Thursday, October 14, 2010

Cell Phones and Election Polls: An Update

Pew Research Center for the People & the Press:

Cell Phones and Election Polls: An Update

The latest estimates of telephone coverage by the National Center for Health Statistics found that a quarter of U.S. households have only a cell phone and cannot be reached by a landline telephone. Cell-only adults are demographically and politically different from those who live in landline households; as a result, election polls that rely only on landline samples may be biased. Although some survey organizations now include cell phones in their samples, many -- including virtually all of the automated polls -- do not include interviews with people on their cell phones. (For more on the impact of the growing cell-only population on survey research, see "Assessing the Cell Phone Challenge," May 20, 2010).
It is possible to estimate the size of this potential bias. The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press conducts surveys with samples of landline and cell phones, which allow for comparisons of findings from combined landline and cell interviews with those only from landline interviews. Data from Pew Research Center polling this year suggest that the bias is as large, and potentially even larger, than it was in 2008 (See "Calling Cell Phones in '08 Pre-Election Polls," Dec. 18, 2008).
In three of four election polls conducted since the spring of this year, estimates from the landline samples alone produced slightly more support for Republican candidates and less support for Democratic candidates, resulting in differences of four to six points in the margin. One poll showed no difference between the landline and combined samples.
In the Pew Research Center's latest poll, conducted Aug. 25 to Sept. 6 among 2,816 registered voters, including 786 reached by cell phone, 44% said that if the election were held today that they would vote for the Republican candidate for Congress in their district or leaned Republican, while 47% would vote for the Democratic candidate or leaned Democratic. Among the landline respondents, 46% preferred the GOP candidate and 45% the Democratic candidate, a four-point shift in the margin. In this survey, both estimates would have shown a close race between Republicans and Democrats.
Limiting the analysis in the survey to those considered most likely to vote in this year's elections, a similar bias is evident. The combined landline and cell estimate produced a seven-point Republican advantage: 50% supported the GOP candidate for Congress in their district while 43% backed the Democratic candidate. The Republican lead would have been 12 points if only the landline sample had been interviewed, a significant difference from the combined sample of five points in the margin.
Significant differences also were seen in March and June of this year. In those surveys, Republicans and Democrats were tied among registered voters in the combined sample of landline and cell phone interviews; in both surveys Republicans had a six-point lead among landline respondents. In the survey conducted July 21-Aug. 5, there was no difference in the estimates produced by the combined sample and the landline sample alone.
After the Nov. 2 elections, the Pew Research Center will release a comprehensive analysis of the cell phone issue, which will include the Center's final pre-election survey.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Secret Sponsors

The New York Times

October 2, 2010

The Secret Sponsors

IT was the wisecracking baby who caught my attention.

Sitting on a living room carpet and addressing the camera in a dubbed voice that growls like a Vegas bookie, he tells viewers, “Gramps is sad — Obama cut $455 billion from his Medicare.” He warns of dire consequences from the health insurance overhaul if voters do not take action in November.
“I don’t know what smells worse,” the little guy huffs, “my diaper or this new bill.”

A sign-off informs the television audience that this high-minded piece of issue advocacy was paid for by the “Coalition to Protect Seniors.”


Who are the members of the coalition? Where do they get their money? And why are they spending hundreds of thousands of dollars attacking candidates for Congress around the country?
Obvious questions, and yet they are difficult to answer, given the increased use of tax-exempt organizations as vehicles for campaign spending.

Nonprofits can raise unlimited amounts, and spend a good percentage of that on political activities. But they are generally not required to publicly disclose their donors, making them appealing to moneyed interests who prefer to stay in the shadows.

A recent report by Public Citizen found that in the 2004 elections, 98 percent of outside groups disclosed the names of donors who paid for their political ads; this time around, only 32 percent have done so. The report suggested that groups were taking advantage of a loosening of disclosure requirements and loopholes. Meanwhile, the amount of money spent by these groups skyrocketed to more than $100 million as of last week, more than twice that of the midterms four years ago.
Corporations and unions can now spend freely in elections, under a recent Supreme Court ruling, but they still must disclose their activities. That’s why an intermediary that is not required to disclose its donors is attractive to politically active businesses that might want to conceal their activity.
“Corporations are reluctant to be associated with specific ad campaigns,” said Paul Ryan, an election law expert at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center. “I expect more money to go to intermediary groups.”

Reporters are paid to try to get around these barriers, and we have resources at our disposal that the average person does not. I’ll get on a plane if necessary to go confront someone, meet a source or check out an address. News organizations subscribe to public records databases, and go to court to try to force disclosure of important information.

To see just how hard it is to crack the secrecy that shrouds the vaguely named groups bombarding the airwaves, I went looking for one that seemed typical of the trend. The Coalition to Protect Seniors, with its attention-grabbing ads and middle-of-the-pack spending — about $400,000 as of last week — fit the bill.

I also decided to limit myself to the tools that an average voter might have: the Internet and a telephone.

My first stop was the coalition’s Web site, which featured an image of two glum-looking old people and lots of facts and figures asserting that the elderly are at risk from “Obamacare.” There was no phone number. No names of anyone involved with it. An address listed there turned out to belong to a Mail Boxes Etc. store in Wilmington, Del.

Clicking on the “contact us” tab, I sent off an e-mail to the coalition, with all the confidence of tossing a bottled note into the ocean. (I never heard back.)

I called a few political consultants, both Republicans and Democrats. All right, I’ll admit your average voter does not have numbers for Washington political operatives programmed into their cellphones, but I needed to start somewhere. As it happened, none of them knew anything about this group.
“Is that the one with the talking baby?” one of them said.

I went a little deeper. A check of incorporation filings showed that the coalition was formed as a nonprofit in June, around the same time its Web site went up. It listed a registered service agent — someone who accepts legal papers on a company’s behalf — as its official address; a hosting service held its Internet domain name, further masking its actual location and the people behind it.
No in-depth news stories had been done about it. A search for lawsuits, tax filings, liens, property records — any sort of public document I could think of — yielded nothing.

Maybe the spending reports it files with the Federal Election Commission would provide a clue. As with other so-called independent groups that support or oppose candidates, the coalition must disclose its expenditures, although it does not need to reveal the sources of its cash.

The filings showed that it had been busy running TV ads and sending out mailers opposing candidates who supported the health care bill. It reported spending $108,000 in the first few weeks of September to campaign against eight Democrats, including Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate majority leader; Senator Michael Bennett of Colorado; and Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

Like its Web site, the coalition’s F.E.C. filings also gave its address as Delaware, where many corporations are registered in name only because of the state’s business-friendly tax and disclosure laws.

The address on the coalition’s filings was a suite in a large office building in Wilmington that seemed to be shared by an array of other businesses involved in the health care, financial services and energy industries. Calls to several of them turned up none that acknowledged knowing anything about the coalition.

One last clue emerged from the filings. They showed that much of its money had gone to a Florida consulting firm, the Fenwick Group, a two-person outfit whose Web site listed other clients that included health care and technology companies.

I called the phone number for Fenwick. A man answered.
“K & M Insurance,” he said.
“I’m looking to speak to somebody with the Fenwick Group,” I said.
“Oh, that would be Jay.”

I was sent to the voice mailbox of someone named Jay Handline. I hung up without leaving a message and pondered this latest development.

Why, I wondered, did the number for the coalition’s campaign consultant ring at an insurance company? Looking at K M’s Web site, I saw that it is a broker for seven large health insurance providers, including Aetna, Blue Cross, Humana and United Healthcare.

Mr. Handline, it turns out, also serves as the chief marketing officer of Convergence Health, a health care technology company. That is, when he is not running Dance Trance, a dance fitness studio where he is known as a “nationally acclaimed jazz funk fusion choreographer,” according to its Web site.
“People of all ages are welcome to come and groove to the thumpin’ music!” it says.

I tried the Fenwick number again, and this time Mr. Handline picked up. He said he was not a member of the coalition and only placed its television ads, adding that he got the job through someone in the health care field for whom he had done similar work in the past. He would not name the person
“But they’re not a member of the coalition either,” he said.
So who are the members? 
“I really can’t give you any details.”

He took down my number and said he would see if anyone in the coalition wanted to talk about it. No one did.

I suppose I could keep nosing around by traveling to Delaware, or better yet, Florida (I haven’t grooved to the music in a long time). It may yet come to that.

At any rate, it is clearly going to take a lot more work to see through an organization that is about as transparent as a dirty diaper.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The New York Times

September 27, 2010

As Laws Shift, Voters Cast Ballots Weeks Before the Polls Close

CINCINNATI — At least one-third of all ballots across the country this year will be cast before Election Day, party officials said, reflecting a steady rise in early voting that is profoundly influencing how political campaigns are conducted in many parts of the country.
Democrats, who have been quicker to take advantage of the technique in the last two election cycles, say that a voting window of 30 days could allow them to win votes from people who might not otherwise cast a ballot and help level an enthusiasm gap that threatens their Congressional majority. Republicans concede being slower to adjust to the changes, but said they have stepped up their efforts in what they hope will be a strong year for the party.

“You can lose an election before Election Day,” said Jason Mauk, executive director of the Ohio Republican Party, which is intensifying its emphasis on early voting for the first time. “It’s in our best interest to try and bank as many soft votes as we can.”

The calendar may still say September, but people can begin casting their ballots on Tuesday in Ohio. Voting is already under way in Georgia, Iowa and four other states, with Arizona, California and Illinois set to start in the next two weeks.

Never mind that October is filled to the brim with televised debates, advertising pitches and eager anticipation from candidates waiting to see if they win the endorsement of their local newspaper’s editorial page. These old political rituals take place after millions of voters have already selected their candidates.

A patchwork of early-voting laws has emerged in counties and states across the country over the last two decades, but much of the expansion has taken place in the last four years. This is the first midterm election where each party has altered its tactics to adjust to the new realities of voting, according to strategists in both parties, resulting in a campaign where everything from advertising to yard signs comes earlier.

“There is now much more consideration to making sure you have your opponent fully defined before ballots go out in October,” said Rob Stutzman, a Republican strategist in California, who is advising Meg Whitman’s campaign for governor. “It would not be unusual to consider dropping that big negative on an opponent in the first week of October to try to have a big impact.”

In California, residents are able to indicate a permanent vote-by-mail request, which means a ballot will automatically arrive in the mail four weeks before an election. The lists are available to campaigns, which Mr. Stutzman said has significantly increased the get-out-the-vote effort for absentee voters.

While people in New York must have an excuse to vote before Election Day, which is why only 5 percent cast absentee ballots in the presidential race two years ago, most states no longer have that restriction. Voting alternatives range from a pure mail-in ballot in Oregon to a three-week period of balloting in Florida, Texas and Nevada.

Early voting has hardly driven all eligible citizens to vote. Turnout has increased only slightly since 2005 when many states began making voting more convenient. But it has made it far easier for campaigns to find voters who would be likely to be supportive if they could get them to the polling place. And with 70 percent of Americans now able to take advantage of no-excuse early and absentee voting, the trend is permanent.

“It’s not going to represent a seismic shift in the number of people voting,” said Dan Tokaji, an Ohio State University law professor who studies early voting and election law. “The convenience of voting is a factor, but it’s not the major reason that people don’t show up to vote.”

Here in Ohio, an election period that now stretches over 35 days is one of the few things lifting the spirits of Democrats. Two years ago, the party overwhelmed Republicans in early voting. John McCain received more votes on Election Day, but Barack Obama carried the state, because many Democrats and independents voted early.

“We have more than 30 days to find our supporters, get them out to vote and win this election,” Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio, a Democrat, told a crowd at a weekend rally, where he rolled up in a bus with an early-voting message emblazoned on the side. “Are we going to do it?”

A group of Republican voters filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court in Cincinnati challenging the practice of a few Ohio counties — Democratic-leaning ones — that provide postage-paid envelopes for absentee ballots. Voters in most counties across the state have to provide their own stamp, a disparity they argue created unequal access to vote.

One of the biggest elements of the Democratic Party’s effort to persuade first-time voters from the last presidential race to vote in the midterm election comes through early voting. Organizing for America, the party’s network of Obama supporters, is focusing much of its effort on important Congressional races in states that allow early voting.

In Florida, where ballots began arriving in mailboxes last week, a liberal group called Progress Florida sent an appeal Monday urging people to “Vote in your pajamas.”

The Democratic strategy is being amplified by President Obama, whose travel schedule over the next three weeks closely tracks the dates when early voting begins. Unlike the 2008 campaign, aides said that this year’s early-voting effort was largely devoted to hard-core Democrats, excluding independent voters who might not be supportive of the party’s message.

In Ohio, Mr. Obama is set to arrive next month for an early-voting rally on the campus of the Ohio State University, where he will encourage students to cast their early ballots for Democrats. Party officials here hope the effort is something of a second act for the 2008 campaign, when early voting helped give several candidates an edge.

This year, Republicans said they were not ceding the strategy, but party officials dismissed the suggestion that a midterm election would give Democrats the same advantage of a presidential election. “It defies the logic of low-propensity voting,” said Mr. Mauk, the state party’s executive director.

A crucial test will come here in Cincinnati, where Mr. Obama became the first Democratic president to carry Hamilton County in 44 years. The Board of Elections office on Broadway Avenue has expanded service until 9 p.m. on some days, and until noon on Saturdays.

“Now, is there any reason not to vote?” Maryellen O’Shaughnessy, the Democratic candidate for secretary of state asked a cheering crowd at a rally here as she offered detailed instructions how to cast early ballots. “Folks can’t say they don’t have enough time to get to the polls.”
Kitty Bennett contributed research.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Miracles, Democracy, and the Fight Against SB 1070

By Joel Olson

One by one we go around the room. We state our name and why we are here at this meeting, seeking the repeal of SB 1070 and other anti-immigrant laws. “I want to keep my family together.” “I believe in human dignity.” “I’m afraid my family will be broken up.” “I believe in freedom for all people.” “I want a resolution to this problem.” “I want a new world.”

This is what my Wednesday nights have been like since the passage of SB 1070 in April: for three hours I sit in a hot, sweaty room at the local Catholic church in Flagstaff, Arizona, with anywhere from 25 to 50 adults plus a gaggle of little kids. It’s a meeting of the Repeal Coalition, an all-volunteer, grassroots organization that is struggling for the repeal of all anti-immigrant laws in Arizona. Three-quarters or more of the participants are Latino. About that many are undocumented or related to someone who is. Women outnumber men, and they participate more. The discussion is noisy and animated, and mostly in Spanish, with people doing the best they can to translate into English or vice-versa. Often just the gist gets translated. (Someone says a joke in Spanish and three-quarters of the room erupts in laughter and the rest of us smile sheepishly, then someone says a joke in English and it goes the other way.) But somehow we feel like part of the same group. The kids in the adjacent room tear through the paper and crayons and cheap toys until someone pops in a video. By 8:30 p.m., exhausted, we clap it out, clean up, socialize, and take care of the little things we couldn’t get to in the formal meeting. Then we all go home, do the work we volunteered to do, and come back fighting the next Wednesday.

This is what democracy looks like.

In Arizona right now, this is the lull before the storm. SB 1070 is scheduled to become law on July 29. If you don’t know, SB 1070 is the notorious anti-immigrant law that makes it a state crime to be undocumented, requires everyone in the state to carry ID (“Your papers, please!”), makes it a crime to give an undocumented person a ride in your car or a meal in your home, and practically mandates racial profiling.

On July 29, if the police have “reasonable suspicion” that you are undocumented, you will be ripped from your family and thrown in jail.

On July 29, if you give a ride in your car or allow into your home a person you know is undocumented, you are “recklessly disregarding” that person’s legal status and can be arrested for “harboring” an “illegal alien.”

On July 29, if you get stopped by the cops and you don’t have identification on you, this will count as “reasonable suspicion” that you may be in the country illegally, and you are subject to arrest, no matter where you are from.

If this sounds to you like the makings of a police state, well, it does to me, too.

When Governor Jan Brewer signed 1070 into law at the end of April, Arizonans took to the streets in the tens of thousands. We organized protests, held community forums, and spoke out wherever we could: the state capitol, trailer parks in Phoenix, Flagstaff City Hall, the borders of the Tohono O’odham nation, neighborhoods in South Tucson.

After the crowds died down, the lawyers stepped in. To date at least six lawsuits have been filed that seek to prevent SB 1070 from going into effect, including one by the Obama administration.

Undocumented folks and their loved ones are holding their breath, praying that the lawsuits will succeed. But many of them aren’t putting all of their eggs in that basket. They know that ultimately, only grassroots action will defeat this evil law .

Which brings us to the meetings.

Americans generally don’t know how to run a meeting, or participate in one. We can vote, we can speechify, and we can scream at each other, but we rarely debate constructively and in a way that encourages the participation of all. Our political system simply isn’t set up for that. Instead, what typically happens is that the people vote once a year or so and the politicians do the work—with the help of lobbyists, bureaucrats, judges, and lawyers, lots of lawyers. It’s actually a really limited form of democracy, when you think about it.

But the meetings of the Repeal Coalition are entirely different. They are utterly ordinary, yet incredible. The great Marxist revolutionary C.L.R. James once wrote a pamphlet about direct democracy called “Every Cook Can Govern.” He would have been inspired to see these cooks, cleaners, servers, chamber maids, college students, linen service workers, teachers, maintenance workers, warehouse clerks, and cashiers practice democracy in Arizona. And the Coalition doesn’t just go through the motions of democracy like most American voters; we debate politics. We come together, discuss the right thing to do, develop strategy, make decisions, and carry them out. People (mostly) raise their hand to speak and (mostly) listen patiently to others. And we do all of this in two languages!

The political theorist Hannah Arendt claims that ordinary people directly participating in politics is literally a miracle. Miracles, she argues, are the spontaneous creation of something new. This, she argues, is precisely what people acting in the public sphere do: they create a new beginning, a new community, a new political possibility, something that has never existed before.

That’s what happens every Wednesday night in Phoenix and Flagstaff. At one recent meeting, for example, Flagstaff Repeal discusses the finer points of a resolution we’ve written that demands the repeal of all anti-immigrant legislation in the state of Arizona. The resolution, which we hope the city council will pass, calls for the city to proclaim itself a safe haven for all people, whether they have papers or not. We discuss and then approve the resolution unanimously, to great applause. We then move on to developing strategy for how to get the city council to pass it. From there we discuss the situation of some undocumented workers who have been unjustly treated and fired by the local Hampton Inn, and then to plans for a protest and march against SB 1070 in downtown Flagstaff for the coming Saturday. The facilitator (who is doubling as translator) gets us through the agenda so that we can end by 8:30. We all marvel at what a great job she did—and it was her first time. The meeting ends by “clapping it out,” or a slow, disorganized clap that increases in speed and synchronization, leading to a crescendo of group unity and power until it bursts into individual applause again, reminding us of how the individual and the collective are interdependent.

These meetings are inspiring, boring, disciplined, way off track, frustrating, empowering, intimidating, and awesome—often at the same time. Like I said, this is what democracy looks like.

The Repeal Coalition’s slogan is “Fight for the freedom to live, love, and work wherever you please.” But this slogan is meaningless without another: “All people deserve the right to have an equal say in those affairs that affect their daily lives.” Democracy is not voting for elites every four years while quietly fuming at the tyranny of your boss for 40 hours a week (more if you’re undocumented). It’s the ability of all people to have a say in those affairs that affect their daily life. At our meetings, we seek to live out this principle of radical democracy. It’s built into the very heart of the Repeal Coalition: the weekly meeting.

The Repeal Coalition has been meeting every week since March 2008. For the first few months there were between a dozen and 20 people. Sometimes there were four of us, staring at each other, wondering what the hell to do next. That was the case last January, for example. Thanks to an inside source, we knew the notorious bill that would soon be named SB 1070 was coming, even before it was made public. We talked about how we needed to build a movement to fight it. But there were just four of us. What the hell could we do?

And then in April the world discovered SB 1070, and we went from six people to 40 to 60 in two weeks (plus 20 kids—I spent several meetings doing childcare in the adjacent room, occasionally sticking my head in the meeting room to hear what was going on). The primary language went from English to Spanish. The college students, who were formerly a majority in the group, became outnumbered by servers and laundry workers.

Since then we’ve had at least 25 people at every meeting. We’re busy, but we’re nervous. July 29 approaches. People don’t know yet how they are going to keep their families together. They are scared to drive, so they aren’t even sure how they’ll get to work, how they’ll get their kids to school, how they’ll shop for groceries. Down in Phoenix, Sheriff Joe Arpaio calls July 29 the “magic day” when he can truly begin to sweep the streets clean of brown people.

Another political theorist, Carl Schmitt, argues that the real miracle in politics is what he calls “the exception.” This is when a ruler declares an “extreme emergency” and suspends the rule of law. SB 1070 isn’t quite a miracle in this respect, because it is the law, even if it does suspend liberty and decency. Regardless, July 29 is Arpaio’s miracle.

In the face of this, Repeal keeps meeting, planning, fighting, and conjuring our own miracle.

The question in Arizona right now, as July 29 approaches, is which miracle will win out, the miracle of grassroots democracy or the “miracle” of unrestrained state power; the miracle of a new Arizona, in which ordinary people—with “papers” or without—control the affairs that affect their daily lives, or of the old Arizona, in which nativist politicians and business interests determine how the rest of us live.

I’m not sure which Arizona will win. But I’m damn sure that I’m not going to leave it to the lawyers. I’ll see you at the next meeting.

Joel Olson is a member of the Repeal Coalition, which meets every Wednesday night. The Coalition can be reached at or

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Surveillance in Classrooms at NAU

Just got an email from NAU administration that states that NAU will have detectors to track student IDs and thus attendance in classes. I find this highly disturbing. Not only does this have implications for privacy of students but also political implications. Will this be the only thing under surveillance? What happens to free speech on campus? Will social science faculty and students be tracked for the kind of speech they engage in? With Arizona's SB 1070 and the crackdown on Ethnic Studies departments in force NAU's new tracking device cannot be taken lightly. It must be protested at the highest level.

Previously, it was argued that tracking attendance would lead to more attendance rates and thus greater performance. The State is apparently to tie attendance rates to financial aid. While attendance rates might reflect good teachers, policing classrooms with detectors will not reflect the quality of teaching. It will reflect fear instead. A good university does not use policing techniques because it doesn't need to. Only an administration that has no idea how to stimulate teaching and learning would resort to such pathetic measures.

I don't think the administration has adequately argued the need for such invasive policies and if it had I can't imagine it would be accepted by the faculty or students at large. It would be good to have this new rule protested and removed. We can do without nonsense expenses also in such a tough economic climate.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Nativism & Fascism

Here's a link to an article I wrote for the Imagine 2050 blog on anti-immigrant protests in Arizona and their significance:

Friday, June 4, 2010

Interview on the Repeal Coalition

Below is an interview on the Repeal Coalition that I did recently. It provides information on one group's grassroots strategy to change the immigration debate in Arizona.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

SB 1070: Battle at the Grassroots

By Joel Olson

In the struggle over the notorious anti-immigrant, anti-Latino, anti-working class law SB 1070, a person might be tempted to see this as a conflict that plays out among the elites of Arizona politics: legislators, governors, sheriffs, newspaper editors, judges, lawyers, and nonprofits. This view would be understandable, but wrong. The real battle is at the grassroots.

On the one hand, there is a strong nativist movement afoot in Arizona that is overwhelmingly white, mostly over the age of fifty, and largely male. They fear that “illegals are invading” and causing all manner of mayhem, from home invasions to overcrowded emergency rooms to automated voices forcing them to “press 1 for English.” They are represented by the Tea Party and local politicians such as State Senator Russell Pearce. Their goal is to hound and harass all “illegal aliens” out of Arizona—and if they have to check the papers of every brown-skinned person in the state to do it, fine. “Attrition through enforcement,” Pearce calls it. That phrase is now written into Arizona law. At their demand, SB 1070 turns every cop in the state into an immigration officer, practically requires racial profiling, and denies the freedom of Arizonans to associate with whoever they please, documented or not. With the passage of 1070, nativists are confident that they control the territory.

But what happens when you hold a Tea Party and a bunch of “illegals” show up?

Facing down the nativist faction is a ragtag, underfinanced, increasingly fearless, and thoroughly working class movement that seeks to destroy SB 1070 and replace the Tea Party’s bogus call for “small government”—by the way, how is a government where every cop is empowered to check your papers “small”?—with a real call for freedom of movement and association. The hope for Arizona rests with this group that is fighting at the grassroots for the freedom to live, love, and work wherever you please.

One of the first battles between these two forces took place last Tuesday in the small mountain town of Flagstaff, Arizona (population 60,000). The Flagstaff City Council voted 7-0 to sue the state government to prevent SB 1070 from going into effect. (Earlier that day, Tucson’s city council voted 5-1 to do the same thing. Now other towns, such as Yuma and Naco, are also threatening to file an injunction.)

This decision from within the most nativist state in the nation came as a shock to many. True, Flagstaff has a reputation for being a liberal bubble, but the city council hardly has a stellar record of standing with people of color, as anyone from the Save the Peaks Coalition could tell you. The city council has been hostile to this indigenous-led effort to prevent the local ski resort from using Flagstaff sewage water to make artificial snow on a mountain that is sacred to thirteen tribes. (That’s right, they want you to ski on pee.)

Further, a poll taken just after SB 1070’s passage showed that seventy percent of Arizonans supported it. And when Rush Limbaugh heard that over 150 people came to the previous Flagstaff City Council meeting urging them to file an injunction, he told his listeners to besiege the Council with calls in support of 1070. Over the next few days, Flagstaff’s little city hall received a slew of racist voice mails and several death threats. Then the local Tea Party put out a call to pack the next meeting.

But they didn’t count on getting beat at their own game.

The Tea Party nationwide prides itself on being a grassroots organization feared by politicians. They probably thought that a good word from Limbaugh would help them bumrush city hall and put this whole injunction business to rest. But that was before they met the Repeal Coalition, a grassroots organization that seeks the repeal of all anti-immigrant laws in the state of Arizona and believes in the freedom of all people to live, love, and work wherever they please. (For more on the work of the Repeal Coalition, see my previous article, “New Arizona.”)

While Limbaugh blathered on, the Repeal Coalition held a mass meeting in the local Catholic church to put pressure on city hall. Sixty adults and twenty kids, most of them Latino, most of them undocumented or related to someone who is, came after work in their McCafe uniforms, bounced babies on their laps, and in a sweltering room for two and half hours, patiently developed a strategy—hashed out in Spanish and English—to keep the pressure on the city council. They planned a protest before the council meeting, and then to pack the meeting chamber itself. The Tea Party boasted it would do the same.

At 4:45 p.m. on Tuesday, people began trickling in to the chambers, while a crowd opposed to SB 1070 gathered on the street in front of city hall. Repeal members handed out scraps of paper to people as they filed in, suggesting that if they spoke before the council during the meeting they should demand that the council condemn SB 1070 and vote to file an injunction against it. By 5:30, over two hundred people were jammed into the council chambers. The room was stuffed so full the fire marshal had to shut the doors.

But only about thirty people were from the Tea Party. Opponents of 1070 had them outnumbered six to one. Plus there were a hundred people watching a live feed of the event in the lobby. Plus there were dozens of people who would not go into city hall because they were undocumented and feared police harassment, but fed messages to Repeal Coalition members, who conveyed them to the city council. Plus there were two hundred people outside still protesting—oh, and a lone Tea Partier holding a sign. (Yes, one person. Remind me, why are liberals so afraid of this group?)

With drums from the protest audible in the chamber, waves of people spoke out against 1070 and in favor of filing an injunction against it, while just five Tea Partiers spoke against the injunction. Each of the five went to great lengths to emphasize that they only opposed illegal immigration—but in the next breath they warned of “invasions” and a “virtual border that’s moving northward.” They weren’t racist for supporting SB 1070, they insisted—but then they talked about how “these people” commit crimes. Their logic was simple and crude: Undocumented = criminal = Mexican = all Latinos.

They knew they were out-organized, and they were furious. One elderly gentleman, who earlier had tried to get me kicked out of the council chamber for handing out our speaking suggestions, waved the scrap of paper in front of the council and accused the Repeal Coalition of telling people what to say. “Am I right about this?” he turned and asked the crowd. “No!” it roared back. He sat down and left the meeting shortly.

Many of those who spoke against 1070 deeply impressed the council and the crowd. One man openly admitted he was undocumented. A Latina whose family has lived in Flagstaff since the 1890s told the Tea Partiers, “You think this law won’t affect you? You’re right; it won’t—because you’re white. You bet it’s going to affect me and my family, and we’ve lived here for four generations!” A white guy in a tie mocked the racial profiling within the law by saying “I’m not a bigot, but I look like one, don’t I?” Roars of laughter.

In the most powerful testimony of the night, a woman from the Navajo Nation told the council how this law would inevitably harass and profile indigenous people. Angrily she said, “I never had to carry my C.D.I.B. [Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood] and now I do. You all [white people] are our guests in this land. And this is how we are repaid. I’m going to be stopped because of this law, and I’m from a First Nation.” She left the podium in tears, and to thunderous applause.

The Tea Partiers began filing out in defeat midway through the meeting. As they did, Latinos who were waiting outside filled their seats. By the time the council actually voted on the injunction, there wasn’t a tea bag in sight. The symbolism of a grassroots movement devoted to oppression being replaced, one by one, by another grassroots movement devoted to freedom, smelled as sweet as creosote after a desert rain.

Four and a half hours into the meeting, three things struck me. First, the legal struggle against 1070 is driven by the grassroots struggle. I realized this as one councilperson, Scott Overton, admitted that he wanted to wait to see what other cities were going to do first before approving an injunction, but “the community pushed hard.” He then proceeded to vote for it. Then, the most conservative member of the council (and a candidate for mayor in an election that’s just three weeks away) voted for the injunction, too—even though minutes earlier he had said he would abstain! From his rambling comments it was clear that he did not like the injunction and probably liked the spirit of SB 1070, but he didn’t have the guts to go against 200 people pressuring him to do the right thing.

Politicians and lawyers may be in front of the television cameras, but they are not in the lead in the battle against SB 1070. Rather, they are being pushed into action by a teeming movement of undocumented people, their loved ones, and their allies. To be sure, the city council’s decision required some courageous initiative by Councilwoman Coral Evans. But this issue is hot because people at the grassroots are hot, and politicians feel they have to do something. In figuring out what happens next in the struggle, then, the question is not, “Will the legal battle win?” but “Will the grassroots be able to push the legal struggle even further?”

Second, the Tea Party and their ilk can only be defeated by out-organizing them. Tea Partiers are wrong, but they’re not stupid. Their minds won’t be changed by showing them “the facts” about immigration, for ideology always trumps truth. Rather than dismissing them as ignorant, you have to beat them at the grassroots. In Flagstaff, a grassroots group led by working-class Latinos out-organized the mighty Tea Party. They left early, and at 10:00 p.m. we celebrated a unanimous decision. Even Rush Limbaugh couldn’t save them.

Third, this evil law can be defeated. Flagstaff is a sign. New polls show that support among Arizonans for the law has declined to just over fifty percent, with those numbers going down to forty-five percent of those under thirty-five. Enthusiasm for 1070 is dampening because the grassroots is firing up.

We can win this.

In 1963, Malcolm X wrote about a Black revolution coming from the grassroots, one in which Black people were determined to control their destiny rather than be controlled by whites. Similarly, a new movement is emerging from the grassroots in Arizona, one that rejects the weak tea of “liberty” proposed by nativist Tea Parties. This new Arizona demands a new kind of liberty called for by a global economy: the freedom to live, love, and work wherever one pleases, and the freedom of ordinary people to have a say in those affairs that affect their daily lives.

The day after our victory, a hundred high school and middle school (!) students walked out of school in protest against 1070 and marched to city hall. Repeal Coalition members met them there and exchanged phone numbers. That evening, another mass meeting organized by the Repeal Coalition voted to keep the pressure on with more protests and more resolutions for city hall to pass.

So what happens when you hold a tea party and a bunch of “illegals” show up? You can see the new Arizona in sight, and it’s as beautiful as a Sonoran sunset.

Joel Olson is a member of the Repeal Coalition. He has lived in Arizona for twenty-five years.

Friday, April 30, 2010

New Arizona

New Arizona

By Joel Olson

In the midst of the Arizona state government passing the most outrageous anti-immigrant law since the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, several happenings pass unnoticed by the national media. At a packed Flagstaff City Council meeting discussing the law, waves of people declare publicly that they are undocumented, practically daring law enforcement officers to arrest them. At the same meeting, a member of a radical immigrant rights group receives thunderous applause for demanding the repeal of all anti-immigrant laws and declaring the right of all people to “live, love, and work wherever they please.” Even the most conservative city councilman admits he liked the notion. Down in Phoenix, high school students spontaneously organize a school walkout through mass texting, without direction from the established immigration reform organizations. This infuriates the organizations because it pre-empts “their” planned protests. And then these same students chuck water bottles at cops when they arrest one of their own.

Welcome to the new Arizona.

Arizona has been dragged through the mud by the media and national opinion over the passage of SB 1070, a heinous anti-immigration law that massively expands police power in the state, basically mandating racial profiling and making it a crime to associate with undocumented people. Much of this derision is deserved. The law was crafted by one of the most nativist politicians in the country, State Senator Russell Pearce of Mesa, and signed by Governor Jan Brewer, who is running as far to the right as she can in order to win the coming Republican primary. The anti-immigrant sentiment is so strong in this state that even our “maverick” U.S. Senator, John McCain, endorsed the bill. McCain, who supported immigration reform when he ran for president in 2008, is also up for reelection this November.

Anti-immigrant sentiment is so widespread it could change the political landscape here—for the worse. The rumor is that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio—who began the nativist sensation in Arizona in 2006 with his roadblocks and sweeps for “illegals”—is going to run for governor against Brewer. Andrew Thomas, the Maricopa County Attorney who is otherwise known as Arpaio’s mini-me, recently quit his job in order to run for state attorney general. Pearce salivates at the thought of replacing Arpaio as County Sheriff. So if you think things are bad now, wait until November, when we could have Arpaio, Thomas, Hayworth, and Pearce running the state. It’s enough to make David Duke exhale a low whistle.

But the courageous actions of undocumented workers and high school students suggest that nativism will not rule the Grand Canyon State without a fight. And those from below just might win.

You can see the kernel of the new Arizona in the shell of the old in the Repeal Coalition, a grassroots, all-volunteer organization with chapters in Flagstaff and Phoenix. As one of its main organizers, Taryn Jordan, explains, the group was formed in 2008 to fight anti-immigrant legislation. “We knew something like this [SB 1070] was coming, and we’ve known it for a long time,” says Jordan. “Our goal in Repeal was to provide a new face of resistance to it.”

And it is new. Most immigrant rights groups here call for “comprehensive immigration reform,” a law that would create a long, arduous path to citizenship for only some undocumented people, while leaving many in legal limbo. The Repeal Coalition, however, argues for the repeal of all anti-immigrant laws. “We demand the repeal of all laws—federal, state, and local—that degrade and discriminate against undocumented individuals and that deny U.S. citizens their lawful rights,” their literature states. “We demand that all human beings—with papers or without—be guaranteed access to work, housing, health care, education, legal protection, and other public benefits, as well as the right to organize.”

Flagstaff Repeal Coalition organizer Ashley Cooper says that in the current anti-immigrant climate, repeal is the only relevant demand. “You can’t reform these laws; you can only repeal them,” she says. “And this gets to the heart of the issue. In a global economy, where goods and services move effortlessly across borders, humans deserve the same freedom. The only way to achieve that is to repeal existing laws, not create complicated and difficult paths to citizenship that only some people will be able to access.”

The group is finding an increasingly receptive audience for its message, especially among undocumented people and college and high school students.

Repeal’s approach to political organizing is also different from most immigration reform organizations. “Our goal is not to work for the people but to work with them,” explains Phoenix organizer Ceci Saenz. “We believe that the people should be leading this struggle—and that they already are leading it.” Repeal’s task, she explains, is to facilitate this leadership by bringing people together, encouraging them to “develop their militancy,” and to provide a political framework for their struggle, which is expressed by their slogan, “No more hate, harass, and blame: Freedom for all people to live, love, and work where you please!”

Flagstaff Repeal helped mobilize the undocumented workers who courageously spoke out at the City Council meeting, for example, and they are currently organizing pickets at a local hotel that has harassed and abused (and now fired) undocumented workers there. The weekend before, they organized three protests in a row, which drew 500 people in a town of 60,000. “It wasn’t even our idea,” explains Flagstaff Repeal Coalition organizer Katie Fahrenbruch. “We held a meeting just before 1070 was passed. When one of our volunteers asked folks what they wanted to do about [the law], the entire audience said ‘Protest!’” (In Spanish, of course.) “They couldn’t collectively agree on a day, so they said let’s do it for three days. So, we helped organize it in less than twenty-four hours’ notice.”

In Phoenix, the Coalition is organizing undocumented people, trailer park by trailer park, apartment complex by apartment complex. While thousands massed at the state Capitol the day after Governor Brewer signed SB 1070 into law, the Repeal Coalition was with a group of several hundred, led by undocumented women, who led a protest through the Latino neighborhoods they are organizing. Later that evening they called an emergency meeting, and within thirty minutes there were forty undocumented people meeting inside a garage in a trailer park, discussing strategy.

Many people have been talking about leaving the state since 1070 was passed, but this group did not. They talked about fighting. Something is new here.

All of this is being done by a group of just a handful of volunteers without non-profit status and with virtually no budget. Three Phoenix organizers live in a “Repeal” house, paid for by a small grant they obtained. They agree to work at least thirty hours a week for Repeal in exchange for free rent and utilities. “We don’t live large and it’s been stressful since 1070 was passed, but it’s worth it,” says Chris Griffin. He lives in the house and spends his days visiting jails, courthouses, and the homes of undocumented workers struggling against these laws.

This is the new Arizona. As conservative whites try to drive every “illegal” out of the state, and as immigration reform groups wait for Obama and Pelosi and Reid to put immigration reform on the agenda, folks in the Repeal Coalition are holding mass meetings of undocumented workers and are going to the hangouts of high school students, encouraging them to take their struggle to the next level. And as snipers line the roof of the State Capitol, they are smiling every time a water bottle whizzes past a cop who is now empowered to check their papers.

Welcome to the new Arizona.

Joel Olson works with the Repeal Coalition in Flagstaff. He has lived in Arizona for twenty-five years.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Radical Conservativism

Note: I submit an occassional editorial to the online magazine The Americano and they are nice enough to post my thoughts on their website. However, they did not want to publish the article below. I thought I should post it somewhere anyways.

Radical Conservativism
By Stephen A. Nuño

David Frum was a fixture in conservative circles over the last ten years. He worked as a speech writer for George Bush and worked for the venerable American Enterprise Institute (AEI) over the last seven years where he wrote several books and several thousand essays supporting conservative candidates all across the United States. However, Frum became a proponent of “big tent” Republicanism where most of his calls have fallen on deaf ears. He was critical of the GOP strategy during the health care debate and when the health care bill was passed he was among the move vociferous among the Right to place the blame on the GOP’s all or nothing strategy. Frum was fired by AEI later that week.

Conservatives keep saying they are for intellectual diversity, apparently only when they are not. Perhaps it was naïve to think Frum’s criticisms wouldn’t go unattended by an organization that relies heavily on private donors for their survival. But the American Enterprise Institute claims to be an independent think tank, not an arm of the GOP’s mobilization efforts. One can be true to their philosophical underpinnings while maintaining intellectual objectivity for which you should be willing to accept results that contradict your assumptions. The only way to do this is to question yourself, but AEI will apparently only go so far in their pursuit of the truth.

Did Frum get sacked for his criticism of the GOP? He thinks so and AEI is not likely to admit they are towing GOP press releases as a matter of policy. You make the call.

It seems as though this could be a shot across the bow at Conservatives straying from the company line. So it was without surprise to see another waning Conservative, George Will, double down on some tried and true nativism to prop up his Conservative bona fides. Will has been criticized for speaking rationally on immigration reform and the war in Iraq. In 2006, Will wrote, “And conservatives should favor reducing illegality by putting illegal immigrants on a path out of society’s crevices and into citizenship by paying fines and learning English.” He went on to say that “faux conservatives absurdly call this price tag on legal status ‘amnesty’”

But the other day George Will did a reversal on his rationality, calling for a radical reinterpretation of the Constitution’s citizenship clause and ending the practice of “birthright” citizenship. He continued by saying that we should correct the misinterpretation of the 14th Amendment, which he cites, “All person’s born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.” How do you misinterpret “born or naturalized in the United States” to mean anything other than, well, being born or naturalized in the United States?

The citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment is a reflection of English common law dating back more than four hundred years. The 14th Amendment itself is over one hundred years old, based on federal legislation that dates back further, and has always been interpreted to mean what we know it to mean today. Will relies on the academic work of a law professor in Texas, Lino Graglia, who has a long history of animosity towards civil rights issues, an issue that prompted President Reagan to withdraw Graglia from consideration for a seat on the Court of Appeals and whose work George Will relied on for his commentary on Brown v. Board of Education in a Washington Post article in 1994.

Graglia’s argument has been long addressed by scholars such as Harvard’s Gerald Neuman, who has studied and written about citizenship for decades. Assistant Attorney General Walter Dellinger testified in front of Congress in 1995 to address this issue when Republicans presented several bills to deny citizenship to children born to illegal immigrants. Following their sweeping victory in 1994, the GOP went right to work attacking the Latino community.

In his statement to Congress, Dellinger said, “My office grapples with many difficult and close issues of constitutional law. The lawfulness of this bill is not among them. This legislation is unquestionably unconstitutional”.

George Will purports to defend the “common sense” solution to our immigration problems by supporting what can only be changed through the process of amending the Constitution of the United States and overturning centuries of established tradition.

No doubt the Conservatives will be boasting about Will’s newfound appeal to radicalism. How bizarre that a Conservative who relishes the stability of our Constitution and its founding principles to all of a sudden decide we should reinterpret a clause which can only be interpreted one way at the same time claiming that the original interpretation was a misinterpretation only because his interpretation makes more sense to him now.

Is this what Conservatism is about; the rule of law must persevere, until like we don’t really want it to? Conservatives’ incessant whining about rigid interpretations of immigration law is fine when they want to deport twelve million Latinos, but when the Constitution is inconvenient we should just reinterpret it and pretend that the current interpretation was bullpucky all along?

The real common sense solution to the immigration problem is what Will promoted before there was a renewed premium on nativist populism, which is to integrate these folks into society so that we don’t create a permanent underclass of disaffected shadow-citizens whose only purpose is to work and pay federal taxes towards George Will’s social security and Medicare benefits all the while having to cower on their way to their job working without any of the common protections or safety nets we afford ordinary workers.

In his support of immigration reform, Will wrote, “Of the nation's illegal immigrants -- estimated to be at least 11 million, a cohort larger than the combined populations of 12 states -- 60 percent have been here at least five years. Most have roots in their communities. Their children born here are U.S. citizens… Facts, a conservative (John Adams) said, are stubborn things, and regarding immigration, true conservatives take their bearings from facts such as [these]…” Unless they don’t feel like it anymore I suppose.

Stephen A. Nuño, PhD is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics and International Affairs at Northern Arizona University. He can be reached at

Monday, February 8, 2010

Political Science and Values--Making Social Science Meaningful

At the APSA conference in 2003, President of APSA, Robert Putnam, gave a rare speech calling political scientists to endorse public service, i.e to learn about what the people need. Politics is a mix of science and values, he claimed.

What an honest speech, I thought! But as others pointed out, social sciences since the '50s and '60s have been anything but scientific. Clearly, hidden are the discourses of liberal democracies, markets and individualism-- as something to be aspired. What is public choice theory without individuals and market-type efficiency? What is rational choice theory, for that matter?

Kenneth Prewitt (2005) expounds: American political science has been nothing more than a reflection of American values, policies and goals. But are these truly the foundations of human behavior, even in the US? Are people really motivated by only greed, profit and consumerism? What about the good of the community? Are we then living out the ideals of capitalism?

An APSA Task Force Report of 2004 states that income inequalities of Americans are on the rise. Between 1973-2000, the top quintile households saw a 61.6% rise in incomes, while the bottom quintile saw only a 10.3% rise. Statistics for the racial divide are alarming also. In 2000, the median White households income was 62% greater than that of Blacks, and wealth for median White households was 12 times that of Black households. More so, the pool of people with no net worth whatsoever was significant--1/4 of Whites, 1/2 of Hispanics and 2/3 Black households. At the same time, means of political participation for the poor have been minimal--unions have decimated, campaign contributions by blue-collar workers insignificant, and political representation by Capitol Hill minimal. The opposite is true for the top quintile.

Such a confluence of money and power! Should we then think that American social science today is nothing more than a reflection of power politics in DC?

Putnam's speech (2003) is priceless also because of what he thinks the great goal of political science should be-- that we must all come together to build global institutions to further America's foreign policy! I'm not surprised. One might ask, when was this project ever dead? Have we not witnessed this project of American imperialism before in the language of modernization theorists, in the discourses of liberal democracy or of religious fundamentalism?

In fact, it might be a good time to recognize the power politics in political science. As for public service, are we rising to that cause? I thought that what the world really wants is no longer to be dehumanized, treated like exotic subjects and children, and paid lip-service about inclusion into the various power houses of globalization.

At the end of the day, let's talk about public service, but let's also talk about making an honest day's wages. I don't want to make my living dehumanizing separatist movements in any part of the world. We have states doing that for us, anyway. In fact, if that is the bread and butter of social science, to be yesmen to the global elite, count me out. I know science from nonsense.