Bridging the Divide Between Working Class Whites and Minority Communities

Every day since Donald Trump became President, I have been worried about the latest actions coming from the Trump White House. From his executive orders banning immigration from seven mostly Muslim countries, to the gag rule imposed on the EPA and the Department of Agriculture from making public their scientific findings, to the attempts to de-legitimize the press, I’ve gotten more and more worried about the tone that the Trump administration is setting. I called a few friends and asked their advice. A good friend gave me advice that really helped me. He said to view politics as a marathon and not a sprint. If you get worked up at everything that comes out daily from the Trump White House, you’ll get burnt out. He suggested to focus on only a few issues and to take breaks every so often from politics just to stay sane.

I’ve tried to do that. It hasn’t always been successful, but I try. Over the next four years I have two personal goals when it comes to politics. I want to oppose Donald Trump’s policies without demonizing Trump’s supporters. And I want to support efforts to bridge the divide between working class white communities and minority communities that have been the source of so much national strife.

At one time liberal Democrats like the Kennedys, Paul Wellstone, Jesse Jackson, Hubert Humphrey, Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman drew strong support from both working class white communities and minority communities. These liberal Democrats held together this coalition by enacting policies that benefited both communities. Among the liberal policies that helped benefited these communities were Social Security, the G.I. Bill, the Minimum Wage, the Wagner Act, Medicare, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Meals on Wheels program. One of the challenges of today’s progressives is to heal the breach between minorities and those working class whites who threw their support to Donald Trump.

David Atkins wrote an article for the Washington Monthly titled Democrats Can Win White Working Class Voters Without Sacrificing Social Justice. In the article, Atkins wrote:

But that’s why it’s so crucial to point out that many of Trump’s voters were not, in fact, driven entirely by prejudice. The Party does not, in fact, need to throw women and minorities under the bus to win back the voters who defected from Obama to Trump. It simply needs to drive a much clearer progressive narrative, admit that the nation’s economy as it has been run for the last 30 years has serious problems that need fixing, and paint corporate and Wall Street elites as the real villains in the story of the white working class’ downward mobility.

That won’t, of course, win over all of Trump’s voters or even a significant minority of them. It’s not that Matt Yglesias and his like-minded friends are wrong about the prejudiced motivations of most of Trump’s electorate. They’re right.

But it’s important to distinguish between the core Trump voters and the marginal, persuadable ones. Most Trump voters are either regular Republicans who have always voted Republican and always will whether it’s Romney or Trump, or the new aggressive breed of hyper-racist trolls and alt-right Breitbart types. But those voters have always been on the other side of the fence. What has changed is that a not insignificant number of exurban and rural white voters who used to vote for Democrats even as recently as the Obama era increasingly feel that no one speaks for them. They might not particularly like Trump’s racism or uncouth behavior, but they don’t believe that Democrats understand their plight. They feel that Democrats take care of both the very rich and the very poor as well as minorities, but that no one at all is looking out for the person who makes $40K-50K a year in small town America–people who make too much for even expanded Medicaid but not enough to afford health insurance, whose children can’t win need-based scholarships but don’t have the grades to earn merit-based ones, and whose towns seem to be dying inexorably whether Democrats or Republicans hold office. These people aren’t impressed by offers to provide family leave or increase funding for schools. They want their old jobs back, and they want the people who took their future from them to be punished, whoever they may be.

Harold Meyerson wrote a good article for the American Prospect that describes the evolution of both the Democratic and Republican Parties and the shift of working class whites from the Democratic Party to the Republic Party. Titled Can Democrats Channel America’s Discontent, Meyerson wrote in the article:

The challenge before Working America is to move voters from a right-populist racist politics to a left-populist economic politics. To put it mildly, that’s a daunting task. Even at the height of its power and popularity, the United Auto Workers in the 1940s and 1950s could routinely persuade its members to vote Democratic for national and state offices, where economic issues dominated, but seldom for its endorsed liberal candidates for local offices, where issues of housing and police practices—that is, issues where race was the dominant factor—were its white members’ key concerns.

There are issues, however, on which left and right populists—indeed, on which left, right, and center—converge. Recent polling by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 77 percent of Americans (including 67 percent of Republicans) believe corporations are not paying a fair share of their proceeds to their employees, and that 79 percent of Americans (including 63 percent of Republicans) believe our economic system unfairly favors the wealthy. Proposals that involve establishing or enlarging government programs, of course, are anathema to Republicans and rouse the ire of many working-class whites who believe such programs are generally a payoff to minorities. (The one exception to this rule might be lowering the eligibility age for Medicare—a government program with substantial mass, if not elite, conservative support—to 50 or 55.)

Universal programs that don’t involve taxation or expanded government programs, however, have commanded substantial right-leaning support, as in 2014 when the electorates of Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota approved ballot measures hiking their state’s minimum wage. Proposals to change the pre-tax division of proceeds within corporations—say, by scaling corporate tax rates to the ratio of CEO-to-median-worker pay, or cutting the taxes of corporations that divide their corporate board seats between shareholder and worker representatives—might have some traction on both the left and the right.

Robert Kuttner wrote a book review for the American Prospect magazine about several recently published books about the plight of working class whites. Titled Hidden Injuries of Class, Race and Culture Kuttner wrote:

John Judis, in The Populist Explosion, has written a terrific short book that sheds further light on these vexing questions. His is a brisk tour of the horizon, of the right and left versions of populism, their history and current state, with a useful comparison of the populist upsurge in the United States and in Europe. His general insight: Populism gains adherence whenever mainstream parties let ills fester. Populist parties “often function as warning signs of a political crisis.” That surely describes the state of the political establishment in both the U.S. and Europe…

…In sum, American progressivism today is foundering on what we might call the clash of deeply felt injuries. The insecurity and downward mobility of the white working and middle classes collides with a well-justified upsurge in black consciousness of continuing racial outrages and a demand for their remediation. Feminists and oppressed cultural minorities pile on. Today’s story is one of dueling cultural and economic wounds, each with substantial basis in reality…

…Today, the clash of deeply felt racial and class grievances, compounded by cultural wounds on both sides of the identity divide, is crowding out the progressive brand of populism that America once had and so sorely needs. It will take uncommon leadership and rare social empathy to redirect the crosscurrents of rage and hurt into a broad popular coalition of uplift against the one group that floats above it all—today’s economic super-elite.

Just after last year’s elections, Kirk Noden wrote the article Why Do White Working Class People Vote Against Their Interests? They Don’t for The Nation Magazine. Noden insightfully noted:


The first step was the collapse of the industrial heartland. This hit white working-class people incredibly hard—and it remains a phenomenon that is not understood on the East and West Coasts. It is painted as a natural evolution of our economy and as if the onus is on people to adapt to it. This fails to capture how many families and communities were dependent on the industrial economy. Many Ohioans are now staring at a future where they themselves and their kids have less opportunity than their parents. In a place like Youngstown, that means not only an inability to get a well-paying job at the steel mill; it also means owning a house that has failed to appreciate in value for 20 to 30 years, in a city that continues to lose double-digit percentages of its population every 10 years. It is not just a stripping out of economic opportunity but a stripping away of identity for these communities. It is the sense of abandonment and perpetual decline that people feel mired in. Resources, jobs, decent housing, quality neighborhoods and schools are all in decline. It creates a “scarcity mentality” for white working-class people and others who live in the heartland…

… The impact of this betrayal on white working-class people was a universal distrust and dislike for institutions—none of which were able to defend their livelihoods or their futures. The unions didn’t stay around to organize a new strategy for revitalizing Youngstown. They moved to another line of defense elsewhere, as they grew increasingly insular and focused on protecting their shrinking base. One of the only people not to abandon white working-class people in Youngstown was the county sheriff, who became a hero because he refused to evict from their homes people who had lost their jobs in the collapse. His name was Jim Traficant and he later became a congressman. Even when he ran for office while in prison (for corruption and bribery convictions) decades later, he still won 25 percent of the vote. He was in personality and rhetoric a precursor to Donald Trump. Deindustrialization was a traumatic experience for white working-class people. Yet we act surprised when this constituency exhibits post-traumatic-stress disorder. And it is we who perpetrate the myth that they are voting “against their interests,” despite all the facts on the ground indicating that for them it makes no difference which party is in power. They have lived through 40 years of decline.

It’s important for liberals to persuade these working class white supporters of Trump that government is their friend and not their enemy. Tracy Jan wrote the Boston Globe article The Biggest Beneficiaries of the Government Safety Net: Working Class Whites makes that point. Jan wrote:

Working-class white people are the biggest beneficiaries of federal poverty-reduction programs, even though black and Hispanic people have substantially higher rates of poverty, according to a study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank in Washington.

Government assistance and tax credits lifted 6.2 million working-class whites out of poverty in 2014, more than any other racial or ethnic demographic. Half of all working-age adults without college degrees lifted out of poverty by safety-net programs are white; nearly a quarter are black and a fifth are Hispanic…

‘There is a perception out there that the safety net is only for minorities. While it’s very important to minorities because they have higher poverty rates and face barriers that lead to lower earnings, it’s also quite important to whites, particularly the white working class,’’ said Isaac Shapiro, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and one of the report’s authors.

One of the big challenges among progressives is to reach out to the working class whites without a college degree and who live in the Red States. Conor Friedersdorf for The Atlantic wrote an article titled One Press Conference Two Audiences. He wrote in that article:

…I have written a series of articles arguing that if members of the coalition that opposes Donald Trump want to persuade the public, they’ll have to resist the temptation to vilify all his supporters, and to formulate a strategy that includes earnest efforts at loving outreach and persuasion.

Perhaps the divergent coverage of Thursday’s press conference helps to illustrate that a great many of those people aren’t seeing the same information as those who oppose Trump—they are being fed lies and untruths by coastal-dwelling millionaires like Hannity and Limbaugh; and they exist at a time when even more responsible right-leaning outlets that make up their information bubble are unlikely to target the lies they encounter, and in a culture where a columnist like Goodwin sees what’s going on and celebrates it as Trump playing the game well.

The American right complains about the media as much as any ideological movement ever has, even as it wallows in a right-of-center media ecosystem far more dishonest and less rigorous than The New York Times on its worst day. Some of its most popular figures pander and mislead and constantly vilify the other side. Insofar as that other side writes off their entire audiences, the populist right-wing will keep winning. Its Achilles’ heel is that it relies on blatant misinformation to win. Can conservatives or libertarians or liberals pierce the bubble?

In spite of decades of advancements in health care, diet and safety, white Americans are now living shorter lives, a trend that has surprised experts. PBS NewsHour economics correspondent Paul Solman reported out of Maysville, Kentucky, an area struggling with an increase in addiction, overdoses and suicide.

President Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election, in part, by capturing the white working class vote in Rust Belt states like Pennsylvania that previously voted for Democratic candidates. Now, some Democrats are trying to rebuild their base in blue-collar neighborhoods that swung for Trump, like those in northeast Philadelphia. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield reports.

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Groups Condemning Extrajudicial Killings in the Philippines

There has been a lot of news lately comparing U.S. President Donald Trump to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. They have many personal qualities in common: both tend to be bullying in their public pronouncements and in their dealings with the press; they tend to simplify issues; they are very critical of dissent and name call anyone who disagrees with their policies.

There are differences between the two men. Duterte has had 20 years of experience as mayor of Davao with dealing with government bureaucracy while Trump has no government experience. Duterte’s policies are more left wing, while Trump’s policies draw from ideas from the right wing.

Since my political views tend to lean towards the left, I support some of Duterte’s efforts at agrarian reform, expanding social programs for the poor and in reigning in the power of mining companies that have been the source of much human rights abuses in the Mindanao area of the Philippines. For instance, I support the The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) decision to close 23 mining operations in several areas in the country that are near watersheds.

But I cannot support Duterte’s use of extrajudicial killings in his war against drugs in the Philippines. So far over 7,000 people have been killed by either the police or vigilante groups for only being suspected of a crime. These victims had no opportunity to defend themselves in a court of law. They had no way of seeing the evidence against them.

Many groups have spoken out against the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.

Here is an excerpt of an August statement by the Philippine student group Anakbayan condemning President Duterte’s support of extrajudicial killings in his war on drugs:

The youth group Anakbayan today declared August 11, Thursday, a “Day of Action” against the spate of extrajudicial killings that has been spawned in the wake of the Duterte administration’s war on illegal drugs.

“We call on everyone to join our day of action this August 11 to strongly register our call to stop the killings. While the campaign against dangerous drugs is laudable, we express grave concern over the way this has been carried out so far,” said Anakbayan National Chairperson Vencer Crisostomo.

“The president’s ‘I really do not care’ attitude on the rising death toll of his administration’s campaign against drugs is very alarming. Even crime suspects have human rights. Their right to life and due process must be respected,” he said.

The youth leader said a fearsome scenario has emerged wherein those who hold the gun are both the accusers and executioners. “While criminals must indeed be punished, the innocence or guilt of those accused cannot anymore be determined if they are just shot on sight,” said Crisostomo.

Here is an excerpt of an August 2016 statement by the Communist Party of the Philippines against President Rodrigo Duterte’s use of extrajudicial killings in his war on drugs.

The anti-drug war of the Duterte regime has rapidly spiralled into a frenzied campaign of extra-judicial killings and vigilante murders perpetrated by the police and by police-linked criminal syndicates. Nearly 1,000 people have been killed in just a little more than one month. The rights of tens upon thousands of people are being violated as the criminal justice system is upturned.

Police officials have brazenly carried out summary killings against suspected drug peddlers and users. Hundreds have been killed while “resisting arrest” or while under custody and detention, in police cars as well as in jails
.
Duterte’s “drug war” has clearly become anti-people and anti-democratic. Human rights are being violated with impunity by police personnel, emboldened by Duterte’s assurances of “I got your back” and his public declarations of contempt against human rights…

…What was before the burden of the accuser to prove someone’s guilt is now the burden of the accused to prove his innocence. Duterte has come up with one list after another of so-called protectors, narco-politicians and judges without proof nor clear basis for accusations of their involvement in drugs.

Here is an excerpt of a statement by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippine against President Rodrigo Duterte’s use of extrajudicial killings in his war on drugs.

We are alarmed by the recent wave of extrajudicial killings that have taken place at the hands of police officers, and especially of vigilantes roaming our streets unchecked and un-apprehended. Such violent procedure in tackling the situation mentioned above has caused justified apprehension among the majority of our citizen who are against any form of drug trafficking but expect justice to be rendered according to law.

We believe that any attitude and course of action that disregards the basic principles of modern jurisprudence that any person is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and that justice has to be rendered by following due process, has to be avoided.

We believe, likewise, that the disregard of such principles, even in the pursuance of a praiseworthy aim, such as the protection of families and of the youth, may inevitably lead to serious and irreparable injustices such as the killing of innocent people, and even simple drug users who are, actually, the direct victims of the drug traffickers/pushers.

Here is an excerpt of a statement by Phelim Kine for Human Rights Watch against extrajudicial killings.

The Philippine National Police confirmed that this week the death toll of Filipinos killed as part of President Rodrigo Duterte’s abusive “war on drugs” surpassed the 7,000 mark.

Those 7,028 people – an average of more than 30 killed each day since Duterte assumed office on June 30, 2016 – include 2,503 suspected drug users and drug dealers killed by police and 3,603 killings by “unidentified gunmen.” Those numbers are the appalling but predictable result of Duterte’s vow that as president he would, “Forget the laws on human rights.”

They also symbolize the wider systems-failure that has exposed thousands of Filipinos to the threat of summary killings. Police justify those 2,503 killings, saying that the victims “resisted arrest and shot at police officers.” But police have not provided further evidence that officers acted in self-defense. There are allegations that “death squads” composed of plainclothes police personnel are behind some of the “unidentified gunmen” killings. Revelations last week that police officers kidnapped and then strangled to death a South Korean businessman – after raiding his home using a fake arrest warrant falsely implicated him in illegal drug activities – have deepened such suspicions.

Pro-Duterte lawmakers scuttled a Senate probe into the drug war killings in September. And by subjecting the drug war’s most prominent critic, Senator Leila de Lima, to a torrent of harassment and intimidation, Duterte and senior government officials have stifled meaningful scrutiny by lawmakers. An army of pro-Duterte internet trolls systematically harasses, intimidates, and threatens into silence individuals who question the drug war’s logic or legality.

Here is an AJ+ video on extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. Thousands of people have been dragged from their homes and executed on the streets since Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared a new war on drugs. Police are allegedly playing both sides of the war, while contract killers do the dirty work and users surrender to jail cells, in fear of their lives. Follow along with photojournalists on the front lines of the murder beat, where killings are a daily occurrence and the streets run with blood.

Andrew Glazer of The New York Times takes us inside the grim reality of Duterte’s war on drugs in Manila.

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A Women’s Day March in San Jose, California – January 21, 2017

On Saturday, January 21, 2017, my niece and I participated in the Women’s Day March in San Jose, California. I had never been to a political march that was so large. We wandered around and really enjoyed reading all the signs and talking to the people.

One of the things that filled me with the most joy was seeing people speak out for the rights of all groups who feel vulnerable or afraid. I saw Muslim women with signs supporting LGBT rights and immigrant rights. LGBTQ people holding signs supporting immigrant rights and Black Lives Matter. Women’s rights activists speaking out for environmental issues and religious tolerance. And so on and so on. I firmly believe that a person should not just fight for the rights of your particular group, but you should fight for the rights of all people. I’m glad there are other people who agree.

My niece liked the march. Her only complaint was that the march took a long time to get started and it was pretty slow. I think that’s just due to the large number of people who attended. At times I felt a little claustrophobic when the crowd was waiting to march. Once the crowd was marching, though, I had a great time taking photos and chanting.

I’m hoping my niece learns about the importance of social justice movements in making the United States a better country. We had many conversations with different groups of people. I had a great time.

A video I made of the Women’s Day March in San Jose, California

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Riding the Celebration Train for Martin Luther King Jr Day 2017

On Monday January 16, 2017, my niece and I rode the Celebration Train from San Jose to San Francisco to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr Day and to commemorate the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery. My niece has expressed a strong interest in social justice activism, so I thought this could be a good chance for her to experience her first march.

It was kind of a civil rights weekend for us. The previous night we watched the movie “Hidden Figures” and it got us in the mood for the march.

This year I noticed a lot more Asian American families attending than in previous MLK train rides that I attended. From my own experience, most of the Asian Americans that I know have a strong appreciation for what Martin Luther King Jr and the whole civil rights movement has done to open up opportunities for all minority groups. Asian American activists like Yuri Kochiyama and Grace Lee Boggs were strong allies in the African American struggle for equal rights.

After the march, my niece wanted to go to City Lights Bookstore and get a few books on activism. We took the bus to Chinatown, then walked to the City Lights Bookstore. It’s always a cool store to visit and we spent some time browsing the books and reading.

Here is a video of the Celebration Train from San Jose to San Francisco on Martin Luther King Jr Day 2017

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An Immigrants Rights Rally in San Jose, California

On Saturday January 14, 2017, I went to an immigrants rights rally in San Jose, California. I was debating whether to go or not, as I’m still recovering from a flu that I’ve had for about a week and a half. San Jose’s City Hall is only a 15 minute drive, though, and my brother and niece wanted to go. So I took my camera and went.

Wandering through the crowd, I met some Filipino American activists who I knew. I introduced them to my brother and niece and we talked about immigrant issues, especially those pertaining to Filipinos and the DACA program.

I was heartened to see a great diversity of people attend. I saw Muslim Americans, LGBT individuals, many women’s rights activists, several members of SEIU.

We went on a march throughout downtown San Jose and listened to a few speeches. When my niece started getting bored, we went to Psycho Donuts to get some snacks and then we went home.

Here is a youtube video of the immigrants rights rally in San Jose, California

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Democrats Voting for Delegates for Assembly District 24 in California

On Saturday January 7, 2017, I went to Los Altos to vote for the delegates for District 24. When I came, though, I found out that since I moved from Sunnyvale to Santa Clara, I no longer live in District 24. I didn’t mind going though. I brought my camera and took photos of the voting and got to talk to friends and fellow Democrats. I want to do anything I can to support the Democratic Party.

I was surprised at how many people were waiting in line to vote. Many Democrats are energized to get involved after the results of November’s elections.

When I met someone I knew, I had to warn them that I am still recovering from a cold so that they wouldn’t hug me and possibly catch it. I had several conversations about our concerns about the upcoming Trump presidency, about the importance of Democrats winning local office and getting in touch in the grassroots level, and the necessity of a younger generation of Democrats to run for office. I always learn a lot from listening.

I wished my friends who were running to be delegates luck. Then I went home to share some chicken soup with my wife, who is also recovering from a cold.

Here is a video of Democrats voting for delegates for Assembly District 24

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Frank Capra, Sid Buchman and “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington”

As the new year begins and a Trump presidency comes closer to becoming a reality, I couldn’t help but think of the climactic scene from one of my favorite Frank Capra movies “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”. Frank Capra was one of the great filmmakers of the 1930s and early 1940s.

Frank Capra was a conservative Republican. But during the 1930s he was an open minded man who collaborated with more liberal screenwriters to produce his many classic movies. Robert Riskin, the screenwriter of It Happened One Night, Mr. Deeds Goes To Town, You Can’t Take It With You and Meet John Due, was for instance a New Deal liberal. Sid Buchman, the screenwriter of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, was an American communist. So Capra’s films were a mixture of both progressive and conservative values.

Capra and his left wing screenwriters were deeply concerned about how to uphold our American democratic values and community in the face of a great economic depression, a fascist threat in Europe and demagoguery from the likes of Huey Long and Father Coughlin. When Sid Buchman wrote Mr Smith Goes To Washington, he wanted to depict the wide gap between America’s high ideals and the way our country falls far short of those ideals. Buchman crafted speeches for Mr. Smith arguing for activists to fight for causes even if those causes seem hopeless. Both Buchman and Capra wanted Americans to fight for our country to live up to its high values.

In Buchman’s day, the causes he fought for were for organizing workers, ending the lynching of African Americans, and creating a more just economic system. Though some of today’s causes are different, I think Frank Capra and Sid Buchman’s film still has great resonance today.

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