Welcome to Becoming a Citizen Activist BlogAfter writing Urban Politics on Seattle politics for over 19 years, I will now also be covering urban issues in other cities that could have importance to metropolitan areas in general. Seattle issues will still be covered in Urban Politics – Seattle, but will not come out as frequently as in the past. In a couple of weeks a searchable archive of all former Urban Politics will be available on a newly redesigned www.becomingacitizenactivist.org. If you do not wish to receive Urban Politics – US reply with “Unsubscribe UP-US” in the Subject Line.

Can Promoting a Beautiful America Unite this Nation?

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Originally Posted in Urban Politics – US – 3/5/18
By Nick Licata 

Can Promoting a Beautiful America Unite this Nation?

This nation’s politics have become ever more divisive as we have entered the twenty-first century. It did not begin with Donald Trump being elected President. According to the most recent poll taken by Pew Research Center last year, fewer Americans hold a mix of conservative and liberal views today than they did a generation ago. The trend has grown so great that as of 2017 Republicans and Democrats are now further apart ideologically than at any point in more than two decades.

There have been a number of proposals for closing this gap, but the most innovative one that I’ve come across is the And Beauty For All campaign. Many of its basic ideas harken back to City Beautiful Movement and the Country Life Movement, which promoted beauty campaigns like this one in the first two decades of the last century. John de Graaf, who initiated the current effort, has been studying those past movements as well as Lyndon Johnson’s beautification campaign of the 1960s. He concludes that Johnson’s efforts, in particular, offers a record of bi-partisan success in Congress that may allow the And Beauty For All campaign to break our current gridlock in D.C.
De Graff, and hundreds of others, from architects to urban planners, to small farmers, environmental leaders, real estate professionals, diversity advocates, university provosts and recreation leaders are supporting his campaign because they believe that preserving our country’s beauty can bring Americans of all political persuasions together to restore our environment and revitalize our cities and towns. De Graaf will be presenting this month at their Energy, Environment & Natural Resources (EENR) Committee standing committee during NLC’s annual Congressional City Conference in Washington D.C.
There have been a number of proposals for closing this gap, but the most innovative one that I’ve come across is the And Beauty For All campaign. Many of its basic ideas harken back to City Beautiful Movement and the Country Life Movement, which promoted beauty campaigns like this one in the first two decades of the last century. John de Graaf, who initiated the current effort, has been studying those past movements as well as Lyndon Johnson’s beautification campaign of the 1960s. He concludes that Johnson’s efforts, in particular, offers a record of bi-partisan success in Congress that may allow the And Beauty For All campaign to break our current gridlock in D.C.

The essay below was first posted in the National League of Cities’s blog Cities Speak by Bob Sampayan, Mayor of Vallejo, California; John de Graaf, Outreach Director for the And Beauty For All campaign, and me describing why cities across the country should be joining the And Beauty For All campaign.

Can Promoting a Beautiful America Unite this Nation

America’s Infrastructure Should Be Beautiful

“If anything can save the world,” North Face and Esprit founder Doug Tompkins once said, “I’d put my money on beauty.”

This year, as part of a new campaign, called And Beauty For All, we’re challenging NLC and its member communities to put that hypothesis to the test.

We believe that, as our cities work on the theme of infrastructure development in 2018, a comprehensive vision is essential. To that end, And Beauty For All seeks to bring Americans together to restore our environment and revitalize our cities and towns.

Infrastructure development must be about more than the speed at which residents get from place to place and the prospect of short-term economic growth. It should improve opportunities for healthy activities, allow greater access to nature and green space, be sustainable over the longer run, and build a sense of community connection. Beauty is a focus that includes each of these considerations.

True beauty is life-enhancing. It calls us to awe and stewardship and demands that we reproduce it in art, in design. It softens us, makes us kinder and less aggressive, awakens generosity in our hearts, and as Harvard philosopher Elaine Scarry argues convincingly, moves us toward justice. The words “fair” as in beautiful and as in just, come from the same root.

Hermann Knoflacher the lead designer of Vienna, Austria’s remarkable public transportation system, argues that beauty stirs pro-environmental behavior: when Vienna added separate paths and greenery alongside traffic-filled streets, its residents were willing to walk three times as far to use public transit instead of driving, or simply to cycle or walk where they needed to go. Their stress levels dropped sharply.

When Vienna beautified its Metro stations, making them varied and artful, ridership doubled, and unexpectedly, crime around the stations was cut in half. “Beauty produces energy in people like a battery,” says Knoflacher.

Beauty was once very much a part of the American dialogue and tradition. It animated the urban parks of Frederick Law Olmsted, the City Beautiful Movement of the early 1900s, and the urban dreams of Jane Addams, Lewis Mumford, and Jane Jacobs. It was prominent in the arts and building projects of Franklin Roosevelt’s WPA. And it was the heart of Lyndon Johnson’s efforts to revitalize American cities in the 1960s

Johnson wished to unify America—polarized then as now, especially by race and inequality—around stewardship of its immense beauty and the promotion of beautiful urban design, and he was clear: the beauty he dreamed of was not meant to be a luxury for the fortunate, but a birthright for every American.

Thomas Jefferson, Johnson reminded Congress, had written that communities “should be planned with an eye to the effect made upon the human spirit by being continually surrounded with a maximum of beauty.” Every aspect of urban planning, Johnson said, should center on beauty and community. He proposed a major investment in open space to “create small parks, squares, pedestrian malls, and playgrounds.”

Beauty provides objective material value as well as subjective pleasure. Tacoma, Washington, was once declared “the worst city on the West Coast,” by the Washington Post. But the February 2018 issue of SUNSET magazine includes it among the five best cities to live in the West — because it converted ugly, polluted shoreline properties into parks, and aggressively cleaned up hazardous waste sites, attracting $350 million of new investment.

Since then, Tacoma has gone on a beauty binge. In 2014, voters approved a $198 million park bond, likely the largest per capita park bond in US history. The goal of the new bond was to bring greater environmental justice and fairness, with parks in every neighborhood, improving access and health for children and the elderly. A comprehensive study by Earth Economics, an ecosystems services firm, found widespread benefits that far exceeded the cost of the investments.

Vallejo, California, is also actively involved in beautification. The revitalization of our downtown includes an emphasis on public art, a Second Friday Art Walk, and a self-guided Art & Architecture Walk. With a significant grant from the State of California, Vallejo youth are planting trees in the less advantaged neighborhoods.

We hold an annual “Visions of the Wild” festival to connect our residents, and especially our children, more closely with parks and nature. Local nonprofits and government agencies are restoring wetlands, managing citizen science projects, and engaging with an exciting new project called Resilient by Design, which focuses on solutions to climate change and sea level rise.

This year, many American cities will celebrate And Beauty for All Day on or around October 2, the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s signing of four major “beauty” bills—the Redwoods and North Cascades National Parks Acts, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and the National Scenic Trails System Act. As we reflect on these momentous bills, we’ll also promote urban nature, beautiful infrastructure, clean urban waterways, and urban trails, especially in our least affluent communities, projects that inspire healthier, more sustainable and more socially-connected living.

We don’t need to re-invent the wheel. We almost got there 50 years ago. When we think of new infrastructure, beauty should be at the top of our thoughts. We invite all cities to join the And Beauty for All campaign.


 

For more information, contact John de Graaf: jodg@comcast.net

 

Why Trump Ignores Russian Interference

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Originally Published February 20, 2018, in Urban Politics – US
by Nick Licata, author of Becoming a Citizen Activist

Columnist Thomas Friedman, who is not associated with any political party, wrote an op-ed column in the NYT February 18, 2018, which offers an incisive insight on President Donald Trump’s reluctance to acknowledge a Russian threat to our electoral system.

Below I provide a short summary of Friedman’s main argument and supplement it with other reporting that has received less coverage to explain Trump’s behavior.

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Why Trump Ignores Russian Interference

Columnist Thomas Friedman, who is not associated with any political party, wrote an op-ed column in the NYT February 18, 2018, which offers an incisive insight on President Donald Trump’s reluctance to acknowledge a Russian threat to our electoral system.

The following commentary provides a short summary of Friedman’s main argument and I supplement it with other reporting that has received less coverage to explain Trump’s behavior.

Thomas Friedman in his NYT op-ed Whatever Trump Is Hiding Is Hurting All of Us Now, begins his piece with “Our democracy is in serious danger.” I have heard that, as many others have, on more than one occasion under other presidents. So it is a little bit like hearing the sky is falling. One should always consider that tone of urgency with some reflection.

Friedman ignores a multitude of issues, like climate change, deporting immigrant children, voter suppression, and the list could go on, which alarm those who believe that the public good is being sacrificed to benefit specific financial entities or dogma driven groups. Rather he focuses on an issue that MSNBC and CNN, the NYT and the Washington Post, have devoted much of their investigatory work on: Russian meddling in our democratic elections with the intent to weaken our ability to obstruct their own foreign policy objectives.

Unfortunately that is proving to be true with the recently released Intelligence Community Assessment report (drafted and coordinated among the CIA, FBI and the NSA), which so clearly demonstrates its existence that U.S. national security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster said it provided “really incontrovertible” evidence that Russia interfered. However, as the most recent polls show, over 80% of Republicans still believe Trump is doing a good job, which would indicate that at least a third of the population either doesn’t care what the Russians are doing, or more likely believe Trump when he calls fear of Russian interference a phony diversion instigated by the Democrats and the Deep State, i.e. bureaucrats who are not loyal Americans or at least not loyal to the president.

Friedman is a three time Pulitzer Prize winner and has taken positions that are at odds with many liberals, such as supporting the 2003 invasion of Iraq and defending Israeli airstrikes in Lebanon as a form of “educating” Israel’s opponents. So his criticism of Trump does not emanate from a liberal philosophy but rather from a belief that Trump’s is “unwilling or unable to defend America against a Russian campaign to divide and undermine our democracy.”

Setting aside that Trump may be a fool, Friedman identifies two possible explanations for his unwillingness to criticize Russia for corrupting our elections. First, Trump could be compromised due to Russian information on him that could result in a criminal conviction as the result of his “real estate empire having taken large amounts of money from shady oligarchs linked to the Kremlin — so much that they literally own him.” Remember how Trump said that if Mueller investigated his or his families financial dealings that would be crossing a red line? Could he have thrown a bigger spotlight on this potential conflict of interest?

What we know is that in 2008, Donald Trump Jr. attended a real estate conference, where he stated that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”  A series of studies by the Financial Times show how funds from Russian oligarchs bailed Trump out after the period of his seventh bankruptcy and the cancellation of all his US bank lines of credit.

According to KOS journalist Mark Sumner in summarizing Human rights lawyer Scott Horton’s analysis of these Financial Times reports, Trump is put “at the middle of a money laundering scheme, in which his real estate deals were used to hide not just an infusion of capital from Russia and former Soviet states, but to launder hundreds of millions looted by oligarchs. All Trump had to do was close his eyes to the source of the money, and suddenly empty apartments were going for top dollar.” Sumner concluded that Trump may have been actively involved with and working for Russian sources, or he could have just looked the other way about any deal, so long as it generated some funds to salvage his real-estate empire that was unable to raise money from American banks.

The second explanation for Trump being beholden to the Russians has been rumored to result from him being engaged in sexual misbehavior while he was in Moscow running the Miss Universe contest, which Russian intelligence has on tape and he doesn’t want released. Russia’s decision to begin their attack on our elections began in April of 2014, a year after Trump held his Miss Universe contest in Russia. The timing might invite some speculation on connecting the two.

Ironically, it’s hard to imagine how much more damaging to Trump such a revelation would be, given his current state of affairs. Trump’s longtime personal lawyer has recently admitted paying $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels shortly before the 2016 election for remaining silent about her sexual relationship with Trump, while he was married to Melania. And after Stormy’s story broke, former Playmate of the Year Karen McDougal claimed she had a nine-month affair with Trump, again while he was married.  Russia exposing additional infidelities would not seem to bother Trump’s Christian base of supporters, since they appear to accept him as he is and forgive him.

However, as Friedman concludes, whatever it is that motivates Trump to not only to resist mounting a proper defense of our democracy from Russia and to undermine the F.B.I. and Justice Department who are investigating his presidential campaign, his behavior is not that of a president sworn to protect our nation. As Friedman says, if he were acting as leader “He would educate the public on the scale of the problem; he would bring together all the stakeholders — state and local election authorities, the federal government, both parties and all the owners of social networks that the Russians used to carry out their interference — to mount an effective defense.”

Instead, Trump shot off a tweet storm over the weekend from his elegant Mar-a-Lago private club that riled Fox News host Shepard Smith, who chastised Trump for failing to address or promise ways to hinder Russia from meddling in future United States elections. Smith stated: “The president’s spokespersons have been on television denouncing the meddling, the president has not. Not once, not on camera, not on Twitter, not anywhere.”

If Fox News hosts begin to see a lack of presidential leadership could they begin to echo Friedman’s conclusion that “The biggest threat to the integrity of our democracy today is in the Oval Office.”

 


 

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WEBSITE OF FRIEDMAN’S ARTICLE

 

My Book Review of ‘Reclaiming Gotham’ – how cities can close the wealth gap

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Urban Politics – US – November 2, 2017

‘Reclaiming Gotham’: NYC a case study in a push for more affordable cities
by Nick Licata –  Special to The Seattle Times

Reclaiming Gotham by Gonzalez copy
Author Juan González uses New York City’s politics to illustrate how municipalities can take steps to make urban living more affordable for working families.

You can read the book review on the Seattle Times website here. Or Below.

The core premise of Juan González’s book “Reclaiming Gotham: Bill de Blasio and the Movement to End America’s Tale of Two Cities” is that the nation’s wealth and income gap have resulted in too many city dwellers struggling to pay rent and other necessary expenses. He argues that municipal governments can take dramatic steps to make urban living more affordable for working families.

González uses New York City’s politics to illustrate how that can happen. Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York saw the economy boom, with developers replacing huge, rundown inner-city neighborhoods with much higher costing housing for the influx of largely younger, wealthier and whiter residents. At the same time, there were further reductions in public spending on social services.

The result was that many business owners prospered and the richest residents ended up getting even richer. From 2002 to 2012, the top 1 percent of residents went from taking in 27 percent of all income to 45 percent. Meanwhile, 21 percent of the city’s households earned less than the federal poverty level, and a third of renters were paying more than half of their income for housing.

In 2013, mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio, a former City Council member, won election, along with a slate of very progressive new city public officials. Sharing a philosophy that New York was dangerously out of balance in the distribution of incomes and wealth, they set about reversing that course.
González describes in fascinating detail not only how de Blasio beat the odds to win, but how he began to reshuffle the city’s priorities. His collection of programs provided universal prekindergarten to 70,000 children, paid sick leave for all employees, froze rent increases for tenants in rent-regulated private buildings, and initiated services or programs that saved residents from spending an estimated $21 billion.

Such efforts were not unique to New York. González describes candidates elected in cities like Pittsburgh; Austin, Texas; Seattle; Minneapolis; Philadelphia; San Francisco; and Richmond, California, who ran on platforms that rejected the dominant neoliberalism philosophy that “the private sector did things faster, better, and cheaper than public employees.” Raising the minimum wage and requiring paid sick leave for all employees often followed their elections. Many of these leaders were members of a national network of progressive municipal officials called Local Progress that shared information on legislation being introduced and passed in their respective cities.

However, “Reclaiming Gotham” is not blind to the opposition that such policies generate or to the shortcomings of the advocates themselves. Within New York, de Blasio faced a massive slowdown of police enforcement when department members accused him of creating an anti-police climate. More seriously, financial and real estate interests “spent nearly $20 million on media ads targeting the mayor between 2014 and 2016,” hoping to confine him to one term.

Meanwhile, state and federal prosecutors investigated his administration for illegal influence peddling. They ultimately found “no evidence of personal profit” by the mayor or his staff, and no criminal charges were filed. While his image took a hit, de Blasio won the Democratic primary easily and is expected to have another term. Other progressive politicians faced their own resistance from well-financed campaign opponents or saw their bases splintered on some issues.

González notes that because 80 percent of the country’s 75 largest cities have Democratic mayors, many promoting liberal programs, they can provide a bulwark for resisting President Donald Trump’s reactionary policies. By pushing the twin goals of equity in city services and effective municipal governance, politicians can alter the “Tale of Two Cities” from one where cities are divided rich and poor, white and nonwhite, to one of greater community.

What Happened to The Underground Press ?

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Urban Politics – US   9/26/17
By Nick Licata – author of Becoming a Citizen Activist
www.becomingacitizenactivist.org

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The answer to that question is not simple but I do explore it in my book review of Celebrating The Rag, which extracts many articles from an era when Austin’s underground paper The Rag was published (1967 to 1977). The book provides a window into a time of counter-cultural revolution, where close to 300 underground, community run, newspapers shared a mission to disrupt the status quo. In doing so, they introduced new ways of looking at the world, and for the most part in a non-dogmatic way.
This book review ran on the Znet website ( https://zcomm.org/znetarticle/the-underground-press/) which describes itself as “A Community of People Committed to Social Change.”

From the mid-sixties through the mid-seventies, there was an explosion of independent, locally controlled print newspapers, collectively known as the underground press, aka alternative newspapers. The boomer generation remembers them, but the millennials and those coming afterwards may not be aware of how they shaped this country’s politics and culture.

One of the earliest and most successful of those papers was Austin’s The Rag; publishing nearly 400 issues running 11 years from 1967 to 1977. Three former Rag Editors and writers, Thorne Dreyer, Alice Embree and Richard Croxdale, have published Celebrating The Rag. Its collection of articles helps us understand how this nation shook off a bigoted culture that oppressed African Americans and other ethnic minorities, women and gays. At any one time there were over a hundred underground papers challenging the existing cultural values and political structures.

Dreyer, founding editor of The Rag, continues that tradition by editing The Rag Blog, an Internet newsmagazine, and hosting Rag Radio on KOOP 91.7-FM, a cooperatively-run Austin community radio station. His interviews dive into progressive politics, culture, and history; you can find podcasts of all Rag Radio shows here.

The Rag was the sixth alternative paper to be part of the new Underground Press Syndicate (UGS), following the LA’s Free Press, New York’s East Village Other, the Berkeley Barb, Detroit’s Fifth Estate, and East Lansing’s The Paper. By 1971, according to a roster in Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book, there were 271 UPS-affiliated papers. The member papers operated independently from each other under various management structures and pursued a range of political perspectives. Nevertheless they shared a common ethos that demanded accountability from government and all establishment institutions in order to advance social justice policies.

Celebrating The Rag’s articles vividly tell the stories of how their staff, writers and readers continually supported the organizing efforts to oppose any institution that hampered the freedom of individuals to seek a productive life. The Rag’s own organizational structure reflected these values.

Bill Meacham, former Rag writer wrote that “… the Ragstaff operated as a participatory democracy. We had no designated leaders… “Although he allowed for how natural leaders did emerge, still “Anybody who showed up at the meetings (of the Rag) could speak up and have input to the content and direction of the newspaper.” Bottom line: “The lifestyle was about community and treating people well and living in such a way that everyone was included and nobody was ripped off.”

Early on this philosophy shaped the structure and content of the paper in acknowledging the feminist movement.  By the end of 1968 the paper was reporting on women’s national protests and conferences. And in the Seventies graphics and photographs of nude women tailed off as women took on leadership of The Rag.

A 1971 article by Sue Hester protested being called a “chick”, which was a term long used at the paper, drew “more than the usual amount of discussion at our copy meeting…” according to former Ragstaffer Sharon Shelton-Colangelo. She notes that while other alternative papers “were being torn apart by gender divisions” Rag female staffers set up a reproductive rights referral service in the Rag offices. Women staffers also successfully lobbied the Austin City Council to provide rape and trauma counseling at the Brackenridge Hospital and recognize International Women’s Day.

While political activism of staff and writers, was openly and proudly pursued at The Rag, as well as other underground papers, the role of electoral politics balanced between being reluctantly accepted as a useful tool and being scorned as a waste of time. Promoting demonstrations and lobbying for changing oppressive laws was part of the every paper’s vernacular from their birth. Supporting candidates however was another matter.

For instance when the paper’s editors expressed their support for Frances Farenthold’s campaign for the governorship of Texas in 1972, it was met by two questions: “Aren’t electoral politics bullshit?” And, “What good can come from liberal reforms?” The lead op-ed against such support concluded that “Under circumstances as they exist now in this country, taking the business of elections seriously is fostering falsehood and undermining radical consciousness.”

The editors responded at length to these criticisms, but in a nutshell they argued that Farenthold’s program goes beyond the electoral process and as such liberal reforms are “a damn sight better than fascist repression.”  Nevertheless, they believed that while revolution was inevitable the people should continue to struggle for the maximum benefits and gains, which are possible under capitalism.

What is refreshing in reading over these debates from over 40 years ago, is how these local discussions were shared nation-wide due to the network of alternative papers. Not coalescing around one solution, they provided a platform for debating what our democracy was about and if it could be saved.

In looking over the many articles in Celebrating The Rag what stands out is a culture of challenging the dominant status quo as the path forward in creating a better nation for everyone. The Rag, along with local Austin chapter of Students for a Democratic Society, in a seemingly innocuous manner broke through the dominant group think that, like a thick fog, hung over not only college campuses but all citizens.

And a battering ram was not use but rather a gentle nudge tipped over the cart of apples. It was called Gentle Thursday, held in the fall of 1966 as The Rag was getting started. It was organized “as a celebration of our belief that there is nothing wrong with fun.” Who could object? It encouraged students on the University of Texas, Austin campus, to look at their personal world differently, from a vantage point of saying “What could I do that is not within the usual expectations, but something that I and others will enjoy?” The poster that went up suggested “you might even take flowers to your Math Professor, feel free to fly a kite on the main mall and at the very least wear brightly colored clothing.”

By simply breaking the everyday routine, it pushed back the curtain of conformity and released a sense of self and being alive. Knowing that you have the power to change your behavior to enjoy life is at the heart of every political movement.

This cultural shift became known as the counter-culture, it opened the eyes of those who benefited from the status quo to see how others were suffering under it. Long before President Donald Trump popularized Fake News through his constant stream of Twitter lies, there was News Black Outs, where the struggles of regular people were not important enough to receive the attention of the major media outlets. The Rag’s efforts to highlight these struggles were repeated through a national network of local underground papers. Not only did they highlight feminist issues, but those involving gays, Blacks and unions were also championed.

The Rag lamented how the Sexual Freedom League was kicked off University of Texas campus in 1966, because they wished to stimulate discussion of the various taboos and archaic laws involving sexual activity. Five years later in 1971 The Rag was promoting and celebrating Austin’s Gay Pride week, following up in 1974 by supporting the first statewide gay conference.

The Rag promoted Black Liberation and covered events that the main stream media ignored, like the 41 year sentence of a prominent black activist, Martin Sostre in Buffalo NY, for selling heroin to a person, who later recanted that he had lied to frame Sostre.

The Rag shed light on labor struggles that the dominant newspapers like the Austin American didn’t find important. It informed the public of a critical NLRB ruling vindicating a strike by a predominantly Chicano union against the Longhorn Machine Works in Kyle, Texas. The company was ordered to bargain in good faith and restore lost benefits to the strikers.

While these are examples of issue specific struggles to achieve social justice, the counter-culture’s message of creating community ushered in the creation of consumer and worker cooperatives as an alternative to the hierarchical corporate model. In both instances, the customers or the workers had a say in how the organization was operated. Meacham, looking back on his experience at the paper, wrote, “Both co-ops and the Ragstaff operated as participatory democracies.” However, even co-ops came under scrutiny for their practices. The Rag covered a struggle in 1975 where the Minneapolis/St. Paul cooperative network of more than a dozen storefront food co-ops, bakeries, and other alternative collectives, came under attack from an organization  (The Co-op Organization –TCO) representing some 4 dozen co-op members and workers. They accused the co-op network of being a white, middle-class hippie trip and instead should be building solidarity with black and working class communities in preparation for revolution. The Rag noted that the issues raised by the TCO were important ones but that the tactics employed by the TCO, such as physically breaking up meetings, was destructive to the co-op movement.

Internal strife over ideological or gender divisions contributed to tense working conditions in many alternative organizations across the country and probably contributed to the demise of some of the alternative papers. Although The Rag did not fold until 1977, by 1975 most of the underground papers had disbanded. There were many reasons. Since many were very dependent on volunteers and low pay full time positions, the supply of willing labor may have just dried up.

Unfortunately, what is missing from Celebrating The Rag is a summary statement on why the paper stopped publishing. It might have helped shed some light on why this phenomenally successful paper, and others like it, did not survive. The rise of the underground press has been attributed to the introduction of cheap photo offset printing, which made publishing a paper accessible and affordable for many small groups. But new technology alone is not enough to make a movement; it takes spirit and a belief that things can be made better by organizing.

I don’t think the counter-culture lost its soul. Instead, it expanded far beyond its founding groups, so that the establishment adopted many of its objectives, such as achieving stronger civil rights protections and ending the Viet Nam War. But before that tipping point occurred, local authorities did resist and try to suppress them.

The Rag successfully legally challenged a ban from selling their paper on the UT Austin campus. The court system, however, ultimately was not friendly to freedom-of-speech rights. In 1973, the Supreme Court decision in Miller v. California re-enabled local obscenity prosecutions, which allowed local police and prosecutors to attack the local head shops that often stocked underground papers. While right-wing extremists did not permanently close down the underground press offices through violence, the local authorities were able to harass and shut down their retail distribution network.

The legacy of the underground press was to question all authority and seek answers based on independently verifiable knowledge and not on what was being provided by those in power. The Rag exemplified a first-rate execution of that objective.

The challenge now is to determine how to keep that orientation alive and thriving. Perhaps community radios, which are found in many cities, like Austin’s KOOP, can provide a framework for sustaining such a progressive force. Other media outlets like blogs or podcasts have also begun to play such a role. It may be that the disastrous Trump Presidency will stimulate a creation of a UPS-like network among these outlets, playing a role similar to how the horrific Vietnam War prompted the creation of the underground press. What is certain is that citizen activists can change the world, they did it in the past and they can do it again.

Nick Licata is the author of Becoming a Citizen Activist; Stories, Strategies & Advice for Changing Our World, a former 5 term Seattle City Councilmember, and co-founder of an alternative paper The Seattle Sun (1974 to 1982). He can be reached at nick@becomingacitizenactivist.org  twitter @nickjlicata

FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY & SOCIAL JUSTICE & STREETCARS

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Seattle City Council has begun the process for funding the construction and operation of a downtown streetcar project called the Center City Connector Streetcar, and referenced as the CCC. Initially the advocates argued that the CCC was a transportation solution for connecting the South Lake Union and the First Hill streetcars. However, it doesn’t make much sense for anyone to get on the First Hill streetcar at a Capitol Hill stop, like Denny and Broadway to get to SLU, when they could get there in a third of the time by just taking the number 12 bus to downtown, or another bus line at a different stop, and then board the SLU streetcar.

That detail has not deterred the Seattle Downtown (business) Association as its biggest promoter. They have been angling for a downtown streetcar for at least 10 years. As a councilmember during that entire time, I often hosted supporters in my office to listen how Seattle’s downtown could be more prosperous if we had a streetcar running right through downtown’s already congested streets.

The best argument for building the CCC might be that it will encourage shoppers to visit a number of retail establishments along the line, as long as it has enough stops, which would slow it down. Pioneer Square businesses owners also hoped it would deliver increased pedestrian traffic to them, which has clustered further north along First Avenue. However, this business development objective really makes the CCC an economic stimulus project not a transportation project. The advocates soft-peddle that rationale because the city needs federal transportation funding to build the CCC, and those funds are intended to serve transit needs.

WHO IS PAYING FOR THE CCC?

This conflict begged the question that the council needed to answer: What are the public costs and transit benefits for building and maintaining the CCC? To provide that answer, Councilmember Lisa Herbold amended Council Bill Number: 119008which accepted $50 million in federal dollars towards this project, by requiring our Seattle Dept. of Transportation (SDOT) to report to the council detailing the financial operating plan for the CCC, the projected performance measures and contingency plan for funding CCC should the additional federal $25 million that the city expects to receive did not materialize.

Even if those funds are received, the city is already prepared to spend $52 from our transit budget to build the CCC. What other transit needs will be sacrificed? For the SLU streetcar bus service hours were diverted from lower income families being served by bus routes in the Rainier Valley. This was a social justice issue that residents in the south end of Seattle raised and protested the cut in their bus routes.

An article in City Lab concluded, “Taxpayers are picking up most of the bill for the 21st century streetcar renaissance—money which could otherwise support more effective forms of public transportation.” Check it out here

FISCAL RISKS

Director of Transit & Mobility Andrew Glass Hastings delivered the required report 2 weeks ago to the Council. His revenue projections are more aspirational than rational. The bulk of the streetcar network’s operational income will come from ridership. The city’s transportation department wrote that the project would increase the entire streetcar network average daily streetcar ridership from approximately 6,000 today to an estimated 25,000 average daily riders by some unspecified date in the future. However their report shows that by 2025 their daily average riders will only represent 38% of the 25,000 target. Even if they meet 2025 goal, it appears to be unrealistic since it represents an increase of over 400%. Meanwhile, the SLU streetcar has experienced a decline in ridership of 32% since 2013 due to reduced congestion and improved bus service serving South Lake Union. Improved bus service is siphoning off riders from the SLU streetcar.

After reviewing SDOT’s report, the Council’s central staff continued to believe there is financial risk in the Center City Connector’s financial plan. Although, they added that much of this risk already existed with operating the South Lake Union Streetcar and First Hill Streetcar lines, and is not directly attributable to the CCC. In other words, the current streetcar system will continue to face the same financial problems it has now.

If the predicted ridership for the CCC follows the same course as what happened with the SLU line, which the city still has an outstanding loan of over $3 million to support SLU Streetcar operations, where will the additional revenue come from? The expectation is that both King County and Sound Transit will continue their annual subsidies for our two existing streetcar lines and will presumably also help subsidize CCC’s costs.

WHO WILL HELP SUBSIDIZE THE CITY’S STREETCAR NETWORK

For the SLU Streetcar, King County Metro provides an annual contribution that escalates to $1,550,000 in 2019, when the current operating agreement expires. SDOT anticipates that a future agreement will maintain this level of support. This subsidy will probably come by moving service hours that could be devoted to providing more reliable bus service to employees and shoppers coming into downtown rather than paying for a streetcar trying to move through downtown traffic that will not help anyone get to work on time.

For the FH Streetcar, Sound Transit provides a $5,000,000 annual contribution through 2023. SDOT anticipates that a future agreement will maintain this level of Sound Transit support; however, the voter-approved ST3 ballot measure did not include any funding for this purpose. Will the city then be on the hook?

The city council’s central staff also raised an intriguing scenario: the city could be exposed to a greater financial risk of losing Sound Transit funding in the future if the CCC is built because then the city will be operating one interconnected system. Sound Transit funded the FH Streetcar because it served a discreet function of providing access to downtown that was abandoned by Sound Transit when it did not build a First Hill station. However, when the CCC is complete it will be harder to characterize the First Hill segment as a discrete portion of the line that Sound Transit must maintain. If it does divest, the City will then have to pick up the $5 million annual tab.

SDOT’s report to the Council said any future funding shortfalls, like not getting the additional $25 in federal transportation funds that the city has applied for but has yet to receive, could be met by possible additional revenue sources like increased sponsorship and increased fares.

The promise of corporate sponsorships as a streetcar revenue source is like searching for the Holy Grail, it’s got to be out there somewhere. But not in Seattle. Sponsorships did not stop the SLU streetcar from going into the hole. No mention is made in the SDOT report on how much sponsorships currently contribute to either of the existing streetcar lines. For the year 2020, when the CCC is expected to be completed, annual operating costs are just over $16 million for all 3 lines and less than a million in sponsorship revenue is expected; no projection for future years is even attempted.

The one reason that the CCC is being pushed through right now is the lure of receiving free money, i.e. the $50 to $75 million that the feds will be giving to Seattle to build it. But free federal money is not always going to lead to the best solution to improving our urban environment.

Citizens in 1971 realized that when they rejected, by initiative, receiving millions in federal dollars for an urban renewal project that would replace 90 percent of the Pike Place Market with offices, hotels, and parking garages. They were not deterred by the city council voting unanimously to approve the renewal project and both daily newspapers supporting that decision.

WILL TRANSIT RIDERS BENEFIT?

Aside from the financial risk of building and maintaining the CCC, what will be the actual transit benefits? It’s already apparent that it will not serve working people trying to get to their jobs downtown, but will the CCC allow workers or shoppers to move more quickly through it? That’s doubtful. A robust network of bus routes 40, 62, and 70 already connects the ends of the two existing streetcars, along with Link light rail, which is faster than the CCC will ever be.

What makes the CCC particularly challenging is that it will be happening at the same time as the deep bore tunnel opens – closing the current bus tunnel to buses, and I-90 buses will be slowed by the second phase of Sound Transit construction on I-90. The cumulative impact will be more traffic diverting to 2nd and 4th avenues and very likely leading to gridlock.

SUMMARY

Budget Chair Councilmember Herbold considers SDOT’s report a non-answer to the Council’s questions of where the funds will come from. She concludes that unfortunately, the only realistic funding sources may be to cut other spending, such as roads, sidewalks, bike lanes, proactive landslide prevention, and transit. Read her newsletter to understand how $4 million of the city’s limited revenue stream from the Commercial Parking tax could be diverted for the next 20 years to pay for the CCC.

It is clear that the CCC streetcar is only a downtown circulator. Public transit is already good downtown it’s everywhere else in Seattle that commuters need more reliable and frequent bus service. Worse still, there is a fair chance that the CCC streetcar would make downtown circulation worse since it will be using limited right of way space that will be desperately needed for the additional busses that will be pushed out of the bus tunnel.

First Avenue should handle more public transit and shifting bus routes there would be much more cost-efficient than spending at least $60 million in local tax revenues for building a streetcar line. And, that’s assuming the feds cough up another $25 million, if SDOT’s ridership numbers are accurate, and that both King County and Sound Transit continue to subsidize our streetcar system. Not to mention any possible cost overruns.

Other cities have faced similar decisions. Many do succumb to the charm of streetcars as well as the influence of well-organized interest groups that would benefit from such grand public expenditures, such as developers, property owners along the lines, consultants and construction companies. However, just last year, Rhode Island leaders decided that the streetcar wasn’t the right answer for downtown Providence.  They redirected their federal funding for a streetcar into a bus-based project in the same downtown corridor with buses coming every 4-5 minutes. It would provide the same reliable service that a streetcar would but more importantly it would allow major bus lines to continue to serve those outside the downtown neighborhoods.

The Seattle City Council has been in the national forefront in recognizing that social justice issues must be addressed in our policies and projects. But sometimes they are difficult to apply to capital projects, particularly attractive ones like the proposed Center City Connector Streetcar. Nevertheless, in this instance there is a social justice issue that will impact the poor and the middle class. Will our public dollars be spent most efficiently on a project that does not increase the ease of getting to work downtown? There is scant evidence that laying down those rails will make Seattle any more livable or affordable for its residents.

THE SOLUTION

The Council could hold up any further expenditure on the CCC project, until an outside neutral party can determine if it will benefit residents and employees throughout the city by providing them better access to downtown. That motion could be made by 3 councilmembers introducing a Budget Proviso. However, they would need to do so by this coming Thursday. If they do, then this proposal could be discussed before the full council.

If this approach strikes you as a reasonable step in doing due diligence please let the councilmembers know by emailing citycouncil@seattle.gov and all councilmembers will receive your message.

The city council’s Budget Session I begins at – 10:30 a.m., or right after the Council Briefing meeting, this Monday to discuss SDOT’s budget. Questions about the CCC may be raised. Public testimony will be held just before the meeting begins. Watch the meeting live.

7

Becoming a Citizen Activist Live Webinar and PowerPoint

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Have you recently become more politically engaged? Would you like to know how to make that engagement as effective as possible? Recently, Nick Licata was joined by Indivisible Plus WA and Whats Next for a live webinar about his experience as a citizen activist and what you can do today to be part of effective change in your community and country. Check out the live recording and download the PowerPoint, 7 Steps to Becoming a Citizen Activist below.

Download the Powerpoint here: Powerpoint Citizen’s 7 Steps V1

 

If Politicians Actually Want to Make Change, They Have to Think Like Organizers

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Six Strategies

To empower your constituents and help get you the votes you need to pass progressive legislation

“What has fueled Seattle’s progressive victories, isn’t some mystery potion or innate Northwestern goodness, but the same hard work that has forced progress in other cities: grassroots organizing, tenacity, and political allies,”

This simple little pamphlet outlines the steps that council members can take to distribute the power they have as elected officials to their constituents to create a partnership with them for improving their lives.

To download this article as a PDF, click here.

First Step – Have them recognize that complaining is not a solution

How many times have you had constituents come into your office making legitimate complaints. You listen and nod in agreement. Then having felt that they have been heard they prepare to leave. DON’T LET THEM LEAVE YOUR OFFICE WITHOUT MAKING AN ASK.

The first step is to work with them to define a specific remedy. One that is not so distant in the future to be put off by endless studies. Ideally, it is something that can be accomplished within a week or two. It’s the first step in gaining momentum for making changes; by showing them that by working with you, they can taste success.

Second Step – Explain both the technical and social dynamics of city hall politics

Share with your constituent knowledge on how your city government works. Many citizens don’t understand the committee structure or the legislative process. As an elected citizen, you have learned these details. Tell them which relevant committees would address their issue. Describe the council members on that committee and recommend who they should approach with your help to sponsor or co-sponsor the legislation. In addition, if they have staff, or if the council has staff, let them know who they are and how they can be approached.

Describe how the committee chair votes. Let them know who the chair is close to on the council and in the community. These people will likely influence the chair; they need to be approached and convinced to help on the issue.

Work with your constituents to have their issue brought before the relevant committee. If your council has open committee meetings, which they should, then see that there is time to take testimony before the committee either in a public period of comment or as a guest to sit at the table with the council members to explain an issue from a community view. Prepare them before hand on how to present information and to bring no more than a 2-page handout.

Third Step – build momentum by finding allies

Encourage your constituents to reach out to bring in new allies as a way of increasing the chance of success. Start with those people they know, neighbors, workers, those from the same religious community and finally any citizens that may be serving on citizen advisory groups to the city. Even a simple petition, on paper or on line, shows that the issue has more than a handful of supporters.

If the issue is geographically based, work to approach the leadership of the local community council or religious organization. Even if just one of their board members is willing to sign up in support of the issue, it could open a conversation with other council members. Also, approach former elected officials to sign on, which may help garner media coverage.

If it is a non-geographically based issue, invite in a representative from a national interest group or union that is engaged in this issue. If they need money to cover their costs, use that as a focal point for holding events to build community and raise funds. Moreover, when they arrive offer to have them speak before a council committee and invite the media to cover it.

Approach neutral parties, like the League of Women Voters, or any other local civic group, to write a letter of support. The point is to show the opposition that the issue goes beyond the immediate advocating group.

Fourth Step – use facts and data, and question the reliability of opposition’s information

Using hard data gets the attention of the media and gives them something to include in their coverage. It also shores up support among those who are or favorably inclined but have doubts. Demonstrate that the advocates know their subject matter.

As an elected official, you should have access to information that community groups do not. Use that power of access to release statistics or data collected by various city departments. If they refuse to release that information, then the issue becomes “Why are they hiding this information?” It puts the opposition on the defense and forces them to account for their behavior.

If the opposition sites a survey to derail your effort, demand to see the entire survey instrument, all questions, responses and demographics collected. Again, if they refuse, then you raise the issue of a lack of openness and accountability – an excellent position to be in. Once you receive their information, look for inconsistencies and expose them. All surveys have multiple ways of being interpreted, pursue them.

Conduct your own opinion survey on the issue. You do not have to spend $10,000 for one. A reliable survey with a few questions can cost under a $1,000. Consider using university students and faculty to assist with one. Keep in mind, you just need one strong fact to stand out to derail the other side by forcing the media to include it in their coverage.

Fifth Step – Get the word out

Politicians have the ability to get media coverage. Use it! Don’t fear taking a strong stand, because most people will forget what you even said, but they will remember that you said something that was important because the media covered it.

If there are protests, talk to the media about why there are protests. Use the incident by pointing out how future protests could be avoided by taking certain actions.

Use all media tools. If you send out an e-newsletter, include information about the issues that your constituency is organizing around. You don’t have to say what you’ve done, say what you want done and how you are going to get there. Ask your constituents to re- tweet your points so that they reach as many people as possible.

Hold a forum in city hall on the issue at hand during lunch hour in the council chamber that is open to the public. Invite both sides on an issue, because it is more likely to get those on the council who are undecided to attend and it will garner more media coverage. If you cannot use city hall, find a community hall, church, library or even a tavern to hold a forum.

If you have surplus campaign funds because you are a sure winner, use your campaign material to educate the public on an issue.

Sixth Step – Encourage optimism by celebrating every win no matter how small and believing in democracy

Don’t dwell on the goals not achieved because you will never achieve all of them. Instead, with every struggle that you join your constituency on, make sure that you know what a minimum win looks like from the beginning. When that is achieved, celebrate it. Then remind folks that it is just one stage and that the next day or week the fun begins again in fighting for and winning the next battle.

Integrate cultural activities into every organizing effort, because people like to have fun and if it isn’t fun, it’s harder to grow your movement. Everyone loves a parade.

Encourage your constituents to listen to the opposition to understand where they are coming from. Knowing your opposition improves your insight into their strengths and weaknesses. And that makes you smarter, more confident and a more articulate proponent of democracy because you are practicing it.

Keep in mind that the greatest obstacle to achieving progress is cynicism – distrust in democracy and a democratic government. Those who want to shrink government speak of freedom and liberty but a weakened democracy cannot protect those freedoms.

To download this article as a PDF, click here.

Young Child at Rally

Seven Steps to Becoming a Citizen Activist

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Despite who is elected as President or elected to Congress or City Hall, each citizen has the ability and the tools to influence whether good or bad things happen. But you must be willing to do something about it.

To gain political power you don’t have to be a super hero or dedicate your life to activism. However, you should know what you want and how to get it.

This brochure briefly outlines the steps toward making effective change based on the more detailed lessons described in Becoming a Citizen Activist – Stories, Strategies and Advice for Changing Our World.

To download this article as a PDF, click here.

First
Complaining is therapeutic – not an action plan

When meeting with a public official you must explain the problem you want addressed and what you want that person to do. It should not be so general a request that the politician can nod and say he or she supports your goal and will work toward it. That is fine but not enough!

Make your ask for something specific and measurable. For instance, ask the politician to hold a press conference, issue a statement, hold a public hearing, be the main sponsor on a piece of legislation or work with you to write that legislation. All of these options must be tied to a specific time line. And one that is not so distant that it can be postponed indefinitely.

Present the problem and your request on no more than 2 pages, which should include your contact information.
When you leave it with them ask for a specific date when they can get back to you.

This is the first step in gaining momentum for making greater changes. Demonstrate that by working with you, they can taste their own success. If you can only meet with the public official’s staff, meet with that person and follow the same routine. However, also ask for confirmation that the politician has personally received your request.

Second
Know how government works

No matter whether it is a city, state or federal government there are basic structural and procedural features that they all share. Know what they are and how they work.

They all have issue committees and chairs of those committees. Determine in advance what committee will deal with your issue. You can do that by either looking at the committee title or looking at what issues it has dealt with. Almost all levels of government have this information on their websites.

Know who the committee chair is and members of the committee. Do research on them. What groups have endorsed them? You can find this out from looking at their past or current campaign websites. Find out if their campaign contribution donors are listed on any government websites. Find out if you know any of the groups or donors.

Know the schedule for introducing and passing legislation. For instance, how long does it take for a piece of legislation to be introduced before coming before the full deliberative body? Who has the authority to introduce it? How many sponsors are needed to move it forward?

Find a committee member who will work with your group on some level. Best if they can hold a hearing on your issue. But if not that, see if they will allow testimony before a committee meeting or at a committee meeting. Or at a minimum bring the issue up at the committee meeting to get it aired publicly.

Third
Build momentum by finding allies

You cannot win working alone. Strength comes from numbers. Reach out to individuals and groups to increase the chance of success. Start with people you know: neighbors, workers, those from a religious community and finally any citizens
that may be serving on citizen advisory groups to the city, state or congress. Providing

even a simple petition, on paper or on the Internet, shows that the issue has more than a handful of supporters.

If the issue is geographically based, approach the leadership of the local community council or religious organization. Even if just one of that organization’s board members is willing to sign in support of the issue, it will make an impression on a politician. Also, approach former elected officials to sign on, which may help garner media coverage.

If it is a non-geographically based issue, invite a representative from a national interest group or union to speak out. If they must travel to your city, see if you can cover their travel costs. Use that need as an opportunity to hold fundraising events and attract a broader base of support. If you have a noted speaker, request that they speak before a committee, a public forum or a hearing and invite the media to cover it.

Ask your supporters, including allied politicians, to contact potential sympathetic groups for a letter of support. The point is to show politicians and the public that the issue goes beyond the immediate advocating group from just one district or interest community.

Fourth
Use facts and question the reliability of the opposition’s

Using hard data gives the media something to include in their coverage. It also shores up support among those who may have doubts about the merit of an issue. Using facts demonstrates that the advocates know their subject matter.

Encourage supportive elected officials to share government reports from departments and drafts of legislation under consideration. If an agency refuses to release information, then the issue becomes “Why are they hiding this information?” It puts the opposition on the defense and forces them to account for their behavior.

If the opposition cites a survey to derail your effort, demand to see the entire survey instrument, all questions, responses and demographics collected. Again, if they refuse, attack their creditability because of their lack of openness and accountability. Once you receive their information, look for inconsistencies and expose them. All surveys have multiple ways of being interpreted, pursue them.

Conduct your own opinion survey on the issue. You do not have to spend $10,000

for one. A reliable survey with a couple of questions can cost under a $1,000. Consider using university students and faculty to assist with one. You just need one

strong fact to stand out to derail the other side by forcing the media to include it in their coverage.

Fifth
Get the word out

Even after you make a specific request and have strong allies, you still need to keep the public informed of your efforts and the relevance of the issue. Make a list of journalists and bloggers who might cover your issue. Personally contact them to tell them what you have accomplished, no matter how minor it may seem.

You want to show that the issue has the attention of a number of people and groups. And that it has momentum. Reporters want to see movement, something that is developing, and something that is changing the public discussion or could significantly change the political landscape.

If you hold a protest action, follow it up with having your participants post on Facebook and tweet with photos and comments. Make sure that your supporters share your group’s posts and retweet them. This requires having an email list serve to your supporters to remind them to spread the information among their friends and media contacts.

Hold an open forum on the issue at your place of worship after a service, at a public library community room or even at a city hall council chamber during lunch hour. Try to get a public official or sympathetic organization to host the event. Invite all public officials to attend, even if they do not speak their attendance will be recognized.

Sixth
Celebrate every win no matter how small

Don’t dwell on the goals not achieved because you will never achieve all of them. Instead, with every struggle make sure that you know what a minimum win looks like from the beginning. When that is achieved, celebrate it. Then remind supporters that it is just one victory and that the next day or week the fun begins again in fighting for and winning the next battle. A meaningful and joyful journey is the end objective, because there will always be something to work on.

Integrate cultural activities into every organizing effort, because people like to have fun and if it isn’t fun, it’s harder to grow your movement. Have a parade, a party, a dance or a movie; any opportunity to enjoy oneself with others keeps people engaged.

Make these activities open to everyone, because a growing supportive community achieves success far more than a stagnant or shrinking one.

Seventh
Believe in Democracy

If you don’t believe you have the power to change your life, it will not change. If you withdraw from participating in the democratic process, those that remain engaged are those that benefit most from the status quo and have the most to lose from any change. So, things are likely to remain the same.

As a result cynicism replaces hope, leading to distrust in democracy and a democratic government. If that happens, those who want to shrink a government that is accountable to the public, and replace it with a corporate or elitist model that is not open and accountable to all citizens will determine your future. That may be good for a business or closed special interest groups but not for the general public whose needs and rights can only be guaranteed when citizens participate in guiding their democratic institutions.

Always keep in mind that being a citizen is knowing that you have the opportunity to make a difference and then acting according to your needs.

 

To download this article as a PDF, click here.

Defunding the Dakota Access Pipeline City By City

By | Urban Politics - U.S. | No Comments

President Trump faces a new challenge from city governments. These are the cities where many progressives live and feel powerless to challenge the Trump administration’s new anti-environmental policies. Their solution is to inventively use the tools that are available to them.

They are taking a lead in defunding the Dakota Access Pipeline by using tactics that Trump’s federal powers cannot quash as his administration is attempting to do with sanctuary cities protecting undocumented immigrants.

An effort is unfolding to go after the banks that are funding fossil fuel climate change. Each city has public funds that need to be deposited in a major bank to allow a daily shifting of revenues and expenses. They also have a need to deposit their pension funds in a bank. This is a local decision and not one the federal government could halt.

Some cities are focusing on divesting from Wells Fargo. According to the Securities and Exchange Commission the bank has supplied $347 million in credit to the companies building the pipeline and administers an additional $3.7-billion line of credit to help the project.

On February 7th, Seattle terminated its $3 billion relationship with Wells Fargo in large part because it has been funding the Dakota Access Pipeline. A few days afterward, Davis in California cut ties with Wells Fargo, as had Santa Monica just before it.

Very likely most big banks serve corporations that despoil the earth. However, cities should consider taking a useful tactic that unions applied for decades in successfully negotiating better wages and working conditions for autoworkers: they focused on just one company at a time not all of them at once. After they succeeded in bringing one of the big four auto companies to an agreement the other companies usually followed, knowing what they faced. The same tactic could be applied to divesting from banks by choosing to go after Wells Fargo first through identifying those cities that use its services. Another key targeted bank would be lined up after concessions have been wrung from Wells Fargo.

Attention is also being focused on public money held in pension funds for city employees. These funds seek stability. Divesting from fossil fuel investments not serves to help address climate change but it also is a more responsible approach to safeguarding pensions.

Seattle’s Pension Retirement Board began looking at what the possible consequences of divesting from fossil fuels would be after the city council adopted a resolution to support such an approach. A letter to the mayor, city council and the retirement board signed by local politicians, church and community groups was presented on the 15th of February, it asked the city to proceed with the following actions:

  1. Stop any new investments in the top 200 fossil fuel companies,
  2. Drop coal, oil and gas from its investment portfolio by divesting from the top 200 fossil fuel companies by 2020,
  3. Commit to reinvesting at least 5 percent of its portfolio into climate solutions defined as, but not limited to, renewable energy, energy efficiency, clean technology, community adaptation funds, transit, and clean energy access.

This approach makes financial sense. A report commissioned by 350.Seattle showed the City of Seattle losing over $65 million by remaining in fossil fuels in the last ten years. Meanwhile, the Gates Foundation has lost billions by remaining invested in fossil fuels in recent years. A combination of the Gates Foundation’s losses on fossil fuel investments and the public outcry for fossil fuel divestment resulted in them divesting 85% of their fossil fuel holdings from a starting point of $1.4 billion in 2014.

Community organizations, like DivestYourCity have begun to identify cities to join in withdrawing their business from banks funding the North Dakota Pipeline. Those in favor environmental protections, who live in cities and feel unsure how they can impact national policies that are beyond the control of their local governments, need to look at their own tool shed and see how previous uses of these tools, like the use of public funds, can be handled in a manner that can have a national impact.

This strategy augments resisting Trump Administration’s policies by pursuing actions that are beyond the reach of the federal government. Then, let President Trump spend his twitter time trying to resist it.

Don’t Let Trump Trash Our Culture

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Our diversity in arts and culture must flourish for the next 4 years to keep our Democracy from drifting into a conformist nationalist template overlaid upon us by the federal government. America’s vibrant democracy is the direct result of encouraging all of our communities to express and celebrate their culture; cultural diversity has built a great nation.

That basic democratic principle may be compromised by the Trump administration if the report from The Hill is true: http://thehill.com/policy/finance/314991-trump-team-prepares-dramatic-cuts.

They reported that Trump’s administration is floating a plan to privatize the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEA/NEH).

CPB created the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and the National Public Radio (NPR) network consisting of more than 1,400 public radio and television stations.

A report outlining Trump’s main budget priorities is due within 45 days. It describes Trump’s blueprint to reduce federal spending by $10.5 trillion over 10 years.

This plan closely resembles the ideology espoused by the conservative Heritage Foundation, a think tank that has helped staff the Trump transition. It has published their own report for guiding the Federal budget in 2017 stating “government should not use its coercive power of taxation to compel taxpayers to support cultural organizations and activities.”

The Heritage Foundation also is a major funder of the American Legislative Exchange Council, (ALEC) dedicated to limited government, free markets and federalism, but apparently not in favor of public support for promoting our culture. That would be left to the free market, i.e. private money will pick and choose what type of art and culture will prosper and grow.

This is the time for citizens to become activists in opposing any Federal government attempt to halt public support for sustaining and promoting arts and culture. We do not have to wait until the dye is cast. We must cast one first.

Here are six strategies complimenting each other and building toward a national campaign to NOT privatize the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and NOT eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEA/NEH).

– The first action is to reach out to others in your neighborhood, your PTA, your school, your church, etc. and let them know of this possible threat and why you are concerned.

– Second, write a simple one-paragraph statement that you ask those above to email to all Congressional representatives, of course be open to amending it to get more people to participate.

– Third, create an email list of every artistic group (and their board members and staff if accessible), including individual musicians, poets, artists, art teachers, and performers. Reach out to them and ask them to help with the second task above. Do not limit your efforts just to your town or city, if you know people in other cities or states, let them know of your efforts and ask them to duplicate these strategies in their communities.

– Fourth, organize a cultural celebration or a panel discussion in your library or town hall to highlight the importance of publicly funding these 2 national institutions. Invite politicians, including your congressional representative, to attend. Work with community newsletters, community papers and radio stations to advertise the event.

– Fifth, conduct a survey of your city or county through the Internet or other means to measure public support for promoting local cultural and artistic activities. See if an elected official would sponsor the survey if not with funds then at least with an endorsement.

– Finally see if a councilmember would have a poem read at the start of their committee meeting to call attention to the importance of culture even within city hall. If there are no rules prohibiting it, why not try? In Seattle, I was able to have poetry read at the beginning of my committee meetings for the 18 years I served on the city council.

All of these activities must convey the singular message to Congress: our diversity of culture and art are important to not only sustaining vibrant communities within the US, but also to stop us from just looking just inward and ignoring the world around us to our disadvantage. Both NPR and NEA/NEH play critical roles in keeping our democracy an open one to all cultures and views; without that openness our nation becomes dependent on too narrow a set of beliefs and thus becomes brittle and weak in the face of new ones.