by Thomas Altfather Good
NEW YORK — On a brisk Saturday, the first day of December, protesters rode the Staten Island Ferry — dubbed the “Peoples’ Yacht” — from Manhattan to the Island, holding a rally at Borough Hall. The purpose of the journey was to deliver a message to Representative Mike Grimm (R, NY-11): don’t push New Yorkers, many of whom are still reeling from Hurricane Sandy, over the so-called fiscal cliff — vote to end the Bush tax cuts for the rich.
Teacher, activist, and Staten Islander, Teri Caliari introduced speakers including the United Federation of Teachers’ John Soldini, Jim Perlstein of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), a Sandy survivor who remains homeless, and Sara Cullinane, an activist from Make The Road who is doing relief work. The speakers were united in their demand that Congressman Michael Grimm end the Bush tax cuts and get much needed financial aid to help Islanders rebuild homes ravaged by Hurricane Sandy.
Attending the rally were some labor movement faithful, representing an array of unions, and progressives from several local organizations, including the Staten Island Democratic Association and MoveOn.
“We had a tremendous turnout on Saturday– nearly 100 people came out to support Staten Islanders who are demanding their representative Michael Grimm put hurricane survivors over millionaires and end the Bush tax cuts. It was just the first event of many to come,” said Olivia Leirer, Communications Director of New York Communities for Change. NYCC organized the event.
On Monday, December 10, the 1199SEIU Martin Luther King, Jr., Auditorium played host to a Left Labor Project forum featuring Angela Davis and Harry Belafonte.
The theme of the forum was “After the election, where do we go from here?”
Angela Davis said that all of the issues of concern to progressives — including reproductive rights, islamophobia, homo-and-trans-phobia, and immigrant rights — need to be redefined, and addressed, as working class issues.
Belafonte spoke about his work with SEIU — helping to build the Bread and Roses (cultural) and “Purple Gold” (youth) campaigns. Belafonte argued that the cultural aspect of working people’s struggle is vital — and too often neglected.
In a lighter moment, Belafonte said of Davis, “I’ve already written the book so I don’t need to speak about my love affair with her — she knows nothing about it.”
The pair touched on two themes often addressed by Davis’ mentor, Frankfurt School philosopher Herbert Marcuse. While Belafonte spoke about the importance of the cultural realm — Marcuse’s “aesthetic dimension” — in the struggle for progress, Davis talked about the importance of remembering prior struggles in an ahistorical time. Davis also spoke of the need to move the progressive political discussion from a defensive refutation of one-dimensional ideology to a broader vision of a just society. Given the importance of culture in shaping perception, the two speakers perspectives could be seen as bookends.