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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.

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Entries since October 2012

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A Tribute to George McGovern

October 19, 2012 ·

I am saddened to hear that progressive champion Sen. George McGovern is reported to be at the end of his days. He has lived a life nearly as large as his heart.

George McGovern will be remembered as a stalwart of American liberalism. For my generation, he was beloved for his courageous opposition to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. That opposition came from his knowledge of war learned in heroic service in World War II. He brought common sense prairie populism to Washington. His efforts to end hunger both here and across the world made him a remarkable champion for the "least of these."

Courtesy of Special Collections, University of Houston LibrariesHis candidacy for president in 1972 helped forge the consensus that forced the eventual ending of the war. Along the way, he transformed the Democratic Party, opening up its doors to women and minorities, and making its nominating process far more democratic.

McGovern led the challenge the growing U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. He fought for years for a legislative solution; the McGovern–Hatfield Amendment sought to end the Vietnam War. McGovern took a personal financial risk in order to take this fight to the American people. In May 1970, he got a second mortgage on his Washington, DC home to buy TV time to promote the anti-war amendment.

In that debate, McGovern challenged his colleagues with a candor seldom heard in Washington, he said, "It does not take any courage at all for a congressman, or a senator, or a president to wrap himself in the flag and say we are staying in Vietnam, because it is not our blood that is being shed. But we are responsible for those young men and their lives and their hopes. And if we do not end this damnable war those young men will someday curse us for our pitiful willingness to let the Executive carry the burden that the Constitution places on us."

McGovern moved public opinion, but the amendment was defeated in September 1970 by a 55–39 vote.

Demonstrating his compassion for the vulnerable, McGovern worked to feed the hungry, not just in the U.S. but around the world. He issued a report that led to a new set of nutritional guidelines for Americans. He also led the effort for a school meals program that has provided food for millions of children worldwide since 2000.

McGovern worked to unleash the power of grass roots activists. He worked to open up the nominating process of the Democratic Party beyond elite party insiders. The McGovern–Fraser Commission fundamentally altered the Democratic presidential nominating process, by increasing the number of caucuses and primaries and reducing the influence of party insiders.

Robert Borosage is the co-director of the Campaign for America's Future, a center for ideas and action that works to build an enduring majority for progressive change. He is also an Institute for Policy Studies trustee.

2012 Letelier-Moffitt Awards Uncut

October 19, 2012 ·

Brave activists from Chile and Boston speaking from the heart. A cameo appearance by actor and humanitarian Danny Glover. The former first lady of Costa Rica and hundreds of other fabulous guests. Peruvian wine. Hearty hors d'oeurves. The top U.S. student leader. An elegant venue dedicated to scientific discovery.

The Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards reception and ceremony is always moving and fun. This year was truly terrific. We know some of our supporters had to miss this great event, which we filled to capacity. But you can still watch the whole ceremony right here on our blog, including stellar performances by the DC Youth Slam Team and Patricio Zamorano and his band.

The Institute for Policy Studies has hosted this progressive convergence every year since 1976, when our colleagues Orlando Letelier and Ronni Karpen Moffitt were murdered in a car bombing near Washington, D.C.'s Dupont Circle. Along with an opportunity to greet old friends and make new ones, it offers a chance to salute new heroes of social movements who are, as IPS director John Cavanagh put it in his speech, "expanding our imaginations on how to make change happen."

 

Camila Vallejo's Letelier-Moffitt Acceptance Speech

October 17, 2012 ·

I would like to thank the Institute for Policy Studies. I thank IPS not only for this Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award  that you've given the Chilean Students Movement for our struggle to recover the right to an education, but also for what you stand for and your ties to everything that's happening today in Chile.

Camila Vallejo speaksAfter 39 years, it's impossible — even for young people like us who were born after 1988 — to study the history of Orlando Letelier or anyone else who was tortured or assassinated during the dictatorship without feeling paid. We feel the pain of injustice, the pain of that inhumanity, and the pain of a great blow to democracy that hasn't healed to this day.

And although there's been a powerful attempt to erase our collective memory and silence our entire nation, in Chile we won't forget. We can't forget the Pinochet dictactorship's victims, just as we can't forget the aspirations of the movement that gave rise to Salvador Allende's government.

That movement was interrupted by a violent coup and a brutal and bloody dictatorship. But it wasn't defeated, it was interrupted. Its driving force and principles were to defend the interests and dignity of the people.

That movement respected human rights while aspiring to grant all men and women access to a decent education and quality health care. That movement aimed to bring the benefits of our nation's natural wealth to all Chileans. That movement built sovereignty while strengthening democracy.

In that movement, men and women developed the awareness and will to organize for justice and freedom.

I believe that the Institute, through its work, represents women and men like Ronni and Orlando — people who embodied this movement's ideals and gave their lives for their activism.

It is with sorrow, but also with joy and hope that we cherish the ideas and ideals that embody this movement — the defense of human rights and the struggle for social justice.

Many Chileans are now taking back the reins of history, as indicated by today's great social movements. We must recover from the Pinochet dictatorship's terrible consequences if we want to have a true democracy.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights affirmed that even today there still is no justice in Chile because our electoral sytstem guarantees that human rights violators are over-represented in our parliament, relative to their victims.

In our country, there is no justice. Even if we don't have a dictator anymore, we still haven't gotten rid of the political model that his regime imposed upon us — a market-driven dictatorship. This neoliberal model has proven to be incompatible with respect for human rights. When the great wealth of the very few is derived from the life and work of the vast majority, it isn't compatible with democracy.

Our best way to thank you for this award is to carry on with the historic work to which we have dedicated our lives. We will continue to fight for universal, high-quality, and free public education, workers' rights, and excellent health care for all. We will fight to nationalize Chile's natural resources once again. We will continue the struggle for self-determination and respect that our indigenous peoples deserve.

Today, Chile's indigenous people are a shining example of resistance to the repression and militarization they endure at the hands of our government. We should fight for a new Chilean Constitution, which will shed the neoliberal state the dictatorship imposed on us for the  benefit the nation's richest people.

As Allende said, the Chilean people's struggle isn't a fight among generations, and it's certainly not the monopoly of one political party. This must be a struggle by workers, students, professionals, and many social and political movements ready to take on the challenge of joining together despite our differences, because we have grasped the historic challenge that we face.

That is why I would like to dedicate this award not just to all Chilean students, who technically won it, but also to our professors and teachers, as well as the indigenous peoples of Chile.

Appropriately enough, in Chile we celebrate Teachers Day every October 16. Just yesterday, we paid tribute to them.

I am also dedicating this award to the indigenous Mapuche people currently held as political prisoners — including the four who have been on a hunger strike for nearly two months. After hundreds of years of resistance, they are not giving up the fight for their land or their right to their own culture. This award is for everyone who is fighting to make Chile a better place.

Camila Vallejo is the vice-president of the Confederation of Chilean Students (Confederación de Estudiantes de Chile). She and Noam Titelman accepted a 2012 Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award from the Institute for Policy Studies.

Tiffany Dena Loftin's Letelier-Moffitt Award Speech

October 17, 2012 ·

Tiffany Dena Loftin at Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award 2012

I consider it a honor to have been asked to present this award to the Chilean Student Movement and to the two remarkable leaders seated here before me, Camila Vallejo and Noam Titelman.

I serve as president of the United States Student Association, the country’s oldest and largest student run student lead organization. For 65 years, we have pressured decision-makers for an accessible and affordable higher education for everyone. This year, student leaders and allies across the country have focused on federal and state-based legislation that give undocuments students an opportunity to apply for federal loans and afford a public education.

We have mobilized students across the country to register to vote, to fight against budget cuts for important programs for communities of color, and we demand corporate accountability and student loan debt forgiveness. All while training young people to build community by learning skills that build real power on their campus to fight for a just society.

Many of our students are inspired and fired up from the strategy and power lead forward by the Chilean Student Movement.

They have created and sustained, for over a year and a half, one of the most dynamic student movements the world has ever seen, raising up the right to education as a fundamental right for every student in Chile and inspiring the tactics of other student organizations across the world.

They have organized a half million people onto the streets of Chile, a nation of only 17 million people. That would be the equivalent of us getting over 9 million people on the streets in this country.

These brave demonstrators have stood up to brutal police repression, and they come back the next day even stronger. Camila has faced death threats. One senior government official tweeted to they wanted her dead but Camila did not stand down. She stood up defiantly and said: “What motivates me most is to fight for the dignity of human beings.”

The organizing that has held this movement together motivates me because the tactics are non-traditional, non-violent, and accessible so that every student is educated.

They have rethought social protest in bold and often humorous ways, from kissathons to superhero dance offs, to a mass zombie Michael Jackson Thriller dance routine.

They have innovated with social media — Camila has a half million followers on twitter.

They have forged alliances with miners and unions and a broad spectrum of Chilean societies.

They have focused and never compromised on their demands for free universal education, and they have rejected “piecemeal” government offers of reform. They have refused to be bought off.

While focusing in on education, they’ve made the critical leap to the larger development model and the inequality that is endemic in that model.

For us in the United States, they are a model of forcing a society to face and grapple with the giant crisis of millions of students who cannot repay their student loan debt.

This Chilean Student Movement is led by internationalists. They are making links to, and helping to motivate, a global movement. They see the links from the indignations of Spain to the revolutionaries of Egypt to the Occupiers of the United States.

Tonight, I pledge to you that students of the United States stand in solidarity with you, we have your back. We join in your demands to end student debt fairly and justly, and will continue to fight for a free education.

Tiffany Dena Loftin, president of the United States Student Association, presented Camila Vallejo and Noam Titelman with a 2012 Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award from the Institute for Policy Studies.


Curdina Hill's Letelier-Moffitt Acceptance Speech

October 17, 2012 ·

We are pleased and deeply honored to receive a Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award from the Institute of Policy Studies, an organization whose mission and values mirror our own.

Curdina HillFor 40 years, City Life/Vida Urbana, a grassroots social justice organizing organization, has organized tenants against displacement in Boston's working class communities of color as part of a larger economic and social justice agenda to put people before profits.

Housing is a human right, not a commodity. In the face of one of the worst economic recessions, in the wake of the bank bailout, and the increasing loss of homes through bank foreclosures, and ultimately the huge loss of wealth for people and communities of color, City Life/Vida Urbana, started its Post-Foreclosure Eviction Defense Campaign.

Our strategy was a call for tenants and homeowners to stay in their homes and fight, and to push the banks for principal reduction for those with underwater mortgages. At the time we were seen as those "crazy, radical organizers." Well, let me tell you what we "crazy organizers,"and these brave families who have refused to move have achieved:

  • We have backed down the banks time and time again on eviction day, often making it possible for people to stay in their homes long-term or permanently.
  • We and our regional networks have won new statewide and local protections for tenants and owners living in foreclosed homes.
  • Our members have fought their cases fiercely in court, even all the way up to the highest court in Massachusetts and they have set new legal precedents.
  • Today, principal reduction is part of national policy consideration, and some of the large commercial banks have begun to offer principal reduction to fair market value.
  • With  initial support from Open Society Foundations, our organizing has expanded regionally and nationally. In Massachusetts and Rhode Island, four groups in town or cities  with high foreclosure rates are replicating our Bank Tenant organizing model, and this work is being shared with groups nationally. City Life originally convened and is  participating in a regional network, NEWROAD, New England Workers and Residents Organizing Against Displacment that has stopped foreclosures and coordinated actions as part of Fannie & Freddie Campaign, Boston, New York and D.C. 

Across the country, many groups in Orlando, Baltimore, Atlanta, D.C., and Seattle are following this foreclosing organizing model. Now as national elections loom large, with one candidate deeming close to 50 percent of Americans irresponsible and erosion of social supports with a transfer of wealth of country to the 1 percent, we are heartened by our growing movement and alliances.

Since 2007, when City Life first began fighting the loss of homes through foreclosure, our strength and power has been in the formation and growth of the Bank Tenant organizing movement from seven people to over 1000, the involvement of everyday women and men, tenants and homeowners, who have decided to stand up and fight not only for their homes but theirs of their neighborhoods and all those who are in foreclosed houses and building.

City Life is a lead organization in a national Right-to-the-City campaign to get Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to give loan modifications with principal reduction. Last month, as part of this campaign, we brought a large contingent from Boston and surrounding communities to a rally and march to New York. This contingent included 50 eighth-graders from the Smith Leadership Academy. It was inspiring to hear them speak clearly and powerfully with reporters about foreclosure and our demands.

Our connection with education and the involvement of young people — this is the promise of our future. We are here not just for the short term but for the long haul. City Life and Bank Tenant Association members plan to be tenacious in this fight for human dignity and for housing as a human right.

I'd like to close with the words of one of our Bank Tenant Association members about her journey and commitment to this struggle.

 "I'm still trying to get the bank to negotiate with me to reduce the principal on my mortgage, but now I have the power of the people of City Life on my side. I am not alone…Thanks to City Life for throwing me a lifeline. I walked in worried, and I walked out a warrior. I am not just in a private struggle to save my home. I am in a much larger struggle for housing justice."
—Carolyn Lomax, a Bank Tenant Association member

Curdina Hill is the executive director of City Life/Vida Urbana. She and her colleague Steve Meacham accepted a 2012 Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award from the Institute for Policy Studies, alongside attorneys Lauren Song of Greater Boston Legal Services and Andrea Park of Harvard Legal Aid. CLVU.org 

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