In this issue, tribal poverty, the art and need of civic protest, the rural-urban economic divide, why unions might still matter, and the corporate soul.
Resistence is Not Futile
Happy Thanksgiving readers. Let's start with a cartoon:
As TIME's Alicia Adamczyk explained earlier this month, the Dakota Access Pipeline project at the heart of the dispute could impact some of the poorest people in the country:
[Tribal populations] have the highest poverty rate of any racial group in the country, and the Sioux suffer especially startling statistics. More than 40% of the reservation’s population has an income below the federal poverty line, compared to 13.8% for the U.S. on average. Indian Country Today put the unemployment rate at Standing Rock at a shocking 86% in 2013, and many of the Sioux are without electricity, running water, or complete kitchens, per a 2012 economic outlook report prepared by the tribe...
The Black Hills Gold Rush in the 1870s led to the forced cessation of some of the tribe’s land to the United States government, breaking peace treaties that had been signed by the Sioux and the government. (Notably, the Natives did not benefit from the discovery of gold in their sacred land.) Continuing that tradition, the federal government seized thousands more acres of land from the tribe in the 1950s and ‘60s in order to build dams across the Missouri River Basin.
That land, which had been used by the Sioux for farming and hunting, was flooded and destroyed, and the reservation never recovered from the economic toll, Monette said. According to MSNBC, hundreds of families were displaced, exacerbating poverty.
The ACLU is calling for the demilitarization of the site.
Meanwhile protests around the country continue in the wake of the presidential election. Philanthropist George Soros and the work of the Open Society Foundations--a long-time target of conservatives--is again under attack by supporters of Donald Trump, reports USAToday:
Trump voters and conspiracy theorists see Soros’ hand — and wallet — in the protests that raged across the country in the days after the election. It’s a claim of financial support Soros' Open Society Foundations disavows...
The Open Society Foundations says the notion that Soros pays anti-Trump protesters is fiction, but there are so many protests organized by so many groups, it's possible some groups the philanthropist supports may have been involved in the protests. "There have been many false reports about George Soros and the Open Society Foundations funding the protests that have erupted since the U.S. presidential elections. There is no truth to these reports," Foundations President Chris Stone said. "The only initiative we are planning to fund related to the elections is to respond to hate crimes and speech."
In two different but must read pieces, activists offer advice for how to approach the upcoming political strife with resistence in mind. In the New York Times, Tina Rosenberg gives seven points on the "art of the protest" as mastered by successful protest movements through the ages. Here is the cliffs note version:
Plan, plan, plan. A half-century after the street struggles in Birmingham, no American movement has yet surpassed the strategic mastery of the civil rights movement. Provoke your opponent, if necessary. Bull Connor, the city’s commissioner of public safety, ordered the police to turn attack dogs, nightsticks and fire hoses on children marching peacefully — some of them 6 years old. The scenes made the nightly news and the front page of newspapers around the country. Think national, act local. Protests are most effective when they aim for an achievable goal in one location, knowing that the real battle is for national public opinion. Use humor. In Serbia, the Otpor movement mobilized the country against the dictator Slobodan Milosevic by using pranks to cut through fear.
When appropriate, be confrontational. No group more proudly claimed the title of “outsider” than Act Up, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, founded in March 1987 in New York. It was noisy and angry. It was the first group ever to close down the New York Stock Exchange. Pull out the pillars. Gene Sharp, an American academic who is the guru of strategic nonviolence, argues that every leader, no matter his power, relies on obedience. Without the consent of the governed, power disappears. The goal of a civic movement should be to withdraw consent. Pull out the pillars, and the whole structure falls. Exploit galvanizing events. Three Mile Island came 13 years after another partial meltdown, at the Fermi 1 reactor outside Detroit. Haven’t heard of it? One reason is that at the time, there was no movement ready to respond.
And over at the Dallas Morning News, Yale history professor Timothy Snyder offers up 20 points on what you can "to save America from tyranny." Here a few select points:
Do not obey in advance. Much of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. Defend an institution. Follow the courts or the media, or a court or a newspaper. Do not speak of "our institutions" unless you are making them yours by acting on their behalf. When listening to politicians, distinguish certain words. Be alive to the fatal notions of "exception" and "emergency." Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary. Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Believe in truth. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. Investigate. Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Be as courageous as you can. If none of us is prepared to die for freedom, then all of us will die in unfreedom.
An election theme emerging is the continuing divide between city and rural economies. Over at Vox, Timothy Lee looks at the phenonmenon as shown by new Brookings research showing "booming cities pitted against stagnant rural economies", check out this chart:
The 2016 election was a virtual tie, with Hillary Clinton narrowly winning the popular vote, while Donald Trump won just enough states for a majority in the Electoral College. But if elections were based on economic output instead of population, the 2016 election would have been a blowout for Clinton.
Over at Washington Post, Jeff Guo interviewed author Kathy Cramer on rural resentment shortly after the election:
What I heard from my conversations is that, in these three elements of resentment — I’m not getting my fair share of power, stuff or respect — there’s race and economics intertwined in each of those ideas.
When people are talking about those people in the city getting an “unfair share,” there’s certainly a racial component to that. But they’re also talking about people like me [a white, female professor]. They’re asking questions like, how often do I teach, what am I doing driving around the state Wisconsin when I’m supposed to be working full time in Madison, like, what kind of a job is that, right?
It’s not just resentment toward people of color. It’s resentment toward elites, city people. And maybe the best way to explain how these things are intertwined is through noticing how much conceptions of hard work and deservingness matter for the way these resentments matter to politics...
And a lot of racial stereotypes carry this notion of laziness, so when people are making these judgments about who’s working hard, oftentimes people of color don’t fare well in those judgments. But it’s not just people of color. People are like: Are you sitting behind a desk all day? Well that’s not hard work. Hard work is someone like me — I’m a logger, I get up at 4:30 and break my back. For my entire life that’s what I’m doing. I’m wearing my body out in the process of earning a living.
The discussion about the outcome of the 2016 presidential election also largely focused on the role of the white-working class primarily in rust belt states. In the Harvard Business Review, the University of California's Joan C. Williams looks at what she says progressives do not seem to get about the white working class, including the dignity of work, resentment of the poor, and distinguishing that working class means middle class not lower class:
When progressives talk about the working class, typically they mean the poor. But the poor, in the bottom 30% of American families, are very different from Americans who are literally in the middle: the middle 50% of families whose median income was $64,000 in 2008. That is the true “middle class,” and they call themselves either “middle class” or “working class.”
“The thing that really gets me is that Democrats try to offer policies (paid sick leave! minimum wage!) that would help the working class,” a friend just wrote me. A few days’ paid leave ain’t gonna support a family. Neither is minimum wage. WWC men aren’t interested in working at McDonald’s for $15 per hour instead of $9.50. What they want is what my father-in-law had: steady, stable, full-time jobs that deliver a solid middle-class life to the 75% of Americans who don’t have a college degree. Trump promises that. I doubt he’ll deliver, but at least he understands what they need.
Over at The Nation, David Midland argues if you want that old, middle-class work life, you need a union: "The long-term solution to current political and economic dissatisfaction is to give workers a productive way to advocate for themselves, not reassert race-based class structures. That means it’s time to rebuild unions." In the New York Times, Sherrod Brown says that when "we devalue work, we threaten the pride and dignity that come from it":
Many years ago, as a state representative, I spent countless hours at United Steelworkers Local 169 in Mansfield, a small industrial city north of Columbus. I would listen to workers who stopped in at the hall before or after their shifts. I learned how they made steel and how they built cars. I learned that strikes are always an act of back-against-the-wall desperation because workers never make up for the wages lost, no matter how good the new contract is or how briefly they are on the picket line.
They worked hard. Most gladly accepted six-day workweeks because of the overtime pay. Most of these workers, especially those lucky enough to carry a union card, had a shot at upward mobility. They owned modest houses, they could buy new cars every four or five years, and they could send their children to the local Ohio State campus or to North Central Technical College.
In the Wall Street Journal, Michael Kazin discussed the decline of unions as an institution for political dialogue:
The way that Americans vote has a lot to do with how they regularly talk politics and with whom—and little to do with the blather of election-year rhetoric. For millions of white people without a college education, Mr. Trump’s campaign events—and cable TV’s lavish, slavish coverage of them—provided a kind of instant facsimile of something precious and sturdy that other traditional Democratic constituencies still possess: a vehicle for rallying around positions and mobilizing to defend their values and interests on election day and beyond... When they were strong, unions like the United Mine Workers did just that—and quite effectively—for their members, their families and the working-class communities in which they lived.
The Atlantic's Alana Semuels looks at what plagues rust belt economies and says there aren't easy answers:
[F]ew of the policy prescriptions that could begin the process of getting millions of white, working-class men back to work are very sexy. “There’s no silver bullet,” Ned Hill, a professor at Ohio State University and the faculty affiliate for the Ohio Manufacturing Institute, told me... Hill says that one way to create jobs in the Rust Belt is to bolster apprenticeship programs so that unskilled workers can get trained in some of the hundreds of thousands of jobs now going unfilled. Another is to model the manufacturing system on the one in Germany, where public-private institutes translate research into potential commercial products, and detailed educational pathways help train students for jobs that will be in demand.
In the Atlantic, Michael Dorff looks at whether corporations can have a soul, following a recent announcement by Ford Motor Company's Mark Fields:
According to Fields, then, Ford Motor has a soul because it donates a small portion of its resources to charity and behaves ethically. Otherwise, Ford Motor would just be an ordinary, profit-maximizing entity that sends the bulk of its net profits back to its shareholders. That entity doesn’t seem to be what Henry Ford had in mind, at least according to the position he took in a famous court case from almost a century ago, Dodge v. Ford Motor Co. In the case, Ford and his company were sued for allegedly trying to divert too much of the company’s cash resources to pro-social ends...
Though all for-profit corporations are designed to make money, what they do with that money is up to the people running them, which is usually a board of directors. Boards are free to pay out dividends or buy back the company’s stock; they are also free to invest in research and development, increase employees’ wages, give back to their communities, put money into less environmentally harmful production methods, improve product quality, and lower prices. As long as there is some sort of connection to boosting long-term earnings, boards can essentially do as they please, as Ford’s court battle demonstrated. If they choose, directors can imbue a company with a purpose beyond distributing money to shareholders.
A recent ValChoice study highlights that perhaps customers are better served when there are no shareholders to please--at least as far as car insurers, reports the New York Times:
The ValChoice study sheds light on this problem. It found that the car insurers providing the best value to consumers were mutual insurance companies owned by their policyholders and paying them dividends. Over a five-year period from 2011 through 2015, these companies paid out an average 72.6 percent of their premiums in claims; publicly held insurers with shareholders to satisfy paid 62.8 percent of their premiums in claims.
Speaking of shareholders, be sure to check out this NYT Dealbook profile of Heron grantee, Jean Rogers, founder of the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board. You might also be interested in this interview by the CommonWealth fund with Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, who not only is attempting to lead on sustainable textiles as well as creating a venture fund called 20 million & Change and spinning out Patagonia Provisions, "reflecting his belief that food and agriculture will help solve our biggest environmental challenges."
Also Exxon Mobile seems to be vexed with the Rockefeller family on climate change, reports the Times:
The company, which has been accused of scheming to pay surrogates to deny the threat of climate change, is trying to turn the tables by calling its opponents the real conspirators. It is fighting state attorneys general, journalists and environmental groups in an all-out campaign to defend its image.
But the oil and gas giant has directed some of its fiercest fire at the descendants of John D. Rockefeller, who in 1870 founded Standard Oil, the company that became Exxon Mobil. Rockefeller family charities, longtime backers of environmental causes, have supported much of the research and reporting that has called the company to account for its climate policies, and Exxon Mobil is crying foul.
The pressure on the company is intense. Journalists have published exposés of the company’s research into climate change, including actions it took to incorporate climate projections into its exploration plans while playing down the threat. Such reporting projects, financed in part by Rockefeller family charities, included last year’s work by Inside Climate News and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, which published its results with The Los Angeles Times. The findings have been boiled down to the popular Twitter shorthand #ExxonKnew.