the water is sometimes served at room temperature.

One night, the bar made me a Paloma in a pint glass, while a woman at my table got her Paloma in a much smaller glass. Everybody knows women drink less than men, so we appreciated the thoughtfulness. To avoid making her self-conscious, I suppose, the restaurant even charged us both the same amount, $13.

At most restaurants, you are served what you ask for so routinely that your eyes glaze over with boredom. Javelina does not fall into the trap of dull predictability. One night after I left, I realized the guacamole I’d ordered had never arrived; it’s not every restaurant that gives you something to think about on your way home. Meanwhile, people at the next table were presented with a dish they insisted they hadn’t asked for. “You didn’t order brisket?” the server asked, keeping up the playful spirit.

One of Javelina’s calling cards, queso, is usually suggested by the servers when taking orders. Occasionally this Tex-Mex cheese fondue is served hot, but more often it arrives lukewarm, which prevents trips to the emergency room. The cooler temperature offers the added benefit of allowing a latex-like film to congeal on top, which provides an interesting contrast in texture with the liquefied cheese below.

That is so good David Denby is probably writing a book explaining how Wells is destroying American society right now.


[ 30 ] May 20, 2015 |

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the system of franchising used by fast food companies, charging that it is designed to hold down wages unfairly.

The union, which has been pushing to boost the pay of low-wage fast-food workers, said the current structure gives too much power to franchisers on issues such as revenue-sharing, capital expenditures, and termination and renewal of contracts.

As a result, too many franchise owners are locked into a model that limits their control, said Scott Courtney, assistant to the president of SEIU. Franchisers, he said, have built low wages into the system and it’s not possible for a franchisee to increase wages they pay to workers without reforming the model.

“Franchisers like McDonald’s control virtually every aspect of the business operation at their franchise stores. They set the cost and effectively set the low wages paid throughout the industry,” Courtney said in a conference call with reporters. He added, “Reform of the system is important to ending poverty wages in the franchised food sector.”

McDonald’s said in a statement it has a strong working relationship with its 3,100 independent franchisees. McDonald’s said it supports its franchisees and protects the brand by providing “optional resources” and setting quality standards that help franchisees operate successful businesses.

Franchising, like temporary work and subcontracting, exists solely to promote the interests of corporate executives over that of workers. That you can have multiple employers employing workers in the same factory making the same thing or that you can outsource production or that you can franchise is a sign of the extremely aggressive move by corporations in recent years to limit corporate obligations and liability. SEIU is right in fighting this. Perhaps the franchising model should not exist at all, but in any case, the corporate home must be held legally responsible for everything that goes on in each and every establishment.

Santa Barbara Oil Spills, Then and Now

[ 3 ] May 20, 2015 |


In 1969, the beaches of Santa Barbara, California were inundated with oil from a nearby spill. This event galvanized environmentalists both locally and around the nation. I use the Santa Barbara oil spill to help set up Out of Sight, which is coming out officially in 13 days. So buy your copies now. Anyway, an excerpt:

Fifty-eight years later, in 1969, public outrage over corporate behavior again revolved around disturbing images that flashed before Americans’ eyes. Two events that year changed Americans’ views on how industry should treat the environment. First, on January 28, the largest oil spill to that point in American history took place off the coast of Santa Barbara, California when a well blew out on an oil platform owned by Union Oil. Up to 100,000 barrels spilled. People watching their evening news saw sea lions and birds covered in oil, dead fish and marine wildlife, and a paradise spoiled.

The oil industry had long played a controversial role in southern California. As the state became known for its beaches, tourists and developers protested the oil industry’s presence in that beautiful part of the country. Beachgoers in the 1920s found themselves between the picturesque Pacific and a sea of oil derricks. Local residents, led by oil workers’ unions, demanded the industry maintain the character of their towns and beaches. The oil workers unions held beach clean-ups, advocated for drilling limits, and wanted more their towns than the filth of oil pollution. By the 1960s, much of the production had moved offshore, but oil derricks and refineries remained a major feature of the southern California landscape.

When the spill took place, the people of Santa Barbara and southern California responded quickly. An organization named Get Oil Out (GOO) quickly developed. Led by Santa Barbara resident Bud Bottoms, GOO urged people to cut back on driving and boycott gas stations that received fuel from Union Oil. It lobbied to ban all oil drilling off of California and succeeded in enacting new regulations when drilling did resume. Thomas Storke, editor of the Santa Barbara News-Press wrote, “Never in my long lifetime have I ever seen such an aroused populace at the grassroots level. This oil pollution has done something I have never seen before in Santa Barbara – it has united citizens of all political persuasions in a truly nonpartisan cause.” Union Oil suffered greater repercussions for this environmental disaster than any corporation in U.S. history to that time. Company president Fred Hartley couldn’t understand, saying, “I am amazed at the publicity for a loss of a few birds.” The spill made people around the nation realize the importance of preserving the landscapes they loved from industrialists. In the two years after the oil spill, national membership in the Sierra Club doubled. The state banned new leases for drilling on offshore state lands, although existing leases continued to operate. Today, companies do still drill in California, but the visual impact to tourists is much lower than a half-century ago.

The oil spill helped lead to the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act, shepherded through Congress by Scoop Jackson who is vilified by progressives today for his defense policy but was one of the most important environmentalists in Senate history.

It may not be as bad as 1969, but another oil spill is now polluting the Santa Barbara beaches:

After flowing from the pipeline, crude pooled in a culvert before spilling into the Pacific, where it created a four-mile-long sheen extending about 50 yards into the water. Officials said winds could send the oil another four miles south toward Isla Vista.

The pipeline, built in 1991 and designed to carry about 150,000 barrels of oil per day, is owned by Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline, which said in a statement that it shut down the pipe. The culvert was also blocked to prevent more oil from flowing into the ocean, the company said.

By late Tuesday, a thick layer of crude had begun to wash ashore, with black tar smearing the rocks as the brackish tides arrived.

“It is horrible,” said Brett Connors, 35, a producer from Santa Monica who said he spotted sea lions swimming in the oil slick. “You want to jump in there and save them.”

The reality is that the oil industry is far too lightly regulated as whether in Santa Barbara, Alaska, or off of the Louisiana coast, our energy infrastructure fails over and over to protect the nation’s fragile ecosystems. If the spills are bad enough, like the BP spill, public outrage can again arise, but ultimately very little has changed since that spill, unlike after the original Santa Barbara spill. The social movement to hold corporations accountable for environmental disasters is not what it was in 1969, in part because so many jobs are now outsourced that working people fear any kind of environmental protections will throw them on the street. This shift in attitude is just one of the many cascading effects of the global race to the bottom, a race that benefits corporations at each and every step.

The Potential Burwell Aftermath

[ 60 ] May 20, 2015 |

John Boehner

The political play for congressional Republicans should the Supreme Court go Moopy is pretty obvious. Pass a bill that temporarily extends subsidies to the federally established state exchanges while being loaded with poison pills, Obama vetoes it, Republicans assert that Obama is the reason the state exchanges will fail, media dutifully reports that Views of Shapes of the World Differ and Both Sides Do It and Obama Lacks the Leadership to Lead With Leadership (while conservative media outlets and pundits will have additional narratives that will get some mainstream traction, like Obama’s Use Of the So-Called “Veto Power” Is An Unprecedented Attack on American Constitutionalism.)

But will this actually happen? My guess is that congressional Republicans are too dysfunctional to actually pull this off. Chait agrees:

Obviously, Obama is not going to sign a bill that puts Obamacare on the path to extinction. The purpose is simply to give Republicans a talking point — they can say they passed a bill and blame Obama for vetoing it. But odds are that Republicans will fail to unify around a bill that can pass both houses of Congress with only Republican votes, because some will deem even a bill that causes Obamacare’s eventual demise unacceptably conciliatory.

Likewise, Sargent sees the cracks deepening:

Of course, even if the Court does gut subsidies, the Price alternative isn’t going to happen. Even if Republicans could unite behind the Price plan, or some other alternative, Obama would veto it, and try to pressure Republicans — in Congress and the states — to implement a simple subsidy fix. But the fact that a leading conservative like Price is now opposed to a temporary subsidy patch even on Republicans’ own terms is a reminder that Republicans may prove too divided to accomplish even that.

The lesson that both Chait and Sargent take from this is that Republicans should be careful what they wish for. My read on the situation remains…maybe. I still think there are two factors that will contain the damage for Republicans. First, the states where the Supreme Court could wreck the exchanges overwhelmingly shade red, and in many of these states Republicans are essentially invulnerable. (I do think a Moops invasion would be politically damaging to Scott Walker, a fact that evidently takes on added significance given that he’s a frontrunner for the Republican nomination.) And, second, average voters tend not to be very good as assigning responsibility, and the media won’t necessarily help even if Congress can’t even pass a Potemkin fix. The political press can ignore an awful lot of facts on the ground if they get in the way of the Both Side Do It default.

The precise political effects of the Supreme Court wrecking the exchanges cannot be known. But I do think it’s clear that the only question is how bad it will be. No matter what a there will be a lot of states that don’t have functional exchanges for a while, and while Republicans might pay a political price for this they probably have a lock on the House at least until 2020. Needless to say, by far the best outcome would be for the Supreme Court to not willfully misread the law in order to wreck the exchanges.

The Old Model Minority Bullcrap Again

[ 80 ] May 20, 2015 |


If you speak glowingly of “model minorities,” it is fair for me to assume you are an idiot. Do not compare the experiences of Blacks to any other minority group in the States. You can’t. Black people have had a uniquely (bad) experience as Americans. They’ve been subjected to unique and uniquely awful prejudice. When you compare Blacks to, say, Asians or Jewish people, you are showing your ignorance. The experiences of these different groups simply cannot be compared.

This, ladies and gentleman, has been the latest chapter in “bspencer’s Pet Peeves and Bugaboos that Make Her Want to Slam Her Head Against a Wall Until it Explodes.”

I highly recommend reading the comments, which are–as always–amazing. But this one especially.

Fight for $20

[ 8 ] May 20, 2015 |


Yesterday’s bill in Los Angeles to ease in a $15 minimum wage is great. But it isn’t enough to live on in Los Angeles because housing is so expensive. A $15 minimum wage really just needs to be a first step in the larger fight for living wages for working people.

NFL changes extra point rule to make it 3% less boring

[ 90 ] May 19, 2015 |

super bowl

The NFL had a chance to improve its anachronistic extra point rule, but ended up barely modifying it. PATs will now be snapped from the 15. The only other change in the rules is the adoption of the college system whereby blocked kicks and turnovers off two-point attempts can be returned by the defense.

Given that NFL kickers now make about 95% of their 30-35 yard FG attempts, this change is adds almost no extra strategy or uncertainty to the post-TD ritual, which already takes up too much of that increasingly precious portion of airtime during NFL broadcasts not dedicated to advertisements.

A better rule would have done away with PATs altogether, while awarding seven points for a touchdown. Teams would have the option of going for an eighth point from the two-yard line, at the cost of having the TD reduced to six points if the attempt failed.

They Hate Us for Our Branes

[ 283 ] May 19, 2015 |


Normally I would not link to stuff like this but I am in a weird mood. Anyway, I read it. Now you have to. What you’re clicking on is probably the unsexiest circle jerk of all time. OK, I’ll quit hedging: It’s Vox Day talking about how people don’t like him because he’s just too goddamn smart. Thanks (??) to Origami Isopod.

Transgender History

[ 6 ] May 19, 2015 |


The speed in which the transgender rights movement is moving is utterly remarkable and truly amazing. Here’s a useful timeline of the movement’s history.

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