Amy Dean to Keynote Chicago DSA Dinner on May 2

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You are invited to the annual Debs – Thomas – Harrington Dinner! It will be held on Friday evening, May 3, at the Holiday Inn Mart Plaza in downtown Chicago, right next to the Merchandise Mart.

This year’s dinner honors William McNary, co-Director of Citizen Action/Illinois; Keith Kelleher, President of SEIU Healthcare Illinois Indiana; and the Chicago Teachers Union. Our featured speaker is Amy Dean, social entrepreneur, author, and progressive activist with deep roots in the labor movement.

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The Betrayal of America’s Middle Class Was a Choice, Not an Accident

by Amy Dean

The outsourcing of good jobs, the elimination of pensions, rampant home foreclosures; skyrocketing higher education costs and mounting debt: Given these stark realities, the American middle class seems to be sinking fast. The renowned reporting team of Donald Barlett and James Steele insists it is no accident.

Trade policy, tax cuts and other incentives that have been implemented in Washington since the Reagan era have allowed corporations to score record profits at the expense of the American workforce. Donald Barlett and James Steele, recipients of two Pulitzer Prizes and two National Magazine Awards, powerfully advanced this thesis in their 1992 bestseller, “America: What Went Wrong?

Now, in a new book, “The Betrayal of the America Dream,” they return to the same topic to examine what has happened in the two decades since. Having first come across Barlett and Steele’s work in the early 1990s, when they were writing the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper series that ultimately became “America: What Went Wrong?”, I was excited to talk with the duo about the problems now facing our middle class – and about how we can pull ourselves from the abyss.

I started by mentioning their 1992 book and asking how things have changed for the middle class since then.

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Why Are Working People Invisible in the Mainstream Media?

by Amy Dean

Barbara Ehrenreich

Best-selling author Barbara Ehrenreich – probably best known for her 2001 book “Nickel and Dimed” – has long been on the forefront of promoting stories about working people in an often hostile media environment. Recently, she has been heading the Economic Hardship Reporting Project. An endeavor inspired in part by the Federal Writers Project of the 1930s, the initiative aims “to force this country’s crisis of poverty and economic insecurity to the center of the national conversation.”

I spoke with Ehrenreich about this crisis of economic insecurity, about the invisibility of working people in the mainstream media, and about the current state of journalism.

That working people are chronically underrepresented in the media – even in times of economic downturn – is a sad reality readily apparent to anyone who has surveyed the American news landscape. Given this, I asked Ehrenreich if she thought this problem has been a constant, or if has it gotten worse in recent years.

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What Can Labor Win if It Backs Obama’s Re-Election?

Amy Dean talks to Richard Kahlenberg and Richard Bensinger about reforms that could finally give battle-weary union members a reason to send Obama and other Democrats back to Washington.

Amy B. Dean

As usual in an election year, the labor movement has a lot of fair-weather friends. Late last month, when hard up for cash for its national convention, the Democratic Party turned to unions for funds. Labor refused to bankroll the convention, in part because unions are upset that it will be taking place in North Carolina, a so-called “right to work” state.

But the party’s request was just one part of what will be an extended process of solicitation. As much as ever, Democratic politicians rely on labor’s financial contributions and, even more important, its person-to-person field operation to put them in office.

What labor gets in return for its support is often less clear. Unions’ central legislative priority, the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), died a quiet death during President Obama’s first term. Other labor law reforms that might restore the right to organize in America and modernize the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) have been nowhere on the agenda. Politicians eager to proclaim themselves friends of working people in the heat of the election cycle have not stepped up to change this situation once they head to Congress.

So, if unions are going to be involved in electoral politics this year, what can they expect to win? And is Washington even relevant to progressive organizing efforts?

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Taking Back Labor Day

by Amy Dean

Amy B. Dean

While many would say there is little for working people to celebrate as we approach this Labor Day, I see new hope in the rising number of working people standing up to fight back for themselves and all working-class families. Despite an unprecedented wave of attacks on our country’s workers, or maybe because of them, working people across the country have begun to come together and fight back to reclaim their rights and voice in our economic and political debates.

If given the chance to truly flourish, this rising fight for true independent political power for working people, whether you are in a union or not, has the potential to repaint the landscape of our economy for the good.

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Thank You Governor Walker?

By Amy Dean

Amy B. Dean

With 20 years in the labor movement under my belt, I looked at the actions taken last night by Wisconsin’s Republican legislature and Governor Scott Walker and had an unusual response.  It wasn’t despair or anger. Though once the shock wears off from seeing tens of thousands of workers stripped of their rights, I am sure those feelings will overwhelm me. No. Weirdly, among my first reactions was hope and gratitude.

I wanted to thank the governor. So I wrote him a note.

Since I am simply one of many fighting for working Americans, and not a billionaire financier, he is unlikely to take the time to read a personal note from me. So I decided to share it with all of you in the hope that someone could pass it on.

Dear Governor Walker,

Thank you for making a world where once there were only a few thousand people who would stand up to prevent the oppression of middle class workers and now there will be hundreds of thousands. You have breathed new life into the worker’s rights movement and given us a national stage for our struggle.

Thank you for showing the whole world just how far you and other conservatives are willing to go to serve your ideology instead of your constituents. This stark example of your rhetoric being contradicted by your actions was a wakeup call that we all needed to keep motivated and focused on our goal of creating a fair economy in our country.

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After the SOTU What We Want to Hear Next: The Fight for a Fairer Economy

By Amy Dean

Amy B. Dean

While I admired so much of what I heard from the President last night; after the applause dies away, we have to face the next difficult stage of this national conversation.  It’s the kind of conversation that gets to the tough decisions and real problems only alluded to last night.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama explained that in the past two years we have faced “the worst recession most of us have ever known.”  Historians and economists might differ in how they compare the recent economic crisis to the Great Depression. Nevertheless, Obama’s descriptions of our economic difficulties have a political effect. They lead people to liken him to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the president who dealt with the last century’s most profound economic downturn.

Yet, as the State of the Union made clear, there is a critical difference between the two presidents. While both have similarly spoken of the gravity of unemployment and economic stagnation, we need to hear next if President Obama will follow FDR’s lead in highlighting the institutions that can bring about middle class prosperity in America. We need to know how the broad vision President Obama outlined last night will become a concrete plan to strengthen the government’s role in creating greater fairness in our economy.

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The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly of 2010

By Amy Dean

Amy B. Dean

There’s no sugarcoating it: 2010 was a rough year for progressives. Looking back, there were plenty of bad and some downright ugly moments for us, culminating in the Republican victories in the November midterms. But pointing fingers and looking for places to lay blame doesn’t get us very far.

There are lessons to be learned from our failures and hopes to be drawn from our successes that can point to how we can have better political results in 2011 and 2012. Just look at the actions taken in the Senate this weekend. The failure of the DREAM Act and the successful repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) are indicative of the roller coaster ride we have been on with Congress this year.  They are also examples of how persistence and a strong grassroots program can pay off in the long run.  The fight to repeal DADT failed before it succeeded and I have hope that the DREAM Act has only hit a stumbling block on the path to passage.
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Unions Create the Silver Lining

By Amy B. Dean

Amy B. Dean

Whatever results come from today’s election, Democrats will largely have the Labor movement and workers across this country to thank for any silver lining they find. I have written recently about the critical role unions play in supporting democratic candidates.

For those who question whether the labor movement is still relevant in the United States, the last two months before an election should clear up any doubts. This is the time period in which Democratic politicians desperately seek help in getting elected. Organized labor, with its significant resources and savvy field operations, is by far their best hope–if not their only one.

It’s not just because of the millions they have invested in campaign contributions and paid communications. There have been a multitude of ads crowding the airwaves across the country and endless reams of mail have hit voters’ mail boxes. However, as it has always been, elections come down to boots on the ground and no one is better at getting out the vote than the labor movement.

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Moves Against Off-Shoring Should Be More Than a Political Afterthought

By Amy Dean

Amy B. Dean

This week, Democrats failed working people and demonstrated once more how wide the gulf has become between political rhetoric and tangible legislative results.   I’m talking about the failure of the Senate Democrats to even get a vote on the Creating American Jobs and Ending Off Shoring Act.  Yes, the Republicans threw every obstruction possible to block the issue following Senator DeMint’s call to obstruct everything.  But the Democrats took a critical issue facing this country and turned it into an 11th hour band-aid for their political wounds.

Back in January, when I watched President Obama’s State of the Union address, I was impressed that he explicitly spoke in favor of a long-overdue change: ending tax incentives for corporate off-shoring. He said;

“…it is time to finally slash the tax breaks for companies that ship our jobs overseas, and give those tax breaks to companies that create jobs right here in the United States of America.”

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