How's that Working Out For You?

In order to translate the core assumptions of collective bargaining for Vietnamese undergraduates, I have had to turn my attention to the way democracy is actually practiced in our own country.

Still Trump, Black Panther Party exhibit, 3 summary points — November 12, 2016

Still Trump, Black Panther Party exhibit, 3 summary points


There are protests all over the country, but it’s not clear how well thought-through or coordinated they are. Many are anti-Trump but not pro-Hillary. The peaceful ones are about immigration, Black Lives Matter, and climate change.

Thousands of East Bay high schoolers flood Berkeley streets protesting Trump victory

There are also clusters of violence. I’m getting emails from the University of Illinois offering “safe” discussion group locations and a hotline for reporting violence or bullying. Today there was an announcement of cyber attacks on the U of Illinois email and website, and it is true, my email is acting funny. Friends on other campuses have told me about attacks on women wearing a hijab, vandalism, etc. The attacks are not pro-Trump. They are expressions of rage by people who  now think that they have license to behave like Trump. If the President can be racist, misogynist, insulting, and encourage violence (like assassinating Hillary), so can we.

A lot of the elite media (Washington Post, NYTimes, New Yorker) are publishing somewhat conciliatory opinion pieces. As in, “It’s not so bad, he seems to have a transition team of fairly moderate Republicans, etc.”


Locally, the candidates that we supported won. Jesse Arreguin will be the next Mayor of Berkeley, beating the well-funded  Laurie Capitelli, the apparent heir. Sophie Hahn will be the District 5 rep on the City Council. Most satisfying was the election of a young black woman, Shannell Williams, to the Board of Trustees of San Francisco City College. She was a student leader at the time that the accreditation attack began and has remained active and vocal all through the fight. She won with more votes than any candidate for the Board had ever received.

The top California legislators publicized a defiant statement promising to protect Californians and the rights and freedoms that we have here. They put it out in English and Spanish. This is specifically related to Trump’s threat to deport people but it is also more general:

The petition to secede from the United States is going around and getting a lot of signatures. The inside front page of today’s Chronicle had a long article supporting it. California has a Democratic governor, legislature and Congressional delegation, and went for Hillary 65% overall, 70-80-90% in the Bay Area.

These last two are challenges hurled at Trump the person. They are not directed against Trump supporters. In fact, the anger behind these initiatives is like the anger of Trump supporters.

Where is my community?

The neighborhood we live in is very white.The whiteness of my neighborhood makes me nervous. I have to go downtown Berkeley to even see a Black person.  Oakland, however, is mixed. (There is a big fight going on over gentrification in Oakland, which would price out the multi-ethnic and African American neighborhoods.)

A lesson that is coming home to me because of this election is that I need to find my community and get more involved in it.

Yesterday, Friday, Joe and I went to an exhibit at the Oakland Museum celebrating 50 years since the founding of the Black Panther Party. I went in hopes of seeing something that would help me understand grassroots organizing. It’s is a powerful and well-designed exhibit. The Black Panthers emerged out a redevelopment project that leveled an old Black neighborhood in Oakland, replacing it with office towers. It coincided with the Viet Nam War where disproportionate numbers of young Black men were sent to die fighting. The Panthers did deep community organizing, armed themselves, trained and scared the daylights out of white people. Their organization had chapters all across the country. Many of their leaders were jailed and shot.


The long videos accompanying the exhibit are especially good. So are the galleries with the blown-up FBI files on the wall.


One lesson that applies right now, from the Black Panthers, is that they had a program. They weren’t just doing whatever came next. They worked out a 10-point program. In the exhibit, the actual sheets of yellow legal pad paper with corrections in pencil are arranged in a glass case, under a big wall on which the whole program is written.


The other lesson, which is more obvious, is that the kind of community organizing that they did involved intense, detailed planning and many, many people — all kinds and ages of people.  They had not only their famous breakfast program for kids; they also had medical emergency services and transportation, a newspaper, assistance for old folks, home repair collectives – the exhibit includes a “how to set up a plumbing repair service” booklet.  And of course they had their military drills, which were on the one hand a form of public dance and on the other hand real self-defense program, with guns and ammunition. Some of the most famous photos of the Black Panthers show them walking into the California legislature with their rifles.

We were there on Friday evening when entrance to the Museum is free after 5. Coming out of the exhibit, we heard music and found the main  foyer where there was a sound system and stage, long tables for eating, and a full bar. People — whole families – were dancing under the lights in the entrance. Up on the street a line of a dozen food trucks were selling wonderful food. Little kids, babies, old women, old men, couples, all colors and ethnicities mixed up together. You could see the direct line of descent passed down from the Panthers. I thought, “I’m glad I’m here.”

Only a few blocks away, last night there was a protest with people burning tires and garbage in the middle of the street.

This picture was taken early, before the crowd got really big. But you can see people dancing and eating.


Trump and TPP: Why trust him now? 

Questions from friends in Viet Nam are about TPP.  I wrote back to one of them, forwarding a typical anti-TPP message, this one from Tim Canova at Progress for Change:

But let this be a wake-up call.  There is no time to waste in organizing against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the disastrous corporate giveaway that the political establishment may still try pushing through the upcoming lame-duck Congress. 

Some Senate leaders have indicated they may not bring the TPP up for a vote in the lame-duck Congress.  But now is not the time to trust in their sincerity or to let our guard down.  We must put a stake through the heart of the TPP and the anti-democratic agenda that it represents.

If passed, the TPP will outsource millions of our service jobs, raise prescription drug prices, endanger the open internet, and undermine our food safety, health and environmental protections.

This is the US progressive left-wing moderate argument against TPP.  As you can see, there is nothing in it about freedom of association, independent unions in Viet Nam or anywhere else. People in the US do not know anything about the Viet Nam labor side agreement. To us here, TPP is all about being a “corporate giveaway” that will send US jobs to low-wage countries and will allow corporations to sue countries and governments for “loss of future profits.” Bernie’s post-convention group, OurRevolution, calls for celebration of the death of TPP: “Dead in the water.”

However, since TPP favors corporations, there is every reason in the world for the Republicans to support it, and Trump will probably do whatever the majority party in Congress (Republicans) want on this one. TPP favors corporations in two ways: one, it allows US corporations to ship jobs overseas. But this is actually less important than the other part: like NAFTA, it enables corporations to sue governments if they (the government) takes actions that impact “future profits.” LIke increasing minimum wage, for example. Corporations can actually sue governments if the government takes an action that protects its people but impacts “future profits” – whatever they may be estimated to be — of a corporation.

Trump changes his mind whenever he thinks it will make a good TV photo-op moment or tweet. Since TPP is good for corporations in the US, it is very likely that Trump will change his mind about it and support it. The Clinton emails released a couple of weeks ago show her staff trying to figure out how to shift to respond to anti-TPP pressure from Bernie and they sure don’t sound committed to the new position. Would she have stuck to her position if she’d been elected? Probably not. On this one, Trump probably won’t either.

TPP, Viet Nam and Freedom of Association

It’s important to un-link freedom of association in Viet Nam from the current version of TPP. I personally agree that Viet Nam needs active, fighting unions in order to push back against FDI (foreign direct investment) companies. If the VGCL can re-make itself to accomplish that, great!! After all, it has a powerful history of being able to mount and carry on fights, going back to the French and the slavery conditions in the rubber plantations. But now I have been told that 90% of the people working at the VGCL are doing Party work, not organizing among workers. We in the US have plenty of similarities to this. It is very hard for a big bureaucratic union to re-create itself. I can not think of a single example from the US where a big, bureaucratic union  has been successful at re-inventing itself. Sending people who have spent 20 years at desk jobs out to salt in non-union workplaces? Look at the big breakaway in 2005 when SEIU, IBT, UFW and UNITE HERE left the AFL-CIO supposedly to re-create themselves as “organizing” unions. Some success, yes, but far from what we hoped for. 

I think that the form of unions proposed under the TPP side agreement is a good start, but has to be re-designed according to Vietnamese culture and history and values. The good thing about the side agreement is that it frees up grassroots level unions to self-organize and fight back against employers, which in the long run will bring wages up in Viet Nam and make Viet Nam less attractive to corporations that want to go low-wage. So if freedom of association produces grassroots fighting unions that drive wages and working conditions up in Viet Nam, fewer jobs from the US will relocate there, and that will be good for US workers. But that is not part of the discussion here in the US. Also, it is a long shot and no US worker who is trying to figure out how to pay next month’s rent and groceries is going to be impressed. 

Right now, the Republicans are saying TPP is not going to come up. Here is a link to a conference in Ho Chi Minh City for Nov 14. Note the segment on labor law:

Click to access 161114-AAFA-TPP-Workshop-2016_agenda-2.pdf

Boiling it down to three points

Today is Saturday the 12th. I dreamed last night that my car had been stolen and my purse had been stolen, and that the officer at the fire department (why did I seek help from the fire department?) told me I needed a lawyer to get them back.

I think I can summarize what has happened in three points:

  1. The pain is real.
  2. The fact that Trump will be president is a function of the electoral college.
  3. Hillary won the popular vote, but that’s not what matters.

The pain: People voted, as they say, with their middle finger. They are angry because their real life conditions are insecure, bad and getting worse. They see the rich getting richer. They feel like they are on a speeding-up down escalator headed toward a trash compactor. They know it’s a lottery, and they’re mad. These are the consequences of inequality. It’s not the objective conditions of someone’s life that produce this anger. Poverty, in a country where people are more equal to each other, does not in itself produce this sense of outrage. You can be content and live well on little, but not if you are being constantly tormented by incentives to consume and the sense that you are being publicly shamed and robbed. That causes pain, and a healthy response to pain like that is anger.

The electoral college: The electoral college process was invented soon after we became our own country and its purpose was to buffer the selection of top leaders from the popular vote. Its message is that you can’t trust the people. You can’t trust direct democracy. Well, it works.

The popular vote: Hillary actually won. But that doesn’t really matter, and not because it doesn’t make her president. Even if the electoral college were not a factor, and if she became president based on the popular vote, we would still be looking at a country  divided against itself and boiling in a fever of fear and resentment. If Hillary had won, the voices of those people probably would have been silenced, at least for the time being. They would have been scattered out into a few million individual voices. Cranks, wackos, Fox News types. But with Trump winning, those voices have made a collective point. Now the two sides can see each other in the light of day. Take a good hard look: this is us.

Trump — November 11, 2016


There is no way to avoid returning to this blog.

I worked at the polls on Tuesday, November 8, in Berkeley. Our polling place was in a Methodist church a few blocks away from our house. We met there at 6 am to  set up all the equipment. The instruction booklet was 164 pages long. The touch screen system alone was like setting up a whole home entertainment center and must have cost thousands of dollars but you had to have it in case someone blind, deaf or needing to use touch instead of writing wanted to use it. The polls opened at 7 am. We had a line out the door for a while


By 7:30 pm we had had 191 people coming through. These were people who wanted to vote in person. Some brought young kids. A couple of parents brought older children. One angry mother brought her twenty-something daughter who looked as if she had been rousted out of bed after a night of partying. Probably more than half of the people who vote, vote by mail, so that 191 was less than half the people in our precinct. Only a few people who were not mail voters failed to show up and vote at the poll.

When you come in, you say your street address, we find you on a list organized by address, and we cross you off that list. The next person asks you your name and gets you to put your signature and address on an alphabetical list. Your party is listed on the page where you are listed by address. That’s the paper with the ruler lying on it. I only saw one person listed as Republican. There were maybe 20 people listed as Independent. All the rest, Democrat.

We did not have internet in the polling place so I was not keeping up on the reports coming in, for example, from the East Coast where the polls shut 3 hours before ours do.

At about 7:30 I went outside to see if anyone else was coming. A man was walking his dog. I said, “How are you doing?” He said, “I’m scared. I was so upset I had to go walk the dog.”

This was the first I heard that Trump was winning.

I felt like a knife was in my stomach. I went home, couldn’t stand hearing wise pundits make smart-ass remarks or even sensible left critiques on TV. I watched ABC, corporate news if there ever was any, where at least they just let a photographer pan a camera slowly across the faces of people at Hillary’s headquarters. They were mostly young. Many were crying. Mostly, they just sat staring. The emotions described the day after — “shocked,” “shattered”, “astonishing” – could be seen on their faces. Very little hugging going on. It wasn’t like a murder or a horrible accident, where you can turn to your next door neighbor and hug them and get comforted. This was worse. Blackout.


Next day I made it a point to talk with everyone I met, on the street, at Kaiser hospital where I was going for some tests, at the library downtown. For everyone, it was a bad, bad day. Grand-daughter Isabelle, like many her age (and rightly so) was in tears. These are tears of betrayal and fear. For them, climate change is the big issue — the Arctic has melted this year so much that a cruise ship is going through, and the fisheries offshore are nearly dead. The chance to put the brakes on the end of the world has been pissed away. It’s going to be Mad Max, all the dystopian movies they’ve watched come to life. Students at Berkeley High and Albany High, and others as the idea caught on, walked out.


By Thursday the emails are piling up. Instead of fundraising appeals, my inbox is now full of “What do we do now?” messages. A few people from Viet Nam have communicated: “What happened? How did this happen? Can you explain your electoral system?” And:”What will happen with TPP?”


Many of my friends are compiling reading lists or articles, books, podcasts, things that we will read from and learn from. I am doing this too. In Paris, where daughter Gabi has gone on a quick visit to a friend, they went to a museum exhibit on revolutions and came away feeling better. Joe and I are going to the Oakland Museum tomorrow where they have an exhibit commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Black Panthers.

There are a number of theories being floated about where the Trump phenomenon came from.


Silo-ed media

Silo-ed media. People don’t all read one or two newspapers any more. Some people listen to talk radio and watch reality TV; others read the New Yorker, the NYTimes, the London Review of Books, the Atlantic, etc.  People have their individual news feeds and they see and read what they want to see and read. They un-friend people they disagree with and re-post things they agree with. So do I. All the elite media were passionately pro-Hillary, as if the rest of the world didn’t exist (except as a curiosity). See the photos of “voters” (including several Trump supporters) served up as objects d’art in a recent issue of the New Yorker. A weary dirty tatooed coal miner in his pick up truck, suitable for framing.

I read the elite media, so I was shocked when Trump won. I didn’t believe it possible. If all these elite media (the power papers) are pro-Hillary, what could go wrong? Plenty.

Bernie could have won

Bernie could have won. The enthusiasm for Bernie was real. People trusted him. His speeches and messages gave real information about who we are and what the problems are. People loved him. He could have engaged the Trump voters – on the issues, such as inequality, he was hitting the same points only intelligently. The moment he turned it over to Hillary at the convention, the fire went out. The campaign went from fighting for what you want and believe in to second-guessing what you have to fight for in order to win.

The Democratic National Committee definitely undercut Bernie’s candidacy. I would like to know where Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chair of the DNC who was caught doing this and had to resign, is now. I see that Bernie is proposing Congressman Keith Ellison, a black Muslim from Minnesota, as the new DNC chair.

Many supporters of Hillary, while Bernie was still in the race, liked Bernie but thought he wouldn’t win so they played it safe by supporting Hillary. Playing it safe is not a good strategy for winning a fight if the opposition is equipped with enormous power that it is willing to use ruthlessly. There is no safe strategy for winning in a situation like that. The safe strategy is losing. I actually am glad, in a way, that Bernie chose to step out of the fight at a point where he still had his health and his job and could live to fight again.


Hillary’s campaign was too much about fear and fundraising

Once Bernie went back to his job as Senator from Vermont, everything I got from Hillary’s campaign was fear-mongering pleas for money. These were one-way email messages, no reply possible. Sometimes I’d get a message from the DCCC saying that if I gave $5, someone else would give $20. With that kind of backup, they didn’t need my $5. And all the subject lines were panic.

What about support from women for Hillary?

Women my age understood how her experience had marked her — how women who graduated in the 60s and 70s often had to travel with a more powerful male partner in order to survive in the intensely sexist world of business and politics. But to men, and to younger people, this was invisible. That  would have taken a whole feminist critique that never happened. Can you imagine where teaching that curriculum would have had to start, in order to explain that? Young women today have no sense of what it was like to be a smart ambitious girl in the 1960s and 1970s.

The big unions played it safe, too

The big unions — SEIU, AFT, NEA, UAW, AFSCME — endorsed Hillary.  Some did it early without even consulting their members  (although some claimed they had). This turned them into gears in the Democratic machine, which didn’t inspire trust or enthusiasm. Instead, it inspired resentment. So many union voters, feeling betrayed, (this is post-election demographics hindsight) just went for Trump. The AFL CIO hung back and didn’t endorse anyone for a long time,which sent the message that they didn’t want to offend anyone until the convention, where Hillary would take over and it would be safe to endorse. “Playing it safe” is not a good strategy for a union. Unions like to have reputations for being able to mount a good fight. “The Union that Plays it Safe” is not a motto that unions want.

Voter suppression

Many people couldn’t vote.  There were many different kinds of voter suppression going on, from long lines at polling places, threats of intimidation of voters by Trump people, machines that didn’t work, the requirements for voter IDs that make it so if you can’t find your ID, you don’t bother, and all the constraints placed on people who have been through the criminal justice system (unequally black men) like not allowing people charged with a felony to vote. This varied state by state. In California, we don’t require ID at the polling place. But so many people have heard about “Voter ID” that many people came to our table and pulled out their driver’s licenses. “Voter suppression” is a big factor. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was weakened in 2013 ( resulting in 13 states where there were new restrictions on voting.

Suppressed or not, many people didn’t vote, including African Americans

We’ll see, but it looks as if African Americans did not vote proportionally to their numbers. Supposedly, the Clintons had the black community wrapped up. But I have heard that there was a “You take us for granted” pushback going on. Memories of Bill Clinton playing the sax did not override memories of welfare reform and the spike in mass incarceration.

Polls were simply wrong

A woman in my yoga class has a son who works for a major news website and is in charge of designing the model that integrated the reports from all the different polls. She says, “He says that they got the model wrong.” Poof. So the 85% chance of winning that Hillary had last week was….not actually there.

So there’s two different things: what happened and what will happen. I am still thinking about what happened. I’m not yet ready to think about what will happen. To me, Trump is a grotesque toad-like gloating monster who has clearly shown himself to be racist, misogynist, bullying, a sexual predator, a flip-flopper liar, etc etc. He is ridiculous. No one could take him seriously! But then he wins. Once he wins he is just a monster.

Of course I also couldn’t believe people would vote for Schwartznegger, the body-builder actor with the Austrian accent who became Governor of California. He would have been President of the US, or at least run for it, if he had been born in the US. And then there’s Ronald Reagan. And Putin has made himself into a celebrity, apparently — photographed riding a horse bare-chested!

How do I feel about being an American?

One thing that is different for me today: I am beginning to think hard about what it means to me to be an American. I am thinking about what part of my identity “being” an American — meaning a US citizen, not a Mexican or a Brazilian, who are also Americans – actually is. I remember a year ago, sitting up in the bleachers in the soccer stadium at Ton Duc Thang, with Vinh, watching what looked like military exercises performed by students as part of some mass celebration. I remember feeling that the military exercises made me feel sick. It’s one thing if you’re a small country that gets invaded. It’s another thing if you come from a big country that has a history of invading other countries and fighting wars on the territory of other people’s countries and killing lots people that way.


Believe it or not, I may have always taken my identity as an American to be something neutral, kind of like being white. There are Americans, and then there is the rest of the world. There are white people, and then there are all those diversity people. In the last 20 years I have had some experiences, while traveling, of understanding that I could be disliked because I am American, and that this is well-justified. I have also been lucky enough to have had the experience of distrusted and excluded because I am white. Also justly. Really thinking about it is something I am going to be forced to do seriously now that I am a citizen of Trump’s America.

If I was in a small country that was over run by a violent invading country, it would be clearer to know who the enemy was and how to fight back. If this were Czechoslovakia in 1968 or Hungary in 1956 –  or Viet Nam, for that matter – I would know who was the enemy. But how about this – when the enemy is us? It’s kind of like rape: by the time it’s happening, it’s too late.